Robert Shaye

Robert Shaye

While New Line generated ink in the mid-1990s by throwing around tens of millions of dollars--kindly supplied by Ted Turner's Turner Broadcasting Service which acquired the company in 1993--to attract big-name talent (reportedly offering $12 million to Julia Roberts and $8 million to Meg Ryan for a remake of "The Women") and hot screenplays, it originally built a reputation for fiscal conservatism. The company covered itself in advance by selling off foreign and ancillary rights for their ventures. Their films were moderately budgeted, typically in the $5 million-to-$7 million range. Their theatrical releases were generally scheduled for off-peak moviegoing periods often ignored by the majors. New Line had two specialties: commercial genre movies geared for teens and special-interest "sophisticated" films targeting upscale adults.Shaye's film career began with homemade productions he created as a teenager and reached a peak with such award-winning shorts as "Image" and "On Fighting Witches." He shared first prize with Martin Scorsese in the Society of Cinematologists's prestigious Rosenthal competition given to the best films made by American directors under the age of 25 and, after completing an impressive graduate career (Sorbonne, Columbia) with a Fulbright scholarship, founded the New Line Cinema Corporation in 1967. Beginning as a small, privately owned distributor of art films (including Lina Wertmuller's "The Seduction of Mimi" 1972, Orson Welles' "F for Fake" 1973, Bertrand Blier's Oscar-winning "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs" 1977, R.W. Fassbinder's "Despair" 1978, Bill Forsyth's "Gregory's Girl" 1981, and Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan" 1989), New Line also, perhaps prophetically, handled the circulation of George Romero's low-budget cult classic, "Night of the Living Dead" (1968). Later in the 70s, New Line enjoyed a more broad-based commercial success with its distribution of the "Street Fighter" series of films and a successful re-release of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (made in 1974). The 80s saw Shaye leading New Line more in the direction of film production, specializing in modestly budgeted horror fare ("Critters" 1986, "The Hidden" 1987), occasional youth-oriented comedies (including two John Waters films, "Polyester" 1981 and "Hairspray" 1988, and "Book of Love" 1990, a faux 50s teen comedy directed by Shaye) and such comparatively adult fare as "A Handful of Dust" and "Torch Song Trilogy" (both 1988). By far the best known and most popular of New Line's products have been the series of horror sequels that followed in the wake of the huge success of writer-director Wes Craven's imaginative "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984). As the dream-dwelling supernatural killer-cum-wiseacre Freddy Krueger, actor Robert Englund became the first notable horror star since the advent of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The popularity of the films and the successful domestic and foreign merchandising of Freddy-related products fueled the expansion of New Line in the second half of the 80s. Englund remained in character to host Shaye's first foray into TV production, the intriguing horror anthology series "Freddy's Nightmares" (syndicated, 1988-90). By the end of 1989, however, New Line's net profits had sharply declined after the disappointing box-office performance of "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child." Fortunately help was on the way--from a most unlikely source.For the relatively modest cost of $2 million, New Line made it's most ambitious acquisition, picking up all North American distribution rights to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1990), a $12 million children's action feature produced by Hong Kong's Golden Harvest Films and lensed in North Carolina. The film became a pop culture phenomenon that went on to gross more than $133 million domestically and generated two sequels. New Line enjoyed an in-house success with Reginald Hudlin's amiable black-themed youth comedy "House Party" (1990) which spawned two sequels of its own.Late in 1990, New Line Cinema announced the formation of Fine Line Features, a new theatrical division dedicated to producing, distributing and marketing so-called art films, that is, films geared for a sophisticated adult audience. The preceding decade had marked a shift in emphasis to commercial youth-oriented fare at New Line while the adult niche was addressed less frequently. Fine Line was conceived to specialize in and nurture the likes of Hal Hartley's "Simple Men" (1992), Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" (1993), Gus Van Sant Jr.'s "My Own Private Idaho" (1991) and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" (1994) and Keith Gordon's "Mother Night" (1996). The company enjoyed its first art-house hit as the distributor of Scott Hicks' highly praised Aussie biopic "Shine" (1996). New Line focused on the youth market, particularly in urban areas, with such efforts as Bill Duke's "Deep Cover" (1992), the Hughes Brothers' "Menace II Society" (1993) and "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" (1994). The latter was a cleverly reflexive sequel which attempted to rehabilitate the character who had proven so central in New Line's success story. Shaye appeared in the film as himself. The company enjoyed blockbuster success with two broad comedies starring the then ascendant Jim Carrey, "The Mask" and "Dumb and Dumber" (both 1994). They fared less well in 1995 with John Carpenter's enjoyable thriller "In the Mouth of Madness" and the charming romantic comedy "Don Juan DeMarco" starring Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando. In 1996, New Line suffered a succession of pricey misfires: an unintentionally hilarious remake of "The Island of Doctor Moreau" starring Brando and Val Kilmer; Walter Hill's stylish "Last Man Standing," which retold Kurosawa's samurai classic "Yojimbo" as a gangster vehicle for Bruce Willis; and "The Long Kiss Goodnight," an underperforming actioner featuring Geena Davis and Samuel L Jackson helmed by Renny Harlin. That same year, however, New Line had a solid success with the modestly budgeted "Set It Off," a black feminist-themed crime drama with Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett, that hearkened back to its earlier modest triumphs.