The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Bob Shaye's return: Part deux

July 11, 2008 |  6:00 am

It's not always easy to get Bob Shaye on the phone, so as long as I had him in my clutches, eager to promote his new company Unique Features (the full story is here), I thought we could clear up some old business. Here's his take on why New Line was slammed with so many lawsuits about "Lord of the Rings" profits, how he desperately tried to save New Line and why he still thinks it was a good idea to go off and direct a movie as his company was struggling to survive. Just keep reading:

Q: We just ran a big story criticizing New Line for refusing to pay any of "Lord of the Rings' " gross to the Tolkien estate. This comes after you were sued by both Peter Jackson and producer Saul Zaentz over similar non-payment issues. Isn't that a big embarrassment to the company, to have so many key members of the creative team filing lawsuits?

Etbplordrings0710 Shaye: Let me just say that I was appalled by any accusations that had any substance to them. I'm a lawyer by training, but I'm an ethical person by instinct and when you make a deal, you should live with it. I have not been pleased about it and have begged everyone to settle things in a righteous manner.

Q: But you ran the company. Why didn't you see to it that things were solved?

Shaye: I was very much out of the jurisprudential loop. When you have 600 employees at a company, all I can say is that the business affairs department has its own way of dealing with things. There's been a sense of hubris and an exerting of power on their part, as well as an overweening loyalty to the company, that has played into this. Let's just say it's been really irritating. I haven't been happy about it.

Q: A lot of people felt that it wasn't in the best interests of New Line for you to go off and direct a film ("The Last Mimzy") when your company was struggling to survive. Any regrets?

Shaye: No. I feel I served the company well by making the film. My only regret is that the movie didn't do better in its initial release. While I was away making the film, I still read every script [production chief] Toby Emmerich wanted to have read. I was in touch every day. There may have been things that Toby didn't bring to my attention, but then--Toby is an elusive guy sometimes.

Q: Is it true you and Michael Lynne tried to buy back New Line from Time Warner?

Shaye: Yes, we talked to Jeff Bewkes about it. It sounded like he was entertaining the idea, but then he called us into his office and said, "It's not on the table anymore." They just didn't want New Line to continue to do its own marketing and distribution and foreign sales. So we went off and came up with a plan to downsize the company, to try to emulate the DreamWorks or New Regency model. We had it down to 125 people. And even then, Jeff said, "That's not good enough." Finally, he called us in and said, "We don't want to close down New Line entirely, but the bad news is that you guys aren't going to be a part of it." I guess it was like ethnic cleansing. He said it would be so painful that we probably wouldn't want to be around while all the layoffs were happening. So were were out. And it was awful anyway.

Photo of Ian McKellen in "Lord of the Rings" by Pierre Vinet / New Line Productions