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Reaching the End of the New Line

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By Stephen Saito

Less than five months ago, New Line Cinema co-chairmen Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the company that Shaye founded out of an apartment on East 14th Street in New York at the New York Film Festival. Needless to say, four decades in the movie business deserved a trip uptown, to the Lincoln Center’s tony Fredrick P. Rose Hall, where no less than Nicole Kidman glided down the red carpet and a full gospel choir accompanied Ricki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur in a rendition of the “Hairspray” number “Come So Far.” Days later, the duo would get an hour on Charlie Rose en route to releasing one of the biggest budgeted films in their history, the $200 million-plus fantasy “The Golden Compass.” Now those days seem like a different age, after word came down yesterday that Warner Bros. will absorb the studio without the participation of Shaye and Lynne. It looks like the house that Freddy Krueger built and Gandalf retrofitted is about to undergo an extreme makeover.

It’s possible the result will look like the Disney subsidiary Miramax, which has thrived in recent years without its famous/infamous co-founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Then again, the Weinsteins might never have come up with the idea for Miramax (and Bob’s genre label Dimension) if there hadn’t first been a New Line, which Shaye built on college tours of cult films like “Reefer Madness” and Jean-Luc Godard’s Rolling Stones doc “Sympathy for the Devil” and theatrical runs of early John Waters films and low-budget horror flicks, including the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Evil Dead.” Naturally, Shaye segued from distribution to production, which paid off when “Nightmare on Elm Street” became a studio-defining hit in 1984. Besides the financial rewards reaped by what would become the Freddy franchise, it also introduced the world to Johnny Depp, and, over the course of six more films, future “L.A. Confidential” scribe Brian Helgeland (“Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master”), future “Shawshank Redemption” director Frank Darabont and indie stalwart Bruce Wagner (“Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”) and. most importantly, future New Line production exec Michael De Luca, who penned “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.”

After all, that’s what New Line did — exploit new talent, much in the same way that Roger Corman had done before, but on a larger level. When “Nightmare” became a success, New Line moved into the ’90s with aspirations of becoming a full-fledged studio and when Shaye sold the company in 1993 to Ted Turner, it paved the way for more films and bigger films. But there always remained room for the smaller ones. New Line was one of the first studios to form a specialty label with Fine Line in 1990, which countered the larger studio’s output of easy sells like “House Party 2” with Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho.” Fine Line also reintroduced Robert Altman to a larger audience with “The Player” and “Short Cuts” back to back in 1992 and 1993. But New Line remained primarily in the business of introductions and, thanks to the keen eye of writer-turned-exec De Luca, they would shepherd in the director who would be Altman’s heir, Paul Thomas Anderson, as well as the breakthroughs of a host of other visionaries including Albert and Allen Hughes (“Menace II Society”), David Fincher (“Se7en”), Alex Proyas (“Dark City”), Tarsem (“The Cell”) and the late Ted Demme (“Blow”).


However, talking about New Line as some sort of bastion of artistry would be doing it a disservice. While the studio had a penchant for investing in both edgy indie-minded fare like “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and prestige projects like Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt,” New Line’s heart was always in pure entertainments like “Final Destination” and “Austin Powers.” Maybe that’s why Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” or more recently, Todd Field’s heavily lauded “Little Children” failed to get much award consideration, but why every moment of a New Line programmer like “Snakes on a Plane” feels as though someone at the studio is letting loose a joyous “wheeeeee” in the background. (In fact, after New Line bumped the Samuel L. Jackson starrer to a R rating from a PG-13, production chief Toby Emmerich started suggesting body parts for the snakes to bite.) The studio was also never shy about nepotism, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering that the always watchable character actors Lin Shaye (sister of Bob) and Noah Emmerich (brother of Toby) got a leg up in New Line fare.

Now, the fun is over for New Line, at least in its era with Shaye and Lynne at the helm. Some would consider that a good thing, especially since the steely reserve and aggressiveness that led the two men to great success has also been cited as a cause of their professional downfall, with that very public dispute between Shaye and “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson over the bookkeeping of his J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, not to mention the pair’s questionable personal behavior, which was detailed in a July 1998 article by John Connolly in Premiere. (As for the “LOTR” suit, Jackson ultimately settled with the studio, but only after New Line’s costly “Golden Compass” failed to ignite at the U.S. box office.)

Incidentally, Shaye and Lynne will likely go out on top — New Line’s “Semi-Pro” is expected to top this weekend’s box office chart. And although making money was always at the forefront of New Line’s operation, more than enough truly innovative and quality films made it into the pipeline to call it an accident that it was also a bastion of independence.

[Photo: “The house that Freddy Krueger built and Gandalf retrofitted”: New Line’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001); “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Fine Line, 2001]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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