Yesterday Time Warner announced that New Line would stop operating as a stand-along unit within the company and that lots of people would be leaving, including the company founder Bob Shaye.
My first full-time job (beyond summers) was at New Line. It was an experience that changed my life.
I learned an enormous amount about the film and media business and myself. I was a first year law student who wasn’t sure about what I’d do with the law degree, but cared most about telling stories that weren’t getting heard
I chose NL for my summer internship over Warnes Bros. because it was small, I’d get to see and do more and it was much closer to my heart. NL made and distributed, besides the horror movies and mutant turtles movies that mattered to me: stories from people who I was longing to hearing from: films with gay characters in them, like Swoon; films that were campy, like everything by John Waters; films made by and for black folks like House Party and Menace to Society, (unheard of from almost any other distributor of the time); films that were smart just plain good, like Robert Altman’s The Player.
At that point in my life, though I’d just started to perform comedy in law school in order to tolerate it, I didn’t think I was allowed to live a more creative life.
I thought I had to be practical, so I was strongly drawn to the entertainment business where lawyers seemed involved in decision-making and running the film studios. Michael Lynne, the COO (and my boss’ boss) was a lawyer but Shaye was not.
Bob Shaye was an entrepreneur who started the company out of his apartment, began mostly with free films in the public domain like Reefer Madness (see the whole story of the company here.)
I was there just before the company was bought by Turner and at that point it had been independent and profitable for 25 years in a row.
I got more than the equivalent of an MBA in my year there. I had what was probably the best entry level job in Hollywood, working with every division of the small company, and for a (then) tough-as-nails, heart-of-gold boss Michele.
I learned things that have stayed with me and affected my understanding of how to democratize media and storytelling.
I learned about business and fame and myself and relationships and I learned about life. Among other things I learned (but do not necessarily follow):
• always run a low, medium and high case scenario on your Profit and Loss statement
• you can lie as easily with numbers as you can with words
• don’t be afraid of a spreadsheet and look at the assumptions first
• just because someone calls someone a friend, it doesn’t mean that they are
• explosions are just really, really fun to make
• you don’t have to ever wear pantyhose to work
• actors are all shorter than you think they are
• keep budgets small and stay focussed on who you’re talking to
• “always trade credit for compensation”
• there are only 5 guys (then it was guys) who really decide if a movie gets made
• you can learn the story of a company from its contracts
• there is opportunity in valuing what others’ dismiss
(There’s a lot more detail in my work memoir in progress An Honest Living)
New Line’s end is a significant moment, in that it is an important signal in the evolving death of creativity within corporate media.
It makes complete sense that TW would absorb NL if you look at it from the corporate logic that must run TW. It’s a cost savings. And the film business is not a growth business. Not like biotech and technology. Not even like cleantech. it’s not a business you should go into if your main goal is to make money without caring how you make it.
And money on its own? Well, I remember the day before the Turner acquisition closed. Bob Shaye was about to make $100 million from a company he began in his apartment. And he didn’t look very happy.
Today I’m creating The Heather Gold Show from my apartment. Now I know I can write and perform to my heart’s content *and* reach people. Now there is no need for separate divisions like there were at NL for marketing, Distribution, International, Development, Production. There is the Net.
Now there is not only telling of stories on a screen so we feel connected and heard, there is actual live connection and hearing of each other.
And I am happy as can be.