It was euphemistically termed a ”mutual” decision, but when New Line’s head of production, Michael De Luca, 35, left the studio last month, few were shocked. De Luca, who joined New Line as an intern 16 years ago, hit the jackpot with such box office long shots as The Mask, Austin Powers, and Rush Hour — and also brought the company its first Oscar contenders with films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia. But he’d recently been in the crosshairs for dogs like Winona Ryder’s Lost Souls, Adam Sandler’s $80 million Little Nicky — which grossed a limp $39.5 million — and Warren Beatty’s still-unreleased money pit Town & Country, whose budget has bloated to more than $80 million.
De Luca’s wasn’t the only exit. About 100 layoffs have hit New Line in the wake of the merger of AOL and Time Warner (which owns EW); those on the list include the well-regarded top production execs Richard Saperstein and Lynn Harris, who were among the staffers who helped foster New Line’s reputation as a talent-friendly studio. Toby Emmerich, 37, head of New Line’s music division — and screenwriter of the studio’s Frequency — has taken De Luca’s spot. (Emmerich declined interview requests.)
The shake-up has some wondering if New Line will return to being the House That Freddy Krueger Built. ”That was my fear the first week, but I don’t think so,” says one New Line insider. ”Projects that are certainly not Freddy Krueger are getting a positive response.”
But with a catch: president Michael Lynne has said New Line’s films will be capped at $50 million, with the majority costing less. Say goodbye to ventures on the scale of the $270 million Lord of the Rings trilogy. And say hello to thrifty thrillers like Final Destination, a $53.3 million hit with a sequel pending, and niche-market movies like Next Friday, which cost $11 million and grossed $57 million. Emmerich’s first deal, in fact, was for the Ice Cube heist flick All About the Benjamins — and a third Friday is on the way. Also just acquired: the script Even Steven, a romantic comedy with Faith Hill attached.
But some more prestigious projects may be in trouble. New Line has shed About a Boy, based on Nick Hornby’s ’98 novel, which De Luca nabbed for $2.75 million — the Hugh Grant film was snatched by Universal. And the fates of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which De Luca fought to obtain, and Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn are uncertain. ”Will projects be put into turnaround? Yes,” says a studio source. ”But [Emmerich] will pursue projects [on] the De Luca slate.” De Luca himself, who’s weighing a New Line production deal, doesn’t predict an end to edgy fare. ”You can’t make 15 teen horror films a year. I think it’s going to be the same New Line — without big budgets.”
But whether the artists who flocked to De Luca will stick with the new regime is iffy. Some talent is locked in. Paul Thomas Anderson’s next project, which he wrote for Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, is a coproduction of New Line and Joe Roth’s studio, Revolution. And Mike Myers is scripting a third Austin Powers. ”We love De Luca — he was trusting and brave,” says Powers director Jay Roach. ”But Toby seems like he’s going to be good too.”