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The Roundup June 6 & 7

When is an indie house not an indie house?

New Line has been surprising those who thought the rump operation — it has only about 50 employees, down from nearly 600 before Warner absorbed it — would be crushed by corporate politics and the sheer weight of Warner’s own, blockbuster-oriented moviemaking machinery. . . .

Mr. Emmerich described New Line’s approach as having less to do with risk-taking and more with a willingness to use emerging filmmakers and stars in projects aimed at a defined audience and shot on affordable budgets.

Thus, New Line — whose films now must get green lights from Mr. Horn and Mr. Robinov — might be quicker than Warner to use a first-time director.

(“Will Warner Grow Tired of New Line, Its Pet Indie? ,” New York Times, June 6) Surprisingly, the New York Times got pretty good in the last year or so on the film industry — previously only the Los Angeles Times seemed to have some sense of how the industry works. But here they’re back in clueless land. New Line is a massively successful indie studio because it produces . . . mainstream boxoffice hits. Films like Lord of the Rings, Austin Powers, Final Destination, Friday the 13th, and Journey to the Center of the Earth are independent in name only (not to say the upcoming Hobbit films being produced by Peter Jackson — the production budget for each is $150 million, not exactly the “budgeted with passion” typical of just about every other independent film). They are just as crafted, cajoled, and conference-called into being boxoffice blockbusters (or DVD big-sellers) as anything coming out of Warner’s main studios. Folks like Picturehouse, Miramax, and Paramount Classics kept to their stubborn insistence on making or buying films that they liked — sometimes only one person in the studio liked the film (I worked on the marketing for a Paramount Classics film, Winter Solstice, for which only the head of distribution who bought the film had any fondness; the film left the entire marketing department in total confusion — I love the film, but this kind of quirkiness is not a recipe for long-term viability).

Emmerich proclaims a certain outlier status in hiring untried creative, but this is more of a financial model (low budget films, risk, and return) than a creative one. He’d bring on Michael Bay any day if he’d cut his fee to first-time director levels.

New Line got busted from 600 employees down to 50 when it started releasing a whole string of duds (though it did meet corporate revenue/profit targets — however, it’s share of boxoffice losers was increasing every year). Now that they’re in the money again, Warner’s isn’t going to fuss. That being said, what made the old New Line a great indie — even though they were doing more or less audience-driven films — was that they would sign off on projects that would lead to heart failure in any other film executive, like the three-part Lord of the Rings. That was lost when Michael Lynne was forced out.

And that is what a true independent studio or distributor looks like. Bold, sometimes cracked executive decisions combined with a financial strategy that is fundamentally frugal on the outlays. New Line has always been about making money on low-budget horror movies (horror movies almost always make money if the budget is low enough) to give them a modest war chest to do more creative films — albeit, audience-centered films designed to attract a substantial return.

MySpace won’t be moving into their space.

A year after making one of the largest office leasing deals in more than a decade, Fox Interactive Media is abandoning plans to move into nearly a half-million square feet of office space in Playa Vista.

The company is committed to a 12-year, approximately $350-million lease. But now it faces financial difficulties and plans to lay off some of the people who were slated to move into two new office buildings in the splashy development near Marina del Rey. . . .

MySpace’s troubles have been widely publicized, culminating in the departure this spring of co-founder and Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe.

The once-dominant social network has been surpassed by rival Facebook in terms of number of users worldwide. And the micro-blogging application Twitter is generating more buzz in tech circles.

(“Fox Interactive abandons new Playa Vista offices, plans layoffs,” Los Angeles Times, June 6) Fox Interactive is not 100% MySpace, but MySpace is a huge part of it and the whole social networking thing is a substantial part of the Fox Interactive model. Now, MySpace is still mighty big, but the world more or less belongs to Facebook. Which means we’ll see one of two things: either MySpace will evolve quickly and leapfrog Facebook and Twitter or it will eventually be shuttered.

All the data suggests that the advertising money generated per user in social networking is paltry — no, less than paltry. And MySpace is a classic example of the proverb, “The second mouse gets the cheese.” Just three years ago, MySpace looked like the eternal, uncontested giant on the social networking scene. But the second mice — like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — figured out what was wrong with MySpace and fixed the problems. MySpace got the first wave (mainly kids and club-hoppers) and the rest (adults) went to the second mice. And none of them — I repeat, none of them — have figured out how to make any kind of money off the social networking deal. Which is why I’m so hard on silly little business ideas like “Hair-Loss Lifestyle Full-Scale Online Community.”

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