RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Bob Shaye has enjoyed one of the more remarkable careers in Hollywood history. He started a successful film studio by making daring wagers on an eclectic group of films, from John Waters' "Pink Flamingos" to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Lately, Bob Shaye hired himself to direct "The Last Mimzy" which opens on Friday.
NPR's Kim Masters reports.
KIM MASTERS: Bob Shaye started New Line out of his Greenwich Village apartment in 1967. Now he's 67 and a famous curmudgeon. He's also one of the only individuals in many decades to start a successful movie studio from scratch.
(Soundbite of song "Sympathy For The Devil")
Mr. MICK JAGGER (Vocalist, The Rolling Stones): (Singing) Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste…
MASTERS: Shaye's first big success was distributing "Sympathy For The Devil" on college campuses around the country. Jean-Luc Goddard's documentary about the counterculture featured The Rolling Stones.
Mr. BOB SHAYE (Founder, New Line Cinema): And that really, really clicked for us. It wasn't very satisfying for audiences, I'm afraid, at least from the reactions we got, but it didn't stop people from wanting to come to see the Stones.
MASTERS: In those early days Shaye also had a submission from an unknown named John Waters. The film was called "Multiple Maniacs" and it was too weird even for Shaye. But he invited Waters to try again.
Mr. SHAYE: Six months later maybe, I get another fiberboard case with a 16-millimeter reel in it and it's called "Pink Flamingos". And I put it on the projector in our office and as I watched it - I actually watched it by myself, there was one scene in particular that came up that I had to stop the projector and run it backwards because I didn't believe what I had seen.
MASTERS: Anyone who's watched "Pink Flamingos," which became a cult legend, knows there is plenty of footage like that in the film, most of which doesn't bear discussion on the radio. But it worked for Shaye.
Mr. SHAYE: This was a film that was outstandingly subversive and that also meant that it had the marketing hook that we thought that we could, I mean in a nice sense of the word, exploit.
MASTERS: With a mix of highbrow and lowbrow films, Shaye went on to build an empire, an empire that he eventually sold to Time Warner, though he remained at the helm. His company has had many highs and lows with successes from "Austin Powers" to "About Schmidt."
A few years back, Shaye laid an enormous wager by agreeing to make "The Lord of the Rings" into a film trilogy. It was a stunning success. But director Peter Jackson has sued New Line over the profits.
In an interview with the SCI FI Wire Web site, Shaye has said that Jackson was arrogant and vowed never to work with him again, a disappointment to fans who hoped Jackson would direct the film version of "The Hobbit." Since making those comments, Shaye has become reticent.
Mr. SHAYE: We don't comment on ongoing litigation. And, you know, that's the basis for the breakup of a relationship. And we didn't start the lawsuit, so we're just defending it.
MASTERS: Shaye has taken a more personal risk by directing "The Last Mimzy." He's directed a few times before, most recently a 1990 romantic comedy called "Book of Love." And he hasn't met with much success. Many in Hollywood find it odd that Shaye would take this chance, especially since New Line has been on a bad run lately.
But Shaye says he had no trouble performing as co-chairman of the company while working on the film. "The Last Mimzy" is based on a short story by Lewis Padgett. The film tells a tale of two kids who find a capsule on a beach. Inside are curious objects, including a stuffed rabbit called Mimzy.
The kids soon acquire extraordinary powers and discover that they're on a mission to save humanity.
(Soundbite of movie "The Last Mimzy")
Mr. CHRIS O' NEIL (Actor): (as Noah Wilder) This geometric design is extraordinarily strong and would be equal to a beam that could hold 1,000 tons per square inch.
Mr. TIMOTHY HUTTON (Actor): (as David Wilder) Did he find a bomb? Did you help him?
Ms. JOELY RICHARDSON (Actress): (as Jo Wilder): No. He must have done it all by himself. He's just sort of taken off all of a sudden…
MASTERS: Producer Michael Phillips brought Shaye the idea for the film in 1993.
Mr. MICHAEL PHILLIPS (Producer, "The Last Mimzy"): And he said, wait a second. Is this one that kids who find the toy? I said, yes. And he said I know this story. I've loved it ever since I was a kid. And we shook hands. And he said we're going to put this on the fast track.
MASTERS: Fourteen years later, "The Last Mimzy" is ready to be released. Shaye says it took a great deal of time to come up with a good script. When the project finally was ready to go, Shaye became gravely ill. That delayed him from starting the film for another year. When he went to work, he was frail. He remembers a crewmember offering him a hand to keep him steady on his feet.
Mr. SHAYE: It wasn't something a fully enabled person with need but I really did take his hands with certain shyness.
MASTERS: That shyness was out of character. Shaye's reputation for crankiness preceded him to the point that Rainn Wilson, perhaps best known for playing Dwight on the NBC series "The Office," had some doubts when he was offered a part in the movie.
Wilson checked around and heard that Shaye was actually a pleasure to work with, at least on a movie set. Wilson found that Shaye was collaborative but decisive.
Mr. RAINN WILSON (Actor): He was crazy moving things along. He would - as soon as he saw a take he liked, he's like, okay, moving on. I'm used to the kind of directors that, you know, they'll get a good take but they'll be like, oh my goodness. What didn't I find? What didn't I get?
MASTERS: To Shaye, one major theme of the film is the ubiquity of electronic devices and their desensitizing and isolating effect.
Mr. SHAYE: You don't have to ponder that too much; if you go into a restaurant, you'll see half the people are on cell phones at lunch or dinner and everybody's got a Blackberry that they're pulling out here and there, and people are using their iPods and things. And everybody is plugged in to such an extent that it does suggest a kind of a technological addiction.
MASTERS: Shaye says he's not sure the human race is even mature enough to handle all of this. He believes that a note of caution is appropriate.
Mr. SHAYE: Listen. I think the Internet is fantastic for certain things. I just don't think it's fantastic for sitting there and chatting with people who don't even use their real names like Sam23 and, you know, iloveyou19, I mean, what kind of business is that?
MASTERS: Shaye is particularly annoyed with the Internet these days. He says he gets depressed when certain self-appointed online critics have harsh words for his film. And Shaye knows the film is facing difficult odds. One irony is that "The Last Mimzy" opens this weekend against "TMNT," an updated version of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Shaye's company made a fortune on the turtles in the early '90s but he passed on this version, thinking that they're subversive appeal had vanished. Now it appears he was wrong. Warner Brothers, owned by New Line parent company Time Warner, is opening "TMNT" against Shaye's film and it looks as though the turtles are poised to beat the rabbit this weekend.
Kim Masters, NPR News.
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MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.