New Line's Toby Emmerich on Why 'Horrible Bosses 2' Faltered and What's Next After 'Hobbit'

THR_Exec_Suite_Toby_Emmerich - H 2014
Emily Berl

THR_Exec_Suite_Toby_Emmerich - H 2014

The president and chief operating officer talks about who really has greenlight power at Warner Bros. and his upcoming slate, which includes the superhero adaptation 'Shazam!,' the 'Vacation' reboot — and another 'Dumb and Dumber'?

This story first appeared in the Jan. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When New Line Cinema merged into its parent Warner Bros. in 2008, and Toby Emmerich, 51, replaced his former mentors, New Line co-founders Michael Lynne and Robert Shaye, nobody in town was quite sure about his future. He had, after all, grown up in one of the more offbeat companies around, a longtime indie staple that had been run by some of the most maverick executives in the industry; and in his earlier years he had shared the spotlight with such high-profile executives as Michael De Luca. Would Emmerich last at Warners? Would New Line itself?

Read more How New Line Lost 'Dumb and Dumber To' -- and Got the Franchise Back

Six years later, both are thriving. Emmerich can claim credit for one of the most profitable films of an otherwise troubled 2014 -- Annabelle, the horror prequel that grossed $253 million worldwide on a scant $6.5 million budget -- and he's also the executive in charge of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which opens domestically Dec. 17 and is expected to be one of the year's biggest tentpoles. He's now a pivotal aide to newly installed Warner Bros. Entertainment chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who last year gave him equal power with Warners' president of worldwide marketing and international distribution, Sue Kroll, and its president of creative development and worldwide production, Greg Silverman.

Emmerich, who lives in Coldwater Canyon and is married with two young daughters (Cosy, 10, and Clio, 6), joined New Line in 1992 as a music executive with production ambitions; one of the first scripts for which he wrote notes was David O. Russell's Spanking the Monkey. In 2001, he succeeded De Luca as president of production, overseeing an extraordinary run fueled by Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Sex and the City.

A gift from The Golden Compass director Chris Weitz.

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The son of New York City art gallery owner and writer Andre Emmerich and concert pianist Constance Emmerich, New Line's COO has impeccable taste: When his division relocated from Robertson Boulevard in West Los Angeles to the Warners lot in June, he turned the space into a midcentury masterpiece, punctuated by Eames chairs and cork flooring. That's where he sat down Dec. 10 to discuss the conclusion of the Middle-earth era and his upcoming slate -- which includes the superhero adaptation Shazam! and the Vacation reboot.

When Tsujihara became CEO of Warner Bros. last year, he gave you, Sue Kroll and Greg Silverman equal power. How did that impact you?

On the New Line side, it's affected us less [than in the main Warner Bros. division] in that Sue has always been our marketing partner. She's always overseen the marketing of our films, while Dan Fellman and Veronika Kwan Vandenberg have overseen distribution. That hasn't changed. Greg runs the Warners slate, and I run the New Line slate. For us, it's really been great, but the players haven't changed much. When I came in here, we reported to [former Warners president] Alan Horn then to [former Warners movie division president] Jeff Robinov and now to Kevin. We do have more control over physical production, though.

Read more New Line Sets Release Date for 'Conjuring 2'

How would you describe the greenlight process? Does rule-by-committee work?

Kevin has sole greenlight authority.

A framed photo of producer Hawk Koch, director Gregory Hoblit and Emmerich on the set of
Frequency, which Emmerich wrote.

Sony is embroiled in one of the worst instances of corporate hacking in history. Are you changing the way you use email?

I don't think any of us are careful enough about emails. When you are writing an email, you should imagine yourself in an auditorium speaking to 5,000 people, with your mother and grandmother in the audience, and it is being broadcast on CNN. We are just realizing what it is to put something in an email. It's not like writing something on a bathroom wall. For our industry, this is an incredibly traumatizing, violating and disturbing turn of events. It certainly makes you think about what you write.

Have you squabbled with people via email, like Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin?

You'd have to ask my wife or my employees. I don't squabble a lot, but everyone has a bad day.

Read more 'Horrible Bosses 2': Film Review

It's been a tough year at the U.S. box office, where many films have underperformed, particularly big event titles. What's going on?

There are so many entertainment options -- Netflix, Amazon, Hulu -- and especially for younger people, who are Internet-savvy and video game fans. And the original programming on television is just so terrific. Over Thanksgiving, I binge-watched Downton Abbey and True Detective. There's simply more competition for that leisure time.

Emmerich commissioned artist Robert Cottingham to paint a canvas of the Olivetti typewriter belonging to his late father, Andre Emmerich.

What steps can the movie business take to make sure it's better protected?

A movie needs to have a must-see quality among the people you are targeting. Also, make movies at a responsible budget so that if you attract your core audience and they show up in the first few weekends, the economics will work. We also need to be more creative in the marketing spend and use social media above and beyond traditional media buys and trailers.

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Annabelle, like The Conjuring, soared at the box office. What makes them must-see?

These films have a rabid, core fan base, and they want to see them the first weekend because their friends will be talking about them. It's where the whole idea of targeted, genre filmmaking comes from, which is what New Line is all about. People now sniff out if a movie is good or bad at the test-screening stage, so if you make a horror movie that delivers for the audience, the audience knows before you open.

Are you looking at any other horror franchises?

Eventually we'll probably reboot [one] of our iconic titles. We'll never completely say goodbye to Freddy [Krueger of Nightmare on Elm Street] or some of those classic characters.

The sword from the
Lord of the Rings movies was a present from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.

With Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies coming to an end, will New Line remain in the tentpole business?

We hope so. We have one coming next May, San Andreas. There hasn't been an earthquake disaster movie made with today's technology, and we thought Dwayne Johnson was the perfect star to put in the center of it.

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Will you and Jackson do another Tolkien adaptation?

Tolkien wrote other books, but [his family] hasn't optioned those to any motion picture group. I'd love to make more movies and TV with Peter.

The New Line brand is synonymous with R-rated comedies, horror and female titles like The Notebook. Does this recipe still work?

Yes, those are our main genre buckets. We also do contained thrillers, such as Fracture, and the opportunistic tentpole. What is newer for us is getting back into multicultural movies, going back to the days of New Line's House Party, Menace II Society and Above the Rim.

These Shazam and Black Adam figures were a gift from DC Entertainment as New Line adapts the comic book

Comedy franchises can be very tricky. Horrible Bosses 2 didn't do as well as the first film. Why?

We got a little bit unlucky, and in hindsight, it probably would have been better to release the movie earlier. I think Thanksgiving is probably a tough time for R-rated comedies. Dumb and Dumber To had a better release date [Nov. 14].

Read more 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies': Film Review

The previous Warners administration made you give up Dumb and Dumber To, which went to Red Granite and Universal. But you have rights to a follow-up. Will you make it?

It's really up to Peter and Bobby [Farrelly], and Jim [Carrey] and Jeff [Daniels]. If they want to do one, we'd love to be involved. This time, it would be distributed by us and Warners.

Will there be another We're the Millers?

It's in active development, and we're planning on bringing everyone back. It's funny how much a big room of people matters when it comes to comedy. I remember a screening of We're the Millers at a friend's house, with six couples after a dinner party. It played so quietly that my wife looked at me and said, "I thought you said this was funny." I was so nervous. You need the electricity of a group of people in a theater.

New Line's digs on the Warners lot feature a lounge with a popcorn machine and oversize Scrabble board.

In October you release Vacation. What was the main challenge in rebooting that franchise?

There were three: getting Ed Helms, Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo to star.

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What's the ideal number of films you'd like to make annually and at what budget?

We'd like to produce between six and eight. This year we had six. Next year we have four or five scheduled. By 2016, we'd like to be closer to eight. On average, our budgets are in the $30 million to $40 million range.

How has New Line adjusted to being in Burbank?

It's much more efficient. We did resist it because we were worried whether we would still be New Line if we weren't on Robertson.

Which New Line movies have your daughters seen?

The two movies they are most proud that their daddy worked on are Elf and Hairspray. On road trips, those films are in heavy rotation.