Bob Shaye is not your typical studio executive.

Sarah Royce
“The Last Mimzy” is another feather in the hat of prolific alum Robert Shaye. (Courtesy of New Line)

While most Hollywood CEOs get a Vanity Fair cover probing frivolous internal “controversy” at a studio that hasn’t released a decent movie in years, University alum Shaye actually works for a living.

Founder of independent powerhouse New Line Cinema, Shaye has shaped the studio into a major player in the industry, with franchises including the “Lord of the Rings,” “Austin Powers” and the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. But the coolest thing about Shaye, outside of all those movies, is the fact that he once walked the same halls you do now.

“I was at the University of Michigan when Tom Hayden was the editor of The Michigan Daily. It was very halcyon times in Michigan,” Shaye said.

The media entrepreneur, who graduated in 1960, will return to the University tomorrow with his new movie “The Last Mimzy,” his first directorial effort in more than 15 years. The film will screen at The Michigan Theater at 7:30 p.m. with a question-and-answer session to follow.

A Detroit native, Shaye was a student in the Business school and a member of acting groups.

“It was all about football and girls,” he said. “I didn’t play football and I didn’t have many girls, but I heard about all of them.”

After graduating in just three and a half years, Shaye wound up at Columbia University to study law, only to take the radical step of founding New Line Cinema in 1967.

New Line was able to build itself up with the quintessential ingredients of a successful studio — luck, managerial intuition, skill and, most important, some loyal long-term employees.

“One thing you have to add into the equation is incredible colleagues, who are incredibly contributory to the success of the company,” he said.

Shaye has also had the fortune of some outstanding creative company, jumpstarting the careers of Wes Craven, Paul Thomas Anderson, Peter Jackson and Brett Ratner. He also helped engineer Robert Altman’s second life in the early ’90s.

Shaye always wanted to work in the arts and movies since he was young, making 8mm short films for fun and work. “It was something that was really in my blood, in my soul, since I was very young,” he said.

His new film, “The Last Mimzy,” is a science-fiction family adventure based in part on the Lewis Padgett 1943 short story “Mimzy Were the Borogoves.” In the movie, a strange box is found by two young children, Emma and Noah, which supposedly contains toys. The two play with the items only to develop higher cognitive abilities, much to the confusion and astonishment of adults. The toys may in fact be a connection to the future, and Noah and Emma may be mankind’s only hope.

If you’re imagining a poor-man’s nostalgic reinterpretation of “E.T.” or “Close Encounters,” think again. A blue-moon opportunity for Shaye, “Mimzy” is the work of man in touch with his youthful spirit. Shaye considers himself a hopeless romantic for sci-fi, searching for the goodness in society.

“I was a science-fiction geek when I was a kid. I may still be a science-fiction geek. When I read the short story I was about 14, and it really resonated with me. It never left my memory,” Shaye said. “I’m embarrassed to say (it), but I exercised my executive privileges, and I wanted to direct it.”

With the aid of several screenwriters – including Oscar winner Bruce Joel Rubin, a fellow University alum – the film came to fruition over a 13-year period and will finally open in theaters next week.

“I’m very proud of it being a family movie, and I’ve seen audiences appreciate it,” Shaye said. “I just hope I don’t get a bunch of rowdy college students going out on to the streets because it wasn’t what they wanted. But to quote the producer Michael Phillips, it makes you feel good to be a human being.”

Since theatrically grisly and crass movies like the recent “300” have come to define the college movie, “Mimzy” could be a refreshing antithesis.

At New Line, Shaye looks forward to the release of “Mimzy” and other high-profile films coming soon from the studio, such as “Rush Hour 3,” “Hairspray” and the “His Dark Materials” trilogy.

As for Shaye himself, he and his family have developed a screenwriting program for the University, and he was the recipient of the David G. Alger Alumni award in 2006. He hopes to return to Ann Arbor soon to hold a master’s seminar in the business of filmmaking.

In short: Michigan grad makes good.

The Last Mimzy
Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
At the Michigan Theater

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *