Friday, February 29, 2008


Darling Husband left me a tasty morsel on the breakfast table this morning, by way of an article by Brooks Barnes in the NY Times Business section, Warner Studio Takes Control of New Line. It begins:
Time Warner announced Thursday that New Line Cinema, one of its marquee movie studios, would become a unit of Warner Brothers, ceasing to operate as a full-service, stand-alone unit.

In the process, New Line will shed an unspecified but substantial number of its 600 employees, including Robert Shaye, the studio’s founder...
WOOHOO! I exulted.

Why? Allow me to explain.

In the early 1980s, I took a job as the assistant (read: abused secretary) to Shaye and his then-VP of production, Sara Risher. In those days New Line was a struggling indie located on the noisome fringes of Manhattan's Garment District. My duties were to:
  • make phone calls for Shaye, even when the Rolodex was sitting in front of him
  • answer the phone in a voice with the perfect combination of sophistication and servility (Shaye drilled me till I got the tone just right)
  • serve coffee to important guests on specially purchased Royal Copenhagen porcelain (which I had to wash up afterwards)
  • analyse screenplays when Shaye/Risher didn't want to pay for outside readers
  • screen videos of movies from small-time producers looking for a distributor
  • take dictation
  • take notes during meetings
  • type, type, type
  • be yelled at--a lot--and like it
My only claims to fame are that I got to meet and hang out with John Waters, and I wrote the first press release (pre-production) for "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Its grabby lead: "Do dreams kill?"

My only excuse for accepting such a wretched job is that I was broke and recovering from a severe concussion (my first equestrian mishap). I guess the brain damage was worse than I'd thought, else I wouldn't have kept believing the job--and my employer--would improve.

Barnes admirably understates:
Indeed, the consolidation may be as much about egos as economics. Mr. Shaye and Mr. Lynne — whose aggressive style and loyalty to offbeat projects like “The Last Mimzy” have raised eyebrows — have long resisted combining New Line with Warner Brothers, leading to a running soap opera for the company.
I was constantly sick while I worked there, and not just because of the then-new office's unwholesome location on 8th Avenue just south of Port Authority. (On my way out to lunch one day, I saw a couple have a knife fight in front of their screaming toddler.) My predecessor had symptoms of MS, which resolved as soon as she left. I was so dispirited that I almost moved to New Jersey. Amazing what stress will do to you.

After 16 months, I found a new job (at an even smaller film company, but that's another wretched story) and gave notice. My last day at New Line was hell. Shaye berated me constantly and I left in tears. To my astonishment, a few days later I received a handwritten letter of apology. I still have it. By now it's worth thousands--maybe millions--as I'm sure it's one of a kind.


Carol Burge said...

All I can say is this proves there's something to that old saying of... what comes around goes around. :)

Stephen Griffith said...

Great post!

Doreen Orion said...

As a shrink, I hope I won't be kicked out of any of my professional organizations by admitting that my favorite of the Freud brothers was always Schaden.

Loved your post!

Lisa said...

You've lived one of the most fascinating lives of anyone I've ever met! I just want to sit on the floor with a bowl of popcorn and prod you for stories.

Sustenance Scout said...

Had to laugh at your NJ comment, Bella! And yes, what goes around comes around. At least in this instance it sounds like it did. K.

Bella Stander said...

Glad you caught the joke! Yes, what goes around comes around, though sometimes at glacial speed.

Southern Writer said...

I love hearing that those kind of people got what was coming to them. It restores my faith in the balance of karma. Now will you tell us about the job after that one?