Best known as the founder, co-chairman, and co-CEO of New Line Cinema, warhorse Robert K. Shaye is responsible for turning that enterprise from a fledgling, independently owned distributor of "arthouse" features and documentaries (circa the late '60s), into one of the most significant film production companies and distributors of motion-picture entertainment in the international marketplace. Fiscally, it currently stands as the fifth-ranked studio in Hollywood thanks to Shaye's efforts.
Born March 3, 1939, in Detroit, MI, Shaye initially pursued a career as a film director, authoring a training film for workers at his father's supermarket, and later helming the shorts Image (1963) and On Fighting Witches (1965). He received an MBA from the University of Michigan and a JD from Columbia University School of Law, then accepted a position, in the mid- to late '60s, with New York's Museum of Modern Art (infamous for its extensive archival film holdings) and used the knowledge he obtained from that post to explore the option of establishing a startup film distributorship out of his Greenwich Village apartment.
Shaye founded "New Line Cinema" (as he named the business) in 1967, initially as an outlet for rereleases of "cult" films (such as the 1936 Reefer Madness, which became a sensation among potheads) and first-run domestic issues of international films, much as Barney Rosset's Grove Press was doing right at around the same time. But whereas Grove experienced financial difficulty in the early to mid-'70s and watched its film distribution wing fold, New Line enjoyed enormous success on all fronts through the end of the decade. The corporation branched out into far more lucrative and commercial territory (the "mainstream") in the '80s and '90s, largely thanks to the release of Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street series, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, and -- later on -- the Austin Powers series. In 1993, it inherited the Friday the 13th franchise as well (then dormant for four years, a longer lapse than at any point in the prior history of the series) and successfully revived it with Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, raking in millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, Shaye branched out into more independent, arthouse fare (in competition with such entities as Miramax), and established the Fine Line Features distribution wing of New Line in 1990 to help accomplish this goal. With teenage slasher fans and a more discerning, educated viewership under its belt, concurrently, New Line thus managed to reach multiple audiences on opposite sides of the industry spectrum -- an unprecedented move in the American film industry.
New Line's successful arthouse projects during the '90s and 2000s include The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993), Pleasantville (1998), Magnolia (1999), About Schmidt (2002), and Punch-Drunk Love (2002), to name only a few among dozens. Over the years, New Line -- under Shaye's aegis -- has become industry godfather to such maverick filmmakers as Craven, John Waters, Alexander Payne, Albert and Allen Hughes, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Robert Altman (in his early '90s Hollywood resurgence).
Shaye is a Fulbright Scholar, a trustee of Columbia College, and a member of the New York State Bar Association. He serves on several committees, including the Legal Aid Society of New York, the AFI, and the Board of Trustees of Motion Picture Pioneers.