Despite working for the same studio for four years, Marc Shmuger and David Linde only occasionally crossed paths.
Now, they will be working closely together, side by side, running Universal Pictures from a suite of offices in the studio’s famed Black Tower.
In what amounts to an arranged marriage, the two Thursday were officially named to run the studio in a pairing that will face its share of challenges given their different backgrounds.
Although Shmuger’s business card carries the slightly elevated title of chairman to Linde’s co-chairman, the two are equals in reporting to Universal Studios President Ron Meyer. He played matchmaker in naming them to replace Stacey Snider, who has left to run DreamWorks SKG at Paramount Pictures.
“I feel very confident that they have complementary skills and they are not going to clash with each other,” Meyer said in an interview.
Universal becomes the latest studio to hand the reins over to two executives, a sign that top film jobs have grown increasingly taxing as companies expand internationally, adapt to new technologies and launch complex, big-budget projects.
“These are really hard decisions to make,” Shmuger said. “What movies to make, how to make them at what price, how to market and release them. In isolation, that is very challenging.”
Other studios have opted for shared management arrangements. Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos run Fox Filmed Entertainment. At Sony Pictures Entertainment, Chairman Michael Lynton and movie chief Amy Pascal enjoy a complementary working relationship, as do Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman Barry Meyer and President Alan Horn.
Shmuger and Linde will need to quickly mesh their different personalities and styles. As Universal vice chairman, Shmuger oversaw the studio’s worldwide marketing and distribution of major releases.
For four years, Linde served as co-head of Focus Features, Universal’s New York-based specialty film label. He enjoyed virtual autonomy from Universal while helping shepherd such acclaimed movies as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “The Constant Gardener.”
Although both are experienced at marketing and distribution, neither has overseen the development and production of a big studio movie such as “King Kong” or “A Beautiful Mind.”
Shmuger will probably retain control of domestic marketing and distribution while continuing to serve as the studio’s main liaison with General Electric Co., which controls studio parent NBC Universal.
Linde will keep overseeing Focus and its genre label Rogue Pictures and also will take the lead on expanding Universal’s role in the international market.
Both men are viewed as serious, brainy and somewhat conservative. Married with kids, neither is a fixture on the entertainment party circuit.
“I was senior class president of my high school,” said Linde, 46, who grew up in Eugene, Ore. “I’m as straight as they come.”
Shmuger, 47, a St. Louis native, has fully embraced the button-down GE corporate culture, making trips to its Fairfield, Conn., headquarters and putting in time at company retreats.
Linde, whose Focus job is based in New York, plans to move this summer to Los Angeles. He said he was confident that he and Shmuger would make a good team.
“It’s great to have somebody to lob ideas with back and forth,” Linde said.
He already has been working easily in a partnership with Focus co-chief James Schamus.
Shmuger, however, has a reputation for being highly opinionated. Unlike Linde, he aggressively sought the top job.
“I am the chairman and I am thrilled to have a co-chairman and more thrilled it’s David Linde,” Shmuger said.
To overcome their lack of experience developing major studio films, the two are expected to rely heavily on co-production heads Donna Langley and John Gordon.
In addition, they must court and keep happy Universal’s largest movie supplier, Brian Grazer, who co-founded Imagine Entertainment with director Ron Howard.
Shmuger clashed with Grazer last year over the release date of Howard’s boxing drama “Cinderella Man” before the producer begrudgingly agreed with Shmuger’s decision to release the film in early summer instead of the fall. Despite rave reviews, the movie was a box-office disappointment and failed to get an Oscar nomination for best picture. Grazer said, however, that Shmuger “didn’t pick that date hoping to lose.”
“He is insanely competitive and he wants to win. And 80% of the time I’ve been with Marc Shmuger, we’ve won,” Grazer said.
Grazer also reluctantly agreed to Shmuger’s move in 2002 to push the release date of the producer’s pet project, “Blue Crush,” a surfer girl movie, from July to August. The film flopped.
Nonetheless, Grazer credits Shmuger with his adept handling of such films as Howard’s 2000 film “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Shmuger received plaudits for overseeing the marketing of last summer’s hit “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and the 2004 blockbuster “Meet the Fockers.”
Producers also credit Shmuger with successfully tapping into the power of NBC Universal’s various divisions to promote movies. Michael Shamberg, co-founder of Double Feature Films, said Shmuger enlisted the studio’s sister network in a DVD marketing blitz for the sleeper hit “Along Came Polly.”
“We were all over NBC and that really helped,” Shamberg said.
For his part, Linde is a virtual unknown among mainstream Hollywood filmmakers but, like Shmuger, is considered highly competitive, having learned the business as a young executive at the feet of Miramax Film co-founder Harvey Weinstein.
To buy the script of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 2003 gritty drama “21 Grams,” he called the filmmaker’s then-agent, John Lesher, four times a day. “He is not one of those ‘I’ll see you at the premiere’ types,” said Lesher, now head of Paramount Classics.
One of Linde’s strongest traits is his expertise in foreign film distribution, which is especially crucial with Universal setting up its overseas operation.
He also will play an important role with Shmuger in trying to keep in the Universal fold Working Title Films founders Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, producers of such hits as “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Notting Hill.” Their contracts expire next year.
Although Linde may be unproven with powerful industry figures, he is popular with such independent filmmakers as Fernando Meirelles (“The Constant Gardener”) and Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”).
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Home: Pacific Palisades
College: Wesleyan University (Connecticut)
Last job: Vice chairman, Universal Pictures, 2000-06
Home: New York City
College: Swarthmore College (Pennsylvania)
Last jobs: Since 2002, co-president of Universal’s Focus Features specialty film division and president of its Rogue Pictures genre unit.
Source: Universal Pictures