For any big movie fan, it’s a bit surreal to walk into Michael Lynne‘s office in Manhattan. Lynne is the Co-founder and former Co-CEO of New Line Cinema, and current Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Unique Features. Thanks to Michael Lynne, movie fans have been given blockbuster after blockbuster, including The Lord of the Rings series and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
He also owns a large estate in East Hampton and is the owner of the well-known and popular Bedell Cellars Winery in Cutchogue, and Corey Creek Vineyards in Southold-both on the North Fork.
Michael Lynne grew up in Brooklyn where his father was a lawyer and his mother was a homemaker. He attended Midwood High School and then went on to Brooklyn College as an undergrad. After graduation he attended Columbia Law School with intentions of becoming a lawyer.
“I was an English Lit major in college and when I graduated I think my father felt that I would be better off being some kind of a professional rather than being a poet or a writer for theatre,” Lynne said. “I knew that being a doctor or an accountant wasn’t for me, so I took the law boards, did well and ended up going to law school-not really knowing what that career path would bring. In my second year at Columbia I took a copyright course and during that time I learned that there was something called theatrical law. I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
During law school, Lynne spent a summer as an associate/clerk at the prestigious entertainment law firm Weissberger & Frosch in Manhattan. At that time the firm represented actors such as Richard Burton, Rex Harrison and Elizabeth Taylor, among others. “I spent a lot of time in that office one summer reading all of the contracts of these major stars and thought to myself, wow, I can do this, this sounds like fun.”
After he graduated from law school, Lynne moved with laser-like focus to get into entertainment law and landed a job at another prestigious firm, Colton & Fernbach. “They represented just about everybody on Broadway. There were only five lawyers there and I was one of them, but of course at that time I was the lowest man on the totem pole. We represented many iconic figures of Broadway at the time such as Richard Rogers, Hal Prince and George Abbott. Theatre had always been something I had been interested in through college so it was a natural extension.”
Lynne spent three years at that firm and then in the late ’60s went on to Embassy Pictures as in-house counsel. At that time Embassy was run by Joe Levine from Boston who brought Italian movies over to the United States and released them with English dubbing. “The first three pictures I worked on at Embassy were The Graduate, The Lion in Winter and The Producers, so that was pretty amazing. It was then I got the bug for film,” Lynne said with a laugh.
This was all before the digital age and among many of the interesting things that he did for Embassy Pictures was count tickets. “I remember very distinctly when The Graduate was first released and it played in Cinema 1 over on Third Avenue in Manhattan. What I did was physically go down to the theater and count the people on the line to make sure the theater was giving us a fair count. Joe would always have somebody at the theater, day and night, doing just that.”
From Embassy, Lynne went on to work in television at the firm Barovick & Konecky as a lawyer, and “almost organically started to develop my own clients.”
Eventually he got the confidence to start his own practice with a man named Richard Blumenthal, who he had worked with at Colton & Fernbach and had since started his own firm. By bringing in his own stable of clients, Lynne developed a partnership with him. “We had a long run and did great. Really great.”
Lynne and Blumenthal began working together in 1972 and they continued together until 1990. From there he went to New Line Cinema. “I got involved with New Line in 1980 when I reconnected with Bob Shaye, who founded New Line because our daughters were in the same class at Dalton.”
Lynne then addressed the bank debt of New Line, which wasn’t structured right from the beginning. “I told him that I would need a $10,000 retainer to address the debt structure and could hear him gulp over the telephone. He has since then told me that at the time he agreed to it, the company had about $20,000 in its bank account. That tells you how far New Line has come since those days.”
After working with New Line Cinema and working through its initial problems, Lynne and Shaye were able to put it in a position to go public on the American Stock Exchange in 1986. As a public company, New Line Cinema did very well. In 1994 they merged it with Turner Broadcasting which in turn merged with Time Warner, who merged with AOL. They weathered each merger. After that, Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne began Unique Features, which today has a first look deal with Warner and currently has about 15 projects in various stages of development.
A true fan of food and wine his whole life, Lynne went into the wine business after all of his enormous success in the movie business. Using his artistic and business touch, he has been able to position Bedell Cellars and Corey Creek among the top vineyards in the country. “I just thought it would be a lot of fun to own a winery and I was in a position to do that 12 or so years ago,” he said. “I felt that I wanted to do something close to New York and fell in love with the North Fork. It’s gorgeous there and I’m in touch with Bedell and Corey Creek every day.”
Many restaurants throughout the Hamptons and the North Fork serve his wine.
Lynne is a true believer, leader and admirer of the East End, “The beauty of the East End is just so extraordinary. It is just such a feast for the eye and the local produce and restaurants are amazing. The air is so sweet and the feeling I get when I’m there is wonderful. It’s a very appealing alternative for our New York City life. I just love it.”