His shining ‘spotlight’

By Mark Baker | Living Here | |

He remembers riding his bicycle to a downtown theater in the early ’70s, a quest to watch four “Planet of the Apes” movies in one sitting.

One of his “absolute fondest memories” is attending a Charlie Chaplin film series at the University of Oregon when he was 9 or 10.

“What was wonderful about Eugene is you had so much freedom,” David Linde says by phone from his office in Beverly Hills, where he has been CEO of Participant Media since Nov. 1. “You could get on your bike and go anywhere. It was an incredibly empowering experience.”

Back then, the son of former UO law professor and Oregon Supreme Court Justice Hans Linde had no idea he would end up in the movie business.

He just knew that, like most of us, he loves movies.

“I’m one of those guys who loves to sit in a movie theater,” says Linde, 55, a 1978 graduate of South Eugene High School.

This past Sunday, Linde found himself sitting with his wife, Felicia Rosenfeld, in Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre.

It was the 88th Academy Awards, and two films that Participant Media was involved in producing, “Spotlight” and “Bridge of Spies,” were up for best picture.

The front-runner, however, was “The Revenant,” which led with 12 nominations and would take Oscars for best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), director (Alejandro Iñárritu) and cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki).

But what came out of presenter Morgan Freeman’s mouth after he opened the envelope to announce the evening’s final Oscar was: “Spotlight.”

Linde’s reaction? “Absolute joy,” he says.

Keep in mind that “Spotlight” — about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests — was released the same month that Linde started at Participant Media, so he was not involved in the production of the film. But he was there to assist in its push for the ultimate Oscar.

And it’s not the first best picture winner he’s been affiliated with in his career that began with Paramount Pictures in New York in 1985.

During his time with Miramax International in the ’90s he oversaw the overseas release of the 1996 best picture “The English Patient,” as well as many other acclaimed films, including 1994 cult hit “Pulp Fiction.”

Linde was hired at Participant Media from Lava Bear Films, a company he started in 2011 and for which he is still an adviser.

Before that, he was co-chairman of Universal Pictures from 2006 to 2009 and ran the specialty film studio Focus Features from 2002 to 2006. The latter was honored with 53 Oscar nominations, garnering 11, during Linde’s time there.

“A lot of movies that I’m very proud of,” Linde says — films such as 2002’s “The Pianist,” 2003’s “Lost in Translation” and 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain.”

“David is a thoroughly decent human being who also happens to understand film, artists, distribution, social causes, fairness and entrepreneurial opportunities,” Participant Media founder and Chairman Jeff Skoll, formerly president of eBay and one of the executive producers on “Spotlight,” told entertainment trade magazine Variety in October. “I could not seek a better partner as we continue to build Participant as a global media company serving the public interest.”

The path to Participant

As Participant Media’s chief executive, Linde is responsible for leading the company’s overall strategy, day-to-day operations, content creation, advocacy, strategic investments and acquisitions.

After graduating from South Eugene, where he played on league champion soccer teams in 1976 and 1977, Linde attended Swarthmore College outside Philadelphia for a few years, taking a year off to hitchhike across Australia when he was 19. He also lived in Germany, his father’s ancestral homeland, and Switzerland while growing up.

“For my parents, culture is very important,” Linde says. “It was always very important to them that, if you don’t understand where people come from, and their history, you can’t possibly understand them. I was always encouraged to travel the world.”

Hans, 91, who served the state’s highest court from 1977 to 1990, and Helen Linde, 92, now live in Portland, where they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last summer.

Hans Linde’s father was an attorney in Berlin, and the family fled Nazi Germany for Denmark in 1933 before moving to the United States in 1939, according to a 1990 Register-Guard story about Hans Linde’s retirement from the state Supreme Court.

The family moved first to New York and then Portland when Hans was 16.

One step at a time

David Linde left Swarthmore in 1983 to follow Rosenfeld, the woman who would become his wife, to New York City.

He got a job as a paralegal in a law firm as he thought about what he wanted to do. He had made a couple of films in college and, when he saw an opening for a paralegal position at Paramount Pictures, he applied.

New York City was the hotbed of independent filmmaking in America in the early and mid-1980s, Linde says. The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, were to be found there after their cult hit “Blood Simple” in 1984.

“When I was trying to decide what I wanted to do, I was really inspired by the independent voices in these independent films,” Linde says.

At that time, Linde met Jim Jarmusch, the independent filmmaker known for films such as 1984’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” 1986’s “Down By Law” and 2005’s “Broken Flowers,” at a bar on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Years later, Linde’s Focus Features would help produce “Broken Flowers,” starring Bill Murray.

Linde’s big break came when film producer Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax who would go on to win an Oscar for producing 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” hired him in 1991.

A year later, Linde became a founding executive of Miramax Films International.

Behind the scenes

Four production companies were involved in producing “Spotlight,” Linde says. Movie producers typically operate behind the scenes, planning and coordinating nuts-and-bolts elements of film production such as picking scripts, lining up money to fund production, coordinating writing, directing and editing, and making sure directors stay on budget.

Skoll told Variety last fall that the company wants to be “the Disney of social impact.”

Journalists at the Boston Globe and around the nation have said this past week that the film’s win is a boon for the struggling newspaper journalism industry.

“The movie has inspired several things,” says Linde, who delivered The Register-Guard as a boy. “It has inspired the importance of journalism and its position as a vital form of expression. We deem what journalists do to be incredibly important for a free and open society.

“As a company that is concerned with social impact, a movie that empowers journalism’s impact, where people’s lives changed for the better … is only an extension of that kind of legitimate power.”