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What Spielberg Really Wants

What Spielberg Really Wants

It’s hard to recall what a big deal it was when Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen created DreamWorks SKG as an alternative studio back in 1994. Many have analyzed the multiple reasons for the ultimate failure of their experiment. To put it simply, you can’t run a studio-scale studio without studio-scale resources, and it was business genius Geffen who knew how to mastermind that–until he left in 2008. In 2005 he supervised the sale of DreamWorks to Paramount, which was a disaster. Jeffrey Katzenberg wisely broke away in 2004 with public company DreamWorks Animation, which eventually moved from a distribution deal at Paramount to current partner Twentieth Century Fox.

In 2006 India’s Reliance came to the rescue to fund DreamWorks, and it’s hard to say how many billions they have lost to date. Through this entire period, while he was running Dreamworks live action with ex-Universal chairman Stacey Snider (who eventually left DreamWorks for Fox), Spielberg continued to do what he has always done: run his business out of his Amblin offices at Universal. He always made the films he wanted to make, at whatever studio, not necessarily doing what was financially best for DreamWorks. And now he may well return to the studio where he feels he always belonged. (Talks are underway with several studios, writes The Hollywood Reporter.)

The roots of this wandering company go back to the moment when Universal’s Ron Meyer couldn’t get the deal for DreamWorks that Geffen demanded from then-owner General Electric’s Jeffrey Immelt. That forced DreamWorks to go to Paramount. Universal is where Spielberg has always felt at home, since his start as a young whippersnapper in the business. And it’s where he is most likely to return.

The fit at Disney for the past six years has never been particularly strong, as the studio released Spielberg’s films under the Touchstone label and became more invested in the blockbuster movies from their Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Marvel brands. A series of “Star Wars” reboots are launching this fall. Initially, DreamWorks was planning to supply about six movies a year but wound up delivering far less, from Spielberg’s Oscar-winning “Lincoln” ( ($275 million) to the upcoming fall festival entry “Bridge of Spies” (October 16). Disney opted not to renew the partnership past next summer, when “The BFG” comes out. 

Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media will likely continue to be a heavy investor in DreamWorks and its projects. They made “Lincoln” and “The Help” ($216 million worldwide) as well as box office dud “The Fifth Estate.”

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