'DreamWorks SKG' Sold to 'Paramount'

Good film scripts often have surprise endings. And Mr.Steven Spielberg has proved time and again -- since he first made a splash with 'Jaws' 30 years ago -- that no filmmaker tells a story better than he does, whether it is about a little green man from outer space or the horror of 'The Holocaust'. This time he has come up with a dramatic variation on that old plotline where the bride and groom are standing at the altar and, all of a sudden, the bride's true love turns up at the back of the church. Just when it looked like his company, 'DreamWorks', was about to say 'I do' and jump into bed with 'Universal', along comes 'Universal's' lofty rival 'Paramount' and, before anyone can say 'Here's to you, Mrs Robinson', the pair are off on the bus, leaving the rest of the industry trying to work out what happened. Eleven years after Spielberg joined former 'Disney' executive Mr.Jeffrey Katzenberg and music mogul Mr.David Geffen to set up 'DreamWorks SKG' as a rival to the established major Hollywood studios, he has finally bowed to what many always thought was inevitable, selling out to the old order. In its short life, 'DreamWorks' made or part-financed almost 100 films, ranging from Academy-award winners such as 'Gladiator' and 'American Beauty' to the animated delight that is Shrek. DreamWorks even helped to hatch Nick Park's 'Chicken Run'. Unlike other major film companies, 'DreamWorks' was an independent film company, not part of a multinational corporation. But even before the industry's current downturn, 'DreamWorks' was having problems, accumulating debts running into hundreds of millions of dollars. After six months of talks with 'Universal', Spielberg surprised the industry by tying the knot at the weekend with 'Paramount', in a deal worth a whopping 1.6_billion_USD (900_million_GBP). Good movies often have sequels as well, and the public will be wondering what happens next, not just for 'DreamWorks', but for one of the very few directors whose name means more to the box-office than most 'A-list stars'. Is this the end for Spielberg? He will never have to work again. He's 59 next Sunday and has made the sort of money that makes lottery-winners look like paupers, but there's no sign of him heading off for an extended cruise. Quite the opposite, he's rarely been busier. 'Munich', his new drama about the terrorist killings at the 1972 Olympics, is about to open, just in time for Oscar consideration. It comes hot on the heels of his summer 2005 blockbuster, a 'War of the Worlds' remake. He has also been developing a new 'Indiana Jones' adventure, another 'Jurassic Park' film, a biopic about Abraham Lincoln, and he recently signed a deal with 'Electronic Arts', to create several video games. It is a wonderful example of multitasking that he managed to find time for important takeover talks and, perhaps, no surprise that he preferred the sound of dollar bills coming from the 'Paramount' mountain to the endless spinning of 'Universal'. Now he can get back to making films. Spielberg lives for movies. He always has. By his early teens he had written, directed and edited a whole series of little films, using an 8mm camera -- and his friends as cowboys and soldiers. He even incorporated Second World War archive footage into one. He claimed he got his start in the professional business by simply turning up at 'Universal' Studios, finding an empty office and setting up shop there, visiting sets and making contacts. It is probably not entirely true, yet it typifies his spirit and his enthusiasm for a good story. In his early twenties he was working for 'Universal' for real, directing the pilot for the TV series 'Night Gallery', starring Ms.Joan Crawford. For some that would be a career highlight; for Spielberg it was just the start. 'Duel' was a 'Universal' TV movie starring Mr.Dennis Weaver as a man on a desert-road trip, terrifyingly pursued by a smoke-spewing, rusty monster truck, which created so much excitement in the USA that it got a cinema release in Europe, and 'Universal' bankrolled him, to the tune of 12_million_USD, to make 'Jaws' in 1974. There were all sorts of problems, not least with the shark: everyone thought it looked silly and it kept sinking anyway. Meanwhile, the sharks in the industry were circling menacingly, scenting blood. It was widely expected 'Jaws' would be a disaster. It turned out to be the highest-grossing move of all time -- its current cinema gross is 470_million_USD -- and Spielberg was a 'made man'. 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977), 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981) and 'ET' (1982) consolidated his reputation and made Spielberg the most famous and successful director since Hitchcock. He worked simultaneously on 'Jurassic Park' and 'Schindler's List'. They were released in quick succession in 1993 and showed he could move, seemingly effortlessly, from the sort of films that get turned into theme-park rides to serious drama -- though detractors have continued to snipe at a perceived sentimentality in his work, despite the shocking violence of the beach scenes in 'Saving Private Ryan'. Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen invested 100_million_USD of their own money and persuaded backers to put up a whole lot more to set up 'DreamWorks SKG' in 1994. The company had ambitions in the fields of movies, television, music, video games and Internet and planned to build its own studio. The studio plans were abandoned, the music label lost money and several early films flopped. Spielberg's slavery drama, 'Amistad' (1997), proved a big disappointment. 'DreamWorks' was teetering when Spielberg's next film the following year not only managed to save Private Ryan, but also the dream of a modern, independent studio. But, with budgets for Hollywood studio movies soaring, 'DreamWorks', like many other studios, was choosing to share the cost of big productions with other companies. In the case of 'Saving Private Ryan' it meant profits as well as costs were split with 'Paramount'. There were hits and lots of Oscars, but there were also flops, like the Ewan McGregor adventure film 'The Island', which cost 122_million_USD and grossed only 36_million_USD in North American cinemas. Even though foreign cinemas, video and television can be expected to bring in more, producers look to match the production cost against that initial American gross. Katzenberg's animation division has been highly successful and was spun off as an independent company last year. 'DreamWorks' was never quite the nightmare that had been predicted, but Spielberg woke up to economic reality, decided it was time to move on and opened negotiations to sell off the remainder of his studio. It is a reflection of the status of 'DreamWorks' and Spielberg that 'Paramount', which has undergone a period of management turmoil and box-office failure, were so keen to get their hands on it. It will continue as part of the 'Paramount' empire, making four to six films a year. Spielberg and Geffen will still be in charge, but will no longer have a financial stake in the company and, while Spielberg is free to work for other studios as well, 'Paramount' will have a stake in any movies he makes elsewhere. In a statement Spielberg said:
'Due to my very long history and my loyalty to "Universal", I was saddened that after long negotiations and many compromises, we were unable to come to terms with "Universal's" parent company, "GE" [General Electric].'
It was thought a deal was in place with 'Universal', and it is suggested they tried to knock 100_million_USD off the price at the last minute. Big mistake. Enter 'Paramount'. Exit Spielberg hand-in-hand with 'Paramount'. Ironically, perhaps, 'DreamWorks' will be based on the 'Universal' lot, where Spielberg's career began many years ago.
'I don't think Steven will ever leave his office on the "Universal" lot,' Geffen told 'The Los Angeles Times' Newspaper.
Meanwhile, across the town, lawyers are said to be very busy poring over the details of this latest plot. One thing is sure. To borrow a line from a politician and one of America's finest actors, Spielberg 'will be back', with 'Indiana Jones' or 'Lincoln' or one of the many other projects he is constantly juggling. A feast of Steven 01 JAWS (1975): The movie that made Spielberg's career. At 28 he delivered one of his best films -- and, on its release, it became the most successful picture of all time, taking 470_million_USD. 02 CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977): An expansive film about discovery of ourselves, our dreams, and life beyond Earth, it spanned multiple states, continents, and finally the universe itself. 03 INDIANA JONES TRILOGY (1981, 1984, 1989): The legend is that 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' was born in Hawaii while Spielberg and his friend George Lucas were on holiday. Spielberg wanted to direct a Bond film; Lucas talked him out of it, saying he should do 'Raiders'. Spielberg agreed and the duo created a brand that ruled 1980s family cinema. 04 ET (1982): An ugly alien riding in a bicycle basket may not seem like material for a blockbuster, but Spielberg pulled it off to the tune of 792_million_USD and launched Drew Barrymore's career. 05 JURASSIC PARK (1993) If ever there was a tailor-made project for Spielberg, the story of a theme park with genetically created dinosaurs running amok was it. 'Jurassic Park' was the biggest hit of 1993, making a staggering 913_million_USD worldwide. 06 SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993): This Second World War epic was emotive, exhausting, and a work of vast proportions. Nominated for seven Oscars, it won Best Picture and Best Director. 07 SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998): With perhaps the most horrifying opening sequence of any war film, Spielberg used the story of a family to capture the hell of war. Sterling performances from a cast including Tom Hanks and Ed Burns made this an all-time great. 08 MINORITY REPORT (2002): A dark science-fiction thriller, this harked back to Spielberg's roots with critical success. Introducing 'pre-crime', it starred Tom Cruise and was one of the smartest films of its season. 09 CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002): The true tale of a troubled, charming conman (Leonardo DiCaprio) pursued by an altruistic detective (Tom Hanks). The 1960s setting and kitsch design made this a departure for Spielberg and it won favourable reviews. 10 WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005): Back on familiar territory, Spielberg used cutting-edge production values to deliver another epic. Tom Cruise starred alongside the prolific child star du jour, Dakota Fanning. 'Spielberg and the dream that didn't work', Brian Pendreigh, The Scotsman, 2005-12-13


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