April 3, 2008 / 5:58 AM / 10 years ago

Talk heats up over Spielberg's next move

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood studios are getting ready to wine and dine Steven Spielberg as his contract with Paramount winds down.

The filmmaker has endured a bumpy ride at Paramount, but executives at the Viacom Inc-owned studio believe they have a shot at keeping him in the fold.

Spielberg’s contract actually runs until 2010, but he has the right to terminate it at year’s end. While top Paramount insiders say they don’t expect him to decide until the summer, a window opens May 1 on his ability to talk to other studios.

Paramount acquired Spielberg’s services in 2005 when it paid $1.6 billion for DreamWorks, the studio he co-founded with David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. There’s considerable consensus that while things might not have worked out as swimmingly as Spielberg had hoped, much has been done to address his most serious misgivings.

His first six months with Paramount proved a rude awakening, confidants suggest. But issues of money and, well, respect have been dealt with sufficiently to characterize the current situation as not so much Spielberg feeling driven to leave the lot as simply his wanting to take stock of what might be on offer from others. He flirted with Universal and Warner Bros. before the marriage with Paramount.

Although regularly successful with such films as “Transformers,” “Blades of Glory” and “Disturbia,” DreamWorks executives complained early on in their time at Paramount that they being denied sufficient development funds or enough accolades for the projects they did get going.

At one point, Spielberg and company, unhappy with an annual production fund of $300 million, got Paramount to increase it to $400 million. Then there was the subsequent move that saw Paramount demand that the press acknowledge all DreamWorks-produced films as DreamWorks/Paramount releases.

Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg (2nd L) and director Steven Speilberg (C, with cap and glasses) watch the from courtside as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 119-93, during their NBA game in Los Angeles January 6, 2006. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Paramount executives insist they will retain all rights to dozens of DreamWorks development titles even if he bolts, though others suggest that Spielberg could make it difficult to see key projects to completion.

Spielberg is involved in postproduction on “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which Paramount will release May 22.

Of Spielberg-shepherded projects in development at Paramount, “Transformers 2” is the most important and also the most advanced. The sequel to Michael Bay’s $319 million domestic grosser is in preproduction, getting a final script polish and readying for shooting in late spring.

Director Steven Spielberg on the set of "Munich" in a 2005 photo. Hollywood studios are getting ready to wine and dine Spielberg as his contract with Paramount winds down. The filmmaker has endured a bumpy ride at Paramount, but executives at the Viacom Inc-owned studio believe they have a shot at keeping him in the fold. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

It is set for release June 26, 2009, and terms of Spielberg’s contract stipulate that it can be marketed as a DreamWorks title regardless of his relationship with Paramount at that point.

Paramount’s costly DreamWorks acquisition didn’t include the studio’s name. DreamWorks Animation -- which wasn’t a part of the deal and remains a separate, publicly traded company -- owns the DreamWorks name; its name-licensing agreement with Paramount would end the day Spielberg ends his stay there.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks chief Stacey Snider would be free to bolt Paramount in the event of a Spielberg exit under a “key man” provision in her contract; likewise DreamWorks chairman Geffen, who could be key to any effort by Spielberg to create a DreamWorks II elsewhere.

Such a DreamWorks II would no doubt be a smaller business than its progenitor, with a smaller slate and maybe no animation -- unless it were to merge with DreamWorks Animation. Insiders at the Glendale, Calif,-based firm insist that there’s been zero discussion of that possibility, which is just one of many scenarios spun by industryites on the periphery of the situation.

Handicapping who might offer the most appealing terms to Spielberg puts a lot of stock in the filmmaker’s longtime association with Universal, where his personal offices still are located along with those of his Amblin Entertainment shingle. Universal also has a history of working with Spielberg to develop theme-park attractions at Universal Studios.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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