Variety has two sober accounts of what’s going to be happening at the new Disney-distributed DreamWorks. Remember how the NY Times, in keeping with the paper’s wildy Spielberg-o-centric coverage of the ministudio’s departure from Paramount, was speculating that Steven Spielberg might “assert” that he was attached to every project optioned by DreamWorks while it was owned by Paramountâ€”and that this might give him “enormous leverage” over the studio? Variety:
The company will have to quickly fill up its development coffers with new material if it wants to meet its target of providing making six films a year beginning in 2010. When Spielberg and Snider left their failed marriage at Paramount, they got custody of only the 17 projects in development and one production shingle, Parkes/MacDonald Prods.
The story also has a lot of concrete info of the sort that has been in short supply elsewhere in the coverage of the debacle that saw the boutique studio crash and burn with a never-signed distribution deal with Universal and end up going to Disney. The attempt has been to spin it as a great DreamWorks success, but the reality isn’t so:
DreamWorks would have paid an 8% distribution fee to Universal, but could end up paying a higher distribution fee to Disney. Some estimate the Disney rate to be as much as 10%, though DreamWorks insiders insist that it falls in the 8%-9% range.
The only significant advantage that the Disney deal offered was a $100 million loan (DreamWorks execs concede that higher figures cited in the press are inaccurate). And perhaps that was the deciding factor for Spielberg, who had been forced to dip into his own pockets last month to pay for overhead and development.
The other story details the different corporate cultures that may in the end find DreamWorks not finding a comfortable home at Disney either. (That story, incidentally, flatly says the distribution deal is 10 percent.)
Update: Meanwhile, Kim Masters in the Slate spinoff Big Money has even more painful details, centering on Spielberg’s behind-the-scenes desperate moves to direct a pet project about Abraham Lincoln. All that talk about Spielberg’s being able to “assert” ownership of projects, oh so long ago in the NYT, has now turned into … “buying”:
When the split with Paramount took place, DreamWorks bought the rights to 17 projects that it had developed and hopes to make at the new company. To secure those films, Spielberg had to put up more than $13 million of his own moneyâ€”a violation of a sacred law of Hollywood, which states that other people’s money must always be used for everything.
DreamWorks intended to write another big check to retain the right to partner on and produce a separate batch of projects that it had to leave behind at Paramount. In that latter batch was Lincoln. But to stay in the game on Lincoln and the other projects, DreamWorks had to buy two completed films that it made during its time at Paramount: The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), and A Thousand Words, a comedy starring Eddie Murphy. And DreamWorks didn’t have the money.
The result? Paramount, the studio DreamWorks sold itself to and then whined about for five years, still owns Lincoln and is taking its sweet time in deciding whether Spielberg can direct it. Masters:
A source close to Spielberg says the director is busy with his next film, Tintin, and is not wringing his hands over Paramount’s decision. But another source associated with the project, asked about the process, said, “I think it’s called water-boarding.”