I'm sure most of us have been following the Spielberg/Geffen/Dreamworks/Paramount feud making headlines in recent days. For those unaware, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen (both co-founders of Dreamworks SKG) are clearly intent on leaving Paramount once their contracts allow them to (which will be at the end of this year) and reinventing Dreamworks sans its current parent Paramount (owned by Viacom).
Paramount outbid NBC Universal in 2005, paying $1.6 Billion for the then independent Dreamworks SKG. Now, after years of tension between the Spielberg/Geffen team and their new Paramount bosses, the former are desperately seeking relief in the form of an escape clause in their contracts that allow them both to terminate their individual agreements with Paramount at year's end, partly in an effort to regain the independence they once enjoyed - an independence that apparently wilted away post the Paramount sale. And apparently, along with that loss of independence came a healthy dose of humility.
Let's face it, when you're Steven Spielberg, an award winning, practically iconic, well-respected figurehead, with a resume that even his strongest dissenters would envy, you come to expect a certain level of respect, and maybe even kowtowing from other industry personnel, no matter their ranking. Being dissed publicly, as Viacom Chief Philippe Dauman did when he "dropped a bombshell" last September, stating at an investor conference that Spielberg and Geffen are "completely immaterial" to Viacom's bottomline, certainly isn't the kind of treatment a man of Spielberg's ilk will expect nor tolerate - hence, his current aggressive attempts to regain control of Dreamworks.
That he's reaching out to a Bollywood based financier is somewhat ironic, I think. And who he's courting for the deal is even more interesting to me, mostly because I've talked about this pair of men on this blog previously. Of course I'm referring to the Mumbai-based Ambani family, Anil and his brother Mukesh, both in the top 10 Forbes-listed billionaires in the world - number 6 and number 5 respectively, with a combined worth of roughly $90 Billion!
My introductory post to the Ambani dynasty came in the form of a semi-rant on wasteful spending, titled From The "Screw Your Poverty" File..., in which I mention Mukesh's $2 Billion home; the second post titled, Bollywood & Hollywood - A Fledgling Love Story discussed Bollywood's aggressive moves into Hollywood, with Anil and his Reliance Entertainment leading the charge with a $1 Billion investment.
The latter is where Spielberg is hoping to attract $1 Billion in equity for his Dreamworks reinvention, with 500 million to $600 million coming from Ambani's Reliance. Regardless, with a half-billion-dollar-plus investment, you can guarantee that Ambani and Reliance will have a significant controlling stake in the revitalized Dreamworks, so Spielberg's "independence" won't entirely resemble the word as it's defined.
However, we can assume that an agreement with Reliance includes various outlined stipulations on control of the company and its content, and is likely more attractive than anything that the relationship Paramount has been or will ever be able to provide.
If this deal with Reliance goes through, it will be a case of just another foreign company with substantial controlling equity in an American corporation... business as usual, I suppose. Another little tale of a globalizing world.
Despite his last effort - the horrible 4th installment of the Indiana Jones series - I've always been a fan of Spielberg and his work, and likely will continue to be. An "independent" Dreamworks doesn't necessarily excite nor depress me. I just don't know what the fruits of the reshaped company will bear. One can however argue that Dreamwork's output pre-Paramount trumps all output under Paramount's umbrella, both critically and financially. A quick glance at, and comparison of the films produced during both eras tells a revealing tale.
Before Paramount: Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, American Beauty, Cast Away, Minority Report, The Ring, Catch me If You Can, the first 2 Shrek movies (the best of the bunch), and many others.
After the Paramount purchase: Things We Lost in the Fire, Transformers, Shrek the Third, Disturbia, Blades of Glory, Norbit, Dreamgirls, Clint Eastwood's 2 WWII films, and many others.
Big difference. Obviously, the pre-Paramount era wins this match handedly.
So, maybe a rebuilt Dreamworks, sans Paramount, offers promise of a previous winning streak. Time, of course, will tell whether this was a smart move on Spielberg's part.
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece about the battle for Dreamworks yesterday, which you can read HERE. I'll keep my eyes and ears open for any advancements in the story.