NBCUniversal Can't Unravel DreamWorks/Reliance/Disney Gordian Knot

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by Anne Thompson
August 14, 2012 3:31 PM
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Spielberg, Snider, Meyer
The talks between Universal and DreamWorks have fallen apart, writes the Hollywood Reporter.

There was desire to make it work on both sides, but the Gordian knot of the deal between DreamWorks and Indian financeer Reliance, not to mention distributor Disney, was too complicated to untie.

DreamWorks' Stacey Snider and Steven Spielberg were interested in returning the company to the studio with Snider in Ron Meyer's job, but NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke balked at the complexity of the deal.

It remains to be seen how Universal Pictures will proceed going forward. Meyer, 67, had put change in motion at the studio in order to pave the way for new leadership; he would head into an advisory role at NBCUniversal prior to his retirement. Meyer had signed a new contract last year to continue with the company at least through through 2015. He joined Universal in August 1995.

Tthe studio has been under box office duress since Snider left the studio in 2006 to join Spielberg at DreamWorks. For every "Mamma Mia!," "Fast Five," "Bridesmaids" and "Ted" there has been a "Robin Hood," "The Wolf Man," "The Green Zone," or "Battleship," which contributed to an $83 million loss in 2012's second quarter.

For her part, Snider thought she was joining the mighty DreamWorks. But the company has slimmed down with the shrinking economy. Having left a rocky Paramount marriage for Disney and with indie funding from Reliance, DreamWorks is now putting out a fraction of its former annual slate, just three to five films a year. And making the kinds of movies that Tiffany label DreamWorks takes pride in has become tougher than ever, even when a film like "The Help" actually comes out ahead.

As DreamWorks Studios streamlined, it let go of deals with Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and gave senior exec Mark Sourian a first-look production deal. So it would make sense for Snider and Spielberg, whose old Amblin digs are still on the Universal lot, to literally come home.

Universal's "Cowboys & Aliens" and Disney's "Fright Night" were costly flops for DreamWorks, which has Spielberg's awards-contender "Lincoln" still to come in November through Disney, which grabs 8% of their revenues. Fox is partnered with DreamWorks on Spielberg's next, epic "Robopocalypse"(2013). Recent DreamWorks acquisition “Starbuck" is set to start filming with Vince Vaughn as well as a 2014 video game movie "Need for Speed," while a script is in the works for NYT bestseller “A Dog’s Purpose.”

At Universal, Meyer continues to run the show with his co-chairmen since October 2009--ex-marketing chief Adam Fogelson and ex-production head Donna Langley--both recently renewed. Paying off in spades was the studio's move to import Fox animation czar Chris Meledandri, who followed up "Despicable Me" ($540 million worldwide) with Russell Brand hit "Hop" and "The Lorax."

The latest "Bourne" installment, "Legacy," rebooted with Jeremy Renner, opened solidly. Focus Features has booked Working Title Tolstoy drama "Anna Karenina" for fall festivals and Tom Hooper will deliver musical "Les Miserables" in December. Comedy powerhouse Judd Apatow's return to the director's chair with "This is 40" (December), which stars "Knocked Up" couple Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, played well in April in Las Vegas during Universal's presentation at CinemaCon.

Universal pushed back to 2013 Japanese Ninja tale "47 Ronin," starring Keanu Reeves (February 17) as well as Tom Cruise-starrer "Oblivion," a post-apocalyptic tale directed by "Tron Legacy"'s Joseph Kosinski (April).  Also coming up is action comedy "RIPD," which stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as a team of dead cops seeking to return errant stragglers to their rightful place in the afterlife (June 2013). In the pipeline are Ron Howard's racing drama "Rush" (September 2013) as well as inevitable new iterations of the "Fast & Furious" (director Justin Lin returns) and "Despicable Me" franchises and a retooled lower-budget version of Hasbro board game "Ouija." And Langley landed hot erotic title "Fifty Shades of Grey," which is in development with "A Social Network" producers Michael DeLuca and Dana Brunetti.

Putting Snider back in charge at Universal would have been a smart move for Burke. Now we'll see what the rest of his wish list looks like.
 

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