posted December 31, 2015 07:56 AM
Steven Spielberg Puts His Own
Big Bucks Into the New Amblin
Steven Spielberg has made the rare for him
move of investing his own money in the latest iteration of his DreamWorks
Studios (http://variety.com/t/dreamworksstudios/), putting $50 million into the
new multimedia company that he named after his first 35mm film, according to
two sources familiar with the deal.
The new Amblin Partners (http://variety.com/t/amblinpartners/) represents not
only the director’s recommitment to making “more beautiful music” for the
cinema, but to reinvigorating the old Amblin nameplate and, notably, to putting
his first funds into DreamWorks since its founding more than two decades ago.
When they formed their “full service” studio in 1994, Spielberg, Jeffrey
Katzenberg and David Geffen each tossed in $33 million, effectively seed
money that attracted a $500 million investment from Microsoft cofounder Paul
Allen. It felt somewhat symmetrical, then, that the new Amblin deal was sealed
with the substantial Spielberg offering, along with the much larger $200 million
investment from Participant Media. The sociallyconscious entertainment
company was founded by another tech billionaire, former eBay executive Jeff
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Skoll made it clear he was thrilled to be doing business with Spielberg, saying
the two “share a passion for stories that can truly affect change.” Reliance
Group of India, the previous equity partner for liveaction DreamWorks (now
essentially defunct as a studio, but living on as one of Amblin’s film labels) was pleased enough with the new combination to continue its seven year old
relationship with Spielberg, one that many in Hollywood believed had run out of
gas. And the trio picked up a fourth partner, Entertainment One (eOne) of
Canada, which initially discussed a $50 million commitment and added international distribution heft. (eOne’s final contribution remains undisclosed.)
A spokesperson for Amblin Partners declined to comment.
But two people close to the director said he had been energized by the entire
deal, including a shift of the operation’s film distribution from Disney
(http://variety.com/t/disney/) to Universal Pictures, where Spielberg launched some of his most beloved films, including “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park.”
Spielberg has maintained offices on the Universal lot and now pushes ahead
as part of Amblin Partners, which will release films, television shows and other
content under the Amblin, DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media
“Amblin, the word, the banner, is an emotional thing to him and this whole deal
meant a lot to him,” said one person close to the negotiations, who declined to
be named while discussing confidential conversations. “He really wanted to be
committed to this. And the investment showed that commitment to everyone. It
was a great sign to the other partners.”
Another individual familiar with the deal confirmed that Spielberg intended his
$50 million infusion to signal his resolve to reenergize DreamWorks as Amblin
Partners. Both of those who discussed the investment said that it would have
gone ahead, however, even if Spielberg had not made his investment. “He
didn’t have to do it. The deal would have happened anyway,” said one.
The new equity investments also helped the partnership secure a new $500
million line of credit through at least half a dozen lenders, led by Comerica
Bank and arranged by J.P. Morgan Chase.
Spielberg’s relationship with Disney apparently ended amicably, though there
was little love between the partners through most of their sevenyear marriage.
When the entertainment conglomerate signed in 2009 with DreamWorks
Studios, it expected to release half a dozen DreamWorks films a year.
Spielberg’s studio ended up delivering as few as two movies a year. And
Spielberg felt that the highminded pics that have become his signature were
getting lost, as Disney focused on the outsized productions pumped out by its
powerhouse affiliates — Lucasfilm, Pixar and Marvel.
In another wrinkle to the new Amblin deal, not previously disclosed, Disney did
not come away from DreamWorks’ departure emptyhanded. The Mouse
House will retain in its library the 13 films it released for Spielberg’s company,
including “Lincoln,” “The Fifth Estate” and the upcoming “The BFG,” Spielberg’s
fantasy film based on the book by Roald Dahl.
Disney loaned DreamWorks roughly $100 million, while also agreeing to pay
some advertising and marketing costs for the Spielberg venture’s films, during
the 2009 launch of the partnership. The total amount outstanding on those
loans has not been reported, but two sources said Disney gets to keep the
DreamWorks titles as compensation for the money owed. “The pictures they
are keeping go to pay off the credit line,” said one of the individuals. While the
final value of the films over time can’t be known, the source said: “Disney is not
expecting to make money off this. All they are doing is attempting to recoup
The Amblin deal seems to be a telling example of the tight finances gripping
Hollywood. Even with his marquee name, Spielberg needed roughly 18 months
to come to terms with his new partners. The arrangement also gives new life to
a company, DreamWorks, that had been floundering in its old guise. It had put
out a string of flops (though a hopeful exception could be October’s “Bridge of
Spies,” which has grossed $138 million worldwide on a $40 million budget) and
seemed to lose its focus. The company also didn’t seem to have a strategy for
advancement, as a series of new competitors, including STX and Broad Green
Pictures, crowded into the independent space.
One thing remains the same at Amblin Partners as it was at DreamWorks
Studios: Founder and creative force Spielberg is free to direct films for either
his own company, or other studios, as he sees fit. It remains to be seen
whether parting with $50 million of his own funds makes him more likely to play
close to home.