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In other words, DreamWorks now has Paramount completely cowed. That was the case too when Universal distributed DreamWorks product. Katzenberg, for instance, completely retooled Uni’s distribution system before doing the same for Paramount. And then there were the eight-page single-spaced laundry lists of demands DreamWorks would make of Universal president/COO Ron Meyer.
“Ronnie always said, ‘I miss them on my balance sheet. But I don’t miss the calls every day,’” Grey was heard ruminating the other day.
Oh, how the worm has turned. It was just 2005 when show-biz journalists were writing stories killing off DreamWorks and lashing out at SKG for its folly in starting a studio, chiding it for its inconsistent product (in terms of quantity and quality), pointing out DreamWorks movies that bombed at the box office (The Island, Just Like Heaven), and claiming it was profit challenged (DreamWorks reportedly was on the verge of bankruptcy a couple of times, including after it lost $125 million on Sinbad in 2003). As a result, I and others questioned the hefty price tag of the Paramount/DW deal at the time, even given the inclusion of Spielberg, the 60-odd-titles library and the right to distribute DreamWorks Animation toons. Well, that was then.
And now? It looks like a steal.
Grey does deserve some credit for recognizing two years ago there was trouble ahead for Paramount after taking over the studio at the start of 2005. He and his people hand stitched a slate together, but mostly they jettisoned product from Lansing’s management while also spending like drunken sailors on future projects. By the end of 2005, other studios were already programming for 2008. But Grey et al. were still focused on 2006. DreamWorks, meanwhile, needed to pay off its biggest investor, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. So, when the negotiations for GE/NBC Universal to buy DreamWorks started to go south, Grey pushed Viacom to let him make a play because there wasn’t enough product in his pipeline. “To be honest, that’s why we bought the company. That was really why it made sense,” Grey told me way back when.
Of course, it didn’t help that Grey’s No. 2, Gail Berman, wasn’t putting enough into development in the meantime. But DreamWorks’ Stacey Snider and Adam Goodman were. Remember that, by the end of the integration, DreamWorks’ production budget took a big slice out of Paramount’s. They became virtual equals, with each making eight to 10 pictures a year. Paramount claims the deal will be in the black ahead of schedule. (“Within 12 months,” according to Paramount sources; while others, citing the realities of first-dollar gross participants and myriad other factors, say that’s “nowhere near the truth.”)
Again, this Christmas season, DreamWorks will supply most of Paramount’s high-profile product, culminating with Sweeney Todd, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. Not until next summer’s Indiana Jones and Star Trek sequels does Paramount put out a complete slate. Until then, Grey will still be drowned out by his billionaire colleagues.
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