Today’s story in The New York Times would be laughable if it weren’t also so inaccurate. The article demonstrates that Sharon Waxman doesn’t even know the most rudimentary terms of DreamWorks’ contract with Paramount, much less what constitutes the difference between informal talks and formal negotiations in the rarefied circles of Big Media. Worse, the heavily padded piece gets even its few “facts” wrong, which begs the question of why the NY Times ran so prominently an article relying entirely on unnamed sources — especially when those sources clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. In fact, my information is that Waxman began her reporting with the misinformation that DreamWorks had just done a deal at Fox. (Waxman left book leave to write this article even though she’s moving off the Hollywood beat and will be joining the newspaper’s New York City Metro section in January.)
First, the article is wrong to claim that “DreamWorks principals have been negotiating to move their operation to NBC Universal”. My own sources confirm that, in fact, DreamWorks is right now contractually not allowed to negotiate with any studio, much less Universal. “No deal, no proposal, no terms, no actual deal discussions have been had because DreamWorks is not allowed to negotiate before April 2008, which is six months before the end of the contract,” I’m told.
As for the newspaper’s reporting about a “meeting” between Geffen and GE chairman Jeffrey Immelt, NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker and Universal Studios prez Ron Meyer this coming week, it’s a dinner. Simply a dinner. It’s being described to me as a “personal rapprochement” between GE and DreamWorks since this will be the first time they’ve sat together since GE passed on buying the studio back in 2005.
The dinner isn’t much different from the October 23rd lunch I reported on when DreamWorks and NBC Universal broke bread together in the very public forum of the Universal Studios commissary. That’s where Jeff Zucker and Ron Meyer and Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider were “all smiles, ” I wrote. “Talk about a virtual public announcement that a reunion between the studio and DreamWorks isn’t far behind! Look, we all know David Geffen still has to come to terms with GE chairman Jeff Immelt and his NBC Universal errand boy Jeff Zucker, so a deal isn’t yet a foregone conclusion. But Uni prez/COO Ron Meyer can facilitate the DreamWorks sale since he’s longtime pals with everyone involved (and Snider’s ex-boss). And we all know that Spielberg never left the Universal lot (even after DreamWorks’ sale to Paramount), and it’s the studio where the director has been happiest. He’d like nothing better than to call the place home again, and partner David is in the business of giving Steven what he wants. So stay tuned.”
That lunch wasn’t a negotiation, and next week’s dinner isn’t a negotiation, either. To not know the difference is, well, Hollywood 101.
There also has been “no approach to Warner; no approach to Disney.” I’m told. The NY Times story is wrong because Spielberg from the very beginning has only been interested in going back to Universal (although he is a big admirer of Tom Rothman, the Fox Filmed Entertainment topper). As for the NYT mention of Fox, the fact is that Geffen is publicly friends with Rupert Murdoch, praises the media tycoon in public, and palled around with Murdoch during a Mediterranean vacation together this summer (see my previous, Anchors Aweigh: Geffen & Murdoch Cruise) where the subject of DreamWorks wanting to get out of Paramount was discussed. But, to the NY Times, that constitutes a “meeting”.
Next, The New York Times story doesn’t even believe its own sources. It reports the wild figure that Geffen is seeking $600 million to $700 million to make 8 movies a year and to cover overhead costs for Spielberg, Snider and other execs. But in the same paragraph it reverses course and claims the figure is $400, the same amount they all received from Paramount in the 2005 sale. Again, everybody knows that the $400 mil figure is correct.
So where exactly is the news? It seems that it’s news to only the NY Times that DreamWorks has been talking to NBC Uni since the summer. Everyone else including me has reported that thoroughly. And since David Geffen speaks to Ron Meyer daily, that doesn’t constitute negotiations either. Now, put attorneys in the room or on the phone with them, and that’s what could be called a formal negotiation. ‘Nuff said.