BREAKING: It’s official. Amblin Partners is born and is back at Universal. Steven Spielberg has a new baby and this one was delivered by a team of partners: Participant Media, the Reliance Group and Entertainment One (eOne). Amblin Partners, a new film, television and digital content creation company was announced today with a $500M debt syndication to launch the company. J.P.Morgan Chase, which has worked with DreamWorks Studios since it began in 1994, and Comerica Bank together structured and arranged that financial structure with Spielberg who is also personally invested. All told, the partners culled together over $300M with the bulk (roughly $200M) coming from Participant.
Other financial institutions involved included SunTrust Bank, Union Bank, City National Bank and Bank of America, among others. All were involved in financing DreamWorks.
Under terms of the agreement, Amblin Partners will develop and produces films using all three labels — Amblin, DreamWorks and Participant. Spielberg told Deadline that the DreamWorks label would be kept in tact. And it make sense as all of these are brands unto themselves.
The deal at Universal starts immediately, despite the contract at Disney which didn’t end until August 2016, which means that a settlement had to be made. That, in fact, was what was holding things from happening sooner, sources told Deadline. Since DreamWorks owed Disney for accumulated overhead, they structured a deal to keep future money generated from the previouso films.
The deal, which was long in the works — was talked about casually over 18 months before it became real according to Spielberg and Participant chairman Jeff Skoll. The partnership basically reinvigorates the filmmaker his film company which was in dire need of a revamp. His deal at Disney, which has delivered a mixed bag at the box office, began in 2009 under former studio chairman Dick Cook and expired officially next August, but financial arrangements were made to make it happen now. It was also made prior to the acquisition of both Marvel and Lucasfilm so Disney, which also has Pixar over there, wasn’t benefiting much from DreamWorks. Still, Spielberg was effusive about Disney execs Robert Iger and Alan Horn. He noted that they had a long history together.
However, there is one studio that he has had a longer relationship with and he is truly back home now.
Universal Pictures will, as long expected, handle the marketing and distribution for the new entity in what is being described as a multi-year pact covering four to seven films, beginning with DreamWorks’ The Girl on the Train, which is based on Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel of the same name. The thriller will be released on Oct. 7. That moves onto the spot occupied by Monster High which the studio is moving to a yet, unspecified date. Some of the pictures may go through Focus Features. The deal at Universal is for five years, sources told Deadline.
The partnership with Participant is already well established with Spielberg as the two have collaborated on Lincoln and The Help (both Academy Award Best Picture nominees in recent years) as well as The Hundred-Foot Journey and the recently released Tom Hanks’ starring Oscar buzzed about film Bridge of Spies.
Amblin Partners brings the legendary filmmaker back to the studio where he began about 45 years ago. (The 68 year-old Spielberg cut his teeth at Universal under the tutelage of Sid Sheinberg who signed the young director to his deal back then). The deal with Universal also marks the third studio home for DreamWorks SKG since that company began 21 years ago (previously it was at Disney and before that at Paramount). Spielberg will be arriving at a key time as a sequel to box office monster Jurassic World is planned for 2018.
The transition for Spielberg is pretty painless as he has maintained an office at NBC/Universal and has a longtime relationship with its vice chairman Ron Meyer (first when he was an agent at CAA, and later as an exec at the studio). The filmmaker also controls all the Amblin titles which seem ripe for remakes as well, especially in light of the mega-success of JW.
While eOne is an investor in the new company, there is no obligation for Amblin TV series to be done with eOne’s involvement as there is no first-look or other formal agreement in place. Still, the two companies will partner up whenever it makes sense. Also interesting is that one of the executives at eOne television is Gerard Bocaccio, who worked with Spielberg’s mentor Sheinberg previously at The Bubble Factory.
eOne has been investing aggressively in TV content, recently backing the Mark Gordon Company as an independent studio. eOne will expand its relationship in television production and distribution across additional foreign territories and will handle the direct distribution of Amblin Partners films on a multi-territory output basis in Australia/New Zealand and Spain as well as the United Kingdom and the Benelux, where it previously had a successful output arrangement with DreamWorks Studios.
Reliance, which is the big Indian multimedia company, formerly had the biggest financial stake in DreamWorks, and with the box office performance had been long rumored to be growing weary of shouldering it so this is also welcome news for it. The company, based in Mumbai, was started in 2005 and three to four years after that committed to pumping about $325M into DreamWorks.
In an interview with Deadline, Spielberg was clearly appreciative of Reliance Entertainment’s loyalty to their company through the ups and downs of DreamWorks roller coaster box office and made it a point to thank them. “I just want to say that I am grateful to Reliance. They have always helped us and had a long-term view of the company.”
Although the initial announcement is somewhat confusing, Participant Media will not be folded into Amblin but remain a separate company that will continue as it has been — to independently develop, produce and finance projects with socially relevant themes. David Linde, Chief Executive Officer of Participant Media, and Participant’s narrative feature team, led by Executive Vice President Jonathan King, will work closely with Amblin Partners to develop and produce specific content for the new venture in addition to exploring opportunities for co-productions and other content.
Upcoming shows from Amblin TV include All the Way, the HBO movie from Jay Roach and stars Bryan Cranston. The airdate to be announced shortly, and American Gothic a summer series that will air on CBS and begin production in February 2016.
Spielberg’s television company was the first to rebrand itself as Amblin Television a couple of years ago; it will continue to operate autonomously. Funded by Spielberg and run by presidents Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank, Amblin TV has functioned as an independent, fee-based production company, which does not deficit finance but relies on producer fees paid to its principals. “I’ve personally and privately financing Amblin Television for six to seven years,” Spielberg said. “The first thing I talked about with Jeff (Skoll) was to bring a partnership into the family.”
The company has had success with multiple series on the air, sparking interest among potential DreamWorks investors. Amblin TV will now be part of the new company while retaining its autonomy, with Frank and Falvey continuing to report to Spielberg on creative matters.
The new structure gives Amblin TV access to capital and an option to deficit finance or gap finance TV series if the company chooses to. For business decisions, including show financing, Falvey and Frank will defer to Amblin CEO Wright and President and COO Small. Once a project is identified, a decision will be made whether business partner eOne will be involved as a potential co-producer or distributor.
Not much changes for the DreamWorks now Amblin Partners team: the senior management team of the newly formed Amblin Partners will be, first and foremost, CEO Michael Wright and President and COO Jeff Small who will be responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations. In addition, Amblin Television will become a division of Amblin Partners. The TV heads Falvey and Frank join producer Kristie Macosko Krieger and President of Production Holly Bario on the film side.
The family film The BFG and The Light Between Oceans (starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz) are the last two titles that will be released by Disney and they bow next year. The BFG is scheduled for July 1.
A Dog’s Purpose, the family film from director Lasse Hallstrom about a dog’s reincarnation, will switch from the DreamWorks label to the Amblin Entertainment banner and is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2017 via Universal Pictures.
Ready Player One, a co-production between Amblin Partners and Warner Bros., which Spielberg is directing, is scheduled to be released on Dec. 16, 2017.
Nellie Andreeva contributed to this story.