EXCLUSIVE: It seemed like a long time coming … and that’s because it was. Steven Spielberg and Participant Media chairman Jeff Skoll, who have known each other for seven years and whose companies have worked together on several films, finally made their partnership official today. Joined by Canadian-based Entertainment One and Mumbai-based Reliance, Amblin Partners is a newly envisioned company (based at Universal) with plans to make the most out of their already branded labels.
But so many questions abound: Why Participant? Will Spielberg give up his DreamWorks label? Will he redo any of his Amblin films? Rumors often arise from fans on the Internet about a possible remake of Jaws.
“As long as I can help it, never,” Spielberg told Deadline emphatically this afternoon. “It’s a company that I co-founded and I want to keep it with me in the company as long as I am around. It’s good to have these four quadrants (branded labels to work with).” Spielberg himself knows a big about branding as he is one of the very few filmmakers around with his own global brand identity. Just as other studios use particular brands for various fare, so will Amblin Partners.
In fact, as an example of that, the move was already made to put the former DreamWorks’ family film A Dog’s Purpose from director Lasse Hallstrom under the Amblin Entertainment banner. That will be released through Universal in the first quarter of 2017.
One of his new partners is now Participant and its chairman Skoll, who (through his company) has helped to finance such films as DreamWorks’ Lincoln, The Help, The Hundred-Foot Journey and the Tom Hanks-starring Bridge Of Spies. But Participant has also built itself into a highly respected entity known for embracing social causes — so important, especially with what is going on in the world. It was Participant that brought such topics as global warming, government intrusion, terrorism, education, and the benefits of organic farming to the fore through such groundbreaking films as An Inconvenient Truth, He Named Me Malala, CitizenFour, and Food, Inc. They also are behind Spotlight, which told the true story of one newspaper’s bravery in exposing the network of pedophile priests in Boston and the subsequent cover-up by the Catholic Church.
Skoll credited Spielberg for laying the groundwork for socially conscious filmmaking. “I don’t think that Participant would exist without the kind of films that Steven has done … like Munich, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan,” said Skoll, who noted that after many years of working together “it was clear to me that putting our oars together in the water would be better than apart.”
Spielberg concurred, telling Deadline he and Skoll started working together about seven years ago and it just seemed natural to join with him. In fact, Participant was putting up some of the capital for DreamWorks projects. Spielberg said: “We started talking about this about 18 months ago as casual speculation. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could make movies together more?’ We are so like-minded in so many ways. He is so socially conscious.” And, Spielberg pointed out, Skoll has a knack for picking great films. It was that combination that hooked him: “I really wanted to align myself with that kind of person.”
Being back at Universal also seemed inevitable. Spielberg still maintains an office on the lot, but now he is being embraced back by his old pal Ron Meyer (formerly one of his agents at CAA and now NBCUniversal vice chairman) and studio chairman Donna Langley. “Being back at Universal is just a wonderful thing for me,” said the filmmaker. “I drive onto that lot every day, but there is going to be a different feel for me driving through those gates tomorrow morning.”
He is moving back to the studio at a time when the best marketing team in the business (yeah, the Universal team can even open sequels) is currently on the lot with him. Noted Skoll: “One of the things we thought very strongly of is that if we had a distributor who is a great friend, we would have less friction to get things going. So here we are, and I’m delighted.”
Spielberg’s next films that he directed — The BFG and Ready Player One — are being distributed by Disney and Warner Bros., respectively. He was thankful to Disney and to Bob Iger and Alan Horn whom he said he has “tremendous admiration and respect for.” Disney, which has been in business with DreamWorks since 2009 when Dick Cook was chairman, co-financed The BFG. (Cook was head of distribution when DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg was his boss at Disney).
Spielberg also, in a classy move, wanted to publicly thank Mumbai-based Reliance (see story here) for their ongoing loyalty and long-term play, and he also made a strong point saying how happy he was that Entertainment One was coming into the fold.
So the question of the hour, and yes, we purposely buried the lede: Will he be mining his Amblin titles for possible redos at Universal? After all he owns those titles and a remake of Jaws is one of those nagging rumors that keep resurfacing.
“I would never remake one of my own movies — starting with Jaws — but there are Amblin titles in the library that could inspire new stories that were made popular by the films,” he said. “There isn’t a single title that I’ve earmarked, but yes, I would like to. I will be discussing that with Jeff (Skoll) and Ronnie (Meyer) and Donna (Langley).”
Just to make this perfectly clear, so no Jaws? “I would never remake Jaws,” he said.
Besides, he joked, he’d have to get the permission from his attorney Bruce “Jaws” Ramer — which everyone knows is the town’s biggest legal shark — in order to use the name again.