Hollywood will be relieved to have another buyer now that, after months of waiting out the worst of the worldwide credit crunch, rebooted DreamWorks Studios will soon be a fully funded and going concern again. That’s because Stacey Snider and Steven Spielberg are close to announcing that JP Morgan Chase has finally completed the $325 million first phase of the debt financing for their start-up independent film company, which will then trigger the matching $325 million investment from DreamWorks’ Indian partner Reliance ADA Group’s Reliance BIG Entertainment.
The original DreamWorks 2.0 deal (after the film company separated from Paramount in 2008 to go out its own in a downsized version) was for Mumbai-based Reliance to immediately invest $500 million equity when J.P. Morgan Chase arranged another $700 million in debt toward the new film company. Then, back in December 2008, Snider and Spielberg were advised to slow down the bank syndication process in order to let the capital markets stabilize because of volatile financal times after the Lehman Bros/AIG collapse. So the time period within which the deal could close was extended until the end of First Quarter 2009, or March 31st, instead of the beginning of First Quarter 2009 as originally planned. At the time, insiders said DreamWorks wouldn’t be fully funded and operational until at the latest April 1.
By early February, Dreamworks 2.0 claimed it had half the necessary lender commitments — supposedly $150 million of the first phase of the $325 million bank syndication — to secure a Reliance matching contribution. Insiders kept expressing confidence publicly that the other half of the money would come in by that March 31st date.
But DreamWorks got the jitters once Spielberg began personally funding his new company’s overhead alongside Reliance. Then one of DreamWorks’ longtime producers, Ben Stiller’s Red Hour banner, moved to 20th Century Fox. DreamWorks became increasingly desperate to lay its hands on more interim funding because, as one of my sources told me at the time, “less senior financing means less equity financing from Reliance. Less overall capital means less films and less overhead. Spielberg and Snider finally realized they didn’t have enough rope.” That’s when DreamWorks switched its distribution deal from Universal to Disney.
What happened is that Dreamworks went to Universal with demands for an investment of $250 million — $100M immediately and $150M later in the second tranche — as well as distribution. That wasn’t what Uni had bargained for. In the end the studio was very reluctant to even invest $100M. So Snider, without telling Ron Meyer, began negotiating with Disney. When Uni found out, it pulled out. And, on February 9th, The Walt Disney Studios agreed to enter into an exclusive long-term distribution arrangement with DreamWorks Studios.
Meanwhile, as if all that’s not been enough drama, more has been swirling around the Reliance ADA Group. News reports out of Mumbai say that Spielberg’s financial backer and partner in the “new” DreamWorks, Indian billionaire industrialist Anil Ambani, was targeted when one of his helicopters was sabotaged. Ambani often commutes by chopper, and police are probing why pebble and gravel debris that could have caused a crash were found in the Ambani helicopter’s engine on April 23rd. Senior pilot R.N. Joshiof of Reliance Transport & Travels said in the police complaint that “some persons, possible business rivals, were attempting to take away the life of Anil Ambani.” Now Mumbai police are investigating.
The case took an even more bizarre twist just five days later when the mechanic who was preparing Ambani’s helicopter for a flight and discovered the suspected sabotage turned up dead. His body was discovered on suburban Mumbai railway tracks after he was apparently hit by a train — a death police are calling suicide, but which the employee’s family believes involved foul play. A handwritten note was found in the mechanic’s pocket addressed to police.