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It’s Official: Spielberg, DreamWorks, Participant, eOne, Others Pact For Amblin Partners

by Anita Busch
December 16, 2015 12:20pm

Amblin_Entertainment_logoBREAKING: 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.

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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.

Just to be clear this has nothing to do with Dreamworks Animation. That is still producing films...
4 weeks
So he is now using the Amblin and DreamWorks names? This is very confusing. Add to that...
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-logo-2013__140130232555__140321183123-275x141__140404181950Universal 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.

Participant MediaThe 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.

eoneshortlogoWhile 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 entertainmentReliance, 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.
Amblin CEO: Partnership Marks New Life for DreamWorks, Independent Film

DECEMBER 16, 2015 | 04:22PM PT
Brent Lang
Senior Film and Media Reporter
James Rainey
Senior Film Reporter
UPDATED: DreamWorks Entertainment was supposed to be a Hollywood player to rival the greatest studios, but after launching two decades ago with grand ambitions, the company has flailed about in recent years as a string of flops and lack of direction prevented it from becoming a force on the entertainment landscape.

Now the company that Steven Spielberg co-founded and was intended to cement his status as both a mogul and creative visionary has won a new lease on life, along with a new name — Amblin Partners. The company is powered by a large cash infusion led by Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media and also by Reliance Entertainment of India and Entertainment One (eOne) of Canada. Equity stakes from the new players are augmented by a $500 million senior secured credit line and more investment could be on the way, if needed, senior company officials said.

The new iteration of Spielberg’s studio also moves the master filmmaker away from Disney, where the director was said to feel ignored and under-appreciated, to a new distribution deal with Universal, the studio where he began his career and has long maintained an office.

SEE MORE:Steven Spielberg, Jeff Skoll Bring Amblin Partners to Universal

“Steven really felt strongly about coming home,” said Jeff Small, Amblin Partners COO. “It was the right time for [Universal], it was the right time for Amblin Partners, and for Steven.”

It would be tempting to see the rechristening as an admission of defeat or an admission that DreamWorks didn’t work, especially once cleaved a decade ago from its animation operation, now run independently by original DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg. But Amblin chief executive Michael Wright said the new company will be stronger for its disparate parts.

“One of the inherent ideas behind the formation of Amblin Partner is a recognition of not only the power of brands but the necessary of brand in the modern media landscape,” Wright said in a Wednesday afternoon interview. “What we have done here is really built this company around four world-class brands: Steven himself, his own brand, the DreamWorks brand, the Amblin brand and the Participant brand.”

There company plans to release three or films a year under the DreamWorks and Amblin labels and two more a year under the Participant nameplate, Wright said.

While no financial terms were announced Wednesday, a source familiar with the deal said Skoll’s Participant kicked in $200 million. Unknown contributions came from Reliance and Entertainment One. The Canadian concern initially had talked about a $50 million contribution, though its unclear where it ended up, said one person in the thick of the deal. The total funding package for Amblin Partners was “much more than $200 million” and will be enhanced by the $500 million line of credit from multiple lenders, according to another individual with close knowledge of the deal.

The re-investment from Reliance may have been particularly satisfying to DreamWorks because it had long been rumored that the Indian firm was going to cut off its investment in Spielberg’s company. “Having them continue to invest in the new Amblin Partners shows their long-term view of things and shows their belief in what we are trying to build here,” said COO Small.

“What we are doing is harnessing the very specific nature of these brands to allow us to get to a number of [different ] kinds of films,” said Wright, who took over leadership at DreamWorks last year. “We will use the DreamWorks banner for our more adult-themed films. We will use Amblin brand, as its already known, for more family-friendly fare, more PG-13 films and Participant films, using their wonderful brand, will speak more to social justice issues and social action.”

“So as a company, we will be putting out movies under those four labels, all very distinct and all with their own very specific audience loyalties but combined together they really allow us to really paint on a pretty broad storytelling canvas,” Wright concluded. “And we think that is part of the magic of the way this company is being put together.”

While Spielberg’s desire to return to the studio where he made hits such as “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” fueled the move to Universal, the director has not committed to making a certain number of films for Amblin Partners or Universal. His upcoming children’s film, “The B.F.G.” is a production of Amblin, Disney and Walden Media that will be released by Disney, while his adaptation of the popular book “Ready Player One” is an Amblin Partners and Warner Bros. production.

Small said that future Spielberg films might come under the Amblin, DreamWorks or Participant banners. “Steven doesn’t necessarily commit to a certain number of films,” Small said. “He finds projects that speak to him and he makes them.”

The new partnership was hatched 18 months ago in a meeting between Spielberg and Skoll, the billionaire who made his fortune as the first chief executive of eBay. Skoll said the two sides had been “noodling” on the idea, and working out details, ever since.

The tech billionaire mentioned some of the seven films the two companies had already worked on together — including “Lincoln,” “The Help” and “The Soloist” — and said the relationship “has been pretty seamless over time. The addition of the new distribution element through Universal “will give us more opportunities to tell our stories…and tell them over and over again.”

Skoll has expressed concern, after investing hundreds of millions of dollars, how to sustain his company for the long term. He suggested that the partnership with Spielberg and the new Amblin group will help Participant deliver the kind of powerful content that will insure longevity.

New name aside, this marks the fourth iteration of DreamWorks. It was initially launched in 1994 as a standalone, conceived by Spielberg, Katzenberg and mogul David Geffen. The full-fledged studio was then sold to Viacom in 2006. In 2008, it underwent another transition, striking out on its own as a production company with backing from Reliance. Wright said the new company won’t have a direct parallel with any of these previous identities, describing it as “a very focused iteration of the company.”
Steven Spielberg, Jeff Skoll Bring Amblin Partners to Universal

DreamWorks Amblin Entertainment Partners With JeffHENRY LAMB/PHOTOWIRE/BEIMAGE/BEI/SHUTTERSTOCK
DECEMBER 16, 2015 | 12:23PM PT
Brent Lang
Senior Film and Media Reporter
James Rainey
Senior Film Reporter
Steven Spielberg is coming home and he’s bringing his newly rechristened company to the studio that made him the most famous director in movies.

Universal Pictures and Amblin Partners, a new company announced today by DreamWorks Studios, Participant Media, Reliance Entertainment and Entertainment One (eOne), will enter into a multi-year partnership in which Universal will market and distribute films its produces domestically and in select international territories. The companies did not provide details on the size of their investment.

The DreamWorks name is not being retired, according to sources close to the companies. Films will still be released under that banner. The name change was undertaken to signal the company’s move into a wider range of genres beyond the prestige films it is most commonly associated with making.

Under terms of the agreement, Universal Pictures and Focus Features will handle distribution and marketing for approximately four to seven Amblin Partners films each year. The first film in the partnership, “The Girl on the Train,” a thriller with Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson, will be released in October 2016.

Spielberg came of age at Universal, with the company backing “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List,” “E.T.,” and several of his best-loved films. Though DreamWorks’ films are distributed by Disney, he maintains his office on Universal’s Burbank lot.

“The same magnet that pulled me to Universal when I first wanted to make movies is bringing me home again to this new exciting relationship,” Spielberg said in a statement. “It is my hope that we can make some more beautiful music together.”

There are other attractions. NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer, for instance, is a friend and former agent.

“The longevity of my personal and professional relationship makes this especially rewarding and we are proud to continue our association with Steven and the quality films he produces,” Meyer said in a statement.

Though the name has now changed, the years have been difficult ones for the company Spielberg launched two decades ago with fellow moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. There have been sales and spin-offs, but the major issues has been one of shifting tastes by the movie-going public, exacerbated by a series of disappointing films and lack of direction. While he remains one of Hollywood’s top directors, Spielberg has told associates that he feels DreamWorks movies have not been a high priority for a Disney operation that is busy releasing a string of blockbusters from its Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm units. Next summer’s Spielberg-directed “The BFG” will be the final DreamWorks picture released by Disney.

The company needs to reinvigorate its strategic direction under CEO Michael Wright, who succeeded Stacey Snider when she left for a top film position at Twentieth Century Fox.

Signalling the challenges confronting the entire independent film universe, even the involvement of Spielberg and his gold-plated name, did not make it easy for DreamWorks to lure new investment. The urgency for a fresh beginning was underscored by a string of box office flops including “Need for Speed,” “The Fifth Estate” and “Delivery Man.”

In EntertainmentOne, DreamWorks gets a partner with a broad international distribution network in film, television and music. The Toronto-based operation boasts a library of more than 40,000 film and television titles, 4,500 hours of television programming and 45,000 music tracks. It previously partnered for film distribution with many companies including the Weinstein Company, IM Global, Studio Canal, Focus Features and CBS Films.

Participant has a long-standing relationship with Spielberg, having backed his Oscar-winning “Lincoln” and the recent “Bridge of Spies,” as well as such DreamWorks releases as “The Help.” The company went through a management shake-up this year that saw Jim Berk abandon his post as CEO under pressure from owner Jeff Skoll. He was later replaced by former Universal film chief David Linde.

Participant sees the alliance with DreamWorks as a way of further owner Jeff Skoll’s ambitions for continuing the growth of its film division and expanding its reach internationally. Skoll has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the company he founded in 2004, but has been looking for profitable partnerships that will make Participant profitable and sustainable for the long run. The company views the DreamWorks alliance as such a partnership.

The announcement also represents a welcome affirmation for DreamWorks from Reliance Entertainment. The giant Indian multimedia company had previously been the biggest backer of Spielberg’s company. But there had been reports Reliance had become disillusioned and would not re-up. But it joined in the new Amblin partnership, along with Participant and eOne.
Steven Spielberg Puts His Own Big Bucks Into the New Amblin Partners (EXCLUSIVE)

DECEMBER 30, 2015 | 04:00PM PT
James Rainey
Senior Film Reporter
Steven Spielberg has made the rare-for-him move of investing his own money in the latest iteration of his DreamWorks Studios, putting $50 million into the new multimedia company that he named after his first 35mm film, according to two sources familiar with the deal.

The new Amblin Partners represents not only the director’s re-commitment to making “more beautiful music” for the cinema, but to reinvigorating the old Amblin nameplate and, notably, to putting his first funds into DreamWorks since its founding more than two decades ago.

When they formed their “full service” studio in 1994, Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen each tossed in $33 million, effectively seed money that attracted a $500 million investment from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It felt somewhat symmetrical, then, that the new Amblin deal was sealed with the substantial Spielberg offering, along with the much larger $200 million investment from Participant Media. The socially-conscious entertainment company was founded by another tech billionaire, former eBay executive Jeff Skoll.

Skoll made it clear he was thrilled to be doing business with Spielberg, saying the two “share a passion for stories that can truly affect change.” Reliance Group of India, the previous equity partner for live-action DreamWorks (now essentially defunct as a studio, but living on as one of Amblin’s film labels) was pleased enough with the new combination to continue its seven-year-old relationship with Spielberg, one that many in Hollywood believed had run out of gas. And the trio picked up a fourth partner, Entertainment One (eOne) of Canada, which initially discussed a $50 million commitment and added international distribution heft. (eOne’s final contribution remains undisclosed.)

A spokesperson for Amblin Partners declined to comment.

But two people close to the director said he had been energized by the entire deal, including a shift of the operation’s film distribution from Disney to Universal Pictures, where Spielberg launched some of his most beloved films, including “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park.” Spielberg has maintained offices on the Universal lot and now pushes ahead as part of Amblin Partners, which will release films, television shows and other content under the Amblin, DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media banners.

“Amblin, the word, the banner, is an emotional thing to him and this whole deal meant a lot to him,” said one person close to the negotiations, who declined to be named while discussing confidential conversations. “He really wanted to be committed to this. And the investment showed that commitment to everyone. It was a great sign to the other partners.”

Another individual familiar with the deal confirmed that Spielberg intended his $50 million infusion to signal his resolve to re-energize DreamWorks as Amblin Partners. Both of those who discussed the investment said that it would have gone ahead, however, even if Spielberg had not made his investment. “He didn’t have to do it. The deal would have happened anyway,” said one.

The new equity investments also helped the partnership secure a new $500 million line of credit through at least half a dozen lenders, led by Comerica Bank and arranged by J.P. Morgan Chase.

Spielberg’s relationship with Disney apparently ended amicably, though there was little love between the partners through most of their seven-year marriage. When the entertainment conglomerate signed in 2009 with DreamWorks Studios, it expected to release half a dozen DreamWorks films a year. Spielberg’s studio ended up delivering as few as two movies a year. And Spielberg felt that the high-minded pics that have become his signature were getting lost, as Disney focused on the outsized productions pumped out by its powerhouse affiliates — Lucasfilm, Pixar and Marvel.

In another wrinkle to the new Amblin deal, not previously disclosed, Disney did not come away from DreamWorks’ departure empty-handed. The Mouse House will retain in its library the 13 films it released for Spielberg’s company, including “Lincoln,” “The Fifth Estate” and the upcoming “The BFG,” Spielberg’s fantasy film based on the book by Roald Dahl.

Disney loaned DreamWorks roughly $100 million, while also agreeing to pay some advertising and marketing costs for the Spielberg venture’s films, during the 2009 launch of the partnership. The total amount outstanding on those loans has not been reported, but two sources said Disney gets to keep the DreamWorks titles as compensation for the money owed. “The pictures they are keeping go to pay off the credit line,” said one of the individuals. While the final value of the films over time can’t be known, the source said: “Disney is not expecting to make money off this. All they are doing is attempting to recoup their debt.”

The Amblin deal seems to be a telling example of the tight finances gripping Hollywood. Even with his marquee name, Spielberg needed roughly 18 months to come to terms with his new partners. The arrangement also gives new life to a company, DreamWorks, that had been floundering in its old guise. It had put out a string of flops (though a hopeful exception could be October’s “Bridge of Spies,” which has grossed $138 million worldwide on a $40 million budget) and seemed to lose its focus. The company also didn’t seem to have a strategy for advancement, as a series of new competitors, including STX and Broad Green Pictures, crowded into the independent space.

One thing remains the same at Amblin Partners as it was at DreamWorks Studios: Founder and creative force Spielberg is free to direct films for either his own company, or other studios, as he sees fit. It remains to be seen whether parting with $50 million of his own funds makes him more likely to play close to home.
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