DreamWorks, Universal break bread

Move from Paramount in early talk stages

A flurry of meetings between executives at NBC Universal and DreamWorks could pave the way for the top execs at DreamWorks to move their base of operations from Paramount to Universal. But sources familiar with the overtures, described as a rapprochement, say that formal negotiations have not begun.

DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen is scheduled to have an upcoming dinner with Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, NBC Uni's parent company. NBC Uni president and CEO Jeff Zucker and Universal Studios president and COO Ron Meyer also are expected to attend. The dinner, said to be a long-standing engagement, would mark Geffen's first meeting with Immelt since NBC Uni's efforts to acquire DreamWorks in 2005 came up short when NBC Uni downgraded its original offer by about $100 million.

The New York Times on Saturday reported that negotiations to bring DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg and CEO Stacey Snider to Uni had hit a wall over financing -- with Geffen wanting Uni to provide annual financing for the live-action film unit, while Uni was looking for Geffen to bring in outside financing. But several sources insisted during the weekend that talks had not reached the stage where specific terms were under discussion.

Spokesmen for NBC Universal in New York and DreamWorks in Los Angeles declined comment. But a source familiar with the situation said that the talks are in early and exploratory stages. The planned meeting is a chance for Geffen to explore his options, the source said.

If DreamWorks ends its Paramount relationship -- where Spielberg and Snider are under contract through 2008 -- its principals have been expected to seek a Universal arrangement, especially since Spielberg, who still maintains his offices on the Universal lot, has long-standing relations with the studio. It also would mark a homecoming for Snider, who headed Uni's film unit before joining DreamWorks in 2006.

In a public display of their mutual interest, Meyer, Zucker, Spielberg and Snider met for lunch last week at the Universal commissary, a gathering first reported on DeadlineHollywood.com.

But before NBC Uni would strike a deal with the DreamWorks principles, a number of issues would have to be resolved. The question of how movies under such a deal would be financed is key, as GE is known for its fiscal conservatism. Uni also would have to decide how it would accommodate a full slate of as many as eight pictures a year from DreamWorks in addition to the films that it currently is supplied by its lineup of producers. There also is a question of which DreamWorks execs would make the move with Spielberg and Snider and whether any of the projects in DreamWorks' development pipeline that currently belong to Paramount would be part of the package.

The DreamWorks execs have publicly complained about their treatment at Viacom's Paramount, which acquired DreamWorks for $1.6 billion when the NBC Uni deal fell through. In recent months, the studio has attempted to address the unhappiness by such moves as clearly labeling DreamWorks-produced films as DreamWorks/Paramount releases.

Gregg Kilday reported from Los Angeles; George Szalai reported from New York.
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