Stacey Snider: 'We Have Absolute Support'
Never was a movie more aptly named than The Help. Coming off a string of disappointments, the unlikely blockbuster's box-office run came at an opportune time for DreamWorks, which stumbled with its first releases I Am Number Four, Fright Night and, most notably, the costly Cowboys & Aliens.
Still, the industry is watching the reconstituted Steven Spielberg studio closely as speculation has intensified about its financial status and the degree of support from its main backer, India's Reliance. In particular, Hollywood will be focusing on the performance of the next pricey DreamWorks bet, Shawn Levy's $110 million-budgeted Real Steel.
In an interview with THR, DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider acknowledges that Cowboys was a big setback both personally and financially for the company. But she says any talk that DreamWorks is in a financial squeeze is inaccurate. She says Reliance has not wavered in its support and specifically denies rumors that DreamWorks staff has been ordered to cut expenses.
"We have not changed our expenses, we have not laid anyone off," Snider says. "We have no plans to lay anyone off or to reduce expenses." She also expresses confidence in Real Steel, the boxing drama starring Hugh Jackman and gigantic robots that opens Oct. 7.
"There is a financial loss, a hit we took with Cowboys that we are able to absorb, not perfectly, but we are able to absorb it," Snider says. "The Help went a long way toward helping. Because of that, our partners can say: 'Keep going. We're behind you. You've got the money -- make movies.' … We have absolute support from our partners. That is real. It is expressed. It is explicit."
Snider says DreamWorks has slowed its script buys. Although the company just optioned Roald Dahl's children's story BFG, it will work with material it already owns. "I have definitely said to our executives, 'Let's turn these into movies, not meetings,' " she says. "I just think that's prudent management."
DreamWorks covered half of Cowboys' $160 million budget, with Universal and Relativity splitting the other half. The Jon Favreau-directed sci-fi Western, released domestically in July by Universal, grossed only $98 million. The international release distributed by Paramount added just $64 million.
Snider acknowledges that Real Steel is "a sizable bet for us." Two weeks out, tracking is not strong among women, but Snider says she is happy with the strategy and that the plan was to start out marketing to men and broaden to a general audience.
So far, The Help, which cost $26 million, has grossed $162 million worldwide. The film was in profit at $60 million, according to Snider, and while it only has opened in a few foreign markets, it's off to a strong start. Participant Media ponied up a third of the budget.
DreamWorks faced challenges out of the gate, scouring for financing as the recession hit in 2008. It set up $325 million in bank funding, short of its original goal. It also got a loan from Disney, which distributes its films, and Reliance matched the bank loans with $325 million. After Real Steel, the next DreamWorks film will be Spielberg's War Horse at Christmas.