Steven Spielberg, Reliance continue talks

$1.5 billion, 30-plus film production proposal

Representatives of Steven Spielberg and the Indian conglomerate Reliance continue to talk daily about terms of a $1.5 billion proposal to fund a privately owned DreamWorks that would produce more than 30 films over the next five years.

Reliance executives are expected to hold sit-down talks with Spielberg reps soon in New York or Los Angeles, though things are going so well they might hold off flying in until a meeting to close the deal later this summer. The business plan being discussed would see Spielberg and top DreamWorks execs create a new company financed with about $550 million in equity funding by Reliance, a senior debt facility and possible additional equity from whichever studio is chosen as a theatrical distributor.

"Things are going well, and God willing we'll get there," said Schuyler Moore, a Strook & Strook & Lavan attorney representing Reliance in the DreamWorks talks.

Those expressing interest in distributing the new company's films include Universal, Fox, Disney and Paramount. Paramount struck a deal to acquire DreamWorks in December 2005 and will continue to distribute all DreamWorks-branded films at least through year's end, when contract provisions allow Spielberg to opt out of his Paramount deal and take DreamWorks chairman David Geffen, DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider and the DreamWorks name with him.

The name actually is controlled by the separate public company DreamWorks Animation, but it's assumed Spielberg would be granted the right to use the name at whatever new company he sets up.

Spielberg still could decide simply to strike a new distribution arrangement with one of the suitor studios and forgo setting up a whole new company. But sources suggest that the iconic hyphenate sorely wants to own the movies he produces and is likely to seal a deal with Reliance by summer's end.

Reliance is the only prospective equity partner for Spielberg currently in advanced talks with his reps. Terms of its proposed financing arrangement probably still could get tweaked substantially, but principals of the diversified conglomerate appear committed to working out a final deal with Spielberg.

A DreamWorks spokesman declined comment.

Separately, Reliance -- based in Mumbai and controlled by Indian businessman Anil Ambani -- has been on the hunt for hundreds of millions of its own production funding. Its diversified portfolio of businesses include Reliance Big Entertainment, which has struck several nonexclusive production pacts with Hollywood film labels operated by talent.

Those include Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and other clients of CAA, which first brought Reliance's DreamWorks interest to Spielberg. Geffen has been a strong advocate of resurrecting DreamWorks as a production company controlling and owning its own film slate, and entertainment attorney Skip Brittenham helped shape a business plan to support that vision.

"David wants to know that everything is, if not closed, then locked up by the end of summer," a well-placed source said.
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