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UPDATED: DreamWorks has put the final pieces in place for its 2011 feature slate, which co-chair and CEO Stacey Snider said now solidly represents the newly rebooted studio’s approach to “elevated genre.”
The biggest news out of a Wednesday conference call that also included Disney distribution president Chuck Viane is that the Steven Spielberg-directed “War Horse” has been pushed from August to Dec. 28, where it can compete in the holiday arena. Snider allowed that the move sets up the epic family drama for awards consideration, though she said that was not the motivation for the shift.
Meanwhile, the Shawn Levy-directed “Real Steel” has been moved from November to Oct. 7, as Snider believes the drama deserves more space to stretch its legs moving through the fall.
Two other films in production were given hard release dates as a result of the moves: The adaptation of “The Help” will move into the Aug. 12 date vacated by “Horse,” and the 3D remake of “Fright Night,” starring Colin Farrell as the seductive vampire next door, has sunk its teeth into Aug. 19 to take advantage of the summer movie audience.
The sci-fi film “I Am Number Four,” directed by D.J. Caruso, sticks to its Feb. 18 date, and “Cowboys & Aliens,” which Universal and Paramount will release, remains slated for July 29. Snider said the studio is cutting together “Aliens” trailers now, and one could be on screens as early as Christmas.
The changes arose from a weeklong summit last week in London attended by the senior DreamWorks team along with international and domestic managers and executives from Disney, which became DreamWorks’ distribution partner in February. Footage from five of the studio’s movies, including Spielberg’s, was screened for the extended gathering, which prompted differing strategies for next year’s releases.
(Of the six films in the initial slate, only “Aliens,” a graphic-novel adaptation helmed by “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau, will not be distributed by Touchstone.)
The placement of Spielberg’s period family film in late December has it opening five days after the director’s other long-in-production feature, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” based on Herge’s classic comic books. Paramount is releasing the latter film, a motion-capture animated project that will appeal to similar audiences.
“Horse” is based on the Michael Morpurgo novel and Nick Stafford stage adaptation about a boy and his horse who are separated when the mount is conscripted as an officer’s charge in World War I. The stage version comes to Broadway in the spring.
Snider noted that much of the press for “Tintin” would be done with collaborator Peter Jackson and that it opens internationally in late October, well before “Horse” premieres.
In any case, the DreamWorks topper thinks there is plenty of room for everyone.
“It’s a big market at that time of year,” she said.
Once Spielberg’s film was reslotted, the studio felt it could turn “Help,” an adaptation of the Kathryn Stockett novel, into a late-summer “women’s event movie” along the lines of “Julie & Julia” or “Eat Pray Love.” Participant Media and Imagenation Abu Dhabi co-financed and co-produced the film, written and directed by Tate Taylor and starring Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard.
DreamWorks and Disney executives showed the 150 people gathered in London about 25 minutes of “Steel,” which stars Hugh Jackman as a washed-up boxer trying to make amends with his 11-year-old son while climbing the ranks of the new sport of robot boxing (the film takes place in 2020). Feeling that November was too crowded — the Nov. 18 date already has Summit’s first part of “Breaking Dawn” and Warner Bros.’ “Happy Feet 2 in 3D” scheduled — Snider and Viane decided to treat the John Gatins-scripted PG-13 action drama as more of a tentpole with room for long legs.
“The spectacle is outrageous,” Snider said, noting that the filmmakers had declined to shoot the film in 3D to lend the robot boxing world as much realism as possible to play up the human drama.
“Aliens” was kept in two dimensions for similar creative reasons; Favreau wanted to display the classic Western landscapes of filmmakers like John Ford rather than blow them out in an artificial dimension. That said, it does involve aliens attacking, so it won’t be without its share of visual effects.
(Although “Horse” will use a few effects for safety reasons, Spielberg wanted to keep things as real as he could, including shooting an 80-horse cavalry charge without effects while executives were on set.)
The five minutes of “Fright” footage showcased what Snider describes as a “John Hughesian tone,” and its “fun and scary” feel lent itself much more to the 3D format. Likening its feel to that of Sony’s successful “Zombieland,” Snider said “Fright” was shot by director Craig Gillespie with 3D cameras because the film’s modest budget allowed for it.
In this way, Snider took pains to outline a “picture by picture” decision-making process about 3D potential defined by creative parameters natural to each story. Beyond that, Snider points to the first half-dozen DreamWorks projects greenlighted since extricating itself from Paramount two years ago and thinks the slate well establishes what the company’s modus operandi will look like moving forward.
“We wanted to be represented in the tentpole business,” Snider said. “Responsibly.”
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