DreamWorks ramps up slate

15 projects from Par are 'go' as loan timeline is stretched

The goalposts are within sight.

Despite the likelihood that its bank deal won't close until at least late April, DreamWorks' film development remains on full tilt with the aim of releasing at least two pics next year through its distribution partnership with Disney.

About 15 of 17 of DreamWorks-developed projects recently acquired from Paramount are now considered "go" projects, and DreamWorks continues to acquire and develop additional projects to flesh out a comprehensive slate covering all genres. Not everything about the situation is ideal: Execs are beating the bushes for comedy scripts, and the lack of long-term financing has prevented their attaching talent to the many projects.

So far, JPMorgan Securities has won firm commitments on more than $150 million of a targeted $325 million in first-phase syndicated bank financing, and a source close to the process suggested the likelihood of securing well more than $200 million in commitments by month's end. The studio had hoped to close on the syndication by March 31, but the recent decision to use Disney instead of Universal for distribution prevented the distribution of syndication terms sheets and thus delayed the already-difficult process.

In fact, a first draft of so-called longform documents on the syndication are only now being distributed to committed lenders. So considering the continuing malaise in the credit markets, those involved in the process suggest it reflects well on DreamWorks that the syndication will close soon at all.

"We're getting extremely good buzz and are more than halfway there," a source close to the financing process said. "I'm confident we will get beyond the goalposts."

It now appears the first-phase financing will close in late April or early May, but certainly sometime in the spring. Mumbai-based Reliance Big Entertainment will match the financing at that point and already has provided some interim financing along with DreamWorks principal Steven Spielberg.

DreamWorks chose Disney over Universal because the Burbank studio offered lucrative pay TV slots with the premium pay channel Starz and about $150 million in prints and advertising money. Universal had offered only a limited TV deal and no P&A, with the latter point causing some concerns among DreamWorks' financial partners.

Spielberg and DreamWorks chief Stacey Snider ended their executive contracts with Paramount in the fall, effectively ending a two-year relationship with the Melrose studio. Work to secure funding for a slate of DreamWorks-owned projects began almost immediately afterwards.

Projects well advanced in development at DreamWorks following their ownership transfer from Paramount include the political thriller "Motorcade," the literary adaptation "The 39 Clues," the fact-based drama "The Trial of the Chicago Seven" and a pair of comic-book adaptations -- "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Atlantis Rising." Other pics in development include the recently acquired literary adaptation "The Big One" and the space adventure "Quartermain," among others.

DreamWorks execs are confident of having at least a couple productions under way by the fall. Also heading before the cameras in October is "Dinner for Schmucks," a Jay Roach comedy set for release in 2011 by Paramount with DreamWorks and Spyglass on board to co-finance with Paramount.

DreamWorks execs envision releasing about four to six films per year through Disney eventually.