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When Steven Spielberg learned that Paramount was developing an untitled Bee Gees movie that he thought was going to be made under his Amblin banner, he was not pleased. And when Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos found out that Spielberg was not pleased, he was not pleased.
The Bee Gees project, which had long gestated at Spielberg’s DreamWorks and more recently at Amblin, came to Paramount through Bohemian Rhapsody producer Graham King, who had teamed with former DreamWorks exec Stacey Snider and her new company Sister, formed with Elizabeth Murdoch and Jane Featherstone.
The problem from Spielberg’s point of view, according to multiple sources, was that he thought he was involved with the picture and was unaware that it had been set up at Paramount. When Gianopulos learned what had transpired, he quickly negotiated a deal to cut Spielberg and Amblin into the project. A Paramount spokesman confirms that Amblin will finance 25 percent of the film with Paramount and Sister splitting the rest.
While it is unclear how Spielberg was left out of the loop while the project was set up at Paramount, he is one of Hollywood’s top filmmakers and revered figures, and few in the industry would dare to cross him.
Snider had overseen development of the Bee Gees movie during her eight-year tenure at DreamWorks, where she was co-chairman and CEO. During that time, Spielberg had been eager to secure the rights to the group’s life story. But sources familiar with Snider and King’s deal say Barry Gibb balked when he was approached with a legal document that was nearly 100 pages long.
“They tried to get the movie made for 10 years and overwhelmed Barry and the [Bee Gees] estate with a complicated legal document,” the source says. “Barry freaked out and wouldn’t do it.”
A source familiar with Amblin’s point of view disputed the length of the document, and responded: “The notion that anyone would hesitate to work with Steven Spielberg on a film over the length of a 20-page document is laughable — not to mention fabricated.”
According to sources with knowledge of the deal, Amblin sent Gibb a letter on Aug. 12 that formally nullified its offer after the two parties failed to come to an agreement over the rights to the band’s story.
But an Amblin insider says the letter halting negotiations was sent to allow King to move the film forward, but was not intended to allow Amblin to be excluded from the project.
British producer King, whose Bohemian Rhapsody film on the life of Freddie Mercury netted four Oscars and grossed more than $900 million worldwide, spent time with Gibb this summer according to sources, and worked with Paramount to slim down the legal document for the deal to just four to five pages long. He then went over the document carefully with Gibb over a week in Miami, making sure the musician was comfortable before signing. Paramount, which released the Elton John biopic Rocketman earlier this year, purchased the rights to the Bee Gees’ life story in October.
Snider left DreamWorks in 2014 to go to the 20th Century Fox film group, where she took over as chairman and CEO in 2017 following Gianopulos’ departure. She teamed up with Murdoch and British television producer Featherstone to launch global content banner Sister last month, and was eager to get their first project set up. She had met with King during Bohemian Rhapsody and brought him into the Bee Gees project.
The Bee Gees, comprised of Gibb brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice, are among the world’s best-selling music artists of all time. The British-Australian pop trio rose to fame in the 1960s and ‘70s and saw global success with hits such as “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” “Too Much Heaven,” “Nights on Broadway” and “Stayin’ Alive.”
Barry Gibb, 73, is the only surviving member of the band, after Maurice Gibb’s sudden death from complications of a twisted intestine in 2003 at the age of 53 and Robin Gibb’s death from complications related to colorectal cancer in 2012 at the age of 62.
Representatives for Barry Gibb did not respond to THR‘s requests for comment.
Nov. 2, 1:45 p.m. Updated to note the Bee Gees were a British-Australian pop trio.
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