Steven Spielberg, Jeff Skoll Talk Amblin Partners Deal: "We Are Hitting the Ground Running" (Exclusive)

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Steven Spielberg

The duo discusses how the new venture, which will distribute its films through Universal, will work.

DreamWorks' Steven Spielberg has joined with Participant’s Jeff Skoll to create a new company, Amblin Partners, but the director emphasized in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that contrary to some expectations, the DreamWorks label will live on.

"DreamWorks is something I co-created, and it's going to be in my life for as long as I'm making movies," said Spielberg, who along with Skoll and other top Amblin Partners executives discussed how the new structure will operate.

The new company, a partnership of Skoll’s Participant, Spielberg’s DreamWorks, eOne and Reliance, will release more adult fare — in the vein of this season’s awards contender, Bridge of Spies — through the DreamWorks label, while family fare will go through Spielberg’s long-standing production label, Amblin. Participant will continue to focus on movies with a socially uplifting message.

While a source says Universal expects to put certain Participant-labeled films through its Focus semi-speciality division, Skoll said, “We have no desire to [push] a massive, successful hit through Focus.” He added that his company will continue to making its own documentaries, which are currently not part of the new partnership, and may also pursue a limited number of scripted films outside the deal.

“One of the core ideas is to embrace the power of brands,” said DreamWorks executive Michael Wright, who will be CEO of the new partnership. The DreamWorks, Amblin and Participant labels will “speak to very different audiences.” Each of the labels will draw from its own portion of the company’s financing, though Skoll said he expects some projects will be shared within that partnership between Participant and DreamWorks. (The two have collaborated on such films as Bridge of Spies and Lincoln.) Spielberg concurred that projects will be shared with his DreamWorks label “when we have something that would be elevated by the class of Participant Media.”

The first film to be released through Amblin Partners, bearing a DreamWorks label, will be The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt, which Universal will release on Oct. 7. Pointing to that film as well as several others currently in or near production, Spielberg said, “We are hitting the ground running as opposed to the way it was when we announced DreamWorks [SKG] 21 years ago, when everybody said, `Where’s the beef?’ and it took two years to produce the first steak.” Another upcoming DreamWorks project, A Dog’s Purpose, will bear the Amblin label. The Amblin Partners name will appear on all films from the new entity.

A source says Universal will not at this point invest in Amblin Partners movies, and will distribute for a fee of more than 7 percent. The parties declined to comment on those terms. Spielberg said the company will work with Universal to set release schedules, adding, “We have complete trust in the team there,” including Universal Filmed Entertainment chairman Jeff Shell, studio chairman Donna Langley and NBC Universal vice chairman Ron Meyer.

Spielberg was complimentary about his company's deal with Disney, which is moving toward its end with the upcoming release of The BFG (which will be co-financed by Amblin Partners). But he said he was happy to be “coming home” to Universal, where he began his career. In fact, he has never moved his offices from the studio’s lot, even through DreamWorks’ deals with Paramount and Disney, but he said now, “I actually get to drive onto the lot with a whole different perspective.”