Steven Spielberg, Jeff Skoll Team to Form Amblin Partners, Strike Distribution Deal With Universal

Steven Spielberg and Jeff Skoll Split - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Steven Spielberg and Jeff Skoll Split - H 2015

Participant is providing DreamWorks with a major equity infusion.

Dreamworks' Steven Spielberg has finalized a new deal putting him in business with billionaire Jeff Skoll of Participant Media.

Together, they are forming a new company called Amblin Partners, which will create content drawn from the DreamWorks and Participant brands. Anil Ambani, chairman, Reliance Group, and Darren Throop, president and CEO of Entertainment One, are also part of the new partnership, in which the partners have invested $300 million.

Amblin Partners has struck a distribution deal with Universal that will see Universal and its Focus Films label handle distribution and marketing for approximately four to seven Amblin Partners films each year domestically and in certain international markets. As a result, Universal, and not Disney, will release DreamWorks' high-profile film adaptation of bestselling novel The Girl on the Train, which hits theaters Oct. 7. The BFG, directed by Spielberg, remains a Disney title since the studio is co-financing the family film, which is being produced via Spielberg's Amblin label and not DreamWorks. Disney will also release DreamWorks' The Light Between Oceans, while A Dog's Purpose will go out through the new Uni deal.

THR first reported in May that Jeff Skoll's Participant Media could invest as much as $200 million in DreamWorks.

DreamWorks execs Michael Wright and Jeff Small will head Amblin Partners, with Wright serving as CEO and Small as COO. In addition, Amblin Television will become a division of Amblin Partners and will continue to be run by co-presidents Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank. They join producers Krisitie Macosko Krieger and president of production Holly Bario on the film side to complete Amblin Partners' senior management team.

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David Linde, CEO of Participant Media, and Participant's narrative feature team, led by exec vp Jonathan King, will work closely with Amblin Partners to develop and produce specific content for the new venture in addition to looking for opportunities for co-productions.

As part of the new partnership, eOne will handle the direct distribution of Amblin Partners films on a multiterritory output deal in Australia/New Zealand and Spain as well as the United Kingdom and the Benelux, where it previously had an output arrangement with DreamWorks.

As part of the overall deal for Amblin Partners, JPMorgan Chase has arranged a $500 million debt syndication together with Comeria Bank, which served as co-lead. 

The deal with Universal is a symbolic homecoming of sorts for Spielberg, who has long maintained his offices on the studio's lot, where Amblin — his first production company — was based, and it comes on the heels of the blockbuster success of Universal's Jurassic World. Spielberg, 68, was a hands-on producer on the tentpole and his involvement is key to future installments. Spielberg and director Colin Trevorrow are set to work on the sequel, which will hit theaters June 22, 2018. He also is key on potential reboots of other Universal franchises such as Jaws and Back to the Future. "The same magnet that pulled me to Universal when I first wanted to make movies is bringing me home again to this new exciting relationship," Spielberg said.

In effect, DreamWorks has gone through another incarnation.  Spielberg founded DreamWorks in 1994 with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen with the aim of building a full-fledged studio. However, facing financial pressure, DreamWorks Animation was spun off in 2004 and DreamWorks proper sold in 2005 to Viacom, parent company of Paramount Pictures. The partnership with Paramount proved fraught, and in 2008 DreamWorks signed a $1.5 billion deal to produce films with India's Reliance and struck a distribution pact with Disney. During that time, DreamWorks also struck up a working relationship with Participant on films like The Help and Lincoln.