Lescure talking tough on DreamWorks deal

WB could take over int'l theatrical, global homevid distrib'n

Vivendi Universal TV and film division chief Pierre Lescure called DreamWorks’ bluff Thursday by saying that if the negotiations to renew their distribution deal goes above a certain sum, Universal is unlikely to renew.

“The studio is strong enough today to prevent this becoming a national drama,” he told French daily La Tribune. “What’s more, when they’ve done the rounds of those who will supposedly sign at any price, they may come back to see us.”

Warner Bros. has long been rumored as the front-runner to take over DreamWorks’ international theatrical and global homevideo distribution when its deal with Universal expires at the end of the year. Talks are ongoing between WB and DreamWorks, but the latter is talking to a number of other parties as well.

Changing positions

Canal Plus execs spoke to the French daily in Los Angeles, giving a rare glimpse into their new roles at Vivendi Universal after the Vivendi-Seagram merger last year.

Lescure defined his new mission as “a dialogue on the strategy, the calendar and the organization of Universal.”

But he doesn’t rule out the possibility of personally intervening in film projects. Asked if he’d get involved in the choice of actors, he replied, “Yes, if the case arises.”

For her part, Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal Pictures, said: “All suggestions are welcome, but I’m not afraid of defending my viewpoint. I think I’ll know how to convince them.”

Vincent Grimond, former chief exec of StudioCanal, is No. 2 at Universal Studios, with an office alongside prexy Ron Meyer and the title senior executive vice president, operations and finance. “All the financial departments answer to me,” he said.

One of his tasks is recruiting a new financial director for the studios to replace William Sutman, who moved to the Paris headquarters.

For the merger to work, Grimond believes it’s important for everyone to stick to their specialties.

Meyer “is 50 million times more competent than me,” he said, at making Hollywood films. “On the other hand, StudioCanal knows how to make a Jim Jarmusch film for $17 million, not Stacey Snider,” he explained.

Lescure said that, if need be, he would intervene on a particular movie project and a particular choice for actor, though his position within Vivendi Universal means that in terms of its U.S. activities he is specifically in charge of overall strategy and organizational issues at the studio.

Rocky road may await

Snider warned that they may not always have a smooth ride.

“They know people in Hollywood,” she remarked, “but you need to have spent years in the trenches to really understand how it works here.”

On the other hand, according to Grimond, times have changed since the dark days of Carolco.

“Since then we’ve made deals that satisfy essential criteria, and they haven’t been catastrophes,” he said. “The Canal Plus management team no longer has the reputation of being hotheads.”

In the end, Hollywood’s history may take care of the French arrivals.

“It’s an industry that was built by immigrants,’ Snider commented. “Once they’re known, they’ll be at home.”

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