Jittery juncture

U, Par caught in D'Works wake

A month after Paramount wooed DreamWorks away from a marriage with Universal, the deal is still creating major ripples at all three companies.

The latest impact is on the foreign front, as Andrew Cripps, prexy of UIP, the international distrib joint venture Par and U are winding down next year, has signaled he will join up with Par’s new independent org, despite heavy courting from U. Universal has already anointed David Kosse as the exec who will lead its international org forward.

Meanwhile, Par production chief Gail Berman and U topper Stacey Snider have also registered on the rumor radar.

These developments all indicate that the key asset Paramount sought in its DreamWorks bid was people.

With UIP set to begin unwinding at the beginning of 2007, Par and U are each building their own independent foreign distrib ops. Securing DreamWorks product for its international pipeline no doubt will make it easier for Par to lure UIP execs like Cripps to its new international arm.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and Par marketing and distribution prexy Rob Moore are now ironing out the finer points of the acquisition, specifically the integration of the DreamWorks staff.

Reportedly, department heads from both studios were required to turn over names of employees in their division. The lists are being combed over to see which employee is a stronger candidate, the current Paramount employee or the DreamWorks staffer. There is no mandate to cut a certain number of staffers. DreamWorks has some 500 employees.

“This is really about putting together the best organization, and because 100% of DreamWorks distribution, as well as all of Jeffrey’s animation distribution, will be handled by Paramount, we all have the same goal of putting together the best group of people,” Moore told Daily Variety.

The integration is being done on a person-by-person basis.

“We are going group by group and literally looking at each individual at each organization and asking, ‘Is there a place for this person and does it make sense to have them become a part of the new organization?,’ ” Moore said.

Moore also emphasized that the DreamWorks acquisition made sense for many reasons, including that Paramount needed to create entirely new departments, like an international distribution structure and a television sales division, the previous version of which the studio had lost to CBS in the Viacom split. DreamWorks had some of the manpower to help fill those slots.

“Some of the people that will be coming over are not replacements; they are positions that Paramount internally was already in search of filling,” Moore said.

As for other groups at both studios, the production teams will remain mostly unaffected, he said, as will the marketing and publicity teams at Par. However, some staffers at DreamWorks who specialize in animation and publicity will likely be brought over to supplement Paramount’s ranks.

Other decisions, however, have already been made or were in the process of being made prior to the announcement of the deal on Dec. 11.

Immediately following the announcement of the Par/DreamWorks deal, DreamWorks head of physical production Michael Grillo departed the studio to explore other opportunities while Par recruited DreamWorks head of post-production Marty Cohen to join the studio. Latter hire was being negotiated long before Paramount’s acquisition of the studio, as Cohen was coming over to replace a Par exec who was retiring.

The prospect of an influx of DreamWorks people has made nervousness the rule on the Paramount lot. Already, Par domestic distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen was shown the door and is expected to be replaced in favor of DreamWorks’ Jim Tharp.

There are other ripples. Rumors have begun to swirl about the future of Berman. Just how justified those rumors are is up for debate.

Berman was Brad Grey’s first hire after he replaced Sherry Lansing last year, but the Par-DreamWorks alliance has stirred talk about the former Fox TV head’s tense relationship with DreamWorks founder Katzenberg, who now leads DreamWorks Animation.

Their relationship grew strained after DreamWorks’ boxing reality skein “The Contender” (which the shingle produced with Mark Burnett) wound up at NBC despite heavy lobbying by Berman to bring the show to Fox. After losing out on the show, Fox developed a rival boxing skein, “The Next Great Champ.”

On Monday, word went out that Berman was now butting heads with Par co-prexy of production Alli Shearmur and that her status at the studio was on shaky ground. However, both of those rumors were quickly shot down by Par execs.

“That’s insane,” one executive said. “Everything is just fine over here.”

In response to the rumors about Berman, another Par exec said: “She has barely started here. She is still putting her team in place and putting her slate in place. It would be too early for Brad (Grey) or for Tom Freston to make changes. They are people who back their staff, and they will definitely back her and give her her due shot.”

Source also said that at every meeting he has attended the production division seems to get along just fine. “Everyone works really well together,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any dissension whatsoever.”

As for the Universal ripples, the town is beginning to wonder about U chair Snider, who has not reupped (her contract expires at the end of the year). It is known that she was more bullish on buying DreamWorks than GE execs and that that conglom’s lack of action created a kind of psychic shock to many at the studio who feel demoralized by the inability to secure the company.

Besides the rumors about Berman, the production division at Paramount seems unfazed by the DreamWorks acquisition; several execs in that division say that it’s simply business as usual for them.

“It will be like Imagine to Universal or like Revolution to Sony,” explained one exec not affiliated with the deal.

Also expected to be integrated at Par is the information technology unit at DreamWorks. The reason for the IT unit’s move over the hill is to help Par update its computer systems, which several sources describe as “antiquated.”

A DreamWorks spokeswoman had no comment about the rumors.

(Dave McNary, Pamela McClintock and Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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