U begins search as pic chief pursues Dream job

Capping off a turbulent week, Universal Pictures chair Stacey Snider will become chief executive and co-chair of DreamWorks.

Move puts Snider at the same level in the corporate hierarchy as DreamWorks founders David Geffen, who is also a co-chairman, and Steven Spielberg, who holds the title of director-producer. Snider will report directly to Paramount chairman-CEO Brad Grey. Par acquired DreamWorks in December for $1.6 billion.

Overseeing day-to-day operations at DreamWorks, Snider will be responsible for building a slate of four to six movies per year. She will share greenlight authority with Spielberg and Geffen. Under the terms of Par’s acquisition, DreamWorks has autonomy to greenlight projects with budgets up to $85 million.

“She’ll be working hand in glove with Steven and David,” Grey said.

Snider’s pact with DreamWorks runs for four years. In a sign of how much Spielberg and Geffen were pushing with Par to get the deal done, the two each extended their own three-year contracts with DreamWorks to a fourth year.

Even as the Sunday announcement of Snider’s move wrapped up one Hollywood studio drama, deal opens questions on several fronts — including who will succeed Snider at U — and stirs up questions about the future direction at Paramount.

Also unclear is when Snider will begin her tenure at DreamWorks. She remains under contract at U through the end of this year. Grey said the new contract “doesn’t start until the end of her Universal commitments. She has a contract through the end of December. If she’s free sooner than that, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

When asked late Sunday afternoon if she was going to work at her U job on Monday, Snider said, “I don’t know. It seems better for me not to go.”

She added that her first order of business would be to meet with Universal Studios prexy Ron Meyer to discuss the situation. Meyer declined to be interviewed on Sunday but in a statement spoke of Snider in the past tense.

“Stacey was a valued colleague who made a significant contribution to Universal Pictures. I hope this move helps her achieve her desire for a different business lifestyle,” he said. “Even with her departure we have the most talented team in the business and we will continue to effectively run our studio.”

Now that Snider’s move is official, Meyer will begin a search for her replacement. Among those named as possible contenders are vice chair Marc Shmuger, Focus co-topper David Linde and USA and Sci Fi cabler chief Bonnie Hammer, as well as former vice chair Scott Stuber, who recently transitioned to a production deal with Mary Parent.

Meyer is said to prefer searching for candidates from within the NBC Universal fold first.

Producers on the U lot have been rooting for familiar faces. “We don’t need any new friends,” said one producer before Snider’s deal became official, pushing for any solution “that keeps people in their positions.”

In the weeks when Snider’s move was rumored, some speculated that her arrival at DreamWorks could ultimately lead to an even bigger role at Paramount, either replacing Par prexy Gail Berman as the top film exec or even moving over to Grey’s chair seat.

Snider denied harboring any bigger Par aspirations. “My definition of success is to fulfill the mandate of DreamWorks producing four to six films per year.”

Grey also reiterated his confidence in Berman. “Gail, as I’ve said very recently, has all my confidence. She’s the president of Paramount Pictures. She has a very big job in putting together the slate of Paramount Pictures.”

Grey said hiring Snider was part of executing the studio strategy once it purchased DreamWorks.

“One of the mandates was to bring to the studio the best talent both in front of and behind the camera and turn Paramount into the gold standard in terms of today’s motion picture business,” Grey said. “Stacey is exactly that. She’s one of the best executives in the business, and this is falling right in line with what we want to do.”

While the addition of DreamWorks has led to a big disruption at the Par lot — resulting in numerous layoffs and rearrangement of marketing and distribution personnel — Snider said she doesn’t expect to shake up the DreamWorks production department.

“Adam has done a great job,” she said of current production head Adam Goodman. “Everyone there has done a great job. I spoke to Adam today a couple times already.” She also said she did not envision a wave of new hires there. “That’s not part of the plan. I haven’t even contemplated it,” she said.

Deal came together quickly in less than two weeks since Snider first informed Meyer that she wanted to seek other jobs. Snider said she made that request after contemplating the prospect of renewing her U deal.

“For me, facing the onset of a new contract negotiation, I was thinking, What is my next stage life going to be?” Snider said. “Can I find new and exciting challenges at Universal? Do I want to be the chair of Universal for another four or five years, or do I want to do something different?”

Her answers were “unsure and ambivalent,” she said. “That just stayed with me, and I am the kind of person who turns things over in my heart and mind until I find clarity.”

The DreamWorks job, she said, would allow her to focus primarily on filmmaking.

“Being a chairman of a studio with global operations is just a different job. It has to do with what you see occupying the main part of your day. I wanted to dive deeper into some areas, and you can’t do that when you have so many other responsibilities. I wanted to be more directly involved in making movies.”

Prior to becoming U chair in 1998, Snider had spent most of her career as a production exec. She was first hired at U in 1996 as co-prexy of production. Prior to U, she was production prexy at TriStar Pictures.

Though GE’s ownership has come with a high level of management scrutiny, Snider said she did not resent the new management style. “I think people who are rolling the dice by making movies with the capital resources that the movie business takes should be held to a rigorous standard,” she said. “It’s not about GE processes and procedures, it really is about what suited my life.”

She had also cited her two young daughters as another factor in her decision. But she emphasized her personal life was just one factor. “It’s a consideration, but it’s not the driving motivation,” she said.

Deal came together quickly. Snider’s lawyers began negotiations with Par last week and rushed to get a deal done before a Meyer-imposed Monday deadline by which Snider had to declare her intent to stay at U or leave.

Terms of her DreamWorks deal were not disclosed, but it is structured so that Snider’s compensation comes out of the operating budget given to DreamWorks by Par. And while previous DreamWorks execs Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald functioned as both execs and producers who were gross participants in some films, Snider’s role will be purely as an exec.

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