DreamWorks bolts back to biz

Six films set for production this summer

DreamWorks Studios has gone from a dead stop to flat-out gallop: It has six films in production this summer, all eyeing 2011 bows.

That’s a tidy number for a company that closed $825 million in financing with Reliance Big Pictures and other investors less than a year ago, and it’s making for hectic times inside DreamWorks. Major studios generally might have three or four films in production at one time.

D.J. Caruso’s “I Am Number Four” began lensing in mid-May, while Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens” took to the saddle Wednesday. Shawn Levy begins shooting “Real Steel” on Monday, followed by “The Help” in late July and Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” in early August. Craig Gillespie also shoots “Fright Night” this summer.

Busy sked sends a clear message that DreamWorks is back in business, as well as a hopeful spot for agents and talent battling a slowdown in the number of studio films being made.

And there are probably no busier presidents of production than Holly Bario and Mark Sourian, who share the top job at DreamWorks. They report to, and work closely with, Stacey Snider and Steven Spielberg, who together run the company. Bario worked with Snider at U; Sourian has been at DreamWorks for 14 years.

The third iteration of DreamWorks is more nimble than before, explaining why it’s been able to amass a slate of films so quickly. Because studios are beholden to key producers, they’re notorious for their bureaucracy and slow pace in making decisions.

“We can say no really fast, and we can say yes really fast,” Bario said. “We’re servicing our agenda, not the agenda of others.”

Sourian said the idea is to produce a “diverse and varied slate” of four to six films a year, including two tentpoles. Three will be reasonably-budgeted genre films, while one will be a “project we just can’t pass up,” he says. “It’s about paying attention to fewer movies,” Sourian said.

Via DreamWorks’ distribution deal with Disney, five of the six titles opening next year will go out via Touchstone. DreamWorks also will partner with other studios from time to time. “Cowboys” will be distributed by U domestically and Paramount overseas.

This week, the Mouse announced it has hired marketing exec Kevin Campbell to serve as liaison with DreamWorks. Campbell, another Universal alum, will work hand and glove with DreamWorks marketing topper Christine Birch. He was tapped by MT Carney, Disney’s new marketing topper, Snyder and Birch.

In the year that DreamWorks had to wait for funding, the studio could only work on projects it already held rights to, such as Hugh Jackman starrer “Real Steel” and Daniel Craig topliner “Cowboys & Aliens.” There were no funds to buy new material.

That means that “Number Four,” “Fight Night,” “The Help” and “War Horse” have all come together this year, for the most part. Casting isn’t yet complete for either “The Help” or “War Horse.”

Alien-themed “Number Four” is DreamWorks’ first 2011 release, opening Feb. 18. Michael Bay brought the project to the studio and is producing. Pic is based on a HarperCollins young adult book that hits the stands this summer. Book was penned by James Frey and Jobie Hughes under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore.

“Number Four” is followed by graphic novel adaptation “Cowboys & Aliens,” which opens July 29. “War Horse,” a passion project for Spielberg and based on the stage play and classic children’s tome, opens Aug. 10, 2011.

Robot fighting tentpole “Real Steel” is set for a pre-Thanksgiving bow on Nov. 18. Also set to open in the fourth quarter of 2011 are “The Help,” based on the runaway best-selling book, and the Michael De Luca-produced “Fright Night,” a redux of the classic horror film that will star Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell (who plays the vampire).

Roster of writers, directors, actors and producers working on the six DreamWorks titles is weighty, including: Alex Pettyfer and Timothy Olyphant (“Number Four); Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Harrison Ford, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard (“Cowboys”); Richard Curtis, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (“War Horse”); Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Emma Stone, Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus and Brunson Green (“The Help”); and Toni Collette and Alice R. Rosenzweig (“Fright Night).

Key projects in active development at DreamWorks include “Ghost in the Shell,” “Monsterpocalypse” and an international heist pic pitched by John Hlavin.

All eyes were on DreamWorks after its very acrimonious marriage with Paramount. Spielberg and Snider were on the verge of closing new financing, much of it from India’s Reliance, when the economy crashed in the fall of 2009, temporarily disabling their plans and sparking plenty of speculation about the company’s future.

The only project that was able to move forward cleanly was Paul Rudd-Steve Carell comedy “Dinner For Schmucks,” since it was a co-production between DreamWorks, Par and Spyglass.

Directed by Jay Roach, “Schmucks” opens July 30.

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