Stacey Snider
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Stacey Snider has made it abundantly clear that she wants to move on from DreamWorks, the company she has run with partner Steven Spielberg since 2006.

About 18 months ago, she engaged in conversations with Comcast Corp. about returning to Universal Pictures in a top job, but her complex contractual obligations to Spielberg, DreamWorks’ Indian backer Reliance Entertainment and distributor Walt Disney Studios prevented that from happening.

Now, with only nine months remaining on her contract, Snider has had “unofficial” discussions with 20th Century Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos about the possibility of becoming his top lieutenant.  It is an open secret that Gianopulos has been thinking about hiring a strong creative number two ever since Fox ousted former co-chair Tom Rothman in fall 2012.

Gianopulos and Snider, who have a close relationship and whose companies collaborated on “Lincoln,” last had a sitdown meeting about her joining Fox last November, people familiar with the matter say. Since then the two have had several subsequent informal conversations, given that she is still under contract to DreamWorks. Both executives want a deal to happen, informed sources said.

In recent weeks, at a social gathering Snider has also discussed her potential move to Fox with Gianopulos’ boss Rupert Murdoch, confirmed two people with knowledge of those talks.

The Hollywood Reporter noted in a story Monday that Snider has the blessing of DreamWorks’ original partners Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to take the Fox job when her contract ends or earlier, if she can be extricated. The story also said that Spielberg, who in the past had been resistant to Snider leaving, would also be agreeable.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed that if Snider were to get a formal job offer from Fox — which she will likely receive — Spielberg would be open to supporting her decision to part ways. This begs the question of what would happen to DreamWorks and whether Spielberg would tap a successor to Snider or disband the company.

Katzenberg, whose DreamWorks Animation studio has a successful distribution deal at Fox, is advocating for Snider to join the fold, according to several sources.

All parties contacted for this story declined comment.  People close to the matter insist there are currently no negotiations underway, though they concur that the situation could heat up quickly  with Snider landing at Fox.

Snider still faces the same contractual obstacles that she confronted in 2012 when she talked to Comcast. However, much has changed. For one, Snider has less than a year remaining on her contract (it expires in November).

She is letting people in Hollywood know that she is seriously considering her next career move and has been openly expressing frustrations about the financial limitations being imposed by Reliance, which include having to scale back the company’s annual production slate and ambitions to make bigger movies.

Reliance Entertainment, the film branch of the Mumbai-based Reliance Group which owns 50% of DreamWorks, has supported the production company since its initial $550 million equity investment (with J.P. Morgan providing an additional $350 million in bank debt) when the studio was reformed in 2009. Over the years, Reliance  has supposedly lost tens of millions of dollars on its investment. Reliance was unable to be reached for comment for this story.

Though DreamWorks has had plenty of hits to buffer its misses, Snider’s normally strong track record has been badly marred as of late. While Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was a surprise hit in 2012, grossing $275 million worldwide and winning two Oscars, the company’s more recent releases were major misses: “The Fifth Estate,”  which starred Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, was a total wipe out, pulling in just $8.5 million globally for its $28 million production budget and “Delivery Man,” with Vince Vaughn, managed just $51 million worldwide. The upcoming racing movie “Need For Speed,” due out March 14, is fueled with bad industry buzz.

However, Disney, which said the upcoming release cost $65 million to produce, screened “Need for Speed” last week at 100 locations across the U.S. and Canada, where the film tested  well: It scored an average rating of 9.4 on a scale of 1 to 10 among audiences who ranked the film. The word-of-mouth screenings also had a significant ethnic turnout, with African Americans and Hispanics each comprising 20% of the attendees.

If Snider were to leave and DreamWorks disband, it would throw into question the remainder of the company’s multipicture deal with Disney, which was made in February 2009. That arrangement called for Disney to release 35 to 40 DreamWorks films. “Need for Speed” will mark DreamWorks’ tenth picture  under that arrangement.

The DreamWorks-Disney deal was made prior to the Burbank entertainment giant acquiring Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm. Now flush with live action properties, Disney honcho Bob Iger has made public his commitment to branded entertainment — not a DreamWorks’ specialty.

Disney and Fox will be co-distributing DreamWorks’ planned movie project “Robopocalypse,” which Spielberg is still planning to direct. Fox will co-finance the movie with DreamWorks and is working on finalizing the script and a lower budget.

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