Steven Spielberg, Jeff Skoll Bring Amblin Partners to Universal

Steven Spielberg is coming home and he’s bringing his newly rechristened company to the studio that made him the most famous director in movies.

Universal Pictures and Amblin Partners, a new company announced today by DreamWorks Studios, Participant Media, Reliance Entertainment and Entertainment One (eOne), will enter into a multi-year partnership in which Universal will market and distribute films its produces domestically and in select international territories. The companies did not provide details on the size of their investment.

The DreamWorks name is not being retired, according to sources close to the companies. Films will still be released under that banner. The name change was undertaken to signal the company’s move into a wider range of genres beyond the prestige films it is most commonly associated with making.

Under terms of the agreement, Universal Pictures and Focus Features will handle distribution and marketing for approximately four to seven Amblin Partners films each year. The first film in the partnership, “The Girl on the Train,” a thriller with Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson, will be released in October 2016.

Spielberg came of age at Universal, with the company backing “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List,” “E.T.,” and several of his best-loved films. Though DreamWorks’ films are distributed by Disney, he maintains his office on Universal’s Burbank lot.

“The same magnet that pulled me to Universal when I first wanted to make movies is bringing me home again to this new exciting relationship,” Spielberg said in a statement. “It is my hope that we can make some more beautiful music together.”

There are other attractions. NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer, for instance, is a friend and former agent.

“The longevity of my personal and professional relationship makes this especially rewarding and we are proud to continue our association with Steven and the quality films he produces,” Meyer said in a statement.

Though the name has now changed, the years have been difficult ones for the company Spielberg launched two decades ago with fellow moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. There have been sales and spin-offs, but the major issues has been one of shifting tastes by the movie-going public, exacerbated by a series of disappointing films and lack of direction. While he remains one of Hollywood’s top directors, Spielberg has told associates that he feels DreamWorks movies have not been a high priority for a Disney operation that is busy releasing a string of blockbusters from its Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm units. Next summer’s Spielberg-directed “The BFG” will be the final DreamWorks picture released by Disney.

The company needs to reinvigorate its strategic direction under CEO Michael Wright, who succeeded Stacey Snider when she left for a top film position at Twentieth Century Fox.

Signalling the challenges confronting the entire independent film universe, even the involvement of Spielberg and his gold-plated name, did not make it easy for DreamWorks to lure new investment.  The urgency for a fresh beginning was underscored by a string of box office flops including “Need for Speed,” “The Fifth Estate” and “Delivery Man.”

In EntertainmentOne, DreamWorks gets a partner with a broad international distribution network in film, television and music. The Toronto-based operation boasts a library of more than  40,000 film and television titles, 4,500 hours of television programming and 45,000 music tracks. It previously partnered for film distribution with many companies including the Weinstein Company, IM Global, Studio Canal, Focus Features and CBS Films.

Participant has a long-standing relationship with Spielberg, having backed his Oscar-winning “Lincoln” and the recent “Bridge of Spies,” as well as such DreamWorks releases as “The Help.” The company went through a management shake-up this year that saw Jim Berk abandon his post as CEO under pressure from owner Jeff Skoll. He was later replaced by former Universal film chief David Linde.

Participant sees the alliance with DreamWorks as a way of further owner Jeff Skoll’s ambitions for continuing the growth of its film division and expanding its reach internationally. Skoll has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the company he founded in 2004, but has been looking for profitable partnerships that will make Participant profitable and sustainable for the long run. The company views the DreamWorks alliance as such a partnership.

The announcement also represents a welcome affirmation for DreamWorks from Reliance Entertainment. The giant Indian multimedia company had previously been the biggest backer of Spielberg’s company. But there had been reports Reliance had become disillusioned and would not re-up. But it joined in the new Amblin partnership, along with Participant and eOne.

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