Spielberg smiles

As Playa obstacles dissolve, dream looks real

Now that most obstacles to DreamWorks’ studio at Playa Vista appear to be out of the way, Steven Spielberg is cautiously giving himself the luxury of speaking of it as though his dream of a high-tech corporate home by the ocean will finally become reality.

In an interview Sunday in Santa Monica, Spielberg said he envisioned the proposed 100-acre Entertainment, Media & Technology campus as “a cultural center for the Westside,” with three legitimate theater stages, including a theater-in-the-round and a workshop space.

Spielberg said the theaters would not be situated on the 48-acre parcel that DreamWorks itself will occupy, but next to it.

“That’s a deal we have to work out with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs,” he said, referring to the Wall Street investment banks that are the principal backers of the development and which will retain ownership of the rest of the EMT campus once the DreamWorks parcel is conveyed to Spielberg and his partners, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

Before that happens, Spielberg said, much remains to be done to iron out the details and legalities of the pact, which will result in construction of the first full-fledged movie studio in Los Angeles in seven decades. Negotiations to bring DreamWorks to the site of the former Hughes Aircraft factory have been fraught with difficulties, not least that the property changed hands a little more than a year ago, a factor that put a new set of faces across the table.

“It’s a deal we thought was never going to happen,” Spielberg said after lunch at Shutters on the Beach with his wife, Kate Capshaw, and several friends with whom he discussed the future of Playa Vista. But even now that the agreement is approaching closure, he is not reaching for the champagne.

“I’ve learned never to say it’s a done deal until everything is in place,” he said. In any event, Spielberg went on, he has not been keeping as abreast of developments in talks over the property as the studio’s lead negotiator, Ron Nelson, corporate affairs chief Andy Spahn and Katzenberg.

“They’re the ones who really know that stuff — I’ve had my mind on other things,” said the director of “Saving Private Ryan,” “Amistad” and “Schindler’s List,” among others. “I’m the guy who gets a call every four months that says, ‘We have a deal,’ and then four days later, ‘The deal is off.’ ”

Spielberg said that had DreamWorks not reached an agreement, albeit tentative, to move to Playa Vista, he would have been quite happy remaining at Universal, where he first set up Amblin Entertainment.

Spielberg said he is looking forward to moving to the former Hughes site, which he called “a beautiful place.” Plans for the DreamWorks studio — which could cost as much as $200 million — have been scaled down somewhat, he said, so that the back lot will have around 18 film and TV soundstages, some of them in the hangar in which the notorious Spruce Goose plane was built.

He said a major focus of the EMT campus would be attracting post-production facilities on site. It was always understood that once DreamWorks was committed to Playa Vista, other high-profile companies would follow.

When DreamWorks announced its intention of moving to the site in December 1995, IBM said it would be the technology consultant for the project, and firms such as Digital Domain, GTE Corp. and Silicon Graphics said they would come aboard too. But none signed leases, and without DreamWorks, it was unlikely that they would.

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