D’Works reups film co-toppers

Duo to have more involvement as producers

Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald have renewed their contract as co-heads of DreamWorks Pictures, signing on for six more years in a deal that also calls for them to produce more pictures themselves for the studio.

The husband-and-wife duo, who’ve been producer or exec producer on a number of big hits for other studios such as “Men in Black” and several DreamWorks releases including “The Peacemaker,” “Deep Impact,” “Amistad” and the current “Gladiator,” are itching to have more hands-on involvement as producers after five years of building DreamWorks from scratch.

Parkes, in a prepared statement, said the “unconventional” deal “gives Laurie and me the liberty of putting a little more focus on our first love — the creation and production of our own films, as well as working closely with Steven.”

Steven, of course, is DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg, who hired the pair to head his Amblin Entertainment in 1994. Parkes and MacDonald then moved with him when Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg formed DreamWorks later that year.

It’s understood that the new contract, which is retroactive to the beginning of this year, gives Parkes and MacDonald a bigger financial stake in the films they produce. The pair declined to comment on that aspect of their deal.

Despite the “unconventional” nature of a situation with studio chiefs also working as producers, Parkes and MacDonald asserted that their new deal didn’t portend any radical changes at DreamWorks.

“I don’t think things are going to change much,” Parkes said. “As DreamWorks has matured, we’re spending less time just building the company. And look at the sort of directors we’re involved with this year: Cameron Crowe, Robert Zemeckis, Woody Allen. These people are the captains of their own ship. These are movies that take care of themselves.”

In addition, the duo said, the unusual arrangement crafted last year in which Katzenberg is working as head of production and reporting to MacDonald and Parkes had lifted some of their administrative burden.

The marketplace certainly seems to be confirming DreamWorks officials’ contention that, after a long gestation period, the studio has hit its stride. “American Beauty” grabbed five Oscars two months back, and DreamWorks has three pics in release at the moment: Gladiator” passed the $100 million mark at the box office over the weekend, the college sex comedy “Road Trip” opened to $15.5 million and, with $3.9 million, even the plucky opening of Woody Allen’s “Small Time Crooks” was less than $45,000 behind the John Travolta high-profile sci-fi pic “Battlefield Earth.”

The studio plans to release 10 films this year, and Parkes said he didn’t expect DreamWorks to ramp up from that next year. “That’s optimal for us, 10 or 11 pictures including an animated film or two,” he said.

Parkes has been nominated for Oscars as a filmmaker himself — as director and producer of the 1978 doc “California Reich” and as a writer for “War Games.” He was also nommed as producer of “Awakenings.”

MacDonald started in TV news in San Francisco, later joining Columbia Pictures as a production exec before starting a production shingle with Parkes.

Said Spielberg in a prepared statement: “Walter and Laurie have been invaluable in building the first film studio in 65 years. Their respect for and collaboration with writers, directors and co-executives and their ability to find humor in every aspect of running a studio may make them the most unique studio chiefs in history. I am grateful they have reupped, not only as the driving force of the motion picture division, but as my creative partners as well.”

Katzenberg added: “Walter and Laurie have led our motion picture division from the start, and have been integral to the success of our films, and I also know that they possess a wealth of talent as filmmakers in their own right. I could not imagine working for two more creative people — since they are, after all, my bosses — and I hope to continue to learn from them for the next six years … and many years to come.”