Zemeckis migrates to Warner

Imagemovers testing waters, prod'n co. carries heavy overhead

Imagemovers is moving.

Based at DreamWorks since its inception in June 1997, the triumvirate of helmer Robert Zemeckis, his former agent at CAA Jack Rapke and producer Steve Starkey is now “in serious discussions” with Warner Bros. Pictures for a first-look deal, according to persons familiar with the talks.

Imagemovers’ five-year, overall deal with DreamWorks, which ends next year, has yielded just two Zemeckis-helmed pics: “What Lies Beneath” and “Cast Away,” both released last year.

And while both were hits, both were also pricey co-productions in which DreamWorks split half of the B.O. lucre with 20th Century Fox.

Moreover, Imagemovers carries a considerable amount of overhead (DreamWorks built Imagemovers its own office building) and has spent millions of dollars developing a raft of projects that have yet to coalesce; these factors may account for DreamWorks’ willingness to allow Zemeckis to shop around.

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WB’s second courtship

If the deal goes through, it would mark the second time Warner Bros. came a-courting Zemeckis: WB prexy of worldwide production Lorenzo di Bonaventura had previously angled for an overall deal with the filmmaker in 1997 — back when Zemeckis had just helmed the sci-fi thriller “Contact” for the studio.

Warner Bros. is also the alma mater of Imagemovers head of creative affairs Jennifer Perini, who left the studio as a veepee of production to join Zemeckis, Rapke and Starkey in their venture.

Still, any talk of a DreamWorks/Imagemovers split would raise eyebrows, given the long-standing relationship between Zemeckis and DreamWorks principal Steven Spielberg: The two have known each other since Zemeckis was at USC in 1974 — Spielberg even helped Zemeckis develop his script “1941,” and later directed it.

Serious friendship

Their personal friendship continued as Zemeckis directed the vastly profitable “Back to the Future” franchise for Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment at Universal; when the Imagemovers deal was first heralded in the summer of 1997, Spielberg called it “the continuation of the best circle I’ve ever been in.”

Prior to teaming with DreamWorks, Zemeckis had a first-look deal at Universal Pictures through his now-defunct South Side Amusements.

Warner Bros.’ di Bonaventura was vacationing and could not be reached for comment; similarly, DreamWorks was closed for the holiday week and also had no comment.