Inside Move: Zemeckis shingle gets new run

Co. nears four-year D'Works deal

Directing and producing are two distinct and complicated tasks, and rare is the talent who’s capable of doing both at a high level.

That point was driven home last week when Robert Zemeckis’ Imagemovers shingle neared a new four-year pact at DreamWorks. The shingle had been on the verge of shifting to Warner Bros., where it has Tom Hanks starrer “Polar Express” and the Ridley Scott-helmed “Matchstick Men” set up.

The DreamWorks deal, which key sources indicated came at the direct urging of Zemeckis ally Steven Spielberg, was a mild surprise, as DreamWorks has gotten little reward for its millions in overhead.

Working with partners Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, Zemeckis has produced only “Cast Away and “What Lies Beneath” for the company in five years. Both hit big, but they were directed by Zemeckis and revenues were split with Fox.

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Neither Imagemovers nor DreamWorks would comment on the new deal or why the Warners scenario went south.

The best explanation may be personalities. Zemeckis and Spielberg have had their ups and downs, but they go back to Zemeckis’ days at USC film school. DreamWorks opted to bet on the upside of a top-tier director blossoming as a producer.

Veterans like Sydney Pollak and Ron Howard prove that transcending the lensing game is possible. The most adept at that, of course, is Spielberg, who reaped huge paydays on “Men in Black” and the Zemeckis-helmed “Back to the Future” series.