Katzenberg stands behind Spielberg

DreamWorks Animation chief chides Dauman

The friction between DreamWorks and Paramount showed no signs of dissipating Wednesday, as DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg defended Steven Spielberg and threw an elbow at Viacom chief Philippe Dauman.

“As a filmmaker, storyteller, artist and conscience, Steven Spielberg is nothing short of a national treasure,” Katzenberg said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia media confab. “To suggest that not having Steven Spielberg is completely immaterial seems ill-advised. I think calmer heads need to prevail here.”

The normally buttoned-down Dauman had said Tuesday at the same Goldman event that re-upping with DreamWorks was a priority, but preemptively declared the troika’s potential departure as “completely immaterial” to Viacom’s future results. He also suggested it could be tough sledding for the DreamWorks founders should they leave.

During the 40-minute session with Goldman analyst Anthony Noto, Katzenberg emphasized that he could respond mainly in his capacity as a DreamWorks Animation chief. He noted that his company has a “contractual and working relationship that is below the radar of all this.”

Par has done “an outstanding job in the servicing of our films and our company,” Katzenberg said. From a marketing and distribution standpoint, “you have to give them straight-As, and I’m a pretty tough critic.”

Success at the B.O., in fact, is what exacerbated tensions with Paramount, which acquired DreamWorks less than two years ago with some impressive 11th-hour maneuvering around front-runner Universal. Defenders of the deal initially, especially in the exec ranks at the studio, publicly cited the creative clout of Spielberg as a key justification for the pricey buy.

But now, with a bit more than a year left on the DreamWorks deal, Dauman’s comments have created additional fences to mend should he endeavor to keep the troika in the fold.

Apart from Dauman and the announcement of a new date for “Monsters vs. Aliens,” Katzenberg hit on some other business points. Among them:

  • While not commenting on reports, repeated Tuesday at the confab by News Corp. don Rupert Murdoch and Disney chief Robert Iger, that DreamWorks Animation got $100 million for endorsing Toshiba’s HD-DVD format, Katzenberg did retaliate. “It’s somewhat disingenuous for other companies to suggest that they were not compensated for endorsing Blu-ray,” via either up-front payments, in-kind marketing deals or other incentives, he said.

“Both companies are known as being fiscally responsible,” he said of News Corp. and Disney, “and Blu-ray is not a charity.”

  • He remains “cautious” about the DVD biz, but said it was “title-specific, not an underlying, bigger issue.” A parade of record-setting summer pics, he contended, including “Shrek the Third,” comprise “probably the greatest lineup of films ever coming to homevideo,” but there are risks of “cannibalization not unlike what we saw at the box office this summer.”

  • The domestic-foreign ratio for “Bee Movie,” bowing here in early November, will be closer to 1:1 than the overseas-tilted results on many recent Hollywood tentpoles, owing to star/creator Jerry Seinfeld’s appeal and “how well it will perform here.”

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