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DreamWorks Dilemma: Stacey Snider’s Exit Puts Studio in Limbo

DreamWorks is in a precarious position.

More than two months ago, CEO Stacey Snider informed partner Steven Spielberg — and telegraphed to Hollywood — that she would be leaving the company when her contract expires at year’s end.

Spielberg has barely begun to have internal discussions about a potential successor, and so far has not warmed to or interviewed any candidates, say those familiar with the matter.

He has, however, after much ado, decided on his next two back-to-back directorial outings — first a Tom Hanks cold-war thriller to shoot in September, followed by an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The BFG” to lense next year.

But while Spielberg the filmmaker may be sorting things out, Spielberg the executive has left things open to speculation. Many in the creative community are wondering who’s going to mind the store. A number of agents, managers and producers with whom Variety spoke expressed apprehension about setting up projects at DreamWorks at a time of uncertainty, especially knowing that as of January, Snider will not be there to oversee them.

“People are justified in being concerned about their particular projects,” said media analyst Hal Vogel. “This is not just a one-off thing. There’s a tendency, when you move a major chess piece like an industry head, that others tend to follow.”

Snider is expected to land at 20th Century Fox, working as studio head Jim Gianopulos’ top lieutenant. The parties have engaged in informal conversations because Snider is still under contract, but it is clear that both sides are committed to making a deal happen. Rupert Murdoch is also very high on the idea of bringing Snider to Fox.

DreamWorks has been struggling at the box office, with its three most recent films — “Need for Speed,” “Delivery Man” and “The Fifth Estate” — dramatically underperforming. As a result, production has slowed considerably, due to stricter financial restraints imposed by its 50% owner, Reliance. When DreamWorks launched, the studio said it planned to make as many as six films a year, a goal it reached in 2011. Since then, it has made three movies in 2012, and two each in 2013 and 2014.

After the August release of the $25 million female-targeted drama “The Hundred-Foot Journey,”  the studio has no other films dated or in production.

DreamWorks executives insist that despite Snider’s forthcoming departure, the company is open for business. “We’re really busy,” said DreamWorks production chief Holly Bario. “The noise around our company is distracting, but we are focused on, ‘Can we put this together; can we put that together?’ I haven’t observed a lull in the action.”

The studio has acquired books “Eleanor & Park,” “Made in Sweden” and “The Girl on the Train.” It recently attached Octavia Spencer and Leslie Mann to comedy “Las Madres,” and continues to look to adapt novels “The Light Between Oceans” (it’s in talks with Michael Fassbender) and “The Good Luck of Right Now.”

John Gatins, a writer on DreamWorks’ “Real Steel” and “Need for Speed,” the latter of which he also produced, mused about the company’s future: “With the shifting culture and money and careers at stake, I’m very very curious to see what happens next.”

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