Listen: Spielberg’s Amblin Chief on Making ‘Movies in the Middle’

Spielberg's Amblin Chief Jeff Small on Making Mid-Budget Movies
Alex Gitman/Variety

With the sequel “A Dog’s Journey” now in theaters, Amblin Partners continues to find ways to release the kind of films that aren’t typical of what dominates American multiplexes these days.

An follow-up to the 2017 surprise hit “A Dog’s Purpose,” “Journey” is just another example of the cinematic strategy evident at Amblin, the production powerhouse Steven Spielberg relaunched four years ago under the joint oversight of himself and co-CEO Jeff Small.

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On the latest episode of the Variety podcast “Strictly Business,” Small discusses the challenges of specializing in mid-budget movies “especially when you’re making original product and trying to find a place on the release schedule between ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Aladdin’ or whatever is out there,” he said. “But at the same time we still feel like there’s a place for movies that aren’t those, that there’s a place for high quality, for Academy movies, for movies in the middle.”

That a Spielberg-affiliated company is committed to making less-than-blockbuster-level movies that can play in theaters shouldn’t come as much surprise given the director’s recent standoff with Netflix over the Oscar qualifications of nominated titles. But that leaves he and Small to find films that can succeed the way past Amblin releases from “Lincoln” to 2019 Best Picture winner “Green Book” have.

“At the end of the day, We’re not that big of a studio, we’re not that big of a production company,” said Small. “And there are times when major studios are going to outbid us because they have deep pockets or Netflix has deep pockets. But we can always compete qualitatively.”

Small also discusses how Amblin has carved out a healthy business in television with upcoming productions like the reboot of Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” at Apple, as well as what it’s like to manage the investment group that backs Amblin, including Participant Media, Entertainment One, Reliant Entertainment, Alibaba Pictures and Universal Pictures.

Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring Discovery CEO David Zaslav and TV star Tyra Banks. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.