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Big News, but Where Are the Big Plans? : Movies: Uncertainty is the byword on new big-three studio. Some are even asking if one motive could have been Spielberg and Geffen helping their friend Katzenberg.

October 21, 1994|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It has now been over a week since The Announcement--the headline-grabbing disclosure by entertainment titans Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg that they were joining forces to create a new studio.

While a wave of euphoria initially greeted the startling news, the mood in Hollywood has since been tempered by a sense of uncertainty as questions persist about what will happen next.

With few details emerging about the partnership's plans, some are wondering if the "Dream Team" venture wasn't launched too hastily (it still hasn't been christened publicly with a name) and how it will actually take shape.

Some are even asking if the announcement, given at a packed Beverly Hills press conference, had another purpose: Spielberg and Geffen helping their friend Katzenberg land on his feet in a splashy way after his rancorous departure as head of Walt Disney Studios last month.

"I just found it kind of like a non-event that was given great prominence," one veteran film executive said of the venture. "If you are going to start a studio, you really do your homework, have a name for your business, know what you are doing. This is an announcement to agree on something. It just seems puzzling. Why did this come about? I figured that Katzenberg just needed an announcement of what he was going to do."

No one doubts that a partnership of Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg is formidable, but interviews with studio executives, talent agents and entertainment attorneys indicate that while Hollywood has valid reasons to be excited about this proposed venture, many don't expect seismic shifts in power as a result--and some reserve judgment until more is known.

Questions abound. To begin with, there is Spielberg. Had the Oscar-winning filmmaker announced he was exclusively committed to directing a slate of movies for the partnership, sources said at least that would have been something substantive.

But Spielberg made it plain at the press conference that his directing services were not exclusive to the new venture. He is going forward with plans to make a "Jurassic Park" sequel for Universal and has several other film ventures in the works. He did say that after his existing commitments are fulfilled at Amblin Entertainment, he will fold that company into the new studio.

"Steven is not dropping everything to devote his time to this new company," one industry observer said. "His immediate future seems spoken for. How much of Steven Spielberg did they get? Or, does he get a third just for lending his name?"

Geffen, from a motion picture standpoint, isn't a heavyweight, observers said. "He has been very good at building record labels," said one film executive. "There is no question he is a bright and aggressive guy, but I'm not really clear on what he is really committed there to."

Some are now wondering whether the real timing of the announcement was centered on Katzenberg.

After leaving as chairman of Disney Studios when he was passed over for the presidency of the company, Katzenberg--known as the most hyperactive executive in the business--was not about to sit still for long.

"If I'm Jeff Katzenberg, do I sit on the beach?" asked one veteran Hollywood observer. "No. You've got to keep moving. . . . So, he talked to his friends who backed him in his fight with Disney and said, 'Why don't we start a studio? I'll take a third and you each take a third.' He gets Spielberg and Geffen to lend their names and, perhaps, some of their efforts. . . . That's one way for him to have a studio."

Should a new studio emerge, sources say, it may not alter the Hollywood landscape as much as many predict.

To be sure, a new buyer could enhance the already powerful positions of big talent houses like Creative Artists Agency and International Creative Management.

"If you are in the talent business, this news cannot hurt," said entertainment attorney Peter Dekom, commenting on the new partnership. "If you are in the studio business, it is not cheery news."

Agents naturally welcome a new buyer in town. Rival studios naturally worry about more competition in a fierce marketplace.

Some suggest that even though the agencies may be rejoicing, the "Dream Team" will have little effect on the money lavished on big-name actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner and Harrison Ford.

"A star's price is not based on these three guys coming together," said Marc Platt, president of TriStar Pictures. "Jim Carrey has two hits in a row, and most any studio will go out and offer him whatever he can get if it's a comedy and high concept."

All three are known to be fiscally cautious, particularly Katzenberg. Indeed, it was Katzenberg who once warned Hollywood in a now-famous memo to rein in its freewheeling spending habits. And, it was Katzenberg who relished going toe-to-toe with actors and agents over fees.

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