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DreamWorks, Zemeckis Swing Into Action

Film: Nonexclusive five-year deal with team led by 'Gump' director gives new studio a boost.

June 18, 1997|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DreamWorks SKG's fledgling live-action division got a boost Tuesday when it unveiled a production deal with a new company led by Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, former talent agent Jack Rapke and Zemeckis' longtime business partner Steve Starkey.

The five-year deal with the new ImageMovers marks a significant step for the 3-year-old studio--founded by director Steven Spielberg, studio veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg and entertainment mogul David Geffen--by bringing into the DreamWorks fold one of Hollywood's top filmmakers.

Zemeckis directed the Oscar-winning "Forrest Gump," the "Back to the Future" films and the upcoming "Contact" with Jodie Foster, a Warner Bros. movie expected by Hollywood executives to be one of the summer's biggest films. His films have grossed more than $2 billion worldwide to date.

"This gives us a tremendous shot of creative adrenaline," Spielberg said in an interview.

The deal also shows DreamWorks' ability to leverage the relationships Spielberg has and the prestige he enjoys as Hollywood's top filmmaker to attract top filmmaking talent.

Zemeckis considers Spielberg his mentor, and the two are close friends. Spielberg gave Zemeckis his break in the business after watching an award-winning student film Zemeckis made at USC's School of Cinema.

DreamWorks this fall enters the live-action arena with its first film, "The Peacemaker," with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. Other upcoming films include Spielberg's first directing effort for DreamWorks, "Amistad," about a slave mutiny in 1839, and "Mousehunt" with Nathan Lane.

ImageMovers will be financed by DreamWorks, and its business structure will resemble a conventional Hollywood production deal. Films made by ImageMovers will be distributed by DreamWorks domestically. As with DreamWorks' own films, Universal Studios Inc. will distribute the movies internationally and on video.

Zemeckis' first availability to DreamWorks could be a few years off, however. Like Spielberg, Zemeckis will be free to direct films at other studios, and he has several projects in development around Hollywood. Zemeckis usually takes a year off between films and in an interview said he does not have his next one lined up.

Because he doesn't have his next project in place, Zemeckis said, it's conceivable that he could do his next project for ImageMovers.

"Anything can happen," Zemeckis said. "In a perfect world, if a screenplay was dropped into my lap this summer, it would take a year to 18 months."

Rapke was one of Hollywood's most senior agents when he left Creative Artists Agency this summer. As an agent, he represented such top directors as Zemeckis and Ron Howard. Starkey's professional ties to Zemeckis date to 1986, when he was associate producer on the Zemeckis-directed hit "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

Separately, ImageMovers also announced that Jennifer Perini, vice president of production for Warner Bros., will join the company.

ImageMovers will be based at the Universal Studios lot, where DreamWorks is based now and where Zemeckis has offices.

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