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Hollywood executives differ on Spielberg exit

September 20, 2007|From the Associated Press

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. head Jeffrey Katzenberg said Wednesday that Viacom Inc. shouldn't be nonchalant about the possibility of losing Steven Spielberg from its Paramount Pictures studio.

The warning came a day after Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said his company was planning for Spielberg's possible departure next year amid reports that the Academy Award-winning director was unhappy.

"Steven Spielberg as a filmmaker, as a storyteller, as an artist, as a conscience, is honestly nothing short of a national treasure for all of us. He's at the top of his game," Katzenberg said at an investors conference.

Spielberg has been with Viacom since it bought his DreamWorks studio in 2005 for $1.6 billion and made it part of its Paramount Pictures unit. The deal called for Spielberg to stay until the end of 2008.

Dauman said Tuesday at an investors conference in New York that Viacom was doing everything possible to make Spielberg happy but also preparing for the possibility that he and his creative team might leave DreamWorks to form another studio.

Dauman said he was confident Paramount's upcoming slate of pictures would soften the effect of Spielberg's departure.

"So, the financial impact to Paramount first and especially to Viacom overall would be completely immaterial in the event somebody shows up to help them start a studio from scratch," Dauman said.

Reports suggest Spielberg wants to be independent again and has chafed at spending limits imposed at Paramount.

Spielberg formed DreamWorks as an independent studio with partners David Geffen and Katzenberg in 1994. After spinning off the animation portion as a public company in 2004, it became clear that DreamWorks was too small to retain its independence.

Paramount won a bidding war for the studio in a deal that also called for Geffen to stay through 2008.

Spielberg's spokesman Marvin Levy had no comment when contacted Wednesday. A Paramount spokeswoman did not immediately return a phone call.

"To suggest that not having Steven Spielberg is completely immaterial just seems ill advised," Katzenberg said. "I think calmer heads need to prevail."

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