Months of speculation over whom DreamWorks might be courting to help underwrite its ugly exit from Viacom ended late Tuesday when The Wall Street Journal reported that Reliance ADA Group, a massive Indian conglomerate, is close to sinking $500 million to $600 million into Steven Spielberg's breathless bid for autonomy. As presumed, the deal would expedite David Geffen's eventual departure from the DreamWorks fold and allow Spielberg to keep the DreamWorks name, if not the projects currently in development with Paramount/Viacom — alas, Transformers 2 stays behind. CEO and Spielberg right hand Stacey Snider would follow as well.
The rest of the picture is still taking shape, but after the jump we have a few educated guesses as to where things might land — and it looks curiously like Bollywood.
Led by Anil Ambani, by Variety's count the world's sixth richest man (and the husband of a Bollywood actress), Reliance is apparently taking over Hollywood one A-list player at a time. Its film funding arm, Reliance Big Entertainment, made headlines at Cannes last month when it announced development deals with the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and others, splitting with studios the costs of new productions costing up to $1 billion. Reliance's latest venture is decidedly more ambitious, expanding its vast media footprint to claim what will be roughly half of the new DreamWorks: Six or so films a year through a studio to be determined (probably Spielberg's old stomping grounds at Universal, where he still keeps an office).
The deal also continues Asia's incursion into Hollywood, perhaps epitomized by Sony's $4.8 billion takeover (with Comcast) of MGM in 2005. But India has been even more active in the last year, with TV producer UTV Software buying into Fox's The Happening and Lionsgate entering a development deal with Mumbai-based shingle Eros International. The Reliance/DreamWorks pact is the biggest by far, but as noted by WSJ, the Snider connection gives Reliance stable executive footing for its grand Hollywood experiment.
The paper also adds, however, that DreamWorks would be dealing with an Indian conglom with its own internal drama: Anil Ambani is embroiled in a feud with his older brother Mukesh over a multi-billion dollar acquisition in South Africa. The trouble would only touch DreamWorks if the communications arm were ever sold; the brothers have reportedly been fighting over controlling interest in that case.
Spielberg will obviously cross that bridge when he comes to it, as will he face inevitable concerns about investor influence over his and Snider's slate. To wit, are the Clooney/Hanks/Pitt et. al. projects earmarked for the 'Works? How will Reliance play ball with Universal, Fox or another studio enlisted to distribute DreamWorks' films? Will press inquiries forevermore be rerouted to a call center in Bangalore? So many questions!