Market Robs Spielberg of His Dream Studio

The spectacle of ordinary people coping with extraordinary forces runs throughout the cinematic work of Steven Spielberg. And now Spielberg himself is dealing with an unexpected crisis: A credit drought that could kill his studio.

The famed director and producer, whose credits include Jaws, E.T.,, and Indiana Jones — is trying to get new financing for DreamWorks, the studio he cofounded in 1994 with music mogul David Geffen and ex-Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg. He hoped to take it independent again, raising $1.25 billion for a slate of 36 movies over the next five years.

But the worldwide financial crisis is making this a harrowing ordeal. Reliance Big Entertainment, an Indian company, had pledged $500 million in June — but only if DreamWorks could come up with another $750 million in loans. JPMorgan Chase, which had been raising the money, now thinks it might be able to come up with less than half that amount, next year, maybe.

DreamWorks is now living on dribs and drabs of money loaned here and there — including money from Spielberg's own pocket — and may end up being a much smaller studio, one of the many supplicant production houses that orbit around Hollywood's big names.

Spielberg and his partners sold the studio to Paramount in 2006, but the relationship was always uneasy, leading to the current split; Geffen and Katzenberg, who'd tended more to business matters, are now gone. Spielberg would rather have sold to Universal, on whose lot he kept an office; he'd been making movies for Universal since 1968. Or, had he known how hard money would be to come by, perhaps he would have made his peace with Paramount.

Instead, he's wandering the world, hat in hand, with no one to support him save DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider. But she's more of a younger sibling, as lost as Spielberg without a bigger company's backing. Another Spielbergian theme: the absent parent.