Variety today offers a disturbing memo to anyone who had "DreamWorks' resurgence FTW" in their forecast of industry predictions for 2009: Maybe next year.
That's the general flavor of Anne Thompson's survey, which points to credit shortfalls, equity holdups and steep bills coming due for Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider as they finish the last of their packing at Paramount en route to Universal. If Universal will even open its gate, that is, considering that the 'Works has yet to close on $750 million in loans making up the majority of its $1.5 billion, 36-film war chest at Uni.
While the banks hash it out, and Indian equity financier Reliance Big Entertainment wait to drop in its own $500 million, Spielberg himself may be on the hook for a bill due next month: $20 million to acquire the 17 films the 'Works had in development at Paramount. Nikki Finke, meanwhile, blows off Thompson's version of the DreamWorks story for her own, which implies that funding had been delayed — to all parties' satisfaction — until the end of first quarter '09.
Which doesn't change the question posed today: Would Spielberg have launched a Paramount exodus had he known the economy would implode within a year? Answer: Of course he would have, probably even seeking the same terms, just for dick-swinging's sake. And not just his dick, but David Geffen's as well. The real question is who will actually pay for that impudence: Not Reliance, which is locked in for its own half-billion. Not JP Morgan, which readily admits it will be happy just to reach $300 million in loans by the end of March. And not Universal, which already has $150 million more than it wants pledged to DW, and only after the 'Works has already spent the first $1.25 billion. If it can raise that much.
So. Either someone at DreamWorks will be deferring a lot of salaries, Indiana Jones-style, or The Soloist had better gross about $250 million domestic when it opens next spring. We know how we'd bet, but that's just us.