Thoughts on DreamWorks Negotiations with Paramount

Paramount Studios

The drama beween DreamWorks Animation and its distributor Paramount continues with plenty of unsubstantiated rumors, but no hard details of the negotiations. Paramount, of course, recently launched its own in-house animation studio, which strikes me as a bargaining chip more than anything else. We’ve also heard rumors that Paramount has just appointed a new studio president, and if it’s who people are claiming, it’s someone with one of the most disastrous track records of any recent executive to work in the animation industry.

The situation reminds me a lot of what Disney did when they started contract renewal talks with Pixar some years ago. Disney launched a new studio, Circle 7, and tried to make their own Toy Story sequel before coming to the conclusion that Pixar’s creative culture couldn’t be replicated with deep pockets alone. I’m not suggesting that Paramount will buy DreamWorks, but I am saying that Paramount is sorely mistaken if they think they can just launch an animation studio and start churning out consistent box office winners like DreamWorks.

This morning, an anonymous commenter on the Animation Guild blog posted a list of thirty properties currently optioned or in development at DreamWorks. The list is printed below. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but I’ve heard of at least half of the projects on the list. Allowing for some fluctuations in the nebulous nature of options and development, it appears to be fairly accurate.

This list to me is indicative of the infrastructure that DreamWorks has built and the underlying strength of the company. In spite of personal reservations about the creative content of the studio’s films, it would be foolish to not acknowledge that the studio has one of the strongest creative foundations of any animation company currently in operation. It would take Paramount years, if not decades, to develop as robust a development slate as DreamWorks. In nearly a decade of operations, Sony Pictures Animation has managed to release a handful of middling features and doesn’t appear to have a development slate anywhere near the size of DreamWorks’s.

I don’t think anybody on the outside knows for certain how the deal between DreamWorks and Paramount will conclude, but looking at what DreamWorks Animation has achieved, I’d like to believe that the cards are stacked in its favor over the long term.

What follows is the list of DreamWorks films in development:

Puss in Boots
Madagascar 3
Rise of the Guardians
The Croods
Turbo
Me and My Shadow
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Pig Scrolls
InterWorld
Dinotrux
Gil’s All Fright Diner
Good Luck Trolls
Boo U
Truckers
Imaginary Enemies
Trollhunters
Alma
Maintenance
Monkeys of Mumbai
Lidsville
Flawed Dogs
Rumblewick
The Penguins of Madagascar: The Movie
Madagascar 4
How to Train Your Dragon 3
Kung Fu Panda 3, 4, 5, 6


  • C. Stulz

    They’re already planning King Fu Panda 6?????

    • wgan

      not trying to be a troll, but that’s why we should stop caring for them

      • Derrick

        TOY STORY 4

    • Bob

      Only in the sense that if they are successful and people like them they will keep making them.

  • http://dtoons.com/conroy Failed Art Student

    I hope all these movies get a chance to be made and things go well for the studio.

  • Inkan1969

    Why doesn’t Dreamworks do its own distribution? Disney doesn’t use RKO anymore.

    • http://thatfellowinthecoat.com Stefan

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but Disney only stopped needing RKO when they started making live-action features, not to mention the theme parks and the television shows.

      Plus, of course, RKO went kaput.

      • dbenson

        Also, Disney was producing enough films to make their own distribution financially viable — and even then, their first year or so included a slate of independent features (check the Brew archive).

  • eeteed

    dinotrux, good luck trolls, trollhunters, lidsville… sounds more like a bad saturday morning lineup than offerings from a feature animation company.

    i know dreamworks’ choice of projects isn’t the subject of this post, but yeesh!

  • James Mason

    How can 4 Kung Fu Panda sequels be in development simultaneously? The first sequel wasn’t much of a hit relative to other Dreamworks productions, so how can they be sure a sixth sequel would even have an audience anymore? Shrek, a potentially hotter property, had its 4th sequel hit theaters with a thud.

    Curious, as the usual procedure is to do one sequel at a time to see if the franchise still makes good box office, otherwise KFP 5 or 6 would end up direct-to-video write-offs.

  • Larry

    That list isn’t ENTIRELY accurate — some of those projects are dead, and others are (interestingly) being combined. But it also doesn’t list a dozen or more other projects in various stages of development that haven’t been announced yet. But I get your point: Dreamworks is a big machine.

    As far as whether Jeffrey will sell, he’s already told his employees that he will not. So that leaves either finding a new distributer or building the infrastructure to distribute themselves. I’m betting on the latter. But we won’t know for a long time, because Jeffrey has publicly stated he won’t make a decision until next year. All these articles are just premature speculation by the press, or Paramount releasing press releases to bolster their negotiation stance. And I’m sure Jeffrey doesn’t want to even start negotiating until another movie comes out (Puss and Boots is up next) because the last two have underperformed and weakened his position.

    • Mr. James

      Anyone know if Gil’s All Fright Diner is moving forward in any way?! I LOVED the book and I can see it being a SUPERB “adult animated” movie. Hope this one is not just a “book rights” development situation. I WANT this movie!

      • http://www.patnlewis.com Pat Lewis

        This is the first I’d heard that they were considering it as an animated movie. My understanding was that DreamWorks bought the rights to film it in live-action, with Barry Sonnenfeld directing.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Hmmm, never heard of this “Circle 7″ before. Wonder if they got the logo or name from what ABC O&O stations have used for their ch. 7 logos for decades?

  • Ethan

    I would think “in development” is dubious for over half the list here, unless buying the rights for a book counts as “in development”. To be fair, they put out 5 films in a 2 years span, so it’s coming along pretty quickly. There was a big improvement in quality when Dreamworks became an independent studio and hiring so many amazing additional talents. It could be bad news if they got bought by a major corp (you know, like pixar). I think they should remain independent and negotiate with distributors for better deals instead. Grow and stabilize instead of cashing in.

    It’s a nice list though, I am super happy there are adaptations of Sir Pratchett in there, so much potential! I hope they’ll put best people on it! He’s worth it!

  • http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/ Michael Sporn

    Dreamworks started by distributing their own work and went bust quickly witha long line of failures. That’s when they shifted to Paramount. It’s doubtful they’ll return to the distribution market with far less money to play with (and no Steven Spielberg to make it viable.)

  • Bud

    Although Box Office Mojo lists the budget for Rango at $135 million, I happen to know for a fact the budget was closer to $180 million (and that includes all the work done in Singapore!). Plus another $100 million for marketing.

    It’s not a particularly good or entertaining film, although it was popular with small kids. It sure was ugly.

    But the reality is that it did not make money. The final WW gross (Box Office Mojo—and while I find their listed budgets highly suspect, they’re box office figures are pretty accurate, and MUCH easier to publicly confirm.

    Rango was not a hit. What is Paramount crowing about? Although Dreamworks had a very slow start in the animation business (too many early flops), they’ve got a lot of great talent and finally a proven track record.

    And making these films ain’t easy.

    I happen to believe Paramount is making a MAJOR mistake…and if they’re serious about creating cartoons, they ought to sit down, shut up, and listen to DW.

  • 2011 Adult

    Did Katzenberg back off on his promise of tons of sequels already? Didn’t he change it to saying they would just produce as many sequels as they eventually could without forcing their way into it? This came from recent company stock news. Is that just my memory?

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron B.

    DreamWorks Animation as the most ambitious feature studio? Makes sense. Doesn’t the company rank at the top when it comes to atmosphere, employee pay, or employee satisfaction?

  • A. Ferdinand

    Compare the Fleischer Popeye shorts to the Paramount Famous Studios shorts. And look at the ugly slow, bleeding crash and burn of Famous Studios in its last decade. Paramount sure knows how to manage a cartoon shop. I’ll bet they’ve learned plenty since 1968.

  • http://ryanrosendal.blogspot.com Ryan

    “In nearly a decade of operations, Sony Pictures Animation has managed to release a handful of middling features and doesn’t appear to have a development slate anywhere near the size of DreamWorks’s.”

    Hey now, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” was pretty darn great.

    • 2011 Adult

      He’s also talking about DreamWork’s incredible track record. Sony makes ONE great film?! Hmm.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/Mesterius1 Mesterius

        Yeah, about that: What’s going on with the Popeye feature that Sony Pictures Animation is developing? I haven’t heard anything about it since the original announcement. Is it even still in development??

    • E. Nygma

      Bud,

      If you watched any of the development features for Rango you would know that the film was supposed to have an ugly look to it. If you want shiny perfect looking characters just watch tangled. the characters in rango were meant to look inbred. If you think the film was animated poorly you clearly haven’t seen it.

      Also, your thing about kids primarily liking the film couldn’t be more wrong. Reviews and making of features strongly suggest that the film was made for an older more mature audience, reviewers agree: Fear and loathing references, clint eastwood, rattlesnake jakes harsh dialouge…what ever would promt you to say this was mainly for kids. I have heard nothing but the opposite. Cars 2 was exclusively for kids not this.

      Rango was not perfect but it was the best attempt at something original this year. It will win awards, because no other studio took the risk of making something different!

      Also Rango DVD, rental, and download sales were very strong. Everybody knows the first few films a studio puts out have a slow start, they have to gain the publics trust. That being the case Rango was a success, it performed well, got great reviews, and had great sales when released to the public. What more could you want from a first film by a studio.

      GO For it Paramount, the competition would be great for the industry!

  • http://www.animated-news.com Michael
  • http://soundcloud.com/the-tiny-orchestra/sets/time-wounds-all-heels John Halfpenny

    Let’s not forget that Brad Grey had a great track record for producing interesting television. We could use some new blood in the creation of animated content. If animation isn’t too slow a process for him, I could see him making a difference in the types of movies that come to market.

    • http://www.frankpanucci.com Frank Panucci

      Brad Grey has an interesting legal history.
      Contentious and juicy.
      GOOGLE for it:
      “Anthony Pellicano”+”Brad Grey”
      “Garry Shandling”+”Brad Grey”

  • E. Nygma

    Paramount managed to put out one great, successful movie that had more integrity than the whole dreamworks catalog and it was called Rango. And that was just their first shot.

    i bet we wont see 5 or 6 sequels to that. Why does dreamworks have to beat their own franchises into the ground! I say Paramount should go for it and show dreamworks how to make intelligent films. To be fair I loved the Kung-fu Pandas and Dragon was pretty good but I feel everything else was pretty forgetable.

  • Bud

    “out one great, successful movie”

    It’s not “great,” and it wasn’t “successful.” It didn’t make money. Just a simple fact. OK for small kids, but not much more, and one helluva ugly cartoon.

  • E. Nygma

    Disagree, Disagree Bud and I think most people would.

    Simple fact is this: Costed $135 million. It made $242,605,737 just at the Box office. I don’t know what inside information you think you have, or what you think makes a hit but it’s wrong. You clearly have some beef against Paramount. You must work for dreamworks or something.

    If you still think your smarter than everyone else read these articles below about Rango’s DVD sales. Also you can find limitless articles and amazon chart sales to reaffirm this, so I’m sorry but you are wrong.

    http://www.the-numbers.com/interactive/newsStory.php?newsID=6441

    or this:

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/rango-stays-at-no-1-216201

    Also, go to wikipedia and see what it says under “Reception” you will find nothing but the fact that the movie was a critical and financial success.

    If you didn’t like the film that’s fine, but don’t spread lies about the success of it that are not based on fact.

  • ate

    Bud is an idiot.

    He clearly cannot understand anything more than surface depth if he thinks Rango is exclusively for kids. I haven’t heard a more ignorant comment in my life.

    The fact you refer to the movies as cartoons is further proof of your narrow-mindedness. Now go jump out of a building or something because we hardly need more idiots in the world and have studios pander to the dim-witted.