Spielberg returns to silver screen

Deal with Indian tycoon breathes life back into DreamWorks studio
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The Independent Culture

Steven Spielberg, the legendary director and producer, is finally able to call "Lights, camera, action!" on a string of new films, after tying up $825m (£499m) to bankroll his dormant movie studio, DreamWorks.

The deal means that there is now money in the bank for Spielberg's next directorial project, a remake of the 1950 Jimmy Stewart film Harvey, about an oddball who has a six-foot rabbit for an imaginary friend.

The DreamWorks slate also includes a Steve Carell vehicle Dinner for Schmucks and an adaptation of the comic novel Cowboys and Aliens, whose future have been in limbo since Spielberg split from Paramount Studios last year. In all, the new financing should cover 18 to 20 films over the next three years.

After Spielberg announced his divorce from Paramount, he promised instead a new partnership with one of the biggest producers of Bollywood films. The terms of that partnership were on full view this week, showing how the director has had to cede a 50 per cent ownership stake in DreamWorks to Reliance ADA, a Mumbai-based conglomerate owned by Anil Ambani, one of India's richest men.

Reliance is putting in $325m, Disney is lending $175m for the right to distribute some of the movies, and the final, trickiest $325m was put together this week by the banking giant JPMorgan Chase. The total is far less than the $1.25bn Spielberg said he was hoping for when he first appeared with Reliance at his side a year ago – but, given what he said was a "challenging" environment, he appeared grateful.

At times over the past year, it has seemed that even a mogul of Spielberg's pedigree could be subsumed by the financial crisis that has engulfed the world and shrivelled sources of funding for all types of ventures. JPMorgan has pulled in a consortium of banks to buy pieces of the $325m debt package – the sort of arrangement that was routine before the credit crisis struck, but which has been much more difficult since.

The funding talks were messy and often acrimonious, even by Hollywood standards. Spielberg had originally lined up Universal Studios as a partner to distribute DreamWorks movies but that arrangement collapsed when the director, having failed to find enough cash from other sources, tried to tap Universal for a further $100m. Executives at the studio privately called the request "despicable and deplorable", after learning he had secretly begun talks with Disney as well in an attempt to force Universal's hand.

All was sweetness and light as the deal with Disney, Reliance and their bankers was unveiled on Monday, however. Spielberg and his business partner Stacey Snider said they wanted to thank Mr Ambani for his "fortitude".

Mr Ambani is the younger brother of India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and he has himself amassed a fortune estimated at more than $10bn. His business empire spans telecoms, financial services, utilities and, increasingly, media and entertainment. Last year, a Reliance subsidiary said it had signed agreements with several major Hollywood stars, including Jim Carrey, George Clooney, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt, to help fund movies through their independent production companies.