NBCUniversal to Acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 Billion

2016
Comcast-owned NBCUniversal buys DreamWorks Animation.

The $3.8 billion deal is expected to close by the end of the year. It is subject to regulatory approval. The DreamWorks Animation brand will remain intact as an imprint.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks Animation CEO, will become chairman of DreamWorks Animation New Media. Chris Meledandri, head of Universal’s Illumination Entertainment animation wing, will oversee operations.

DreamWorks Animation was formed by the merger of the feature animation division of DreamWorks SKG and Pacific Data Images (PDI). It was spun off into a separate public company in 2004, with Jeffrey Katzenberg heading the new division – Steven Spielberg and David Geffen remained on board as investors and consultants. 

The studio has released more than 30 feature films, including the franchises of Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon.

NBCUniversal to Acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 Billion

2005
Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha
is based on Arthur Golden’s bestselling novel of the same name, a co-production of DreamWorks, Amblin Entertainment, Spyglass Entertainment, and Red Wagon Productions. The film stars Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Youki Kudoh, and Suzuka Ohgo.

Originally, the film’s producer Steven Spielberg is set to direct the film after Saving Private Ryan (1998). However, DreamWorks executive David Geffen persuades him not to helm the project, reportedly saying, “I don’t think it’s good enough for him”. Instead, Spielberg goes on to direct A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). Prior to Spielberg’s involvement, the film is planned to be shot in Japan, in Japanese language, with subtitles.

Following his critically acclaimed directorial debut for the film adaptation of Chicago (2002), Rob Marshall agrees to sign on as director because he wants to do something very different and challenging.

John Williams who, like Spielberg, has fallen in love with Arthur Golden’s novel, composes the brilliant score, using it as an opportunity to collaborate with two of his favorite performers: Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman who already performed as violinist on the score of Schindler’s List (1993).

The three leading non-Japanese actresses, Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, and Michelle Yeoh, are put through “geisha boot camp”, during which they are trained in traditional geisha practices of musicianship, dance, and tea ceremony.

The film faces mixed reviews and is heavily criticized by Asian critics for having Chinese actresses portraying the geishas (according to producer Lucy Fisher, the crew held an open day for audition for Japanese actresses to audition but none turned up).

Nevertheless, Memoirs of a Geisha is nominated for and wins numerous awards including Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. It grosses $162 million worldwide, against a budget of $85 million.

2004
DreamWorks Animation (DWA) is founded.

The studio is formed by the merger of the feature animation division of DreamWorks SKG and Pacific Data Images. Originally formed under the banner of DreamWorks in 1997 by some of Amblin Entertainment’s former animation branch Amblimation alumni, DreamWorks Animation is spun off into a separate public company.

Jeffrey Katzenberg heads the new division, while Steven Spielberg and David Geffen remain on board as investors and consultants.

DreamWorks Animation produces CGI animated films such as the Shrek franchise (2001-2010), Madagascar (2004), Kung-Fu Panda (2008), and How To Train Your Dragon (2010) to name just a few. 

DreamWorks Animation also creates original TV series, and shorts, interactive media, live entertainment, themed experiences, consumer products, publishing, and pioneering technology.

1996
The record label DreamWorks Records
is founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen as a subsidiary of their film production company DreamWorks SKG.

The label’s logo is the last assignment completed by Roy Lichtenstein. Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright is the first to be signed to the new label, followed by other distinguished artists and bands such as George Michael, Randy Newman, Morphine, and Eels.

DreamWorks Records also releases the following scores composed by John Williams: Amistad (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), and Minority Report (2002).

In 2003, the label is sold to Universal Music Group for about $100 million, when the music business goes through major changes and DreamWorks Records struggles to counter falling sales.

Image: Copyright DreamWorks Records, SKG Music, LLC

1994
DreamWorks SKG
: Following the example of United Artists (established by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks), Spielberg founds an independent film studio, together with the former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and music tycoon David Geffen. The three co-founders invest $33 million dollars each. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen participates with another $500 million.

The computer generated DreamWorks intro logo – a boy sitting on a crescent moon while fishing (for ideas) – is made at Industrial Light and Magic, based on an idea by Steven Spielberg. The DreamWorks theme is composed by John Williams.

One of the studio’s first projects is the ABC sitcom Spin City (1996-2002), starring Michael J. Fox.

The co-heads of the motion picture division, Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald produce the first DreamWorks feature film, The Peacemaker (1997), directed by Mimi Leder, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.

1986
Spielberg
signs on to executive produce the film adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors (directed by Frank Oz), a wacky comedy horror rock musical composed by Alan Menken – starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.

Due to creative differences with producer David Geffen Spielberg prematurely exits the project. Eight years later, Spielberg is ready to try another collaboration with Geffen: the foundation of the independent motion picture company DreamWorks SKG.