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Category: DreamWorks

DreamWorks Studios stays alive with new $200-million infusion

SpielbergSnider

Steven Spielberg's struggling DreamWorks Studios has gotten a new lease on life thanks to a $200-million investment from its primary financier, India's Reliance Entertainment, said a person with knowledge of the matter unauthorized to speak publicly.

A shortage of cash since late last year has left many in Hollywood nervous about DreamWorks' future. The company, led by Chief Executive Stacey Snider, severely cut back on its spending on development and production.

The independent studio has only two movies set to come out this year -- the low-budget drama "People Like Us" and the Spielberg-directed biopic "Lincoln" -- compared with six in 2011, the first year that it released films in its current incarnation.

After raising $325 million from Reliance and another $325 million in debt in 2009, DreamWorks immediately ran into trouble when its first movies, the young adult science-fiction film "I Am Number Four" and the big-budget comic book adaptation "Cowboys & Aliens," flopped. Academy Award nominee "The Help" was a hit, but the remake of "Fright Night" was also a disappointment while robot boxing family story "Real Steel" and Spielberg's own "War Horse" turned in so-so box-office performances. (Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tin-Tin" was not a DreamWorks movie.) 

Altogether, the year left DreamWorks in a dire financial state. As a result, since late last year it has been negotiating with Reliance for more money.

Under the new arrangement, DreamWorks will scale back its ambitions from the six pictures per year that it announced in 2009 to a proposed three to five starting next year. The films will continue to be released by Walt Disney Studios.

In addition, DreamWorks now intends to seek co-financiers for all of its movies with large budgets. Already, 20th Century Fox is on board to co-finance "Lincoln" and "Robopocalypse," an adaptation of the bestselling book that is the studio's only movie already scheduled to come out in 2013.

DreamWorks, which has about 80 employees, recently lost its well-regarded head of marketing Christine Birch, who moved to the smaller studio FilmDistrict. The company does not intend to replace her, the knowledgeable person said, and will instead rely more on the small team at Disney that handles marketing for DreamWorks releases.

The studio's lowered ambitions under its new financing marks another bump in its long and difficult path. Founded in 1994 by Spielberg, former Disney President Jeffrey Katzenberg and media mogul David Geffen, DreamWorks SKG was originally intended to be a multimedia giant that could stand alongside Hollywood's established studios.

After failing to realize those dreams, the trio sold DreamWorks SKG to Paramount Pictures in 2005. But after Spielberg and Snider clashed with Paramount executives, they spun out the company in its current, third incarnation. (DreamWorks Animation is a stand-alone, publicly-held company not connected to DreamWorks Studios.)

After initially seeking to raise $1.25 billion, Spielberg and Snider ended up closing their deal for far less after nearly a year of difficult negotiations.

DreamWorks' troubles reflect a larger trend in Hollywood, in which independent movie studios that don't have reliable cash flow from a library of movies or some other business are struggling to survive when they don't release a string of hits. Relativity Media also came close to folding in the last year before finding a financial savior in supermarket magnate Ron Burkle.

The new funding and the amount were first reported by the New York Times and Reuters.

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-- Ben Fritz

Photo: DreamWorks' Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider at the premiere of "Cowboys and Aliens." Credit: Alex Berliner / ABImages

Could NBC's 'Smash' get a ticket to Broadway?

  Uma Thurman on 'Smash'

Could "Smash" be headed to Broadway? When NBC developed the prime-time TV musical drama about cutthroat competition on Broadway, the network buttoned up the rights for a Broadway version of the TV show.

The series about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, which NBC recently renewed for a second season, is a long way from getting to the real Broadway. Still, the show has been a passion project for NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt for years, and it boasts a large cast of executive producers with elite pedigrees and credentials in the theater world.

Steven Spielberg brought the idea for a TV show about a Broadway musical to Greenblatt about three years ago, when Greenblatt was head of entertainment at premium cable channel Showtime. But Showtime's tight budget provided little canvas for Greenblatt to paint an ambitious slate of programming.

"Smash" languished until Greenblatt moved to NBC early last year, where the show got an immediate greenlight. Greenblatt and Spielberg, who has invested in other Broadway shows, recruited producers with musical credits, including Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, part of the producing team behind the film versions of the musicals "Chicago" and "Hairspray."

Tony winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman were brought on board to compose the original songs that are performed on "Smash." The duo retains certain rights to that music -- and that ownership presumably would carry over to any Broadway version of the NBC series. (Shaiman and Wittman also wrote songs for Broadway productions of "Hairspray" and "Catch Me if You Can," in addition to the music for numerous feature films, and have won Grammys.)

By the end of the first season of "Smash," there will be at least 15 original songs written for the fictional musical around which much of the series' action revolves. In the TV show, the fake musical is called "Bombshell." 

But does that mean it's Broadway-bound?

"Since our creative team has been writing songs and snippets of 'Bombshell' scenes only to tell the stories of our characters in 'Smash,' there is no fully realized 'Bombshell,'" Greenblatt wrote Thursday in an email to The Times. 

"I'm not saying that it will never happen, but we are all focused at the moment on completing our [Season 1] finale episode and have already started talking about the macro ideas for Season 2," Greenblatt wrote, adding that next season will feature a second musical, as the fictional "Bombshell" heads to the fictional Broadway.

"So no one has thought twice about trying to find the time or energy to develop 'Bombshell' for the stage," Greenblatt wrote. "It takes several years to write and construct a big Broadway musical, and most of the hard work starts at the script stage before the songs are even conceived."

Greenblatt has long been interested in theater. Several years ago, Greenblatt persuaded his mentor Peter Chernin, former president of News Corp., to release the rights to the 1980 Fox movie, "9 to 5," starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

From that, Greenblatt, while working at Showtime, produced the show, "9 to 5: The Musical," which opened in Los Angeles in the fall of 2008 and went on to have a five-month run on Broadway in 2009.  (Megan Hilty, who played the Dolly Parton role of Doralee Rhodes in "9 to 5: The Musical," plays one of the prospective Marilyn Monroes on "Smash.")

Now some wonder whether "Smash" could eventually pave the way for a return engagement by Greenblatt on the Great White Way.

Bob Greenblatt"I am working full time at NBC and it wouldn't make sense for me to be a producer," Greenblatt said -- but he added, "Maybe I could produce 'Bombshell' when I'm long gone from NBC, which would be about the time that [a Broadway project] would come to fruition."

NBC, controlled by cable giant Comcast Corp., has a more riding on "Smash" than a potential Broadway play. The ailing network banked heavily on the program to improve its anemic ratings and serve as a beacon for more sophisticated programming. NBC has spent nearly $70 million making and marketing the first season of "Smash."

The show has delivered only modest ratings. Six million viewers tuned in Monday night, although NBC executives have been encouraged that the audience grows by about 2 million people, who record the show and watch it after it airs on TV. 

NBC announced last month that it would bring "Smash" back for a second season. The network noted that "Smash" draws one of the most upscale audiences in network television, coming in behind another musically themed series, Fox's "Glee."

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, which adds attention to efforts to bring her story to life. (DreamWorks Television and series creator playwright Theresa Rebeck also have an ownership interest in the television version of "Smash.")

And there could be competition if NBC decides to trundle "Smash" to Broadway. Last fall, producer Harvey Weinstein said he was interested in turning his company's Oscar-nominated feature film "My Week With Marilyn" into a Broadway musical featuring Katy Perry. 

It would not be the first time that NBCUniversal dabbled on Broadway. The company has an ownership interest in one of the most successful productions of all time, "Wicked." That musical is produced by former Universal Pictures production executive turned Broadway producer, Marc Platt.

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NBC's "The Voice" is strong; "Smash" not so much

-- Meg James

Top photo: Uma Thurman (center) next week will join the cast of NBC's drama "Smash" for a five-episode story arc. Thurman is pictured with actors Yami Mufdi and Sean Dugan. Credit: Will Hart / NBC  

Bottom photo: NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt in 2009. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

On Location: 'War Horse' tapped veteran trainer Bobby Lovgren

 

Horses have long played lead roles in cinema, from the classic movie “National Velvet” to 2010’s “Secretariat,” a drama based on the Triple Crown-winning thoroughbred. But rarely have they taken center stage as much they do in “War Horse,” Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated epic about an English farm boy's lasting relationship with a horse that is sold to the cavalry during World War I.

 

For chief horse trainer Bobby Lovgren, it was one of the veteran’s toughest jobs to date.  Lovgren has trained horses for movies that have included “Seabiscuit,” “Cowboys and Aliens” and “The Legend of Zorro.”

The locally based 46-year-old trainer, however, says nothing has compared to the scale of work on “War Horse,” the DreamWorks Pictures movie that has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture. The film, which cost about $70 million to make, was adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel that inspired successful stage productions in London and on Broadway.

While the acclaimed play utilized life-sized puppets for horses, Lovgren’s task was to oversee the training of more than 150 live horses used in the film. He recruited a team of seven trainers from Australia, Spain and the U.S. as well as groomers, handlers, transporters -- even an equine hair and makeup unit.

“What made ‘War Horse’ so special was that it was a combination of everything I’d done before with horses all put into one movie," said Lovgren in an interview from New Mexico, where he is working on the Disney film “The Lone Ranger,” starring Johnny Depp. “It’s the biggest horse movie I’ve ever done.”

Lovgren is among a select group of animal handlers, trainers and wranglers in the industry, many of whom live in the northern L.A. County community of Acton, where he owns a small horse ranch.  Teamsters Local 399 has 130 union members who are animal trainers, handlers and wranglers, down from as many as 500 members in the 1970s, reflecting the decline in the western movie and television genre and widespread use of computer effects that has lessened the demand for live animals in films, said Steve Dayan, a business agent for Local 399.

Nonetheless, animal trainers like Lovgren remain essential and often unheralded behind-the-scene players in Hollywood.  “There are only a handful of guys left like Bobby," Dayan said. “What they do is a very special art and skill that is a huge part of our history.”

Lovgren came to Hollywood via South Africa, where his parents owned one of the largest riding and jumping stables in the country.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1989, learning the ropes of the business from renowned horse trainers Corky Randall and his father, Glenn Randall Sr., who worked on such movies as “Ben Hur” and “Black Stallion.”

He went on to work as a trainer in dozens of movies, including “The Mask of Zorro,” “Running Free” and the 2005 comedy “Racing Stripes,” in which he trained zebras as well as horses.

On “War Horse,”  which has grossed $77 million domestically since its Christmas Day release, Lovgren spent two and a half months training actors to ride and feel comfortable with the horses before filming began in various English locales, including South Devon.

Lovgren and his team also had to discern how each of the horses responded differently to smoke, gunfire and other distractions. Trainers used body language, hand signals and repetitive exercises to train the horses to perform certain tasks and assess their individuals skills, such as jumping, chasing or pulling. 

Fourteen different horses to play the title character of “Joey,” each depicting different stages of his life. One of them was Lovgren’s own horse Finder, whom he purchased after training him in “Seabiscuit.” Lovgren said Finder has a special ability to convey his feelings and connect with audiences. “He’s quite a ham in front of the camera," he said.

Lovgren closely collaborated with Barbara Carr, a representative of the American Humane Assn., which monitors the welfare of animals used in films. “I found him to be a wonderful horse trainer," said Carr, adding that no horses were injured during filming.  “He seemed to have a real feeling for the horses.”

While most of the scenes involved living horses, Spielberg used an animatronic horse for parts of a graphic battle scene in which Joey gets trapped in barbed wire. In the film’s production notes, Spielberg said of Lovgren: “Bobby and his team literally performed miracles with the horses in this film.”

 

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--Richard Verrier

Photo: From left, Maj. Stewart (Benedict Cumberbatch), Lt. Waverly (Patrick Kennedy) and Capt. Nichols (Tom Hiddleston) are featured in this scene from DreamWorks Pictures' "War Horse." Credit: DreamWorks Distribution Co.

Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times

The Morning Fix: 'The Grey' gets the green. 'The Help' cleans up

After the coffee. Before starting my own awards show.

The Skinny: Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman took a 50% pay cut in his salary to just $43 million in 2011. My offer to my bosses is to work for 50% of what Dauman took home. It's a steal! Monday's headlines include a box-office recap, new questions for DreamWorks, the results of Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards and a profile of NBC's Paul Telegdy. 

The Grey finished first

The Daily Dose: On Sunday, CBS' "60 Minutes" ran a profile of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. But anyone expecting a Troy Polamalu-like hit on the NFL's big boss by television's toughest news magazine was sadly disappointed. While it would be silly to expect one of the NFL's biggest customers to bite the hand that feeds it, the piece could have still raised some tough issues. For example, how about asking Goodell about how fewer fans can afford to go to games or whether he's worried about how rising television rights fees for his product leads to bigger cable bills for fans? Too close to home? Then how about whether he's comfortable with the league being in bed with so many beer companies?

'The Grey' brings in the green. Liam Neeson's "The Grey" became the actor's third action hit in a row, taking in $20 million and easily finishing first at the box office. Doing better than expected was Katherine Heigl's "One for the Money" while "Man on a Ledge" fell off and went splat. Box-office coverage from the Los Angeles Times and Movie City News.

Dilemma for DreamWorks. With its movies "The Help" and "War Horse" in the running for lots of Oscar love, the mood should be bright and confident at DreamWorks, the movie studio run by Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider. Instead, though, the production company finds itself facing questions about its financial future as their initial investment from backer Reliance Entertainment runs out. The New York Times looks at the challenges facing Spielberg & Co.

Hey DreamWorks, I solved your dilemma. While the New York Times writes about DreamWorks' potential money crunch, the Wall Street Journal says that 94-year-old billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who used to own MGM, again wants to be a player in Hollywood. While the WSJ didn't talk to Kerkorian (or even get a recent picture), Jay Rakow, one of his top aides, told the paper, "Our investment or investments could include a technology company with the potential to transform the entertainment industry to a studio or mini-major which can benefit from the infusion of cutting-edge technology." Perhaps Kirk can pick up the phone and call Steven Spielberg. Problem solved and my finder's fee is only 10%.

Too soon to tell? It's been a year since Comcast took over running NBC and the Financial Times says the move is paying off for the peacock network. The story notes all the money Comcast has pumped into NBC for programming and new leadership. It's true that NBC is spending a lot to develop new shows and beef up its local stations. However, the fact that Comcast is investing in NBC doesn't mean it is proving profitable for the cable giant. If the network rises out of last place and starts making more money, then Comcast brass can pop the champagne.

Wait, you mean that's wrong? The ethics scandal tearing through media giant News Corp.'s British tabloids picked up steam over the weekend when several reporters from the Sun were arrested as part of an investigation into illegal payoffs from the press to police. Details from the Los Angeles Times and BBC.

The lesson is report before reporting. Before legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno died, an erroneous report of his death was posted by a Penn State student website. Then CBS Sports picked up that wrong story and posted it as well, giving it legs. Now CBS Sports has canned the staffer guily of posting first and asking questions later. More from the Washington Post.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: "The Help" was the big winner at Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards.  Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman saw his pay package drop by about 50% to only $43 million. A look at NBC executive Paul Telegdy, who oversees late night and alternative programming for the network. 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter. I won't censor your tweets at me. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Photo: Liam Neeson in "The Grey." Credit: Open Road

Box Office: 'Mission: Impossible' sequel is No. 1 Christmas pick [Updated]

"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
Moviegoers chose to accept Tom Cruise's "Mission" at the box office this weekend.

"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol," the fourth installment in the action franchise, grossed $46.2 million over the holiday period beginning Friday and ending Monday, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. The movie -- budgeted at about $145 million -- debuted in limited release 11 days ago and has since racked up an impressive total of $78.6 million in ticket sales.

Warner Bros.' "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," which opened last weekend, claimed the No. 2 spot. The $125-million production collected a soft $31.8 million over the long weekend, bringing its overall tally to $90.6 million. Twentieth Century Fox's $80-million "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," which has also been in theaters for two weeks, came in with a disappointing $20 million. Both movies were expected to be big winners over the Christmas holiday, but each is so far lagging significantly behind their franchise predecessors in ticket sales.

David Fincher's highly anticipated "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- based on the first book in a trilogy of novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson -- did decent business. The Sony Pictures movie opened Tuesday night, but grossed $19.4 million over the holiday weekend, raising its overall total to $27.7 million. The R-rated film had a budget of about $100 million, according to an individual close to the production, though a Sony spokesperson said the cost was $90 million.

Two new films directed by Steven Spielberg debuted to mixed results.

"The Adventures of Tintin," a 3-D animated family movie adapted from a popular Belgian comic book, did not prove exceptionally popular with American audiences. Although the film has been a hit overseas, so far collecting over $240 million abroad, it only grossed $16.1 million domestically this long weekend. Since opening on Wednesday, "Tintin," which cost Paramount and Sony between $150 million and $175 million to make, has sold $24.1 million worth of tickets. Paramount, which is releasing the film in the U.S. and Canada, is hopeful that the movie will follow in the footsteps of last Christmas' "Yogi Bear." That family flick ultimately grossed over $100 million domestically.

Meanwhile, Spielberg's epic "War Horse" fared better, debuting on Sunday and grossing $15 million in sales over two days. The film attracted an older audience, 31% of whom were over the age of 50. Those who saw the $70-million DreamWorks production liked it, assigning it an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo" earned an even better grade -- an A -- but moviegoers did not show up in as large numbers to see the family drama. The movie starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, which cost Fox about $50 million to produce, opened on Friday and grossed $15.6 million through Monday. The film also appealed to an older demographic, as 59% of the crowd was age 25 or above, while 58% overall was female.

Of all the movies that opened over Christmas, the horror film "The Darkest Hour" was the least expensive, costing co-financiers Summit Entertainment and New Regency about $30 million to produce. That's good news, because it only grossed a weak $5.5 million over Sunday and Monday, and received a dismal C+ CinemaScore.

[Updated 1:45 p.m., Dec. 26: The "Mission: Impossible" sequel continued to soar overseas, grossing an additional $43 million from 45 foreign countries. The movie performed best in Korea and China, where it was No. 1 for the second weekend in a row. The film has now made about $24 million in each country respectively. Overall, the movie already has an international tally of $140 million. The third film in the franchise raked in over $260 million abroad in 2006, and it seems likely that the new fourth installment will far exceed that figure.

Here are the top 10 movies in the U.S. and Canada, based on their four-day grosses with exceptions as noted. Percentage drops are based on three-day grosses. International grosses are through Sunday only.

Continue reading »

DreamWorks Animation reports 60% drop in earnings in the first quarter

DreamWorks Animation reported a nearly 60% drop in profit in the first quarter of this year, reflecting the absence of a theatrical release and weak DVD sales from its super-villain movie "Megamind."

The Glendale-based studio earned $8.8 million, or 10 cents a share, in the first three months of this year, down from $21.7 million or 24 cents a share in the same quarter of 2010. Revenue in the quarter dropped 33% to $108 million, the company reported Tuesday.

The results were in line with Wall Street's expectations.  Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters estimated that DreamWorks would earn 10 cents a share on revenue of $108 million in the quarter.

"Megamind," which was released in November and misfired at the box office, contributed $18.1 million in the quarter, mostly from home video sales. Two other 2010 titles, "Shrek Forever After" and "How to Train Your Dragon," generated $19.9 and $8.7 million, respectively, also mainly from DVD sales.

"We now look forward to kick-starting the summer moviegoing season with "Kung Fu Panda 2" on May 26, as family entertainment -- and CG animation in particular -- has performed at the top of the box office charts so far this year," DreamWorks Animation Chief Jeffrey Katzenberg said.

Several analysts revised their long-term earnings outlook for DreamWorks earlier this year after the studio shuffled its film slate, delaying the release of some upcoming films. "The Croods," which had been scheduled for release in 2012, was pushed to 2013, and a sequel to "How to Train Your Dragon" will be released in 2014 instead of 2013.

A market leader along with Walt Disney Co. and its Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks is facing an increasingly crowded marketplace, with a growing number of studios releasing computer-animated movies, such as the recently released hit "Rio" from 20th Century Fox, "Hop" from Universal Pictures' Illumination Entertainment and Paramount Pictures' "Rango." The latter two have had more mixed results at the box office.

-- Richard Verrier

 

 

Jeffrey Katzenberg jumps on board Zynga-ville

Jeffrey Katzenberg DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg has joined the board of Zynga, the San Francisco maker of wildly popular free online social games.

Katzenberg's move comes amid a a period of wild speculation over the value of Zynga, whose games boasts tens of millions of players each day. Zynga's latest funding round, which raised about half a billion dollars last month, puts its valuation at close to $10 billion, roughly 10 to 20 times the company's estimated annual revenue.

It has been widely reported that Zynga is preparing for an initial public offering next year.

The company's titles, including Cityville, Farmville, Frontierville and Texas Hold'em Poker, currently occupy four of the top 10 applications on Facebook. About 20 million people play Cityville each day, making it the No. 1 app on the social network.

Katzenberg joins five other executives on Zynga's board, including Bing Gordon, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn; Brad Feld, managing director of the Foundry Group; Owen Van Natta, the former CEO of MySpace before he became Zynga's executive vice president; and Mark Pincus, Zynga's CEO.

Pincus, in a statement, joked that "I knew he’d be a great fit for the board after he suggested that the blockbuster of 2011 could be ShrekVille."

-- Alex Pham

Photo: Jeffrey Katzenberg at CinemaCon last week in Las Vegas. Credit: Julie Jacobson / Associated Press.

DreamWorks Animation financial results show good news on 'Dragon,' bad on 'Shrek,' 'Megamind,' 'Panda'

Megamind1 DreamWorks Animation had good news and a bigger dose of bad news in its fourth quarter, as strong DVD sales for "How to Train Your Dragon" were reported alongside a disappointing DVD release for "Shrek Forever After" and a weak box office run for "Megamind."

The Glendale animation studio also took write-downs on its unsuccessful "Kung Fu Panda" virtual world and the national tour of its live stage show "Shrek: The Musical."

DreamWorks released three movies in 2010, the most it has put out in a single year. March's "How to Train Your Dragon" took in $495 million worldwide, a solid number for a new property. The sequel "Shrek Forever After" underperformed in the U.S. and Canada, grossing only $239 million -- the lowest for the franchise -- but a very healthy $511 million overseas. November's release, "Megamind," was a disappointment, selling just $319 million worth of tickets worldwide.

"Dragon" and "Shrek" both came out on DVD in the fall and sold 7.5 million and 7.2 million copies worldwide, respectively.

On a conference call with analysts, Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said DVD sales for "Dragon" were strong relative to its box office performance, perhaps reflecting strong word-of-mouth for the well-reviewed film. However, Katzenberg said the company was not satisfied with DVD sales for its fourth "Shrek" picture, noting that it was lower than previous movies in the series.

Despite the soft box office performance of "Megamind," Katzenberg said he expects that the super-hero comedy will ultimately be profitable. It comes out on DVD on Friday.

DreamWorks' results were dragged down by the Kung Fu Panda virtual world, which launched in April. Its operating loss for the quarter was $15 million, including a write-down of $12 million. Similarly, the national tour of the Broadway show "Shrek: the Musical" recorded an operating loss of $10 million, including a write-down of $8 million.

Reflecting the increase in film releases to three in 2010 from one in 2009, DreamWorks' revenue for the fourth quarter jumped 42% from the previous year to $275.7 million and net income was up 95% at $85.2 million.

DreamWorks Animation stock closed up less than 1% at $28.10 on Thursday before financial results were released.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from "Megamind." Credit: DreamWorks Animation.

Illustrator sues DreamWorks Animation over fun-loving panda character

Kung Fu 
A Boston illustrator is alleging that DreamWorks Animation lifted his ideas for the characters depicted in the hit 2008 movie "Kung Fu Panda."

Jayme Gordon filed a federal copyright infringement lawsuit against the Glendale studio Wednesday, alleging that the overweight panda featured in the movie and his band of fighters were based on sketches and drawings that he created in the late 1980s and 1990s, called "Kung Fu Panda Power."

"Characters featured in the 'Kung Fu Panda' film and 'Secrets of the Furious Five' film (a direct to video spinoff) are unlawful copies of, derivative works of, and substantially similar, even strikingly similar to, the  characters in Gordon's 'Kung Fu Panda Power Work,' '' said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.

Gordon featured some of the characters on clothing he sold in a Boston store called Animation Station and were part of a portfolio of work he sent to various publishers and studios, including DreamWorks, which sent him a letter of rejection in 1999, the lawsuit said.

A spokeswoman for DreamWorks Animation declined to comment. The sequel to "Kung Fu Panda" is set to be released in May.

Photo: These pictures were featured in the federal  copyright infringement lawsuit filed against DreamWorks Animation in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. The sketch on the left is by Jayme Gordon, the plaintiff in the case; the image on the right is from DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda," featuring the panda named Po (Jack Black) and his trainer, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). 

 

'Megamind' is minor overseas, making for weak worldwide box office total

Megamind DreamWorks Animation has often relied on outsized foreign ticket sales for its movies that aren't hits at home. But "Megamind" is proving as unimpressive overseas as it has been domestically.

The latest 3-D release from the Glendale animation studio has over the last two months debuted in every major foreign market except South Korea and Japan and now has a tepid total international gross of $134.5 million.

Foreign ticket sales for "Megamind," a comedy about a supervillain turned good, will likely surpass its domestic gross of $144 million eventually but not by much.

That's in sharp contrast to last summer's "Shrek Forever After," which grossed $501 million overseas, more than double its domestic take. And foreign moviegoers added $277.3 million to the $218 million in domestic receipts for last March's "How to Train Your Dragon."

A total worldwide gross of about $300 million looks like the best-case scenario for "Megamind." That would make it one of the three worst-performing computer-animated movies from DreamWorks in the last decade, along with the flops "Bee Movie" and "Flushed Away."

Results have been less than impressive throughout Europe, where like many movies "Megamind" was hurt by snowstorms over the last few weeks, as well as in Latin America. It did perform well in Russia, however, grossing more than $22 million.

It's not yet clear why "Megamind" hasn't proved more popular internationally. One person familiar with foreign distribution who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about "Megamind" noted that its main characters were humans and aliens and that many animated movies that perform well overseas feature animals. A DreamWorks Animation spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

DreamWorks Animation typically spends more than $130 million to produce its movies, with roughly $150 million advanced by its distributor, Paramount Pictures, for worldwide advertising and prints. As such, the studio usually looks for substantially higher ticket sales than it is getting out of "Megamind."

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from "Megamind." Credit: DreamWorks Animation

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