IT IS HOLLYWOOD'S LATEST CATCHPHRASE, successor to "Let's do lunch," "My fax will talk to your fax," and "I'm gonna kill and eat your children." Now, when a mogul wants to give you the long view, he gazes ceilingward and intones, "But at the end of the day ... "
This old Britishism, a long-winded way to say "finally," is the mot du jour for Jeffrey Katzenberg and others in the burgeoning world of DreamWorks SKG, the company he created with director Steven Spielberg and pop-music potentate David Geffen. For their infant company, though, it is the beginning of the day--a gold sunrise of high finance and unprecedentedly high expectations.
Consider that DreamWorks, which plans to make movies, TV shows, records, toys and computer software, has no film studio or recording studio, no products--indeed, no pedigree but its owners' resumes. No problem either, for Spielberg is the director of Jaws, E.T. and Jurassic Park; Katzenberg supervised the glorious revival of animated features while at the Walt Disney Co.; and Geffen has made stars of the Eagles, Guns N' Roses and Nirvana on records, Tom Cruise in movies and some singing cats on Broadway. So the brand name SKG had a certain allure for investors. Come on in, the Dream team said, and give us $2 billion. Right now. And the money men said yes.
Hundreds of rich suitors have wooed SKG. As Spielberg says, "It's like stacking hour over Kennedy Airport." There was, for example, the Middle Eastern businessman who wanted to fly to meet the moguls with a zillion-dollar check in hand, only to be told by his father that he was forbidden to travel because it was the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He may yet make the trip.
Why are the investors lining up? Because of the team's past. Because of the future it might hold: that DreamWorks will be the prototype plugged-in multimedia company of the new millennium. And because the exuberance of Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen is infectious. It suggests that there is still some Hollywood romance in the youthful determination of three middle-aged men to act like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in the old MGM musicals, shouting, "Hey, guys, let's put the show on right here!"
Instead of raising a tent, they are raising money, and their success has been impressive. Never mind that the beaches of Malibu colony glitter with the shards of the grandest dreams. "Starting a studio is not an easy thing to do," says Warner Bros. chairman Robert Daly, who may see some talent from his animation unit sign with SKG. "No one's done it, and sustained it, in 50 years. But DreamWorks has a very good chance of being successful. Every move it's made has been well thought-out. Every day its chances look better."
In the past three months, the DreamWorkers have journeyed to the end of the rainbow, to Seattle and Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Europe, and have found several pots of gold. They are securing a $1 billion line of credit from Chemical Bank. More stash will come through advances in such fields as pay TV (HBO), music distribution (MCA could win there), worldwide pay- and free-TV rights. The team is negotiating with the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) to invest almost $300 million; that deal, which both sides had hoped to present to the CalPERS board last week, is delayed but not dormant.