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Of Microsoft's Bill Gates, the director of Jaws says, "We were a little reluctant to meet him and get into business with him because his reputation preceded him. People warned me about the jaws of the shark. But when he walked in the room, I saw someone my mother would like. He's a haimisher guy. What he said sometimes flew over my head, but his enthusiasm was pretty kinetic." Of Paul Allen: "I hugely related to him the second I met him. And he knows how to take a vacation. I'd just taken a year off, so the first thing we began talking about when we met was boating."
The truism that Hollywood is "a relationship business" is almost a joke. But to an artist-industrialist like Spielberg, the meeting of eyes, minds and enthusiasms is crucial. Iger had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Katzenberg last year to help him run the network, and he was one of the first to call when SKG was announced. Karma came into it too. It happened that at a White House dinner in October, when the three moguls sealed their agreement to become the Dream team, Iger was sitting on one side of Spielberg, Boris Yeltsin on the other (Yeltsin is one of the few international players who has not been rumored as a potential DreamWorks partner). It was then that Iger, who had quarreled with Spielberg over an Amblin TV project on the Civil War, patched things up.
And when that heart-and-mind contact is lacking, the best-laid plans can be upset. Also the best-laid tables. A February business dinner at Spielberg's estate in Pacific Palisades was supposed to cinch the deal with Samsung, whose proposed stake in DreamWorks had grown from $500 million to $900 million as the talks progressed. That night the guest list swelled too, to more than a dozen, and Kate Capshaw, Spielberg's actress wife, had to scurry to a local store for extra table linen. The elegant meal of Chilean sea bass and white wine (except for Katzenberg, who sipped his usual Diet Coke) at the home of the most successful filmmaker in history had to impress Samsung's reclusive chairman Lee Kun Hee, an ardent movie fan with a private library of some 6,000 titles.
Film may be the universal language, but business can be Babel. When the Koreans, through an interpreter, explained their goals, Spielberg got a twinge in his belly--and it wasn't the bass. "The word semiconductor must have been used about 20 times during that 2-1/2-hr. encounter," Spielberg recalls. "I thought to myself, 'How are they going to know anything about the film business when they're so obsessed with semiconductors?' It was another one of those evenings that turned out to be a complete waste of time."
The Samsung side also apparently agreed the timing was not right, though Lee's niece Miky may still be an investor in DreamWorks. Geffen puts the discussion in bolder relief: "They wanted more than we were willing to give them. We didn't want one group to have too much control. We prefer having three 3,000-lb. gorillas in the room with us to one 9,000-lb. gorilla." And Spielberg did in fact learn something from the evening: "I realized that whoever became our equity partners, we needed to communicate in the same language."