Snider Eyes Studio Switch

Times Staff Writer

Just two months after Paramount Pictures snatched DreamWorks SKG out from under the nose of NBC Universal, the newly invigorated studio is vying to acquire one of its rival’s prized executives: Universal Pictures Chairwoman Stacey Snider.

According to four sources close to the situation, Snider has authorized her attorneys to begin negotiating with Paramount about the possibility of heading that studio’s new DreamWorks division. Those talks are expected to begin this weekend. Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc., bought DreamWorks for $1.6 billion, beating out longtime suitor NBC Universal.

Although Snider has not committed to move to Paramount, three sources confirm that the 44-year-old studio executive has told her boss, Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer, that she wants to explore other employment opportunities.


Snider’s contract at Universal expires at the end of 2006, but she has purposely not begun renegotiating her deal -- a delaying tactic that has caused much speculation about her plans. It is customary for top studio executives to start hashing out the renewal of their contracts long before they expire.

Snider and Meyer declined to comment Thursday.

Paramount spokeswoman Janet Hill said, “We do not comment on speculation about our business.”

Paramount chief Brad Grey, to whom Snider would report, also declined to discuss the possibility of hiring Snider. However, he was eager to deny rumors that Snider would be hired to replace Paramount President Gail Berman, a veteran television executive who has had a rocky transition to her new movie job.

“Gail has been a winner her entire career,” Grey said. “She has my full support and confidence.”

Snider is known as a tenacious, highly ambitious executive whose creative and business savvy has helped her rise to the top of the Hollywood ladder. However, for months she has been telling friends, associates and colleagues that she has been wrestling with whether to recommit to Universal or to opt for a less-demanding job, which would allow her to spend more time with her two daughters, ages 9 and 7.

DreamWorks would offer that kind of job.

There, Snider would work closely with co-founders Steven Spielberg and David Geffen to oversee four to six movies a year that would be marketed and distributed by Paramount.

That stands in sharp contrast to the nearly 30 films a year she is responsible for now -- 16 to 18 at Universal and 10 at its specialty film labels, Focus Features and Rogue Pictures.

The DreamWorks deal is not a sure thing and Snider could remain at Universal.

Snider also is considering running her own production company, but she’s leaning toward DreamWorks, said several sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were at a sensitive stage.

In recent weeks, Geffen -- who is still angry about his dealings last year with General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal because he claims the company reneged on a deal to buy DreamWorks -- has been aggressively courting Snider.

Snider has long enjoyed a close relationship with Spielberg, who over the years has approached her repeatedly about going to DreamWorks.

Losing Snider, who is largely beloved within the NBC Universal family, would be a big blow to the studio and to Meyer, her boss, who has been trying to persuade her to stay.

Although Snider gets along with her corporate bosses, she is said to have chafed under GE’s regimented style. The company has frequent corporate retreats in Crotonville, N.Y., and Boca Raton, Fla., that Snider is expected to attend.

Under a company-wide mandate to slash costs, Snider has been under pressure to reduce her division’s expenses and costly movie budgets.

Since becoming chairwoman of Universal in 1999, Snider is credited with helping to stabilize and revitalize a wobbly studio that has had three owners in less than a decade: liquor empire Seagram Co., French media company Vivendi Universal and now GE.

She also is credited with turning Universal into a box office leader with such hits as “The Mummy,” “The Fast and the Furious,” and “Meet the Fockers,” and back-to-back Oscar winners “Gladiator” (2000) and “A Beautiful Mind” (2001).

But her track record has been spotty. Last year, profitable hits such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” coexisted with expensive releases like “King Kong” that fell short of expectations.

If Snider leaves, Meyer has several internal candidates he could tap to replace her. Among them: former Universal co-production chief Scott Stuber, who is a producer at the studio; or a teaming of Bonnie Hammer, president of the USA and Sci Fi cable channels -- two of NBC Universal’s most lucrative assets -- and Marc Shmuger, Universal’s vice chairman, who is responsible for worldwide marketing and distribution as well as the studio’s Internet activities.


Times staff writers Meg James and Lorenza Munoz contributed to this report.