DreamWorks-Aardman deal flushed away

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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The marriage is over. DreamWorks Animation and Aardman Animation of the U.K. are splitting up. DreamWorks filed the papers. It brings to an end a five-picture deal that began in 1999. Only two films were produced: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Flushed Away. Neither film pulled in Shrek-like dollars. Adam Dawtrey is the European Editor for Variety. Welcome.

ADAM DAWTREY: Hi.

THOMAS: So what happened here?

DAWTREY: Well, Wallace & Gromit and Flushed Away were both films that attracted a fair amount of acclaim, particularly Wallace & Gromit which won a BAFTA for best British film, and did fairly well at the box office but fairly well is not good enough. Flushed Away cost something in the region of $130 million to make, and in order for that to pay off it's going to have to go well into $200, $300, $400 million worldwide, and in fact the film is going to fall short of $200 million.

THOMAS: Did DreamWorks misjudge how popular Aardman's stop-action style of filmmaking would be with American audiences?

DAWTREY: Well you have to say that it did. It's not really the style of animation I don't think. It is the very British style of humor and creativity that Aardman represents. British films, even the most successful ones, struggle to break through into a really wide audience in the States, You know films like Bridget Jones's Diary or the Richard Curtis movies, they only do $50 to $70 million at the domestic box office and so we shouldn't be too surprised that films like Wallace & Gromit and Flushed Away do similar figures. I mean it was a very interesting gamble on the part of Jeffrey Katzenberg to put so much faith in such a very British brand and style of filmmaking.

THOMAS: How much of a financial hit did DreamWorks suffer in this arrangement?

DAWTREY: I think it took a pretty big financial hit. I think analysts have estimated that the write down on Flushed Away alone is over $100 million.

THOMAS: Jeffrey Katzenberg with DreamWorks said the companies had different business goals. What do you think he meant by that?

DAWTREY: Well DreamWorks' business goal is to make a huge amount of money. And Aardman's business goal is to pursue the creative vision of its founders, and this is a company run by creative people, by Nick Park and Dave Sproxton and Peter Lord, who are animators. They are filmmakers with a very unique vision and all they want to do is to have somewhere where they can pursue that vision and somewhere that pays the bills. DreamWorks has the rather more pragmatic view that it needs to make some money.

THOMAS: Thanks a lot Adam.

DAWTREY: Thank you.

THOMAS: Adam Dawtrey, the European Editor for Variety.

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