Spielberg’s Universal Deal Lasts ‘In Perpetuity’

One stunning piece of news that emerged in recent days is the fact that Steven Spielberg takes home $30 million a year from Universal parks.

How rich is Steven Spielberg? A lot richer than you thought.

One stunning piece of information that emerged from the acrimonious end to negotiations over who would distribute DreamWorks’ films (it’s Disney,according to Monday’s announcement) was a window into a long-held Hollywood secret:

Steven Spielberg takes home, annually, two percent of the box office receipts from Universal’s theme park in Orlando. That would be gross box office receipts. Not net. That’s a lot of dough.

Take that, Bernard Madoff.

Currently that amounts to about $30 million per year, according to studio executives knowledgeable about the deal. No wonder the director is able to float DreamWorks a loan on his own cash ($15 million) until the studio raises its financing.

There’s more. The director will take home two percent of the receipts of any future theme parks that open, including those under construction in Singapore and Dubai. The deal, in place for the past 20 years, is signed “in perpetuity,” so the ka-ching-ing can expect to continue indefinitely.

What is the money for? Not for licensing his movies. Not for borrowing the “Jaws” theme park music. Not for owning the rights to “Jurassic Park.” All that requires additional licensing fees.

The fees are for “consulting.” Spielberg weighs in with his ideas on rides and attractions in an exclusive arrangement with Universal’s theme parks.

“Of course it’s a lot of money,” said Sid Sheinberg, the former president of MCA-Universal, who made the deal with Spielberg 20 years ago when Universal decided to challenge Disney’s supremacy in the arena of theme parks. “But without Steven Spielberg there wouldn’t even be a Universal Studio tour.”

Sheinberg told TheWrap on Monday, “When we made the deal I was delighted to make it. I thought at the time it was a sensible deal. I think it is now. I don’t regret it at all.”

He added: “The deal has been criticized by some who have entered the world later. If you set out to do a studio tour and you’re competing with a giant mouse, you better have a lot of weaponry, particularly when you move into Orlando, Florida."

Speaking of competing with the mouse, the longstanding deal also means that despite the DreamWorks distribution agreement with The Walt Disney Co., Spielberg will not be able to contribute his ideas to any Disneyland parks.

A Universal spokeswoman declined comment on the arrangement. And Spielberg’s spokesman Marvin Levy declined to comment on the subject. “I can’t comment on it because I don’t know it,” said the director’s longtime publicist.

A Disney spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

The director himself was busy in week two of shooting “Tintin,” the stop-motion animated film he is co-creating with Peter Jackson. Spielberg spent the day on the set of the film, which will not be a DreamWorks film at all, but is being financed and released by Paramount and Sony.

Under his agreement with Universal, Spielberg has the right to be paid out at the end of this year, and end the arrangement. But it would be hard to see why he would choose to do so.