Economy & Budget

In the real world, Steven Spielberg loves private equity

In the real world, Steven Spielberg loves private equity

In this much-talked about BusinessWeek piece (John covers it in depth here), we learn that Barack Obama’s campaign held a meeting with legendary director Steven Spielberg, who offered his thoughts on how to take on Mitt Romney. Namely, he advised the campaign to attack private equity.

In DreamWorks Studios, Steven Spielberg spent three hours explaining how to capture an audience’s attention and offered a number of ideas that will be rolled out before Election Day. An early example of Spielberg’s influence is RomneyEconomics.com, a website designed by the Obama team to tell the story—a horror story, by their reckoning—of Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital. Afterward, Spielberg insisted that Messina sit down with the DreamWorks marketing team. Hollywood movie studios are expert, as presidential campaigns also must be, at spending huge sums over a few weeks to reach and motivate millions of Americans.

Attacking Bain was a flop, but Spielberg certainly knows a thing or two about private equity. After all, in 2008, DreamWorks, the studio Spielberg co-founded in 1994, struck a $1.2 billion deal with Reliance Capital that pumped $325 million of equity into the  studio, allowing the studio to break away from Paramount Pictures. In another, more recent deal, Reliance invested  $200 million into DreamWorks.

Then there is Spyglass Entertainment, the company that brought us Spielberg-produced “Memoirs of a Geisha” — and other films the director was involved in. It was was founded in 1998 and half the company (at the time, at least) was owned by Cerberus Capital Management, “one of the world’s leading private investment firms.” (Leading in a good way, no doubt.) Then there is Melrose Investors, a fund set up by Merrill Lynch, which bet on films for Paramount Pictures like  Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.”

And so on.

As far as I can tell Bain Capital hadn’t invested in Spielberg (though they did own a stake in AMC Theaters, allowing us to enjoy overpriced popcorn, massive sodas, Munich and The Adventures of Tintin). This 2006 piece in the Wall Street Journal says that “the biggest influx of money in Hollywood these days is coming from sharks, not suckers: hedge funds, private-equity funds and investment banks.” And if I were betting on movies, I’d probably go with Spielberg. Politics? Not so much.

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