According to the LA Times, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s plans for their Tintin trilogy might be in jeopardy, after Universal passed on funding the movies. The plan had been for Spielberg to start shooting the first of the mo-cap series later this month (even though most of the cast hasn’t yet been announced), with Jackson set to come in to helm the second, and a possible team-up for the pair on the third.

But after the duo submitted a budget of around $130 million to Universal, the studio got cold feet and exited the project. Now, with time running out, Spielberg and Jackson are looking for a studio to back the project.

They may have already found one. Spielberg and Jackson showed a 10-minute sizzle reel for the Tintin trilogy to Paramount execs, including the chairman, Brad Grey, last month, and apparently are now waiting on a yay or a nay.

If Paramount does go ahead and back the venture, it’ll certainly be interesting – mainly because Spielberg and his DreamWorks partner, David Geffen, are currently in the midst of trying to break DreamWorks away from Paramount after a relatively unhappy couple of years at the studio. In fact, Spielberg has just secured funding of up to $500 million from Reliance Big Entertainment and a possible further half a billion from JP Morgan to fund the breakaway, which will see DreamWorks restructured as a private company.

And another twist: Universal is the leading contender to be the studio that distributes DreamWorks’ movies once the split takes place. So, clearly, there are no hard feelings. Why did Universal pass on the chance to make Tintin? After all, Spielberg and Jackson are two of the most profitable directors in Hollywood history, with a proven track record at busting those blocks.

However, it’s believed that not only was Universal nervous about the mo-cap nature of the project, as mo-cap movies haven’t yet delivered massive box office (Beowulf made almost $200 million worldwide, for example), but they might not have been entirely sold on the idea that the Tintin fanbase, particularly in the States, was large enough to warrant a trilogy.

Oh, and there’s the small matter that, with Spielberg and Jackson had apparently requested around 30% of the gross profit from the movie’s box office, DVD sales and other income streams. That would mean that the first Tintin would have to gross around $425 million before it broke even, and that Spielberg and Jackson would make around $100 million before Universal saw a cent.

Still, the decision to pass has come as a shock, particularly so close to Spielberg’s start date. But, with time an increasingly pressing factor, we imagine that Paramount will come in and back the project. If not, is there a chance that Spielberg might be able to use the new DreamWorks funding to get Tintin underway?

More on this as it comes in…