Last Tuesday afternoon, students, faculty and staff of the School of Film/Video at CalArts crammed into the Bijou Theater for a visiting artist lecture and Q&A session with Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation.
After an introduction by CalArts President Steven D. Lavine, Katzenberg–a trustee emeritus of CalArts–shared a 5-minute clip from the studio’s upcoming feature Megamind. (We’ve included a clip from Comic-Con below.) Directed by CalArts alumnus Tom McGrath (Film/Video BFA 90), the film stars Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey and Brad Pitt. The preview delighted the audience of (mostly) student animators. Katzenberg noted that the film is the studio’s third feature this year alone–following How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After–and the “most adult in terms of general audience appeal.”
For the next hour, Katzenberg answered questions from CalArts faculty member and DreamWorks animator Ted Ty about his time at Paramount, Disney, DreamWorks and his secrets to success.
Here’s some of what was said at the event:
- When Ty asked Katzenberg about his parents’ influence (his mother was an artist, his father, a stockbroker) he replied that you have to use both the left and right brains to be successful in the industry: “There’s a reason it’s called show business.”
- In 1978, while working at Paramount Pictures for then-Chairman Barry Diller and Chief Operating Officer Michael Eisner, he was tasked with relaunching the Star Trek franchise. His budget of $43 million for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)–was, at the time, one of the highest ever for a motion picture. After the movie opened, he recalled being summoned to Diller’s office, where he received his bonus for the film: $43,000. All in pennies.
- In 1984, Eisner hired Katzenberg to head Disney Studios. Under his tenure, the animation arm began a string of critically acclaimed features, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991, the first animated feature nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture), and The Lion King (1994)
- Katzenberg said that founder Walt Disney’s archives were extensive, and that Disney had left numerous audio and video recordings that explained the essential ingredients for a successful animated movie. “In some ways, Walt Disney was my mentor. His mission statement was clear: ‘I make movies for children and the child that exists in all of us….Today, I think John Lasseter is a director that embodies that statement.’”
- When he, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen founded DreamWorks 16 years ago, they wanted to be competitive in animation, but didn’t want to copy Walt Disney’s blueprint. “I wanted to do something that would allow us to find our own path…create a different brand.”
- The road to defining a DreamWorks picture wasn’t easy at first: “I think our R+D [research and development] was our first four or five movies.” He joked about the over-seriousness of the Prince of Egypt, the studio’s first feature, and how in 2001 “Shrek happened…and became our Holy Grail.”
- And how does he define the DreamWorks film now? “A movie for adults and the adult that exists in every child.”
- On competition with Pixar: “Our success is not dependent on someone else’s failures. It’s not a zero sum game…The competition inspires me. Toy Story was brilliant…though not as good as Dragons.”