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DreamWorks Tell-All Exposes Katzenberg Shrek Bail-Out

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 30, 2010 at 2:59AM

Ex-Variety reporter Nicole LaPorte, now writing for The Daily Beast, shares some of what she went through to write her new book about DreamWorks, The Men Who Would Be King. The problem: Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen --three very powerful Hollywood moguls---actively worked against LaPorte, refusing to grant interviews and lobbying others to do the same:
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Thompson on Hollywood

Ex-Variety reporter Nicole LaPorte, now writing for The Daily Beast, shares some of what she went through to write her new book about DreamWorks, The Men Who Would Be King. The problem: Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen --three very powerful Hollywood moguls---actively worked against LaPorte, refusing to grant interviews and lobbying others to do the same:

They were men who not only worked the press like maestros, but were used to controlling it. One former employee claimed that when too many stories about DreamWorks started showing up in the press, Geffen laid down threats. “I’ve got phone records,” he said. “I’ll find out who’s talking. We’ll get you.”

LaPorte finally talked to plenty of DreamWorks insiders, but many were afraid to talk to her on the record, at the same time that they wanted to spin how their stories were told. (We've already heard about Spielberg's paranoia and Russell Crowe's misbehavior on Gladiator--surprise!) The DreamWorks story is one of high-flown dreams and expectations, and a much smaller, more prosaic reality. How were the Dream Team going to couch that in a book? Well, I would argue that while they weren't going to get the story they wanted, cooperation might have been a good idea.

Of the three, the ever-controlling Katzenberg, for example, does not come out smelling like a rose. DreamWorks wouldn't exist if Katzenberg hadn't convinced Spielberg and Geffen to help him create a company. Once DreamWorks was under way, post-Disney and The Lion King, Katzenberg didn't think he needed to bring in an animation czar. Katzenberg considered himself to be the creative genius behind DreamWorks animation. Then came the underwhelming trifecta Antz, Prince of Egypt and El Dorado, which hardly put Katzenberg in John Lasseter's league.

Then came Shrek, a fractious production that ran through multiple writers and directors until first-time Kiwi director Andrew Adamson, a PDI special-effects director, finally took over. From the start, Adamson refused to be intimidated by Katzenberg, and battled with him over such outrageous ideas as sexual jokes and adding Guns 'n Roses to the soundtrack. Adamson was able to persuade Katzenberg to move in a more irreverent direction. It also helped that the movie was in production in the Bay Area, at PDI. Katzenberg supervised, but was not all over the animators 24/7. Shrek finally grossed $484-million worldwide and launched a series of hugely lucrative sequels, enabling DreamWorks Animation to eventually go public.

Katzenberg probably doesn't like to think that DreamWorks squeaked by due to Andrew Adamson's willingness not to listen to him.


This article is related to: Directors, Independents, Books, Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.