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“King:” The Story of DreamWorks Studio Minus the Spin

Reporting entertainment industry stories has caused me endless headaches but in no way compares to what Nicole LaPorte has been through. While researching “The Men Who Would Be King,” her in-depth account of DreamWorks she ran up against a wall of opposition. Sources would talk but only off the record and do so in some unusual places. The three founding partners of DreamWorks – Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen – refused to talk. Katzenberg, LaPorte wrote in her introduction, made phone calls to sources telling them not to cooperate. That didn’t deter the former Variety reporter as she brushed off suggestions to not write the book. LaPorte pressed on, wanting to tell the unvarnished story of DreamWorks and to solve the mystery of why an entertainment company with so much ambition, talent and money fell short of its expectations. “It’s a story of movies, money and the game of Hollywood as it is played by masters,” LaPorte stated in her introduction. From its start in 1994, DreamWorks was going to be about more than just the live-action feature films of Steven Spielberg. There were television, music, video game and animation divisions that would be artist-centric enterprises. All of it (except for animation) would be located at a state-of-the-art, elaborately landscaped studio campus in Playa Vista where the DreamWorks “family” could pursue art outside the confines of the Hollywood system. That artist-centric model, however, clashed with commerce. Throughout “King’s” 400-plus pages LaPorte concisely lays out what the problems were that kept the dream from taking full flight: not enough movies to cover the overhead, a lack of business experience on the part of the executives in charge, and personality clashes and Oscar nomination battles that only can happen in Hollywood. And then there were the three principals themselves who were never team players to start with. Spielberg keeps one foot outside of DreamWorks as he made films for other studios; Katzenberg was motivated by revenge toward his former employer The Walt Disney Co. and its then-CEO Michael Eisner; and Geffen was the least involved because, really, why did he need to. He was already a billionaire. This was a trio of men out of time, clinging to the old ways even as Hollywood transitioned into a new era. Spielberg’s vision for the Playa Vista studio complex never happened; Katzenberg’s love for traditional hand-drawn animation allowed rival studio Pixar to get the jump on CGI; and Geffen’s supervision of the music division was a throwback to his days as a record label owner when there was the luxury of time to develop talent and less emphasis on immediate hits. Oscar wins and critical acclaim came DreamWorks’s way (“American Beauty” and “Gladiator”) but there were also broken promises to its employees and the closing of the other divisions save for the feature films. Animation was spun off into a separate publicly-traded company which did get its state-of-the-art campus in Glendale. What remained of the company was eventually sold to Paramount, a marriage that turned into a disaster and dissolved in 2008. So Spielberg took the company private again, turning it into what LaPorte calls DreamWorks 2.0. With funding from Indian conglomerate Reliance Entertainment, distribution through Disney and operating in a rough economy this new DreamWorks exists on a smaller scale than its predecessor. If anything, “The Men Who Would Be King” is a behind-the-scenes look of when entertainment titans challenged the status quo and really believed they could do things differently regardless of the passions it provoked. DreamWorks was, LaPorte wrote in her summing up, the company you hated or loved. “DreamWorks didn’t do in between. Whatever anyone in Hollywood felt about the company, it was never, ever indifference. Or boredom. The place kept the town on its toes.” Local Filming The Warner Center area in Woodland Hills has been crawling with film crews the past few weeks. “Enlightened” with Laura Dern filmed in the lobby of a building at the Warner Center Towers, while “Criminal Minds” set up for shots in the courtyard. The TGI Friday’s at Canoga and Oxnard was taken over and closed for three days of filming. Reality shows “Family Projects” and “What’s Eating You” have also been filming in Woodland Hills in August. Digital Carson Clips from classic Tonight Show broadcasts featuring Johnny Carson are now available through the website www.johnnycarson.com. Carson hosted the late-night talk show for 30 years, with nearly 20 years worth of shows originating from the NBC Studios in Burbank. The Carson-era archive had been stored in salt mines in Kansas until 1999. Deluxe Archive Solutions in Hollywood took the footage and turned it into a digital format that would be easily accessible online. The Carson Entertainment Group, which controls licensing rights to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, has future plans to release a new DVD and deluxe collector’s box set, produced in association with Respond2 Entertainment. 3D Adoption Technicolor has now installed its 3D on film equipment in more than 250 screens in North America. Technicolor 3D began in theaters in March as a way for exhibitors to show 3D films at a cost lower than using digital projectors. The Technicolor system uses a special lens that fits over a standard 35mm projector to show 3D images. The Technicolor system is a cost-effective product with a superior 3D presentation, said Paul Wenger, vice president of Flagship Cinemas, which has theaters in New England, Pennsylvania and Florida. Staff Reporter Mark Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or by e-mail at mmadler@sfvbj.com.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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