A Dreamer Walking

The Men Who Would Be King

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on August 27, 2010

So I just finished the book The Men Who Would Be King, by Nicole Laporte. I did not go over  and highlight much of it or take notes, it was more of a book just to read. I did get to see Hollywood in a very different way, the book expresses some of the less then likable parts of Hollywood and how it functions. Most importantly the book showed how Hollywood is first and foremost a business.

The book is about three powerhouses in Hollywood, Jeffery Katzenberg, David Geffen, and Steven Spielberg, and their ambition to make the movie company Dreamworks become the “King” of Hollywood. The book gives you a detailed History of how Dreamworks got started, the visions Jeffery, David, and Steven had for the studio and eventually how and why most those visions did not really come to pass.

One of the three partners this books concentrates on is someone I very much look up to when it comes to film making. From a very young age I have been exhilarated and inspired by many of Steven Spielberg’s movies and his philosophy on what makes a good film. I have to admit that it is hard to see a person who you look up to, expressed in a fairly negative light. As great of a artist Steven is, there are places where he is very selfish. The power that comes with success can easily create a big ego, and it seems to happen with the best of them, even Steven. One of the reasons why Dreamworks failed in their goals is because the company had three heads that all wanted and were used to the spot light and were not prone to working together as equals.

All three Dreamworks partners said they wanted to create a company that put art first. However it is easy to say something like that, it is a whole lot harder to actually walk it out. Even though Steven, Jeffery, and David expressed that they wanted a artist driven studio, they did not put their money or their actions where their mouths were. Like almost every company in Hollywood there were double standards. Money seemed to be the biggest distraction from a artist driven studio. All three partners were billionaires and it was clear that their main concern was to become richer billionaires. When Steven directed a Dreamworks movie, he took huge amounts of the profit, instead of his movie company profiting from movies such as Minority Report, War of the Worlds, and Saving Private Ryan, they needed to give a greater portion of profits to Steven. Because Dreamworks was not getting nearly as much money from big hits like Saving Private Ryan, it was harder to invest in as many movies that were driven more from artistic grounds then commercial grounds.

Jeffery Katzenberg was put in charge of Dreamworks Animation. Jeffery was too worried about the audience to take any big risks. The principles and underlined messages of most his movies were usually quite shallow or toned way down. Jeffery relied mainly on gags and socially relevant (relevant today old fashioned tomorrow) humor to tell his stories. Story also was not put first in Jeffery’s mind. With the Dreamworks movie Antz Jeffery made his staff rush the production so they could get it out before Pixar’s A Bugs Life. With the Shrek sequels it was not a matter of having another story to be told, it was more about rushing a sequel because they knew it would make a easy profit. Jeffery, who had very little artistic education, was often a control freak with most of his movies, Jeffery was the one with the final say on what stays and what goes. When it comes to who knew how to create a good film, there were many people who were more qualified then Jeffery, however Jeffery wanted control.

It also seemed that most of the partners were not devoted to their company. When big films came up for Steven in other studios, such as Universals Lost World (the sequel to Jerrasic Park), Steven jumped ship. Geffen was more interested in keeping up his public image and enjoying himself as a multibillionaire, then to take a active role in his Dreamworks Company. The idea of owning a company seemed to be a bigger deal then the actual reality of owning a company for both Steven and Geffen.

What I got out of this book was this, you can make a  functional company if you have enough talent and money. Dreamworks has survived throughout the years and there has been success every once in a while. However, Dreamworks is not the “King” of Hollywood, they actually make just as many bad movies as any other company. The reason was because they did not have people who were devoted to a unified vision for the company. One thing that vision calls for is sacrifice, and that is something Steven, Jeffery, and David are not used to and seemed to be something they were unwilling to really do.

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