Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Adios, Jeffrey

Mr. Katenberg bids farewell to his troops:

... As I've said to many of you over the past week, my work is my happiness. And for 22 years, my happiness has been DreamWorks. But DreamWorks isn't the beautiful campus, the fountain, the panini maker or even the movies, TV shows and incredible entertainment we've created together.

To me, DreamWorks is all of you, the people, who have made it all happen over the years, and who will continue to do so after I drive through those gates for the last time.

But, as Jakob Jensen, a longtime colleague of ours recently reminded me (via Dr Seuss): "don't cry because it's over, be happy because it happened." ...

Jeffrey K. has been heavily involved with the making of cartoon features ever since he rolled onto the Disney lot in the mid eighties and Michael Eisner said to him, "See that building? It's filled with animators. They're your problem now."

Mr. Katzenberg had a seriously successful run creating hand-drawn cartoons at Walt Disney Productions, then more hand-drawn features at DreamWorks Animation. When CG came in, he leaped the great divide and became one of the leaders of the CG revolution. (There was Pixar, there was DreamWorks Animation, and then there was Blue Sky Studios).

DreamWorks Animation had a run of twenty hit pictures in a row, then hit a rough patch. One under-performer followed another, and corporate cash flow ebbed. The studio sold its physical lot in Glendale and then leased the property back, gaining badly needed working capital in the process. Jeffrey K., taking a cue from Uncle Walt's 1950s business model, diversified the stand-alone company, moving it into television, the internet, merchandising and amusement parks. (The only thing DreamWorks Animation didn't take from the earlier Disney model was getting into live-action features.)

Jeffrey spent years working to find a buyer for his cartoon studio, but one deal after another failed to reach consummation. With the rapid construction of a television animation division providing content for Netflix (an earlier version had fizzled out in the middle 1990s) DreamWorks slowly turned itself around. Then Universal Comcast came knocking, a merger was reached, and Jeffrey found himself exiting the company he had helped found.

So for the first time in thirty-plus years, Jeffrey Katzenberg will be a mogul without a big-time movie studio. But please keep your crying hankies pocketed, for Mr. K. was given a nice chunk of change prior to departure. And he's still in his sixties, so there is time for him to grow yet another corporation.

And no doubt he will.


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