Daily Beast contributor and former Variety reporter LaPorte penetrates the mysterious inner workings of DreamWorks, the audacious entertainment empire that promised to change Hollywood upon its inception in 1994.
The brainchild of media titans David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks positioned itself as a new kind of studio, dedicated to talent and free of the constraints of the prevailing Tinseltown corporate culture. Its true purpose, as emerges in LaPorte’s lively account, was to serve the egos of its principles: Geffen, the wrathful and distant superagent; Spielberg, resident-genius director and avuncular nice guy; and Katzenberg, the tireless, micromanaging executive, eager to re-establish himself after a disastrous falling out with Disney, where The Lion King and The Little Mermaid had made his name as the man who revived feature animation. The story here is largely Katzenberg’s, as Spielberg and Geffen preferred to hold themselves above the fray of studio politics and practical operations. Katzenberg, on the other hand, was a bear for this work—wags liked to joke that DreamWorks had been created to provide him with a job—and it was his animation projects that brought the faltering company its biggest hits (the Shrek franchise) and costliest disasters (Sinbad, The Road to El Dorado). LaPorte marshals an awesome body of research to vividly depict DreamWorks’ confused identity, the personality conflicts and ego clashes that raged behind the company’s friendly, low-key exterior and the staggering sums of money lost and won and outright wasted as the company repeatedly scaled back its grandiose plans to be all media to all people to focus on producing movies—in the process becoming just another studio. Behind-the-scenes glimpses at the productions of such signature DreamWorks films as American Beauty and Gladiator are wonderfully diverting Hollywood dirt, but the heart of the story is simple human ambition. Stories of Katzenberg’s toxic and litigious relationship with former boss and Disney honcho Michael Eisner, Geffen’s mission to destroy agent Michael Ovitz and the rivalry between DreamWorks Animation and Disney’s Pixar are fascinating for their insights into the ways petty personal issues are expressed in multibillion-dollar transactions. In Hollywood, it seems, business is always personal.
A gripping account of money, ambition and the movies…same as it ever was.