Jeffrey Katzenberg provides thoughts on business, life philosophies at SU forum

The DreamWorks CEO and co-founder muses on media distribution, film innovation and success at the USA Today CEO Forum.

Once all the seats in the Hergenhan Auditorium were filled, the enormous level of interest in USA Today’s CEO Forum was apparent when students unsuccessfully attempted to sit on the aisle stairs to view the session.

The focus of the attention was DreamWorks Animation SKG CEO and co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who formed the media company alongside fellow icons Steven Spielberg and David Geffen after acrimoniously splitting from The Walt Disney Company in the mid-'90s.

Photo: Marina Zarya
During an interview with USA Today's Mike Snider (left) Wednesday at the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg talked to an audience about storytelling, technology and the future movie experiences.

Both those in attendance and those watching a livestream of the event from televisions throughout Newhouse were treated to an intimate look into the personal and professional life of Katzenberg. Topics of discussion ranged from technical topics such as distribution methods and the future of media dissemination, to the business and life philosophies shared by both Katzenberg and DreamWorks.

Newhouse School dean Lorraine Branham began the forum with introductions of both Katzenberg and USA Today technology and entertainment reporter Mike Snider, who led the questioning for the event. A short film followed, with scenes from DreamWorks films such as Shrek and Kung-Fu Panda, intercut with testimonials from members of the DreamWorks creative team singing the praises of the company’s innovative work.

Snider often asked Katzenberg to highlight the unique features of DreamWorks, such as a lush corporate culture that offers three meals a day on-site, as well as doctors and nutritionists for employees to utilize.

To him, the reason for cultivating such a rich work environment is simple. “It’s giving people a sense of pride,”Katzenberg said. “If people love their work, they have the best tools in the world to accomplish that work.”

When pressed about DreamWorks’ strategy for staying on the cutting edge of the animation and film industries, Katzenberg mused about the company’s successful combination of technical prowess and boundless creativity. “We can say to storytellers, ‘There’s no limitations to your imagination,'” Katzenberg said.

He revealed DreamWorks is deep into the production of an entirely new software platform that will advance the current state of 3D-animation by imbuing it with the “pure, emotive element” characteristic of hand-drawn 2D-animation. Such attributes have been difficult to achieve in 3D-animation, “but that’s gonna change,” he said. The sequel to How To Train Your Dragon, slated for a 2014 release, will be the first DreamWorks film to utilize the new software.

When Snider asked Katzenberg if he felt the new wave of popularity for 3D in films has been a success, he declared it a “mixed bag.” He feels that ultimately, the technology hadn’t been mastered yet by the industry as a whole. “We’re only beginning to see the possibilities of it,” he said.

Katzenberg predicted that 10 years from now, going to a movie theater to see a film would be “a high-end experience." He believes consumers will instead purchase their media “by the inch,” meaning that the price for purchasing visual media, such as a movie, will scale according to the size and quality of the medium on which it is viewed. “This will move us into a market radically different than the one today,” he said.

Snider’s question asking for Katzenberg’s opinion on the economy led him to look to the past while ruminating on the country’s financial woes. “It’s hard to fathom the depth of the hole that we found ourselves in 2007 and 2008,” Katzenberg said. In regard to the future, he felt that the upcoming election still won’t change some of the hard truths about the recession. “I don’t care who’s in the White House, we’re going to be in for a very slow recovery,” he said.

Snider opened up questioning to the audience at the end of the forum. Many of the questions requested some professional insight and post-graduation advice, and Katzenberg asked students to take the initiative. “There’s no best step, just a step. Take it,” he said. “Get in the stream, then exceed expectations.”

In a broad sense, Katzenberg attributed his success to two of his life philosophies. “First, give 110 percent in everything that you do,” he said. “No matter what job I had, I have always tried to exceed the expectations of the people I was doing it for.”

Secondly, he emphasized to the audience they need to believe in themselves. “If you don’t believe that you’re good or that you’re going to succeed, why would anyone else?” Katzenberg asked. “Personally, I don’t believe in the word ‘no.’ I don’t like it, I don’t accept it, and I always try to work around it.”

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