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Why Jeffrey Katzenberg Says He’s His Own Worst Critic

Why Jeffrey Katzenberg Says He's His Own Worst Critic

Jeffrey Katzenberg is a curious creature at Cannes: As an experience, he considers it second to none. “I cannot wait to be on that red carpet,” he said Saturday morning on the Carlton Terrace, hours before the out-of-competition world premiere of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” “There’s nothing like it. The motorcycle police escort, live television in France… it’s about the filmmakers. The stars are secondary. It’s the cinema, not movies.”

At the same time, while he acknowledges the talent on display, he claims no specific interest in the filmmakers of Cannes — and will regard you a little oddly for asking. “I watch everything and see everything, but our filmmakers don’t come from new up-and-coming talent that reveals itself here,” he said. “That’s not what I spend my time doing here.”

So, what does Katzenberg do in Cannes? Well, in the hour he spent with Indiewire he extolled the virtues of HTTYD2,  and made a hard assessment of the factors changing the way he makes movies. 

He believes in movies, as movies.

“That is a cinema experience,” he said of HTTYD2. “It’s a movie-theater experience. It’ll be seen on (picks up his iPhone) this. People are gonna watch it on this. That doesn’t offend me, it’s just not who we made it for. If they can enjoy, it god bless them and if we get paid for it, that’s all good too.”

He loves his work, but it was an arranged marriage. 

Katzenberg said “I have the greatest job in the world,” but wholly acknowledges it was forced upon him by Michael Eisner when he was an executive at Disney. 

“I wasn’t even following my skill, I was following my orders,” he said. “I did my job. I really did dive in. We have to make animated movies, we’re Disney. I went in and learned about it and as I went in I became completely charmed by it and fell in love with it. But I was there by necessity, it wasn’t really an option for me.”

Katzenberg has a mancrush on Netflix. 

He believes post-theatrical revenues will continue climbing, and while other platforms will emerge, Netflix will be difficult to unseat. “Netflix is still growing faster than any other service. Netflix is a blockbuster platform with an amazing amount of runway still in front of it,” he said. “They have a phenomenal model, they have an incredible price-value proposition, they have an extraordinary first-mover advantage with scale and size that’s going to be extremely hard for someone else to jump in,” he said. “That’s not to say that other windows and other delivery platforms might come along, but nothing exists today that’s going to give them a run for their money.”

He worries a lot about the competition…

When it comes to box-office success, “There are three pieces to the equation,” he said. “There’s the playability of the movie, there’s the marketability of the movie, and there’s the availability of your audience. In my opinion, two of those things have changed meaningfully in the last 18-24 months and we’ve not been fast enough to adjust to those changes. Up until 18 months-2 years ago, if we made a good movie, and it played well, we opened to $40-$60 million and we got a four multiple.

“Three years ago, ‘Peabody and Sherman’ would have opened to $45 million and we would have made a nice little profit on it,” he said. “Today, that doesn’t happen.” 

…and sometimes, the competition can include “Hangover 2.” 

While DWA’s target audience is the younger set (HTTYD2 is rated PG), Katzenberg is keenly aware that competition for their attentions stretches well beyond Pixar. “The four-quadrant films are not competing for the youngest part of our audience, but they’re competing for four-fifths of our audience,” he said. “There’s no more G. PG-13’s G. That’s a huge change. By the way, this has been true in the live-action business for 10 years, it’s just caught up with us now. We were in our own walled garden. We competed against other animation, but the audience was happy to consume each and every one of them. 

“(Today), I don’t think these films would do well if they came on the week of, week before, week after, a Marvel movie, a ‘Transformers,’ ‘Superman.’ I was blown away a couple of years ago when ‘Hangover 2’ came out and there were six-, seven-, eight-year-olds going to this R-rated movie! We have to be much more flexible about our release dating and have to really take into account that if a family of four goes to ‘Captain America’ and spends $50, you can’t expect that the next weekend they’re ready to spend $50 more on one of our movies unless it’s exceptional. People don’t have unlimited resources.”

After the $57 million writedown on “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” he’s hard on himself, and very aware of the pressure on DWA for a hit.

” ‘Mr. Peabody’ is an 80 on Rotten Tomatoes, it was an A on Cinemascore, A+ for under 18 years old,” he said. “(But) the idea for ‘Mr. Peabody…’ I think Fox and our team did a good job marketing the movie, but I think the fundamental idea itself was more limited than ‘Dragons.’ 

“I promise you, there’s nobody who’s more critical of us than me,” he said. “I take it very personally when we’re not on our A game and I don’t blame it on anybody other than myself. I accept it and say, we have to do better, I have to do better, and the good news I think I know how and I think I know the adjustments that need to be made.”

Really hard on himself.

“I’m angry at myself for not seeing it sooner and not dealing with it sooner, but I know our best years are ahead of us,” he said. “I feel really, really confident about that. I think the next three or four years are going to soar for the company and these are speed bumps along the way. And because I take it so personally, and I have a very healthy ego about it, that’s all good. It fires me up. It pisses me off at myself and says, ‘Listen, jerk!'”

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