“We roll big here,” he says. “We’ve been doing this a long time.”
Katzenberg has been a Cannes Film Festival regular for two decades. He’s frequently premiered DreamWorks’ summer releases here, held stunts to capture the attention of the international media, and preached the gospel of 3-D ahead of its resurgence to the gathered movie industry. He has felt the adulation and the sting of Cannes’ passionate audiences.
“I have had both,” says Katzenberg with a smile. “I’ve never had an animation film booed. I’ve had live-action.”
On Friday, the Cannes Film Festival will celebrate the 20th anniversary of DreamWorks Animation with the premiere of “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” the upcoming 3-D sequel to the 2010 original about a Viking boy (Jay Baruchel) and his pet dragon, Toothless.
“It feels pretty surreal because I don’t feel like it’s 20 years,” says Katzenberg. “We’re so much a work-in-progress it doesn’t feel like a milestone, in a way. If anything, it feels like the end of act one in a three-act play. We right now, more than any time, have so much opportunity ahead of us.”
It hasn’t been easy going of late for DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., which Katzenberg co-founded with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen in 1994. All of the major studios now have robust cartoon franchises, taking up more of the family audience pie. Three of DreamWorks’ last four releases have flopped: the recent time-traveling “Peabody & Sherman,” the holiday release “Rise of the Guardians” and 2013’s snail tale “Turbo.”
In “Dragon 2,” Katzenberg hopes he has a better chance after the Oscar-nominated original grossed nearly $500 million worldwide. The sequel, Katzenberg believes, benefits from what he calls “a game-changer for animation” – a new, more intuitive animation tool dubbed Apollo that allows artists to digitally render in greater detail.
But the rocky box-office for DreamWorks has perhaps contributed to Katzenberg looking elsewhere for revenue. He recently made headlines for remarking at a Beverly Hills corporate conference that movies are not a growth business. He suggested that in five years, studio films might only play in theaters for three weekends, and would then be sold at various prices according to screen size and time after release.
that Katzenberg’s remarks stirred consternation in an industry struggling with the rise of digital entertainment and television’s newfound cachet. But they were also challenged by people like Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who pointed to international box office as a big grower.
“The movie business is a very, very good business,” Katzenberg clarified. “The only point I was making is if you look at the traditional side of movie theater and home video, those businesses have been low single-digit growth. That’s not a growth industry or a growth business. But there are so many opportunities around movies – which was the other point I made. Movies have never been seen by more people around the globe than they are right now.”
DreamWorks has looked to expand into other media realms. Last year it acquired the YouTube network AwesomenessTV and signed a pact with Netflix to supply 300 hours of exclusive programming based on DreamWorks Animation characters. Earlier this month, it launched DreamWorksTV, a YouTube channel for kids. DreamWorks is also developing theme parks and pushing aggressively into China.
Katzenberg says he still believes strongly in the power and profitability of the theatrical movie business, but “the rest of the enterprise around movie watching is going to go through giant, giant changes.”
“The question is: What happens after movies leave the movie theater?” he says. “We make our movies to be seen.