Because the studio celebrates a quarter-century of recreation-changing films about beloved characters from Shrek to Toothless — amid “a lot of worry” through possession shifts — filmmakers are expanding their canvas (“taking a mode and twisting it”) and the studio leans laborious into TV’s global animation enhance.
When Margie Cohn first got here to DreamWorks Animation to produce its nascent TV change in 2013, she belief she became heading a department of about 5 of us — the crew who sat come her teach of job on the studio’s Mediterranean-model Glendale lot. Rapidly, however, Cohn learned that a neighborhood of writers who had been gathering on every day basis beside the campus’ burbling central fountain also had been below her purview. “The of us on the fountain basically didn’t believe a teach to sit down down down but, right some bullpen the assign they couldn’t basically work,” Cohn says. “And so that they had been working for me, I right didn’t know.” Cohn is now the president of all of DreamWorks Animation, and in a trace of how like a flash the studio’s television change has grown and change into central to the firm, TV this exhibit day represents roughly 40 p.c of the studio’s roughly 2,000 employees. And when TV writers sit down by the iconic fountain this exhibit day, it’s right to catch just a minute new air.
The studio has evolved dramatically since it originated in 1994 as a division of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen’s DreamWorks SKG, with Katzenberg on the helm. And the tempo of change has handiest accelerated since Katzenberg sold DWA to Comcast’s NBCUniversal for $3.8 billion in 2016, stepping faraway from the firm he built upon broadly appealing CG-inviting feature franchises esteem Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda which believe earned bigger than $15 billion on the worldwide field teach of job.
With DreamWorks marking its 25th anniversary this yr, the level of curiosity on the studio is squarely on the prolonged toddle, in an age when unique, sing-hungry streaming companies are fueling enhance and competitors.
Cohn, who had spent bigger than 20 years at Nickelodeon earlier than Katzenberg employed her, took over the studio’s top job in January, when a reorganization get movie and TV below one executive. In the three years since Katzenberg’s departure, DreamWorks has cycled through a series of leaders, first co-presidents Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria and then Chris De Faria. (Chris Meledandri, CEO of Universal’s other animation studio, Illumination, serves as an adviser to DreamWorks and is in an instant overseeing updates of the firm’s estimable Shrek and Puss in Boots properties.)
As parts continued adjustments in leadership and the studio became tantalizing hundreds in layoffs, Cohn quietly worked to meet an heroic deal DreamWorks signed in 2013 to present bigger than 300 hours of programming to Netflix. Amongst her department’s wins: collecting Emmys for series esteem Guillermo del Toro’s Trollhunters and earning a Netflix shareholder letter attaboy that known as Boss Toddler: Encourage in Replace one in all the streaming service’s “greatest children series ever.”
“Margie is change chief who operationally built the television change out of nothing,” says Universal Filmed Entertainment Team chairman Donna Langley, “and delivered award-successful, excessive-fine displays that stood alongside the DreamWorks parts for quite loads of years.”
Cohn’s movie strategy is accurate coming into focal level, alongside with her first two green lights presented Oct. 7, films that contemplate her intent to toddle a studio that attracts from a colossal vary of visual tactics and from DreamWorks intellectual properties. She expects to make two films a yr in the funds vary of How to Reveal Your Dragon: Hidden World ($120 million) and one every other yr in the $25 million to $35 million vary. “I am leaning into the truth that we don’t believe a house model,” Cohn says at some level of a September interview in her unique, no longer-but-adorned teach of job on the lot. “Being extra filmmaker-driven, so no longer making handiest one form of movie. I’ve done television for goodbye; my instincts are right so finely honed at this level. I’m developing my feature gut.”
One untitled 2021 movie, to be directed by first-time feature filmmaker Elaine Bogan, will negate the muse memoir of the characters in Spirit Using Free, a DreamWorks series for Netflix about the adventures of a girl and her horse that became itself inspired by the firm’s 2002 Oscar-nominated movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Cohn’s other feature green light is The Depraved Guys, an inviting capture on a heist movie, directed by French animator Pierre Perifel and in step with a simplest-promoting Scholastic e-book series.
“Historically, one thing that has been done well here is taking a mode and twisting it,” says Kristin Lowe, who joined the firm in February — in the newly created job of chief creative officer of movie — after 14 years at Universal Photos. “Kung Fu Panda is the comedy inviting plod on a Kung Fu movie, and Shrek is form of a fairy yarn corresponding to you’ve by no system viewed a fairy yarn. We fancy that as a paradigm.”
The newly presented parts near as DreamWorks’ most up-to-date movie, Awful, posted the supreme opening for an long-established inviting movie this yr, when it bowed Sept. 27 to $20.6 million domestic (it’s earned $76.3 million worldwide, $37.9 million of that domestically). The studio’s How to Reveal Your Dragon franchise concluded its movie trilogy in February below director Dean DeBlois after earning $1.6 billion on the worldwide field teach of job, spawning two TV series and a series of graphic novels and collecting three Oscar nominations (two for inviting feature and one for secure), with one other likely this awards season. More sequels are on the methodology, with Trolls World Tour opening in April and Boss Toddler 2 teach to shut in March 2021.
In television, the studio has unique displays in step with Universal properties — Snappily & Mad: Be taught Racers and Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous — both heading to Netflix, as well to the final series in del Toro’s Wizards trilogy. “I don’t contemplate Universal became basically centered on our TV change at some level of the acquisition,” says Peter Gal, who became named DreamWorks chief creative officer of TV in February. “They had been basically centered on parts. After which when they looked below the hood, they had been esteem, ‘Oh, wow, here is a transformation we don’t believe, this TV animation change.’ They’ve been unbelievably supportive by asserting, ‘Yes, let’s dive into our Universal IP. Let’s search for at how we’re expanding that and expanding our viewers.’ ”
In 2001, when Cohn became working at Nickelodeon, “I’ll by no system put out of your mind seeing Shrek in a theater and thinking, every little thing has changed,” she says. “It right felt so as a lot as date, irreverent, racy in a strategy that I hadn’t viewed earlier than. And but, it became aloof yarn and sharp, and the animation became solutions-blowing. Seeing a Starbucks joke in an inviting movie felt very hip on the time.”
At the time, DreamWorks became standing in opposition to that other large animation studio right three miles away — Disney — and to Disney’s upstart competitor and eventual company sibling to the north, Pixar. Katzenberg based DreamWorks after presiding over a renaissance at Walt Disney Animation Studios in the gradual ’80s and early ’90s, the generation that delivered hits esteem The Lion King and Aladdin, which Disney’s stay-action arm is now harvesting for one other generation of moviegoers. At DreamWorks, Katzenberg became freed of about a of the Burbank studio’s hallmark credos.
“The spirit of DreamWorks became various from my ride at Disney,” says DeBlois, who started as a storyboard artist on the megastudio in 1994 and decamped for DreamWorks in 2007. “They seem like bolder here. I stumbled on myself in early conferences asserting, ‘Genuinely? Can children be carrying around sharpened weapons? Are we going to catch letters from fogeys?’ And that became right form of the Disney practising. There became just a minute bit of caution-to-the-wind side here.”
Disney’s recent pass to preserve up abet its sing for its quickly-to-delivery streaming service, Disney+, has created unique opportunities for DreamWorks, Cohn says, noting that her studio is now supplying displays to Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. “They spread out extra valid estate on the opposite streamers for us to promote to,” Cohn says. “That you just can like apt things? Arrive to DreamWorks.” One other doable house for the studio’s sing, NBCUniversal’s procure streaming service, Peacock, will delivery in the spring. “I’m in a position to be very bowled over — at a firm that values symphony so very highly — if all of us weren’t provocative come what might in providing sing for Peacock,” Cohn adds.
Moreover Disney, the opposite looming entity at DreamWorks became continuously Katzenberg himself — publicly, he became an impresario for the firm, dreaming up wild stunts esteem flying Jerry Seinfeld onto the Croisette at Cannes in a bee costume to promote 2007’s Bee Movie. Slack the scenes, he inspired a combination of loyalty and agita alongside with his obsession over ingredient.
“Jeffrey is the most disciplined, the most relentless driver of the restrict between the movie and the viewers,” says del Toro, who would capture part in test screenings for parts he became consulting on, esteem Rise of the Guardians and Kung Fu Panda 2. “He acknowledged to me, ‘See the squirm meter. If a baby begins squirming, we’ve purchased to know why we lost his consideration or her consideration.’ ”
Even a pair of executives later, Cohn aloof has the unenviable task of following Katzenberg’s expansive personality. Nonetheless she has various tricks up her sleeve — she studied gorgeous art on the Deliver College of Modern York at Binghamton and relates to filmmakers and animators, del Toro says, esteem an artist. That ideas when they ask come-feature-fine animation contained in the tighter budgets and time frames of television, an negate the studio has been ready to meet in segment by outsourcing the overall animation on its TV productions to studios international. “She became extraordinarily inclined to the premise of pushing the animation on our displays,” del Toro says. “Margie understands artistically and fiscally the assign we’re going.”
Del Toro’s subsequent inviting movie, Pinocchio, is being made at Netflix, he says, because it’s dependent upon a close-traipse technique that DreamWorks doesn’t use, however he maintains an teach of job on the DreamWorks lot and supreme yr signed a multiyear address the studio to proceed to jot down, make and order films and TV. The management u.s.a.and downs haven’t rattled him. “I believe just a minute island over there,” he says. “I haven’t felt a shift in the sands, you realize? I’m in a position to allege safely that the series believe operated with the most genteel new system any individual has ever viewed. I catch presumably one new per yr.”
As Netflix has begun to produce its procure animation department and the animation change is important at some level of the sphere, one in all Cohn’s greatest priorities is fostering and keeping skill. The TV department and DreamWorks’ shorts program, which launched its first two films final yr, believe served as a form of farm system for the studio. “When I jumped over into TV and started directing, I became straight away anticipated to begin studying every single department,” says director Bogan, who started on the studio as a myth artist in 2005 and worked on the Netflix displays earlier than stepping as a lot as helm the untitled Spirit feature this yr. “In every single teach from script through storyboarding, animation, layout, lights, final mix. All of that stuff I needed to adore in a extraordinarily quick amount of time. And I right purchased to entire it over and over and over except I felt chuffed.”
Section of the entice for skill nowadays has been DreamWorks’ colossal vary of animation and storytelling styles. Katzenberg historical to believe a asserting at some level of the studio when CG animation became reducing edge: “If it became straightforward, all people will probably be doing it.” “Now, all people appears to be like to be doing it,” says Tom McGrath, who directed the Madagascar films and Boss Toddler and is at work on Boss Toddler 2. “All people’s using the identical instruments. So the expansive terror is that each these films originate to seem for alike. Some studios close the identical ingredient, over and over and all another time. And that’s the emblem. Fluctuate [of storytelling] also will probably be unpleasant, because then of us bound, ‘Oh, DreamWorks made that?’ ”
The How to Reveal Your Dragon series established a brand unique mannequin at DreamWorks of films driven as considerable by emotion as wit. When then head of creative manufacturing and construction Invoice Damaschke (who left the studio in 2015) recruited Awful director Jill Culton from Sony Photos Animation to DreamWorks in 2010, it became with the promise that she will probably be free to work outside of what had change into her unique studio house’s trademark — comedies esteem Shrek and Madagascar which will probably be weighted down with popular culture references. “I saved telling [Damaschke], ‘I’m no longer basically particular I negate these styles of reviews,’ ” Culton recalls. “He acknowledged, ‘No, no, no, near accept as true with an early screening of How to Reveal Your Dragon.’ I saw the movie and I became esteem, ‘Oh, my gosh, they are making films in the model that I felt esteem I also can negate.’ And so I felt esteem there became a teach for me.”
Maintaining that ethos became customarily complicated amid the turbulence of recent years, namely at some level of layoffs in 2014 and the 2015 closure of the firm’s PDI studio in Redwood City, California, that preceded the Comcast acquisition. “There became a lot of worry for folk,” Cohn says. “That became basically laborious because DreamWorks is a culture that’s tight.”
Nonetheless Cohn believes her firm has turned a corner. “As soon as the acquisition happened, we became segment of a extraordinarily stable change,” she says of Comcast. “They procure theme parks. They believe a shopper merchandise change. Their marketing and distribution is one in all the supreme. They had been ready to leverage their catalog to assist us negotiate unique deals. All of sudden we didn’t basically feel tenuous anymore.”
Antz to Awful, 25 Years of Gargantuan Needs and Deals
DreamWorks has danced with a pair of studio and creative companions to produce its blockbuster (and Oscar-heavy) résumé.
Oct. 12, 1994: The animation studio is based as a division of Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen’s DreamWorks SKG.
Oct. 2, 1998: DWA’s first movie, Antz, that includes Woody Allen as the dispute of an anxious employee ant, grosses $171.8 million worldwide.
March 21, 1999: DWA wins its first Oscar, simplest long-established song for “When You Remember” from The Prince of Egypt.
Might perhaps well 18, 2001: The inviting fairy yarn Shrek is launched; this will likely bound on to fetch the Academy’s first inviting feature Oscar and to begin DreamWorks’ first franchise, in the end ending up with 5 films (in conjunction with Puss in Boots) that injurious bigger than $3.5 billion worldwide — to this level. Shrek is amongst the DWA properties now below Illumination chief Chris Meledandri’s purview, and well-known person Eddie Murphy tells THR, “I might perhaps close [the character] Donkey eternally. I contemplate Shrek is one in all the supreme things I became fascinated by.”
Might perhaps well 19, 2004: Shrek 2, which remains the studio’s perfect-grossing movie at $919.8 million worldwide, arrives in theaters.
Oct. 27, 2004: The animation studio is spun off accurate into a public firm with Katzenberg on the helm and Spielberg and Geffen remaining in diminished roles as investor-consultants.
Jan. 30, 2006: DWA enters a distribution settlement with Paramount Photos, which has received inclined parent and distribution accomplice DreamWorks SKG.
March 13, 2007: With Katzenberg as an early champion of stereoscopic 3D, DWA publicizes that this will likely delivery all its films in 3D, initiating with 2009’s Monsters vs. Aliens.
Might perhaps well 17, 2007: Jerry Seinfeld alights on the shoreline at Cannes in a fuzzy bumblebee bound well with to promote Bee Movie in one in all Katzenberg’s signature marketing moments.
2010: The studio begins its relationship with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who will bound on to consult on a pair of movie franchises, in conjunction with Kung Fu Panda, and manufacture DWA series Trollhunters for Netflix.
July 23, 2012: DWA acquires Classic Media and with it characters Casper the Gracious Ghost and Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
Aug. 20, 2012: After bidding by Sony and Fox, DWA enters a distribution settlement with Fox for worldwide theatrical, house video and global TV. Might perhaps well 1, 2013 DWA acquires AwesomenessTV, which started as a YouTube channel for youths and preteens.
June 17, 2013: The studio signs a address Netflix promising bigger than 300 hours of most up-to-date programming. (Below, Katzenberg celebrates series Turbo FAST’s premiere with Ted Sarandos in December of that yr.)
April 28, 2016: Comcast publicizes NBCUniversal plans to device DWA for $3.8 billion, with Katzenberg stepping apart.
Nov. 13, 2017: DWA creates a shorts program that might relief as a form of boot camp for filmmakers.
Might perhaps well 2, 2018: The firm signs a deal making Hulu the distinctive U.S. streaming house for future theatrical releases.
July 16, 2018: A Netflix earnings report singles out The Boss Toddler: Encourage in Replace as one in all its “greatest children series ever.” The studio currently has 20 series streaming on Netflix, with one other six teach for 2020-2021.
July 27, 2018: DWA sells AwesomenessTV to Viacom for $25 million plus debt, a steep good deal from the digital firm’s 2016 valuation of $650 million and from the roughly $100 million DWA paid for it.
Jan. 9, 2019: DWA TV head Margie Cohn is named president of the studio, changing Chris DeFaria in a reorganization that places the firm’s movie and television units below one exec.
Feb. 22, 2019: Universal releases its first DWA movie, How to Reveal Your Dragon: The Hidden World, a likely Oscar nominee and conceivable winner.
Sept. 22, 2019: After its Toronto Movie Pageant premiere, Awful opens at $20.6 million domestically, 2019’s simplest bow for an long-established inviting movie.
This memoir appears to be like in the Oct. 9 problem of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click on here to subscribe.