Exclusive Interview : Jeffrey Katzenberg

Clint Morris talks to Dreamworks’ CEO about “Bee Movie”

Jeffrey Katzenberg is one of the biggest names – if not the biggest – in family films. As a partner in Dreamworks animation (with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen), the veteran producer has given us such landmark family film franchises as the ‘’Shrek’’ series, ‘’Chicken Run’’ and ‘’Shark Tale’’. His studios’ latest film is Bee Movie, a CGI treat written by and featuring the voice of TV fave, Jerry Seinfeld. CLINT MORRIS caught up with Katzenberg on a recent promo tour in Australia.

‘’Bee Movie’’ is terrific – and I mean it, you’ve given us a decent family film that’s just as enjoyable for the adults, as it is the kids. Is that something you have to consider when making these films?
We go out of our way to make them entertaining for kids but with films like Bee Movie, where we have Jerry Seinfeld, the films work on a couple of different levels.

And did [Jerry] come in and pitch you?
Yes. It was his original idea. I’d been chasing him for ten to twelve years to do something – he was always very polite and said ‘No’. And then he came up with his own idea, and I said yes.

And was the pitch the movie that’s on our screens now?
Yeah, very much so.

And he always wanted to play the lead character?
Oh yeah, Barry B.Benson. And that, I think, is very much a signature of Jerry – the TV show [Seinfeld] was him, the stand-up is him, and the animated movie is him. He doesn’t consider himself an actor, he considers himself him. It’s very natural for him so he doesn’t feel like he’s acting.

How long between the pitch and now?
Four years.

Wow. So is that about the general length of time it takes to make one of these movies?
To do an original one it takes about four years – or four and a half years.

And even with the advances in technology it still takes that long?
Oh yeah, it’s very labour intensive – every frame, everything you see has to be perfect.

They’re looking better and better all the time these films.
Yeah, the technology does keep changing very rapidly.

And I was reading that you’re a big champion of 3-D?
Yeah, I think it’s going to have a huge impact. It’s very exciting.

Now when you talk 3-D, you’re not going to do something like ‘’Jaws 3-D’’ are you? The uncomfortable glasses and all that?
No. I always refer to that as our father’s 3D. 3D today is a level of technical innovation that is really dazzling. The effect of what you’re able to create with these tools is amazing – the change is as big as when we went from black and white to colour. It’s that big of a deal.

And what about 2D? Has it still got a place in today’s film-world?
Well, I like 2D, but I’m excited right now about the opportunities we have with 3D.

I think it’ll open up a lot of doors for filmmakers – [James] Cameron’s working with 3D, I believe?
Yes. He’s doing a live-action movie.

Are you working on anything 3D at the moment?
Everything we’re doing starting in 2009 will be in 3D. Our first movie is Monsters Vs. Aliens.

Aren’t you doing “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”?
We’re developing that yes. It’s a wonderful story. Still in development. Our director is Rob Minkoff, who I worked with on The Lion King. I’m very excited to be back and working with him.

Now back to ‘’Bee Movie,’’ how do you go getting someone Ray Liotta (who plays himself in the movie) involved?
Jerry ran into him on the street. Ray said ‘What are you working on?’ Jerry said ‘I’m doing this animated movie’. Ray said ‘Put me in it’. You can’t give Ray too much credit for the fact that he has a sense of humour about himself. He really allowed himself to get in there and basically do a parody of himself. They takes a pretty self-assured confident person to do that. We loved having him.

You guys had me at that moment – when I saw Ray Liotta, that was it!
And Sting!

Yeah, Sting [Laughs]. And obviously, that’s supposed to be Winnie the Pooh there near the end of the film?
Well…. An homage.

It’s as close as you can get without Walt walking around to Dreamworks and knocking on your door?
I know. [Laughs]

Aside from Jerry, you have a great voice cast. Is it important to you to have such great voice casts in your films?
I don’t know whether you have to have it, but for Dreamworks animation it’s become one of the signatures for our movies. We always enjoy having great actors, particularly comedians, because I think they bring a level of talent to these films that is quite unique. Kids don’t know who Jerry Seinfeld is, it doesn’t matter to them, but for the adult audience this is like a long-lost friend we haven’t seen in ten years. It’s just thrilling for them.

And don’t forget his old ‘’Seinfeld ‘’comrade, Patrick Warburton, who’s in the film too!
Yes exactly.

He is fantastic in family films – he just that voice. Will you use him more?
Oh I’m sure we will.

Are you doing more ‘’Shrek’’?
Yeah, we’re working on it now, so it’ll be 2010 – and it’ll be in 3D.

So when you say 3D are you going to have a 3D version and a normal version?
Yes, but the primary way in which it’ll be shown is 3D.

Kinda what they’re doing with ‘’Beowulf’’?
Hopefully by then there will be many, many, many, many more theatres.

Is it called ‘’Shrek goes Fourth’’?
Yep, Shrek goes Fourth – Shrek goes out into the world, forth! A little play on words.

And Mike Myers still isn’t tired of playing Shrek?
Nah, he loves it. The entire cast are onboard for 4 and 5. It’s very much been a great franchise for all of us.

And talking of franchises is Jerry eyeing a ‘’Bee Movie’’ franchise?
I don’t know – I don’t have the courage to ask him right now [Laughs].

So, in other words, you guys are but you don’t know about Jerry?
Have you ever run a marathon? Its 26.2 miles. So to ask Jerry Seinfeld today whether he’s interested in doing a sequel is like asking someone who has just crossed the finished line in a marathon whether they wanted to run again. If they had the energy they’d club you to death.

You’d like to see [a sequel] though?
Anything he’d like to do – working with him has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career. If he wants to play again, I certainly would.

There are a lot of good characters in ‘’Bee Movie’’ that you could spin-off into their own films too.
Lots of different possibilities.

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