Q: The entire film industry is rushing to funnel content to everything from cell phones to wristwatches. How did you become the chief proponent of old-fashioned big-screen spectacles?
A: Itís not against my religion that our product find its way onto those devices, but yes, I have grown up on and I love the movie-theater experience. When several hundred people get into a room and the lights go downand it doesnít matter whether itís an action movie or a scary movie or a comedythere is an amazing chemistry that occurs when people have a shared experience of watching a great movie. They come with such optimism, every time, that theyíre going to get a great experience. Sometimes they do and sometimes they donít, but they come in ready to love.
Q: There are morals in a lot of your moviesin Shrek, that beautyís not skin deep; in this monthís Kung Fu Panda, that a belief in yourself can transform your life.
A: Movies are fables. I learned the lesson from Walt DisneyI still consider myself a student of his to this dayto have at the core of a movie something that relates to the trials and tribulations that we have in our lives. And you know, it doesnít cost us any more to do that.
Q: And Madagascar had an autobiographical element to itit had a lot to do with your growing up near the zoo.
A: Well, as a kid I loved visiting the Central Park Zoo in New Yorkit was an amazing place, and I always remember being so impressed with how pampered and well looked after and taken care of the animals seemedat least to me as a little kid. They got to live right off of Fifth Avenue, and they ate only the finest red meat. So the movie was sort of an imagining of what would happen if these pampered New Yorkers, because thatís what the animals represented to me, actually had to go back to the wild.
Q: Speaking of survival, at Disney you wrote the famous memo rebuking the movie business for forgetting its mission. Do you feel a similar urgency now?
A: No, I see this as a moment of tremendous opportunity. For the first time in 70 years thereís an innovation as transformational as when movies went from black-and-white to color: 3-D animation. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Jim Cameron, Bob Zemeckis, Peter Jacksonall of them are working in 3-D. They are the alphas of our tribe, and when all the alphas start to move, itís probably a good idea to follow.
Q: Thatís pretty good advice. Did anyone ever give you any words of wisdom?
A: At Paramount, Barry Diller told me you need to have the right to fail in order to succeed. Most great successes come from doing things that are original and unique and therefore risky. Starting DreamWorks with Steven [Spielberg] and David [Geffen] was obvious in terms of opportunity and at the same time a pretty crazy idea, in that no one had started a movie studio in 65 yearsat least not successfully.