No one, especially not any DreamWorks employees, knows what the future holds: Will there be mass layoffs? Who will run the studio creatively? Will the studio even continue to exist? Those are all questions that won’t be answered for some time.
But one thing is clear right now: DreamWorks Animation will never be the same studio again. Jeffrey Katzenberg built something unique from the ground-up, and that special thing that he created and nurtured will never exist again.
In the following guest essay by DreamWorks Animation technical director Nigel Tierney, we hear a personal perspective on the house that Jeffrey built and the one-of-a-kind company culture that he created.
“Thank You, Jeffrey Katzenberg” by Nigel W. Tierney
Today, I watched from a distance as Jeffrey Katzenberg left the DreamWorks Animation campus for the last time as our intrepid and beloved CEO. There was no pomp and circumstance; just a lonely JK, who slowly meandered over to his Tesla with a backpack hanging loosely over his shoulder. Please excuse the emotional stream of consciousness to follow.
Tomorrow will kickoff our first “Town Hall Meeting” with our new NBCUniversal leadership. This new replacement for our old “JK D-briefs” makes it difficult to not feel uncertain of the changes ahead. The only thing that I know for certain is that the NBCUniversal leadership has some very large, white sneakers to fill.
I initially started writing this wanting to say something brief to thank Jeffrey for all he has done for the movie industry, but I couldn’t talk about his accomplishments without selfishly personalizing it. For the past eight years that I have worked at DreamWorks, I have always known that Jeffrey fostered the most compelling environment that a corporation could offer.
Jeffrey was always accessible and it is his accessibility that I will miss the most. I appreciated it and tried to never take it for granted—whether it was from his daily JK Blog emails to more impressively just being able to stop and talk to him in the cafeteria about anything that this silly Irishman could conjure. I still can’t believe that I would easily and often send one of the most influential men in Hollywood emails that would immediately be met with a personal response. Emails such as a poorly Photoshopped flyer with Jeffrey as a leprechaun for a St. Patrick’s Day party I was throwing, gleefully asking if he found the flyer “too cheeky” and if he wanted to come? Even now on his last day, he happily obliged me by doing another Snapchat with me using the puppy filter. (I know I should have used the face swap filter instead, but that puppy filter is a classic.)
DreamWorks has both directly and indirectly been responsible for some of my biggest life moments. Moments like marrying the woman of my dreams, becoming the father of the coolest son, and creating some of the strongest friendships I have ever had. I have been at my heaviest weight from eating so much free food and have been at my healthiest weight from the on-campus bootcamp and the on-campus nutritionist (I’m currently somewhere in the middle). I helped organize the engagement of one of my best friends as Jeffrey let him fly a helicopter on campus. The fact that I could stay late after work with fellow DreamWorkers and subversively build a comedy club is not only a ridiculously exclusive perk, but is a true example of a “fun place to work,” hence why it is called the J/K Comedy Club.
DreamWorks has allowed me to learn and sculpt new passions, from taking my first improv class provided by the artistic development program to filming my first comedy sketch on campus with the film group. All of which sent me down a rabbit hole pursuing a life of comedy. I dressed as “Burning Man” Jeffrey while hosting a Halloween costume contest. I have tasted some of the finest whiskeys in the world thanks to the on-campus Whiskey Society. I have worked alongside artists who shaped my childhood. I witnessed President Obama address us and the nation. I have met a plethora of heroes/icons through Jeffrey’s hosted DreamTalks, movie premieres, artistic development talks, and just directly working with them. I rocked out to Hans Zimmer on a parking lot roof. I walked the red carpet with Dustin Hoffman and Jack Black, and even stole one of Justin Timberlake’s cookies. All thanks to Katz. Speaking of cookies, I will miss looking at Jeffrey’s signature on the card that will accompany my future birthday cookies.
Now as a husband and a dad, the DreamWorks family spirit is what matters to me the most. Dreamworks provides me with far more than the fundamental finances I need to support my family. The fact that I can take my wife and son on campus for a movie screening, to walk around exploring the koi pond, or just to grab a coffee and a cake-pop, has been so important to me and growing my relationship with my family. Even the most recent moment of joy I experienced with my three-year-old son this past weekend where he didn’t want to turn off the Kung Fu Panda 3 credits until he saw his Daddy’s name appear.
This post couldn’t possibly contain all the moments that I cherish, nor would you want to read them, but if you made it this far; I would like to finish by saying that all of this is not only because Jeffrey allowed it to happen at DreamWorks, but because he pursued it to happen. JK cultivated this type of engagement and culture, for which I am sincerely grateful.
Thank you very much, Jeffrey Katzenberg. You truly are admirable and I will greatly miss having you around.