DreamWorks Animation may soon be owned by the Japanese company SoftBank. SoftBank is in talks now to acquire the company. Masayoshi Son, SoftBank Chief Executive, it seems is intent on expanding the company’s exclusive content by adding DreamWorks Animation (DWA) to its roster. Jeffrey Katzenberg, DWA founder, has been looking for a buyer for his company for some time. Some of the company’s box office results, particularly opening weekend numbers (many DWA titles have gone on to hold their own over time) have come in under expectations.
As a publicly traded company, a movie studio is held to a much more stringent standard. In 2004, DWA spun off from DreamWorks SKG, the Spielberg, Katzenberg, Geffen partnership, and went public. If the deal goes through and DreamWorks Animation is owned by the Japanese company, it would not be unprecedented. Sony acquired Columbia pictures in 1989 and greatly expanded the company’s market share. Softbank may be yet another company following suit.
The question (hopefully not incidental) is whether the quality of the films have improved? No doubt these companies, whose roots extend from Wall Street, have put a lot more cushions in seats. However, is this overriding concern for market share and demographics, this bean-counting method of film making, where we see more and more paraphernalia and less and less attention to story? Is this now prevalent reality in the film industry responsible for that phenomenon most of us are very familiar with, of forgetting 5 minutes after, what the film you’ve just seen was about? More accurately, whether the movie has any substantive value for the money you just spent, other than your having been witness to the biggest explosion on film ever? Is the compelling feature in going to see a movie the desire to see a bigger car crash instead of learning something, like about ourselves and others?
The product offered today is what raises these questions. However, this is not a black and white issue. When a movie makes 270 million dollars and is considered a underperformer, art seems to take a hit upside the head. Hollywood history is rife with cases where directors, writers, and actors have compromised their time and talents to do a project, so that they have no affinity for in order to have the opportunity to be able to do something they care about they way it should be done. It is a constant struggle.
Ironically, the independent film market, which enjoys the reputation of producing films that the people making them care about, may ultimately be the mortar that holds these conglomerates together. Studios owned by Wall street, in their undeviating pursuit of market share, have realized the need for the injection of life that only comes from respect for story. Many of them have created smaller companies whose main goal is to find new, original talent. If DreamWorks Animation is soon to be owned by Japan’s SoftBank, they too will realize that in some fashion they will need to negotiate with artists committed to the work they’re trying to do. Hopefully, at some point, those artists will realize what power they actually have, in unison.
Blog By Nile Ford