Monday, July 3, 2017

My Jeffrey Katzenberg Memo Part 1 (Do Good Work and You Will Be Rewarded)


Once upon a time, Jeffrey Katzenberg wrote a 28 page memo describing how he thought the industry was changing and by implication his mistakes of the recent past (or so it was reported at the time). I am not Jeffrey Katzenberg and this will not be a 28 page memo. It will however be a series of posts from time to time in which I describe some mistakes made that have gotten me where I am today. Many of these mistakes are intertwined, and have assumptions that may seem odd based on what we know today.  Some of these posts will also describe decisions I made later that I believe accurately describe reality (e.g. where the industry is going) but which may or may not be a mistake given that there are no alternatives.

The people who were involved with computer animation early felt (or some of us felt) that we had something to prove. People who mattered did not believe that computer animation would work or be worth anything. We are talking about the early 1980s here. If you do not understand that, then stop reading, because you will not be able to understand anything else I say.

So a bunch of us decided that we would prove that it did work and would do great things. There were a variety of nests of such people, several of them in LA, some in N. California, some in NY, some in Europe, etc. All of these people made sacrifices to be in this field, or at least most of them did.

I felt that I had a chance to have an impact early on and I decided to take that chance. I knew that unlike what later became Pixar, that we did not have the cash or the management to do this really well, but I figured that people would give us slack because of our good will and the situation. I figured that people would say, well if they could do this with $1.50, just think what they could do if they had real resources. It was also the case that none of this would have been possible if people (companies) had not supported us. In my case, this meant little consulting projects and genuine access to expensive hardware and other resources. At the time I knew that we could not rely on this for the future, but the hope was that we would do good work, deliver marketing value for our benefactors, and then hopefully things would become self financing.

To repeat, the fundamental assumption was that people would recognize our work, give us credit for it, and allow us to move to the next level when real projects and real capital became available. Well, it turns out that this is not what happened. We proved that things worked, but moving forward people did not give us credit for out work, many of us were not hired, we were no longer given the access to equipment or consulting (e.g. cash flow) that we had before.

So now, when people say, why not just do new work, my response is that when you are completely impoverished that is not a possibility. When you have no access to resources, you have to buy everything, and when you have no money that is not going to happen. Furthermore, every door slammed in my face 20 years ago.  Why that is, or was, is a long story and it is not very pleasant but it comes down to money. Some famous Greek once said, there is no person so brilliant that extreme poverty will not silence them. You were supposed to hire us, but you didnt.

Too bad, my mistake, I guess.

But this is not the entire story.  Some of us were not hired for reasons that are, in my opinion, problematic, but reasons nevertheless.  We will go over what some of these reasons are in a later post. Its not all "bad people failing to recognize our genius", there are other factors at work.

Neverthless, now when someone says “you must do a demo to prove that you can do this work” I laugh, bitterly. Been there, did that, didn't work. I would rather make a new mistake, rather than repeat an old one.


It turns out that this memo from Jeffrey was not a reflection on past mistakes, although that is how it was presented in the industry press that I read.  It was instead something else, as is completely obvious from reading it, which you may do here:

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