Monday, August 22, 2016

Starts and Endings

Old Art + Design building on left, new one under construction on right

APSU Fall Semester Starts

Well, it's a heck of a few milestones today.  I'm beginning my second year as an Animation Professor at APSU.  It's interesting that it feels normal now, not like I was just taking a vacation from the industry for awhile.  Speaking of vacations - having a summer off is pretty damn amazing.  We got a family trip to Walt Disney World in to cash in Heather's free passes from Disney that were going to expire.  I still taught an online class, but I spent almost all of each day hanging out with my two boys.  A rare and amazing and exhausting opportunity that I am so, so lucky to be able to indulge.  It also allowed for my wife to take on an insane amount of awesome freelance work.

It also marks the end of comparing everything to what we were doing "a year ago".  The past year all the big milestones seemed like ones showcasing the change we made.  How was Halloween different in Burbank than here, and the constant assurance to ourselves we made the right choice.  Marking the week that was our last ones at DreamWorks and Disney.  Thinking that it's been one year since any of us were on a plane.  Remembering all the anxiety of starting a new profession in those first few weeks exactly a year ago.  So, the transition is over.  This is our new normal.  And it's been a great life so far.

DreamWorks End of an Era

Interestingly, the other milestone happening the same day is that Comcast/Universal officially took ownership of DreamWorks.  It's ultimately a good thing, but one of uncertainty for all my friends back at the studio - and I can't help but think how I would be feeling if we had stayed the course in California.  It seems the new owners are keeping the status quo so far, but being part of a conglomerate is a double-edged sword in animation these days.  Even though out the downturn at DreamWorks, and seeing longtime friends and co-workers getting let go, I felt that Jeffery would have our backs better than a giant corporation that sees us as just another asset in the toolbox.

But now the man himself, Jeffery Katzenberg has also stepped down from his little-studio-that-could - the last remaining independent movie studio in Hollywood.  He apparently spent the last week meeting with all the departments at the studio and getting to say goodbye to everyone one-on-one.  Katzenberg was the reason DreamWorks was such an amazing home for all those years.  I always believed that he wanted the best for his artists and staff.  He was direct, honest, and would always drop a few f-bombs during company updates - he always remained an amazingly accessible CEO.  I could go on, but I'll defer to my ol' coworker from DreamWorks - Nigel Tierney (we did muppet class together!) He wrote an amazing piece on Facebook, that Cartoon Brew picked up that does justice to JK's influence on all of us.  I'll just leave my thoughts at this:

Jeffery will be remembered in the industry for the big DreamWorkers past and present will remember him for all the smaller (and arguably more important and meaningful) things.

Nigel and JK 
“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 write 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 took 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 did 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 on-campus bootcamp & the on-campus nutritionist (I'm currently somewhere in the middle). I helped organize one of my best friends engagement 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 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 & 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 much 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 just been so important to me and growing my relationship with my family. Even the most recent moment of joy I experience 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.