Jeffrey Katzenberg's notorious memo: How does it hold up 20 years later?

Jeff_katzenbbergIn late January 1991, fax machines were humming all across Hollywood, spreading the news that Jeffrey Katzenberg, then head of production at Disney, had written a scalding, often self-critical 28-page memo blasting the movie industry's “tidal wave of runaway costs and mindless competition.” Hollywood's “blockbuster” mentality, he lamented, had turned films into assembly-line products with a shelf life “somewhat shorter than a supermarket tomato.”

Sound familiar?

Back then, studio chiefs were still relatively discreet about the inner workings of their business, so Katzenberg's memo (read it here) was particularly shocking because he named names — not only calling out other studios' flops but also complaining about the excessive time and energy Disney had put into “Dick Tracy,” the Warren Beatty film whose swollen budget ate up nearly all its profits. Though Beatty was still one of the biggest stars in town, Katzenberg said that the next time Beatty came to the studio with a project, we “should slap ourselves a few times, throw cold water on our faces and soberly conclude that it's not a project we should choose to get involved in.”

The memo, intended only for internal consumption, ended up being printed in full in Variety. The rest of the media quickly leaped in, with the New York Times noting that the memo inspired months of “anger, resentment, debate and jokes within Hollywood.” Bill Murray, appearing on “Larry King Live” to promote Disney's “What About Bob?,” complained about the memo's dismissive attitude toward stars. Mike Medavoy, then

Film Jeffrey Katzenberg patrick goldstein
02/10/2011 10:23

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