Jeffrey Katzenberg – 10 Lessons For Screenwriters

Jeffrey Katzanberg

From bringing STAR TREK to the big screen, reviving Disney’s fortunes in the 80s and 90s, to being the K in Dreamworks SKG, Jeffrey Katzenberg has been a pivotal industry figure for four decades.

“I have rhino skin. Rejection is part of the process. If I took it personally, I wouldn’t know how to get up in the morning. I am so used to rejection that I’m shocked when someone says ‘yes.'”

After our recent look at film industry excuses, Industrial Scripts looks at lessons from the career of perhaps the most driven man in Hollywood, for whom both breakfast, lunch and dinner are all for wimps!


jeffrey katzenberg1. Industry Intel

Information is power, and Jeffrey Katzenberg famously conducted over 600+ micro phone calls every week to agents, executives, actors, anyone, to put every piece of knowledge at his disposal. How are you handling Twitter, Facebook, Variety, Screen Daily, IMDB Pro, LinkedIn and your social network?


2. Rejection

Katzenberg: ”I have rhino skin. Rejection is part of the process. If I took it personally, I wouldn’t know how to get up in the morning. I am so used to rejection that I’m shocked when someone says ‘yes.’ Barry Levinson was the first director we sent ‘Good Morning, Vietnam.’ He said yes. That happens five times in 10,000 transactions. If I have to call someone 10 times a day, day in and day out, I will.”


3. Research

After taking over Disney’s animation department, Jeffrey Katzenberg looked to the past, and Walt Disney’s personal archives to distil the winning lessons. “Walt believed that an animated movie was only as good as its villain. I never forgot that.” Scar in THE LION KING and ALADDIN’S Jafar would epitomise building Disney’s revival on past success.


4. Be Willing to Fail

“We should provide a place where talent has the right to fail”. Rejection and failure; two of life’s certainties. Jeffrey Katzenberg built this into the foundations of his empire. Especially in the film industry, you’ll likely fail as often as you’ll succeed.


5. Work Ethic

Jeffrey Katzenberg would often take several breakfast meetings, had two secretaries to cover his long day, and was always the first in and last out. Leonard Nimoy on trying to beat Katzenberg into the office: “you would feel the hood of his car, and it was already cold”. The Katzenberg shop is open 24/7, 365…


6. No Rest, Be Relentless

How long has it taken you to read your last 14 scripts? Was it on a single holiday in Hawaii, as Katzenberg reportedly did? You signed up for the most competitive business in the world, what did you expect?


7. Do it Yourself

As with filmmakers such as Tarantino, Rodriguez or Wheatley who self-produced their first features, after leaving Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to become master of his own fate – and launched Dreamworks SKG with Spielberg and Geffen.


8. No Distractions

Would you give up your vice on the single most stressful day of your life? Jeffrey Katzenberg did just that when he quit smoking on the first day of production on STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE.


9. Trust your Instincts

“Testing has the aura of science about it. And there is nothing scientific about the movie business…  it can lead us to trust the test rather than trusting our instincts.”


10. Human Heart

“There are some overall guidelines of key importance in telling a good story. Most important of these is the need to create one or more central characters who confront something elemental about themselves by the end of the film”. Regardless of high concept and marketing, Katzenberg understood that if you can’t convey a strong emotional inner journey, audiences are likely to shrug their shoulders.


You can read Jeffrey Katzenberg’s famous industry memo here, alongside key articles on Katzenberg’s film career.

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