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The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks [Hardcover]

Nicole LaPorte
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Book Description

May 4 2010

Former Variety reporter Nicole LaPorte draws from years of inside-the-filmmakers-studio access to spin a smart, gritty tell-all about a clash of industry titans in The Men Who Would Be King.


DreamWorks—the mega-million-dollar brainchild of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen—heralded a new age of entertainment empires when it launched in 1994, and their competitive strategy was fierce. For avid business readers, among others, seeing David Geffen in action as he seduces investors like Microsoft's Paul Allen and takes on CAA's Michael Ovitz is worth the price of admission. Their creative battles cost them untold billions on the way to the box office, but this is no rags-to-riches story: in fact, as they grow DreamWorks into one of the most influential film brands operating today, these rich men get richer, even as the stakes get higher.

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"Want to know how business really works in LaLa Land? Read this book"
--Liz Smith,

"LaPorte's lenghty narrative is the definitive history of the studio, an achievement of dispassionate reporting in the genre of corporate decline-and-fall...Hollywood, with its penchant for sunny publicity and an obsession for secrecy, is a notoriously difficult business in which to uncover the truth...Most reporters are not up to the task. LaPorte is... The Men Who Would Be King will be required reading for anyone interested in the story of DreamWorks."
--L.A. Times

"A thrilling ride... The bumbling and infighting are just too good, and sad, to resist... We're privy to some serious dirt. LaPorte has clearly done her homework... The sheer scope and depth of The Men Who Would Be King impresses. No hissy fit escapes LaPorte's gaze. Every time Geffen has a meltdown or A-list stars like Russell Crowe throw trantrums, LaPorte is there to capture it."
--Boston Globe

"Daily Beast contributor and former Variety reporter LaPorte penetrates the mysterious inner workings of DreamWorks. . . . LaPorte marshals an awesome body of research to vividly depict DreamWorks’ confused identity, the personality conflicts and ego clashes that raged behind the company’s friendly, low-key exterior . . . Behind-the-scenes glimpses at the productions of such signature DreamWorks films as American Beauty and Gladiator are wonderfully diverting Hollywood dirt, but the heart of the story is simple human ambition. Stories of Katzenberg’s toxic and litigious relationship with former boss and Disney honcho Michael Eisner, Geffen’s mission to destroy agent Michael Ovitz and the rivalry between DreamWorks Animation and Disney’s Pixar are fascinating for their insights into the ways petty personal issues are expressed in multibillion-dollar transactions. In Hollywood, it seems, business is always personal. A gripping account of money, ambition and the movies . . . same as it ever was."

"Nicole LaPorte has found a big story—this is the great part—that is even bigger than first appears, the story of DreamWorks being the story of modern Hollywood, which is the dream life of the world. She has climbed into the engine room with pen and notebook and been careful to record the details and dirt, then turned all that into music, the result being a gutsy saga filled with larger than life characters and incident. Read this book only if you want to know what makes our country, as Leonard Cohen sang, the cradle of the best and the worst."
—Rich Cohen, author of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams and Lake Effect

"Power, grandiosity, arrogance, and incomprehensible ego. It’s Hollywood, of course, and Nicole LaPorte’s exhaustive non-fiction narrative of DreamWorks and the bizarre triumvirate of Spielberg, Geffen, and Katzenberg is stunning. The book reads like a novel and the reporting is impeccable. If you pick up one book about Hollywood, make it this one."
—Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and former coproducer of NYPD Blue

"Here is the brilliant, brutal, misguided, narcissistic history of DreamWorks in all its glory, with David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Steven Spielberg working unscripted, without handlers or publicists dimming the lights to a rosy glow. Nicole LaPorte has written a lively, cunning studio history that should be required reading for all students of modern Hollywood."
—Mimi Swartz, author of Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron

"This book has all the right elements: deep-dish research, attitude to burn, page-turning readability, and a great subject. It belongs up there with the classics of Hollywood reportage."
—Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood and Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America

"Nicole LaPorte may never be able to eat lunch in Hollywood again, but her potential loss is our gain: The Men Who Would Be King is a riveting and honest portrayal of three of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry. I couldn't put it down and neither will you."
—William Cohan, author of House of Cards

About the Author

NICOLE LAPORTE is a former reporter for Variety, where she covered the Hollywood movie industry for several years. She wrote "The Rules of Hollywood" column for the Los Angeles Times Magazine and has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times, the New York Observer, and W Magazine. She is currently a West Coast reporter for the Daily Beast.

Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book about Hollywood... May 21 2010
What do you get when Steven Spielberg, Jeffry Katzenberg, and David Geffen all want to play together?

Why, you get "DreamWorksSKG", the studio the three Hollywood titans put together in 1994. Nicole LaPorte's well-written account of the men and their company - first private, then taken public in the early 2000's - and its impact on movies, music, and other entertainment media. But LaPorte writes about more than just the "Big Three"; she looks at Hollywood history and the development of..."development". That word - development - means a lot in reference to the entertainment industry. It encompasses "talent", "agents", and "producers" among others. LaPorte shows how deals are put together and how movies get made. She's detailed, but never boring.

If you're interested in the hows and whos of entertainment, LaPorte does a very good job at showing the inside out of the industry. Every page of her long book is interesting and makes for great reading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  76 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and concise view of the rise and fall of what seemed the perfect company May 9 2010
By Michael A. Weyer - Published on
It's amazed me that Dreamworks hasn't spawned more books. The only one before was "The Dream Team" which was rather short. But this more than makes up for it as Nicole Laporte does an excellent job on the behind-the-scenes struggles of what seemed the perfect talent merger. She shows how right off the bat, Giffin was above things, only coming in to supply funds when needed while Spielberg's vision as a filmmaker didn't translate as well to the business side of things.

It's Katzenberg who's the real focus and Laporte does a great job showing the key problem: The man was far more interested in beating out Disney and sticking it to Michael Eisner than really doing his best to make Dreamworks successful. He became obsessed with "out Disneying Disney" in animation, backing flops like "Road to El Dorado" and the brilliant irony is that the one movie he didn't micromanage would be the company's biggest hit "Shrek." Laporte points at 2003's "Sinbad" as a turning point for the company as Katzenberg never really recovered from the animated movie he'd been championing becoming a total bomb.

While she can be a bit too in-depth (did we really need eight pages on "Mousehunt?") Laporte does a great job detailing the company's successes and failures. She moves from how "Gladiator" survived a chaotic production to become a huge hit to how the company poured millions into "Almost Famous" only to see it die at the box office. She nails their problems like Katzenberg producing way too many copies of "Shrek 2" on DVD among other spending items. And it's terrific reading her detailing the Dreamworks/Miramax feud that would become war at Oscar time.

The book details more of the final years of the company and how this once-powerhouse became a shell of itself sold to other studios right before the economic crunch. It's an incredibly detailed book that shines new light on the personalities involved and shows how even the biggest dreamers have a hard time dealing with the reality of Hollwyood. A must-have for any movie-making buff.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping May 10 2010
By Anna David - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book somehow manages to get in the minds and psyches of three of the most accomplished men Hollywood has ever seen and explain, down to the color of the curtains in the room when they decided to go into business together, every last riveting detail. Books like these tend to skim the surface, take the easy way out, or just read like they're written by someone who's very aware of how they'll be perceived by the subjects. Nicole LaPorte seems out to both understand and explain what happened, mis-step by mis-step and clearly isn't interested in pleasing these men who would be king.

Even people who aren't interested in Tinseltown shenanigans would find this compelling: a fascinating tale of how sometimes the best intentions, when mixed with some other less-than-stellar intentions, can cause a "sure thing" to come toppling down.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look inside the dream machine May 4 2010
By Richard Rushfield - Published on
For anyone interested in HOllywood, this book is an amazing look inside the insanity of the movie business. And for anyone who isnt interested in Hollywood, its a breathtaking look at hubris on an enormous scale. A trio of moguls who, in tthe style of baby boomers, thought their own specialness would make things different just because it was them..But in the end, there was less to the specialness than met the eye. A must read!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ego June 21 2010
By J. Green - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In 1994 the first new Hollywood studio in 60 years announced its beginning with more than just the usual fanfare. Steven Spielberg, the genius director; Jeffrey Katzenberg, the man who put Disney animation back in business with movies like The Lion King; and David Geffen, the billionaire music mogul, joined forces to create Dreamworks SKG. It was the biggest conglomeration of talent and industry power since anyone could remember. But despite such huge blockbusters and award-winning films as "Saving Private Ryan," "American Beauty," and "Shrek," Dreamworks was sold in 2006 and S, K, and G went their separate ways. In addition to the successes, there had been a pile of projects that had bombed, often spectacularly.

Nicole LaPorte has burned plenty of bridges and written an inside account of the biggest egos in the entertainment industry (understandably, few of her sources are named). Katzenberg brought them together after his firing at Disney in an attempt to regain his pride. Spielberg couldn't resist making one blockbuster after another - for other studios. And Geffen was only interested in the fight and the careers he could destroy. Thrown into the mix are the biggest movers and shakers in Hollywood - Eisner, Ovitz, Clooney, Cruise, Hanks, Crowe, etc., etc., etc. - and their petulant needs to constantly be told how wonderful they are.

Hollywood has been tremendously influential in the social history of America, and I've enjoyed biographies of some of the giants like Hitchcock and Disney. This, however, is the flip side - the trashy business end of the glamorous and flashy facade. And those who eagerly anticipate their weekly fill of People Magazine, Variety, and Entertainment Weekly will gobble this book up and want more. I just felt the need to wash my hands. The book starts out well - lots of beautiful celebrities and juicy inside information - but I found myself losing interest less than halfway through (I usually read on my lunch break and when I start heading back in less than my usual hour, it's not a good sign). It's interesting enough to finish, but I got tired of hearing of every announcement that sent "a shockwave rolling through Hollywood" and all the men who were reduced to tears by someone's tantrums. I must admit however, since I live in Los Angeles it was rather eye-opening. (3.5 stars)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rare look at the Kings of Dreamworks July 22 2010
By Christina Paul - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Nicole LaPorte's "THe Men Who Would Be King" is a rare inside look at the mechanisms of Hollywood. For anyone who has ever been mildly curious about how films are made, how reuptations are won and lost, it is a great book that reads fairly quickly. I cannot recommend this book enough for those who even considering pursuing a career in the motion picture arts and sciences, because you get a raw look at what it is like at the top. If anyone thinks they want to be a part of that world, this books goes far beyond the glamour and the glitz, the houses, the cars and what the rest of the world thinks is success and fame into a world where a single word uttered at the wrong time or a mistake can ruin your career.

Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen are all highly successful, driven men but the personalities are so incredibly different between all three and each of them had a very different idea of how they envisioned what Dreamworks would be. How each deals with the rest of the world is fascinating. What is also fascinating are the monumental egos and fragilities of individual stars, producers, directors and other primadonnas. I found myself saying over and over again how the infamous battle of Katzenberg vs. Disney under Michael Eisner was a case of two people who deserved every bit of what they dished out to each other! Katzenberg and Geffen made Steven Spielberg appear almost Buddah like in his calm and commitment toward his art. Certainly he always seemed to be the calm eye in the center of the Dreamworks storm that swirled around him! I gave this book four stars because it was a little slow in places. I doubt that many mainstream readers really give much thought to percentages of DVD sales or figures that are only going to be of interest to someone who is in production or production management and/or film finance. Nicole LaPorte did do an excellently detailed resource section in the back for a book of this type that was very impressive.
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