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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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Most helpful customer reviews
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) 4.1 out of 5 stars  67 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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jurassic Lark--Don't Start The Revolution Without Me June 23 2010
By K. Harris - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In Hollywood, where ego rules the day and perception is reality--there were (and are) few bigger names than wonderkind director Steven Spielberg, mogul David Geffin, and the polarizing yet savvy Jeffrey Katzenberg. When the three combined forces to form DreamWorks Studios in the nineties, the promise of a modern media revolution (and empire) captivated LaLaLand. However, the idea of a contemporary entertainment utopia never quite developed into a reality. With no real business plan in place and clashing priorities, DreamWorks became the most expensive start-up of all time and one of the most public displays of hype unrealized. Nicole Laporte's exhaustive chronicle "The Men Who Would Be King" expertly details the folly and foibles in a cautionary tale that absolutely captures the essence of the current film industry. It is THE must read of the year for anyone with a passing interest in the movie business.

The rise and fall of DreamWorks provides incredible highs and devastating lows, so Laporte's expose is as dramatic and colorful as it is informative. But you might expect that drama with the huge personalities involved! Katzenberg, in particular, is so compelling as a character--he is, alternately, an incredibly savvy businessman and utterly pigheaded. Spielberg, the center of this particular universe, is an undeniable creative genius--but with his limited attention span and free spirit, he never leveraged his power to propel DreamWorks into a successful business model. For every film success ("Saving Private Ryan," "American Beauty," "Gladiator," and "Shrek"), there were many more failures or missed opportunities. A studio compound that never got built (and angered environmentalists to boot), a television division that never took off, an Internet company before its time, a music group that courted more individualistic talent, a unwavering commitment to 2-D animation even with advances in technology, and a gaming sideline that was sold before its biggest moneymaker was released--these are just a few aspects of the DreamWorks empire with more fizzle than sizzle.

"The Men Who Would Be King" is an incredibly entertaining read. It probably helps to have a passing knowledge of the subject matter, but I found it fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at things that played out very publicly. Of personal interest, in terms of subject matter, I think Laporte excellently depicts the Oscar campaigning for certain films as modern warfare--which having lived in the periphery of that world, I found to be very true to life. A definite recommendation to cinephiles, the book also has cross-over appeal to the business set (a how-not-to, so to speak). For all its grandiose aspirations, Laporte showcases DreamWorks as a magnificent display of hype over substance and has, in "The Men Who Would Be King," created a new essential in the library of books about the film industry.
7 of 9 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)
7 of 9 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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So much money, so many egos, so little little actual vision Aug. 18 2011
By John S. Harris - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In short, DreamWorks was created in part to give Jeffrey Katzenberg a job after he was ousted from Disney, to give Steven Spielberg a shot at creating an old-style studio with a new-style sensibility, and to give David Geffen a perch from which to rain misery upon his enemies. What the three of them lacked was a solid business plan or a vision of where the future of the business of Hollywood might take them.

One gets the impression that they founded DreamWorks simply because they could, and that as good as it looked on paper it would, ultimately, endure a series of near-catastrophic disasters because of the myopic vision of one partner, the sometimes-aloof distance of another, and the relative detachment of the third one.

But oh, how the money flowed! It flowed in in great quantities, turning a multimillionaire with an axe to grind into a billionaire and turning billionaires into multibillionaires. It flowed in until it stopped flowing in: grand plans were put on the back burner or abandoned altogether, alliances were formed and broken, employees became disillusioned, and one partner seemed to lose some interest altogether, at least when his personal fortune and ego could be stroked by working with outside studios here and there.

It was a grand plan that had no solid detailed plan or real leadership at all.

No one went home hungry at the end of the day, but some egos got bruised, pride got hurt, and the veils of invincibility didn't last very long.

Fascinating reading.
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