Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Book Unveils the History of "Shrek" Film

New Book Says Shrek Was Close to Never Being Made

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--According to a new book, The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Nicole LaPorte, Shrek almost did not happen. LaPorte, who covered DreamWorks, the company founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, for Variety, details many of the fascinating decisions that changed movie history in this new book.

As LaPorte writes, before Shrek, the company was floundering financially, largely because none of the studio’s previous animated films were working. Shrek was DreamWorks’s first, all-out blockbuster; it grossed $484 million worldwide. The fourth installment of the Shrek franchise releases on Friday, May 21.

But DreamWorks Animation’s biggest, most lucrative franchise ironically almost didn’t get made and struggled along for years. As LaPorte writes, in the beginning (way back in 1994) when the project was just being discussed, Jeffrey Katzenberg hired four recent college grads, dubbed the “Propellerheads” who were experimenting with 3-D. The group, which included J.J. Abrams (who would eventually be called the “next Steven Spielberg”), Rob Letterman, Loren Soman, and Andy Waisler. After months of working on the film, their one-minute test so underwhelmed Katzenberg that he shut down production and threatened to scrap the project. Several millions in development costs were written off. As the movie floundered in oblivion, animators began referring to working on Shrek as being sent to “the Gulag.” Several writers (Ted Elliott Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger Schulman) and directors (Henry Selick) gave Shrek a shot but when Andrew Adamson took over, the film was finally set on the right path. At that point, Jeffrey Katzenberg had far less to do with the film, than with other movies he had micromanaged, such as Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado--both flops.

Saturday Night Live actor Chris Farley was originally cast as the voice of Shrek. The animators relied heavily on Farley’s own looks and Tommy Boy hairstyle to draw the early versions of the ogre. After Farley’s death, Mike Myers was brought on to replace him. Myers decided near the end of production to give Shrek a Scottish accent and could not be dissuaded, which meant $4 million in reanimation for the ogre’s mouth and facial expressions.

The film also served as DreamWorks’ biggest ammunition in its battle against Disney. Shrek is essentially the anti-Disney movie, taking beloved characters like Snow White and the Gingerbread Man and turning them on their heads. And Lord Farquaad's pointed resemblance to Michael Eisner was icing on the cake for Katzenberg who was in a heated legal battle with Eisner. Eisner had once called Katzenberg a “little midget” publically during the trial, and as an inside joke, the Farquaad character was made to be very short.

About the Author
Nicole LaPorte is a former film reporter for Variety, where she covered the Hollywood movie industry for several years. She also wrote "The Rules of Hollywood" column for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and has written for the New Yorker, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Observer, Sunday Telegraph Magazine, and W Magazine. LaPorte is currently the West Coast Reporter for Daily Beast. She lives in Venice, California.

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