Lots of buzz keeps Katzenberg aflutter


CANNES -- At 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg strapped himself into a harness, stepped off the eighth story of the Carlton Hotel and, thanks to a special rig, floated down across the Croisette to a jetty on the Carlton Beach. It was all part of the dry run for a stunt performed Thursday for the benefit of the international media, which witnessed Jerry Seinfeld, in puffy bee suit, fly across the main drag in Cannes to promote his DreamWorks animated film "Bee Movie," which Paramount Pictures will release Nov. 2 in the U.S.

Katzenberg introduced about 20 minutes of work-in-progress footage from the film, applauded Seinfeld's aerial maneuvers and chatted up the press. He was then scheduled to wing right back to Los Angeles so he'd be home for the North American debut of "Shrek the Third," which is opening Friday. For Katzenberg, such high-flying gambits have become commonplace since DreamWorks is one of the few publicly held film companies whose stock price rises and falls on the strength of its theatrical releases and their DVD performance.

Right now, he's paving the way for "Bee's" flight in the fall and attempting to manage the outsize expectations surrounding the third movie in the phenomenally successful "Shrek" franchise. Having grossed $441.2 million domestically, 2004's "Shrek 2" ranks as the top-grossing animated film of all time in the U.S.

"We're realistic. We're not going to be setting any records," Katzenberg said on the eve of the third "Shrek." Unlike "Spider-Man 3," the movie won't roll out with midnight screenings, and since 40% of its ticket sales are expected to be at kids prices, it's not aiming to vault over the new Spidey bar. "But for us, it's not about where we start, but where we finish," Katzenberg added, since DreamWorks animated fare tends to display solid legs. "It's only after the movie has been in theaters for three weeks that we can really judge where we are at."

Already, the ani studio is at work on a fourth "Shrek." Katzenberg insists he always envisioned four chapters in the "Shrek" tale, and No. 4 will explore the green ogre's origins.

In the meantime, DreamWorks is working to create awareness for "Bee Movie," which began several years ago as a bad pun when Seinfeld mused aloud that a movie about bees would have to be called a bee movie. Working the room full of press at Cannes, Seinfeld claimed he mentioned that to Steven Spielberg to fill a lull in the conversation; Spielberg passed the idea on to Katzenberg; and Katzenberg quickly convinced Seinfeld that animation would allow him to exercise his comic imagination without having to step in front of the cameras, which after nine years on "Seinfeld," the comedian was disinclined to do.

Seinfeld did introduce his changes into DreamWorks' development process, though. He recruited his own roomful of writers and enlisted the voice talent of a lot of his friends. Although actors lending their voices to animation usually record alone, since he was functioning as both writer and performer, Seinfeld shared the recording studio with his fellow actors, resulting in a lot of free-form riffs that found their way into the movie, in which Seinfeld plays Barry B. Benson, a recent college grad searching for life outside the hive. And the footage on display suggested a definite Seinfeldian tone.

With the growing competition in the animation market, a Seinfeld touch could be just what is needed to earn this particular "Bee Movie" a solid A.