Q&A: Michael Wright on Taking the Helm at DreamWorks

Michael Wright

The Turner programming president, newly hired as CEO, addresses financial constraints at the studio and his transition from TV to film

Michael Wright, who is leaving his job at Turner as the programming president in charge of TBS, TNT and TCM, is taking the helm at DreamWorks, replacing CEO Stacey Snider. He will work with current executives Jeff Small, president and COO, and Holly Bario, president of production, along with Steven Spielberg, principal partner. 

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to the exec about the transition, financial constraints at the studio and its relationship with Disney. 

When were you approached about running DreamWorks and when do you really start?

I let Turner know at the beginning of July that I was going to try to find a new adventure. … Steven and I talked fairly frequently anyway, so organically and naturally I did say to him that I was going to be making a move. I wanted him to be among the first to know. He brought it up fairly quickly and said let’s talk. I start in January, which is fantastic. I don’t think I’ve spent more than two weeks off in years. I’m going to read every script here, immerse myself and really come in prepared and maybe with a tan.

Stacey Snider leaves at the end of the year; will she be able to assist in the transition?

Stacey and I are good friends and we talk. She will certainly be hearing from me for every bit of advice that I can get. She’s helping already, and I think that will continue. I can learn a whole lot from Stacey Snider, so believe me, I will take advantage of that.

Do you expect any change regarding DreamWorks’ relationship with Disney, which releases DreamWorks movies? [The current distribution deal ends in 2016.]

We have a great relationship with Disney … I think the approach right now is looking forward [to the films already greenlighted], looking to work with Disney very closely.

It’s no secret that DreamWorks has been operating under tight financial constraints. Is there any reason to hope that will change? Has Reliance expressed willingness to boost funding?

Honestly, it’s full steam ahead. We have all the support we could possibly need right now. We are fully functioning and ready to go. I’ll put it bluntly: We have plenty of money and all we need to do is what we’re doing next.

There have been high-profile examples of television executives finding it difficult to transition to movies, as happened when Rich Ross moved to the Disney film studio. How will you dodge that bullet?

I’m very aware. I take it head on. My approach is to come at this with a sense of humor and genuine sense of humility and a genuine sense of confidence. The skills that are transferable are knowing how to tell stories and build relationships with the people telling them for you. I feel good about that part of my background … But I think the single best way to inoculate myself is to reach out and lean on people at this company who are fantastic at what they do … This is a team effort. and let’s not forget to mention a guy named Steven who is really good at this as well. So I feel incredibly supported … I’m here to tell stories, and how exciting for me that I get to tell them on this stage at this company.

You have been known for wide-appeal programming as well as more specialized programs, such as Men of a Certain Age. What kinds of movies appeal to you? What is your mandate?

The mandate is inherent in the brand. When you think of a DreamWorks film, you think of Steven Spielberg, in my opinion the greatest storyteller of our generation. Films made by DreamWorks should reflect his voice … He stands for quality, excitement, wonder and sophisticated storytelling.

Will you venture into television at all?

It’s not what I’m here to do. And the guys running Amblin Television [Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank] are two of my best friends in the business. … I feel so lucky that I get to work down the hall or across the way from those guys. They are running their business.