No one could accuse Jeffrey Katzenberg of thinking small. As chairman of Walt Disney Studios, he spearheaded megahits like “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” He later co-founded DreamWorks, focusing on its animation division that churned out “Shrek” and “Madagascar” movies.
But his latest project, Quibi, seems about as far from those big-screen projects as you can get.
The new streaming service specializes in short-form storytelling for cellphone viewing. Among the 50 shows available when the service debuts Monday: Chrissy Teigen’s take on “The People’s Court,” a modern adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game” with Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz and a daily recap of news from Entertainment Weekly staff.
Bill Murray, Steven Spielberg and Lena Waithe will also contribute content to the startup, which plans to introduce 175 new shows in its first year.
Katzenberg spoke about his latest endeavor recently from his home in the Los Angeles area.
Q: How were you able to attract such big-name talent?
A: Quibi offers the creative community a new challenge, because the format is somewhat different than movies and TV. It’s five- to 10-minute episodes that you can see on your telephone and it looks beautiful, which really wasn’t possible before. Hollywood’s best storytellers are fundamentally entrepreneurs. And with us, they financially retain ownership. We’re only licensing content from them.
Q: What can you tell me about the Spielberg project?
A: Steven came in early and met with our creative and production teams for a couple hours. About three weeks later, he emailed me the first four chapters of an original idea he had written, which was pretty extraordinary because he hadn’t written anything for many, many years. The idea was super, super, super scary. In his cover note, he said he had one condition: that people could only watch it after midnight. I went to Meg Whitman, our CEO, and she worked with a team that came up with a technology that can tell by your phone when the sun sets where you’re at and that’s the only time you can watch it. You can’t watch it when the sun comes up. Steven is still writing it.
Q: What adjustments have you had to make in launching during these difficult times?
A: It’s created all sorts of surprises and challenges that were unimaginable days ago. But adversity is the mother of invention. From the very beginning, our mission statement was to entertain and inspire. Quibi offers some escape, some happiness, a diversion from the day-to-day reality. Originally, we were going to offer a two-week free trial, but we made the decision to offer a 90-day free trial. I think at this moment, people are really worried about their financial situation.
Q: You have had so much success in your career. Why bother starting all over again with a new project?
A: One of the very first movies I worked on as a young executive was “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” I had an amazing partnership for a couple of years with the creator, Gene Roddenberry. He had a line he attributed to Captain Kirk, that the mission of the Enterprise was to go where no one has gone before. I’ve spent a good part of my life following Captain Kirk. I love the new, the unexplored, the difficult, the impossible. That’s my home address.
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