DreamWorks Animation

A chat with the creative exec behind "Madagascar 3"

July 20, 2012: 10:20 AM ET

Dreamworks Animation's Bill Damaschke describes candidly what it takes to make a successful film and keep sequels and spin-offs fresh.

Interview by Daniel Roberts, reporter

FORTUNE -- Don't knock the sequel. Animated movie series continue to do well, conquering the box office even when they get into the third or fourth installment. Look at Shrek or Kung Fu Panda, both from DreamWorks Animation, up to their fourth (and final) installment and in-the-works third installment, respectively. And now Madagascar 3 is raking it in after a $60.3 million opening weekend in June and a No. 1 repeat on its second weekend. The film surpassed $200 million in the U.S. and $270 million worldwide.

Bill Damaschke, the 48-year-old chief creative officer at DreamWorks, oversaw creative production and development of the movie, as he does for all of the studio's feature projects. He is also heavily involved in all of its live theater productions. Damaschke stopped by the Fortune offices in late June. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Fortune: You've had an interesting career arc: you started as a stage actor in New York and then joined DreamWorks in 1995, working on Prince of Egypt,and rose up the ranks. What's your day-to-day involvement at the studio?

Bill Damaschke: Our biggest project that's out now, obviously, is Madagascar 3. I was involved in the actual editing process, and I worked with the writers and animators in the early stages. It's a great, nervous feeling to let it go now and watch the response and see people enjoying it at the New York premiere.

Now we're focusing on other movies, like Rise of the Guardians, which is about childhood icons like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. It's based on the Bill Joyce kids books [The Guardians of Childhood series] and there's a real contrast between that and Madagascarin terms of the style.

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What are the challenges of rolling out a new film like that, and introducing it to people who know the books as well as those who might not?

Well, we screened a few minutes of it at Cannes and everyone said, "Oh, it's the animated Avengers."

Is that frustrating?

No, I'm comfortable with that analogy as long as it doesn't come with the burden of having to perform on that level. [The Avengers had the biggest opening weekend in history, with $200 million in its first two days.] When a movie is that big, it's what everyone is talking about and thinking about, and it makes sense.

Is there a danger to doing sequels, a fear of overdoing it or annoying viewers?

As long as the movie stands alone, as well as being part of a series, it's okay. I don't think people get annoyed if each movie is actually good. More

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