Not long ago, Kyle Maxwell had a bright idea. The 25-year-old effects artist thought DreamWorks Animation needed a panini machine in its cafeteria, so he e-mailed CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, a legendary Hollywood mogul whose credits include Shrek, Kung-Fu Panda, and Megamind. At the next company-wide meeting, Katzenberg publicly thanked Maxwell for his suggestion and ordered that it be done.
Within the week, DreamWorkers were chowing down on bespoke paninis, and Maxwell had acquired a mover-and-shaker rep to go with his computer-animation chops. "Now I get all kinds of weird e-mail from people at DreamWorks," says Maxwell. "They're like, 'Hey, can you get us a new staircase?'"
Most Hollywood studios act as clearinghouses for freelance creative talent, bringing teams together to make movies and then cutting them loose when the production wraps. By contrast, DreamWorks keeps all talent on staff. Animators who leave the studio to pursue other projects are often welcomed back: 15% of new hires are rehires.
DreamWorks fosters a culture of creativity, offering free drawing, sculpture, and improv classes to staffers. Everyone is encouraged to pitch movie ideas; the studio runs "Life's a Pitch" workshops, where animators and accountants alike can hone presentation skills. Says Katzenberg: "Our philosophy is that if you love your work, and you love coming to work, then the work will be exceptional."
Eliminate inconvenience so employees can focus on work. DreamWorkers get dry-cleaning, medical care, and free meals on campus.
Cut everything except people. DreamWorks tightened its belt during the recession, but nobody was laid off.
Communicate openly. Katzenberg blogs frequently for the entire staff. At company meetings, he takes pains to explain financial performance in language artists can understand.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that DreamWorks employees receive free medical care and dry-cleaning. These services are not free for employees. The sentence has been corrected.