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David Geffen is an ambitious, energetic music and movie executive who established a vast Hollywood-based empire, featuring Geffen Records and DreamWorks.
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The policy paid off in the late 1980s with the signing of Guns N' Roses, a hard rock band from Los Angeles whose first two albums sold more than 14 million copies. In March 1990, at the conclusion of a six-year contract, Geffen sold his recording operation to the Music Corporation of America (MCA) for $6.13 million and $50 million in stock options. Almost immediately, he founded DGC,
a new record label he hoped would attract cutting-edge bands. The change in strategy immediately paid dividends as one of DGC's first acts, Nirvana, scored a breakthrough hit with their 1991 album Nevermind.
Powered by the explosion of "grunge rock," DGC continued to be a dominant market force well into the 1990s. Meanwhile, Geffen's other enterprises were doing almost as well. His movie company produced the hits Interview with the Vampire and Beavis and Butthead Do America. The plays Miss Saigon and M. Butterfly benefited from a New York theater boom. In 1994, together with director Steven Spielberg and former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, he cofounded DreamWorks, a movie studio and entertainment production company. Initially, Geffen was skeptical about getting back into the movie business full-time, but the creative opportunities proved too tempting to resist. "I thought, 'How can I turn this down?'" Geffen told Los Angeles magazine. "I'm 52 years-old, and if I don't do this, I will get tired and lazy and bored. But being with these guys will keep me hanging onto a train that is going 300 miles an hour."
The studio's first release, the epic film Amistad, directed by Spielberg, was released in 1997 to great critical acclaim. Other major projects included Saving Private Ryan, Antz, and the TV sitcom Spin City. Less successful ventures, however, including the film In Dreams and the TV series Ink, may have contributed to Dreamworks' difficulty in obtaining financing for its proposed new Hollywood studio, Playa Vista, which Dreamworks executives had announced in 1995. In 1999, the production company abandoned the proposed new studio, which would have been Hollywood's first in more than 60 years, and announced it would focus on its existing operations.
But this did not mean Dreamworks would ignore innovative projects. On October 26, 1999, the company announced its joint plans with Imagine Entertainment to create Pop.com, an internet entertainment company offering short films, streaming video, live events, games, performance art and continuing series.
As a recording industry and movie executive, Geffen has been influential in shaping popular culture-a position that has also earned him some significant criticism. A series of deadly shootings in American high schools in the late 1990s prompted a public outcry that associated such shocking acts with the increased violence in contemporary movies and entertainment. When President Clinton, in May 1999, urged the entertainment industry to tone down its emphasis on violence, Geffen responded "Why not blame the libraries? They're full of violent books." In a telephone interview with The New York Times, Geffen went on to argue that any action to reduce children's exposure to movie violence should not infringe on artistic freedom.
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