Just One Question: David Dozoretz

Just One Question David Dozoretz

Editor’s Note: The Media C-Suite discusses the future of the industry with senior media execs, creatives, entrepreneurs and professional investors around the world.  The dialogue always seems to converge on how things have changed, where the industry is heading and what is being done to adapt.  The perspectives are diverse, the topics are numerous and the experience behind those who have found success in this industry is invaluable. 

Universities offer degree programmes. Storied producers and directors offer Master Classes. The amount of information available on how to achieve in our industry can be over-whelming.

So, we thought it would be useful to seek out a select few experienced industry professionals who have achieved success in Media & Entertainment and then boil it all down to just one question:  How would you do it today?

We are pleased to present our second JOQ of this series with one of the key pioneers of digital pre-visualisation and a man with fingerprints on dozens of tent pole productions over the past twenty years … 

David Dozoretz

Profile in Brief:

It’s whispered that David Dozoretz was sold as a child to George Lucas and grew up on the third floor of Skywalker Ranch, where he toiled on some of the technology required to bring the Star Wars Universe to life. The truth is much more interesting. By rendering story-boards to digital animation, David Dozoretz helped to create a process that evolved into modern digital film-making. From working with legends like De Palma, Lucas and Spielberg to involvement in practically every Studio tent-pole production since Mission: Impossible, David eventually focused on his own creations in an award-winning children’s animated series called, ZAFARI (using cutting-edge technology, of course).


David Dozoretz graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor of Fine Arts & Media in 1992, and immediately started working at Industrial Light & Magic, the famed visual effects house Lucas created to make the original Star Wars films.

David worked at ILM until 1995, building early digital animations into previsualized sequences for Mission Impossible.  Working with legendary Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll, David helped create art for Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump and many other cutting edge studio films. 

From 1995 to 2001, David was recruited (not sold) to be the first digital artist at LucasFilm’s Art Department and founded the original pre-visualisation department for the Star Wars prequels.

After nearly a decade in that galaxy far, far away, David created his own production company, Persistence of Vision, providing cutting edge digital pre-visualisation for JJ Abram’s Star Trek, Super 8, Mission Impossible 3 & 4, X-Men: Wolverine, Moulin Rouge, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cowboys & Aliens, X-Men: The Last Stand, and many, many others.

Pushing the envelope just a bit further, David began working with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine in 2017 to adapt his children’s animation project called, ZAFARI for television. His work helped Epic Games win the first Emmy award for 3D Engine Software from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  Unreal Engine has since become the mainstay for digital visualisation and production of both major Studio productions and television shows.

Today, David Dozoretz holds multiple patents for industrial design and television interface and lectures at UCLA, USC Film Schools, Tokyo’s Digital Hollywood Institute and other institutions.  All the while, he continues to pursue advances in production technology while developing his own exiting new content.

The Big Question:

If you were to start from scratch right now, what is the one thing you would do differently in building a new career in today’s Media & Entertainment industry?

David Dozoretz:

The key word in that question is, “today”.  Today, this business is far more crowded and competitive than it was just a decade ago.  The industry has grown so much and it is far more difficult to catch that all important break as a creative.

In many ways, this industry has always been unlike any other, especially for those seeking an “Above the Line” career.  Creative entertainment careers don’t often start at the bottom of the corporate ladder.  Not in most cases.  You can start in the mail room of an agency and eventually become an agent.  But it doesn’t work that way in film production.  You don’t work as a gaffer or set builder or costumer and then become a director.  That experience would offer a lot to a director or a producer, but that’s not how the most successful tend to make it in Hollywood.

To get hired as a director, you typically have to be a director.  It’s a Catch-22 that today’s competition makes so much more difficult.  I worked closely with Rick McCallum for years, who said, “What you have to do is first Direct a $500 film.  Then, a $5,000 film.  Then direct a $500,000 film.  By then, someone might recognise that you are a Director and hire you for a $50 million dollar film.”

What hasn’t changed is the intense need for talented creatives who are adept at the craft of film-making.  That craft is all important at the commercial end of this industry.  It always has been, and I think always will be.  If you don’t understand the 180 degree rule, camera lense choices and match-on-action cuts, then getting a break won’t matter.  What has changed is the number of people competing for that break.  So to get it, you need exposure.  You need people to know what you do.

Imagine if Afred Hitchcock were here today, as twins, trying to break into the industry, and only one of them knew how to build himself up on social media.  Both would be film-making geniuses, but only one of them would have any real chance at a break.

I’ve worked side by side with some the most commercially successful film-makers around.  There’s no better education on the craft of film-making than sitting in the editing room for several years with George Lucas.  I know the technology side of film-making as well as anyone can.  But without real social media savvy, there’s no way I would get hired out of nowhere today.

Today, it’s not so much about who you know anymore.  It’s about who knows you.

Entering the industry today requires social media sophistication that exposes you to the decision makers as someone that many others know and like.  Every follower matters today.

Technology has advanced so much in the last few decades.  It has lowered the costs and improved the quality output for almost anyone willing to generate content.  So, there really isn’t a cost or accessibility barrier for anyone wanting to pursue a film-making career. 

Anyone can put content out on YouTube.  But you can’t just put it out there and pray. Or at least you shouldn’t.  You need to know how to market, to build your own brand as a film-maker.  You need the exposure, and the content needs to be good. 

Being adept at the craft of film-making, having that Hitchcock talent, isn’t enough, but it is what will distinguish you.  Even that won’t happen today unless you have a following online that loves your work.

Being able to get yourself out there, your brand, to gain exposure.  That’s what I would have do differently.  To catch that break, you need to gain exposure.  That happens on-line today. 

Those skills will get you 20 to 30 seconds of attention to your content.  Excellent craft will keep that attention to the end.

That’s when the big break comes.

This is the advice I would give myself if I had to start over today.

David Dozoretz with George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch.
On the 3rd Floor of Skywalker Ranch during production of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Pictured: Doug Chiang (left), Rick McCallum (centre left), David Dozoretz (centre right) George Lucas (right, forefront). Image: Courtesy of David Dozoretz.
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