President Barack Obama toured DreamWorks Animation studios in Glendale Tuesday, then gave a speech on the economy. The president took the opportunity to highlight Hollywood's role in international trade and diplomacy.
Watch the president's speech here:
If you're president, you can tour any place you want. But after watching a demonstration of motion capture technology at DreamWorks, Obama suggested he wanted more than a tour.
"Uh, I would like to work here," Obama said to laughs. "I have asked Jeffrey."
That would be DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who raised millions of dollars for the president's reelection campaign. Obama called Katzenberg a friend with a legendary place in the entertainment industry — and a healthy sense of self.
The president said the entertainment industry sells a product that reaches the rest of the world.
"Every time somebody buys movie tickets, or DVDs or distribution rights to a film, some of that money goes back to the local economy right here," Obama said.
He acknowledged the less famous people who both support the industry and rely on it: makeup artists, electricians, designers and animators.
Obama told the employees present they play an important role in telling America's story to the world.
"Believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy, part of what makes us such a world power. You can go anywhere on the planet, and you'll see a kid wearing a 'Madagascar' T-shirt. You can say 'may the Force be with you,' they know what you're talking about," Obama said. "Hundreds of millions of people may never set foot in the United States, but thanks to you, they experience a small part of what makes our country special."
Nine months ago DreamWorks announced the layoffs of about 350 employees. Still, overall numbers are up, with the motion picture and sound sector in L.A. County adding 3,600 jobs in the last 12 months.
Before he left, the president broadened his speech to cover a wide range of items on his domestic agenda, including the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform.
He acknowledged that the rollout of the new health care marketplace was rough.
"Nobody was more frustrated about the problems with our website than I am," Obama said. "And yet here in Southern California and here across this state, there are thousands of people every single day who are getting health care for the first time, because of this. And by the way, the website is continually working better, so check it out."
When talking about opposition on Capitol Hill to his proposals to create jobs, Obama used a movie reference.
"Some people have heard me say, you know my list of top five movies, 'The Godfather' 1 and 2 have to be on it, but it it turns out Marlon Brando had it easy because when it comes to Congress, there’s no such thing as an offer they can’t refuse."
Obama left shortly after his speech for Los Angeles International Airport, according to pool reports.
Obama has toured many a factory floor and high-tech plant during his presidency. It's part of the job. But until Tuesday, he had never quite met the likes of Oh and Capt. Smek.
In what qualifies as one of those special perks of governing, Obama saw motion capture technology on display and he shook hands — well, bumped elbows — with Steve Martin before the actor-comedian-banjo player transformed himself into the villainous Capt. Smek from the upcoming movie "Home."
But nothing could beat the short clip of another character in the film, Oh, intoning in the familiar cadences of Obama's voice: "Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Welcome to the White House."
"That'll impress the girls," Obama, thinking of his daughters, said delightedly.
Martin and actor Jim Parsons of "Big Bang Theory" were there to demonstrate voice recordings for the DreamWorks movie "Home" about a civilization of aliens called "Boovs." It's scheduled for release in November of 2014.
Entering the studio for his tour, Obama extended a hand to Martin, who informed him he had a slight cold. So the commander in chief and the once wild-and-crazy guy bumped elbows instead.
"How's the banjo playing?" Obama asked
"Better than ever," Martin replied.
Obama mentioned that Martin had played the banjo at the White House.
"The fact that I played banjo at the White House was the biggest thrill (pause) of his life," Martin cracked.
"That's how I felt," Obama deadpanned. "Biggest thrill of my life. Inauguration? Nothing."
Martin and Parsons then ran through a scene. Obama appeared thoroughly tickled as he read along from the script.
Obama also saw a demonstration of motion capture technology, known in the business as "mo-cap"
Two actors, a woman and a man, were wearing full black body suits with colored sensors applied like polka dots to their suits. Behind them a large screen showed two animated characters, a young boy, "Hiccup," and a young girl, "Astrid, from the upcoming movie "How to Train Your Dragon 2."
Every movement the actors performed on the studio floor was replicated on the screen by the animated characters.
Obama asked what the difference was between using that technology and actually drawing animation.
"Is the advantage here that by seeing the natural movement, that can't be replicated in your head?" he asked.
The cinematographer told him that the technology allowed for more natural movement and more dimension and was able to take advantage of ad-libbed movement.
"So, serendipity," Obama said.
After seeing a final clip from the movie, Obama turned to the reporters following him and offered an unfiltered DreamWorks commercial:
"Coming to a theater near you!"
Indeed, Katzenberg added: "June 13."
The Seattle-to-San Francisco-to-Los Angeles trip featured seven fundraisers for the Democratic Party and the committees that help House and Senate Democrats. So far this year, Obama has been the main attraction at five fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, five for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and two joint House and Senate fundraisers.
Late Monday, at a fundraiser at the sprawling Beverly Hills home of Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Obama praised the legendary Los Angeles Laker, saying that when Johnson revealed his HIV diagnosis in 1991 he prompted the country and the world to think in a new way about the disease. He said Johnson changed "our attitudes with the kind of grace and courage that only true leaders can display."
The 160 attendees who paid as much as $15,000 to attend included actors Samuel L. Jackson and Diane Keaton and basketball players Antawn Jamison and J.J. Redick of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Obama, a basketball fan who still plays with friends, joked that his basketball career ended in high school, though he said he may have been able to play at a Division III college.
"Also keep in mind that the last time Magic played basketball was with me at my 49th birthday party, and I just want to tell you, it wasn't pretty," he said.
Later, Obama spoke at a dinner for about 120 donors hosted by Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban. Among the guests was actor Tom Hanks. Saban, known for his pro-Israel views, applauded the international deal with Iran to temporarily limit Tehran's nuclear capabilities. The agreement has been called an "historic mistake" by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While in Los Angeles, Obama also visited with the family of a Transportation Security Administration officer who was killed at Los Angeles International Airport earlier this month.
The White House said Obama gathered with relatives of officer Gerardo Hernandez at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The president also met with TSA agents Tony Grigsby and James Speer, both of whom were wounded in the shootings.
By visiting DreamWorks, Obama was reunited with Katzenberg, a major campaign contributor. The White House rejected suggestions that the visit to DreamWorks was a reward for Katzenberg's support.
"DreamWorks obviously is a thriving business and is creating lots of jobs in Southern California," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "And the fact of the matter is Mr. Katzenberg's support for the President's policies has no bearing on our decision to visit there; rather, it's an opportunity."
This story has been updated.