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How to Make the Dream Work

Behind the Scene with Film Producer Karen Kriswell

From the moment you meet Karen Criswell, a filmmaker and producer from Oklahoma, you know she’s extraordinary. I got to sit down with Karen and get her perspective on the creative journey after 18 years at DreamWorks.

Karen: Believe it or not, DreamWorks was a fluke. My whole career had been in theater, like the San Francisco Mime Group who I toured all around the world with. From there I stage managed. Video projecting sets in Opera led me to film. A theater friend of mine knew someone in operations at DreamWorks and passed my resume along. In 1996, I got an interview and they hired me to move up to California to work the production side of DreamWorks Interactive, a soup to nuts facility for interactive video games. I came in guns a-blazing. A year later they promoted me to work in operations at the Universal High Rise in Universal City. I was overseeing all of operations, marketing, accounting, and all this business stuff. That’s when I met all the guys that run TV now. Then I got promoted to run operations of everything live action and music. We didn’t really have titles at the beginning. We were all on the same level. My card looked like Steven Spielberg’s.

Me: Wow, you did a lot. What was your favorite part?

Karen: When I left, they asked what was your favorite day at DreamWorks, what was your worst day?

Me: What was your dream, and what was your nightmare?

Karen: Exactly. So, the thing about DreamWorks was that it was not… is not like any other studio. My first short film was in the DreamWorks Employee Film festivals. They are very supportive of creative people in their midst. Being on the ground floor was never boring, always an exciting challenge. This was the first new big studio in almost a hundred years. Warner Bros, Disney, Universal, all had been around forever. But this was like being in a startup, so much trial and error. Then you get these three guys, these icons Stephen Spielberg, Jeffery Katzenberg, and David Geffen. It was these three guys in a garage with Paul Allen’s money. There were never two days the same. I left when it stopped being challenging, but that took 18 years. There were times I thought I would step out but things would come out of no-where. 2001, I had one foot out the door but 9-11 happened and our security stuff. I was very involved in all of that. Then DreamWorks Records had this beautiful, ten-million-dollar creative music project that I got to manage. It was a once of a life time thing. Then Stephen Spielberg shot the last episode of his TV series on our lot, and I was the on-site location manager. My favorite was when our studio was actually a hot set and we were hanging in the kitchen, right off of set, and Oprah came over and said “Hi, Kitchen People!” It was hilarious. It’s been an incredible ride.

Me. Then you made it here.

Karen: I fell in love with Taos in 97’ taking one of my short films to a film festival. I came back to the festival every year. I took some time to travel for a while, then moved back to New Mexico in 2015. I had this whole plan, then Covid happened. 2019, production shut down and I came over to be the Albuquerque Film Liaison. After that I started film consulting.

Me: Nice, and teaching now. No one here has your experience.

Karen: Yes! I love teaching people that are eager and passionate that they can be creative and profitable. I get to experience this art form all over again for the first time when I teach. Storytelling to me is really what sets us apart from other species. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is unique. That’s why I love traveling. You get to go on a storytelling adventure and all of a sudden you are part of a community.

Our community is grateful to have Karen. If you’re interested in taking Karen’s Film Producing class, just email You can also find Karen sharing incite on LinkedIn.