"We have got to make sure we are not glorifying it," he said in his remarks. He cited Vice President Joseph Biden's meeting in January with representatives from the industry in the wake of the Newtown gun massacre.
In the crowd listening to the speech, in perfect Southern California weather, were a handful of studio chiefs, including Warner Bros. Kevin Tsujihara and Universal's Ron Meyer. Each attended a closed-door meeting with the president beforehand. Mellody Hobson, chairwoman of DreamWorks Animation and president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, introduced Obama. Hobson is the wife of George Lucas.
Obama twice joked about the prime working conditions at DreamWorks, which he toured earlier in the day. "I would like to work here," he said.
He also quipped that he already had a connection to the studio, as "my ears were one of the inspirations for 'Shrek.'"
Obama also praised DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, a longtime campaign supporter and bundler, and drew laughs from the crowd when he said, "I don't need to puff him up too much. He has a healthy sense of self." He called Katzenberg a "great friend and supporter through thick and thin."
Obama's remarks referenced movies and TV shows he said have had an important influence on society, including "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Will and Grace" and "Modern Family."
He also mentioned "The Godfather" as in the top five of his favorite movies, and used the pic to reference the gridlock in Congress.
"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."
The president's speech was focused on the economy, but he also praised the industry for cultural impact around the world. He called showbiz "part of our American diplomacy" and "part of what makes us exceptional."
"We have shaped a world culture through you," he said. "And the stories that we tell transmit values and ideals about tolerance and diversity and overcoming adversity, and creativity that are part of our DNA. And as a consequence of what you've done, you helped shape the world's culture in a way that has made the world better."
Although there was talk that visual effects artists were planning to hand out green T-shirts employees in an effort to show solidarity with workers who have lost work to countries offering subsidies for special effects work, there were only a few green T-shirts in the crowd. A protest took place at a nearby park.
After the speech, however, an employee gave Obama a small Lego action figure, which a pool reporter said may have been an Obama action figure.
Universal's Ron Meyer, asked for his reaction to the speech, said it was "great." He and other studio executives were rushed out to a waiting shuttle.
Obama flew by helicopter to a nearby school and trekked to DreamWorks Animation.