The Brave Long Lead Press Day, including Producer Katherine Sarafian answering press questions, on April 3, 2012 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar) - used with permission
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of not only touring the Pixar Studios in Emeryville, California, but I got the opportunity to meet with several of the people who made Disney • Pixar’s newest animated movie, “BRAVE“ a reality (read BRAVE Movie – Behind the Kilt at Disney Pixar Studios). One such person was Katherine Sarafian, the film’s producer.
The Story of “BRAVE”
Sarafian, a mother of two, brings a unique perspective to the production of the film in that she has the experience of the mother/child relationship. Granted her own two children are much younger than the strong-willed princess Merida in the film. Sarafin noted, “…we’ve offered up a character who is willful and strong and very sure of herself but also a member of a family, a royal family with huge ripple effects of any decision she makes and any reckless choice she makes. We really have tried to create something that’s about the relationship of a family and how it grows and develops during a teenager’s coming-of-age.”
In fact, BRAVE isn’t based on any story or fairytale, but the real-life relationship and conflict between Brenda Chapman and her 6-year old daughter. Chapman questioned what her relationship with her daughter would be like when she reached her teens if she was already butting heads with her before she even hit school-age. When Chapman pitched the story idea, John Lassiter was hooked and wanted to develop the story which was seven years or more in the making. Chapman signed on as director of the film which made her the first female director at Pixar, but ultimately she was replaced by Mark Andrews.
Pixar Studios are purposely informal and visually stimulating to spark the creative process. The atrium features Brave concept art, as seen on April 3, 2012 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar) - used with permission
The Pixar Environment
Sarafian has been with Pixar since 1994 and she’s proud to say that her employer is one of those places where you can work on a lot of different films in many different capacities. In fact, she says with a smile, “So I started sort of, entry level, at the bottom, and moved up and by the time I was on “A Bug’s Life” I was a first-time manager, and once I learned that I could manage people and really enjoyed doing that, then there was a progression into marketing for a while.” It was her stint in marketing that made her realize her real passion was in the more outward facing part of the movie and she parlayed that into a position on “Monster’s Inc.” at the senior level.
After “Monster’s Inc,” she started building up momentum within the company and really made strides when Starla Anderson, as well as other Pixar producers, began mentoring her. Much of her knowledge she learned on the job and she says Pixar is a company that allows you to make errors and recover from them. The working environment is supportive and collaborative and that’s why many of the employees have been there since the beginning.
Part of that ongoing support is providing onsite daycare and Sarafians’ own children are placed in Pixar’s care. The daycare is decorated and designed in a whimsical way with rooms named after Toy Story characters. Having the children onsite makes it easier for her to keep focused on her work knowing that she can pop in if necessary.
What I took away from this interview was that Pixar is a family. The people who work there have ownership in the company and in the movies they make. What I found interesting is that they don’t film the movies from a script. They have pitch meetings where they throw out idea and the story is roughly formed by that and that a movie is never really finished; they’re tweaking and changing right up until release day. In fact, we saw the first 30-minutes of “BRAVE” in its unfinished format (it was brilliant by the way) and it was less than a month before the premiere. I suppose that the film making process is more creative than linear was my biggest surprise.
John Lasseter talks with Brave Producer Katherine Sarafian and Director Mark Andrews, with Jim Murphy sitting by, in the atrium at Pixar Animation Studios on February 18, 2011 in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar) - used with permission
What’s Next for Katherine Sarafian?
Once “BRAVE” hits the theaters the team that created it will be broken up and go on to new projects. For Sarafian that’s a bittersweet moment. “The directors and the story team is really a great community so I’m going to miss them actually. I’ve been very weepy, lately. Like oh, the gang’s breaking up, you know? It’s like the cast party after your high school musical.”
I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the film at the “BRAVE” premiere in Hollywood, California on June 18th at the newly renamed Dolby Theater (formerly the Kodak Theatre and home to the Academy Awards) as part of the LA Film Festival (the festival runs June 14-24).
Follow the event on Twitter (hashtag #BraveCarsLandEvent)and on Facebook.