Katherine Sarafian Talks Brave
With Pixar’s latest feature, Brave, hitting US theatres today, expectations are running high that the studio has yet another hit on its hands. Reviews have primarily been positive, though this decidedly “different” Pixar film has its share of critics. A directorial change involving Brenda Chapman, whose original story still forms the backbone of the movie, certainly adds to the notion that the production has been far from problem-free. Earlier this week I had a chance to sit down with Katherine Sarafian and talk about her stepping up as producer, deftly handling the mid-film directorial change and bringing Pixar’s Scottish epic to completion.
Dan Sarto: How did you first get involved in the film? What part of your career at Pixar do you feel prepared you to produce this film?
Katherine Sarafian: That’s a great question. I actually answered that in a journal entry I wrote to myself recently. I was thinking, “How did we pull this off?” From a personal and professional standpoint, this is one of those jobs, I’ve got to say, where everything I’ve done in my life to this point is what has prepared me for this. Producing this film was something that really called upon all of my abilities and talents and experiences more so than other jobs that I’ve done.
My professional preparation really involved working my way up through the ranks at the studio. I’ve spent 18 years at Pixar. Starting from Toy Story, having a front row seat, actually a back row seat in my case. I was writing notes in animation dailies. When you watch John Lasseter direct a movie, even as early as Toy Story, when we as a studio were still figuring out, “How do we do this? How does this work? What are our processes, what are our routines?” Morning dailies? OK, that’s a routine. That’s what we do. Take notes, see what kind of stuff you would look at to plus a scene. Someone would say, “Move slinky dog to the left.” To me that’s good direction. To John, it’s “As slinky dog moves left, we’re going to do blah blah blah that evokes the personality, the meaning of the scene, his motivation...” I’m like, “What? Wow!” So it was occurring to me from the first day I was there, I had a front row seat to that process as my animation education. Then, working my way up through Pixar, working for great mentors, great people, has provided a lot of my preparation.
I’d say one of the most helpful pieces of business I ever did was being the art department manager on A Bug’s Life. It came out in 1998, which is a long time ago. And yet, a lot of my big, big learning about how the relationships [on a movie crew] work, how the artists at Pixar think, and how we get that on the screen, came from managing production designers and art directors. That was really helpful. That art and the story art, they go hand in hand, they’re everything, providing the blueprints for our technical teams. If those relationships don’t work, that communication doesn’t work, because they speak different languages, science and art, then we’re nowhere. So my ability and role as facilitator, a conduit, a translator, called on all my skills.