How many of you saw and absolutely loved Pixar’s newest creation, Brave? The story, like other Pixar films, is completely original and sweeps you in from the first frame. It took six years to create Brave and at its height of production, over 200 people were working on it. One of the people involved from start to finish was producer Katherine Sarafian, who is both strong and down-to-earth. I met up with her last week and I can honestly say she blew me away with how generally awesome she is.
Katherine started off by going to film school in the early ’90s and figuring out what aspect of film she fit in the best. She had a moment of clarity while working on a student film at UCLA: “Someone told me, ‘Wow, you’re making this film, isn’t that great?’ and it occurred to me that I was less concerned about what the movie would be about. I was more interested and had more fun with planning out the shots, what time of day to do them, how to fit it into the schedule. I had more fun organizing it.” Then another moment happened when someone from Pixar came and screened Luxo Jr. and she was wowed. “I think I sent my resume that day and they called and said they have two divisions – Pixar Shorts and Pixar Features. I knew I wanted to work there.” She graduated and moved up to Northern California and took an internship at a video game company doing PR while she waited to hear from Pixar. “I got a great education in computer entertainment, which is a close cousin of what we do, and PR which is very handy. I learned a ton and eventually Pixar did call.” It was still a struggle because Katherine didn’t get the first job she had applied for. “I cried for two days because I felt I had worked so hard and I’m a high achiever.” A few weeks later, she got another call for another position within the company and got it.
While at Pixar, Katherine both learned and grew a lot. “My best training for Pixar was at Pixar. It calls on all of your abilities. My preparation came from every part of my life – from music lessons as a child to writing an essay contest, public speaking, leadership camp, drama camp. All of these things lead to a career into arts management.” Katherine has worked on many Pixar films such as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and was an assistant producer on The Incredibles and a producer on the short Lifted and now Brave. Impressive, right? She explains that her life at work and life as a mother is “a deliberate imbalance.” When Katherine leaves work, she’s really left and brings nothing home so she can fully dedicate herself to her husband and two children. During the production of Brave, she and the team tried to have a balanced production to have cleared their weekends for their families. Also, working at Pixar has its benefits since they have a day care with extended hours. Pixar gets even better!
Katherine has been working on Brave since 2006, when the idea was first presented to Pixar. Storyboards were done in May 2007 and then the search for voice actors began. Like other animated films, the actors are never recorded together. For example, the argument scene between Emma Thompson and Kelly Macdonald’s characters which is a critical part of the film was recorded months apart. Emma recorded her lines first and months later, Kelly acted with Emma’s recording playing as well as storyboards laid out so she could put herself in Merida’s mindset. During this time, Katherine has to get talent in place and book the recording sessions, make sure animation is moving on schedule all while staying in budget. The schedule was moved around to make way for Toy Story 3 and because Katherine’s team had to update their ‘Presto!’ software to better create and control Merida’s beautiful lifelike locks. The final product turned out spectacular and I wouldn’t be surprised if Brave gets nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars next year.
As for women in the film industry, Katherine is super powerful in her position, but there are other women that have a lot of power, as well. On the Brave crew, the Director of Photography, hair, wardrobe and art director, as well as countless other people were women. Things are changing for the better in the film industry and women are getting so much respect for their work. Katherine’s advice to women wanting to get into film, and advice in general, is simple: “Conventional wisdom need have nothing to do with anything. It used to be ‘What should a girl do? What is expected?’. None of those rules exist anymore. I think people need to be reminded that these rules don’t exist anymore. We approach Brave not as how a girl should behave or what should a princess do, but who is this character and what are her challenges. I hope that girls today will look at themselves as characters and as people with their own desires and block out completely what is expected of them or what they think the rules are.”