Phoenix native Mary Alice Drumm recently spoke with Phoenix Movie Examiner about her latest gig as an associate producer on Pixar Animation Studios’ “Brave.”
In “Brave,” which will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, Kelly Macdonald voices a princess who, determined to make her own path in life, defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, the princess must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.
Question: Tell me, briefly, about your journey from Phoenix to Pixar.
Answer: I grew up in Phoenix and went to high school at Xavier. Then I went down to Tucson for college at the University of Arizona. I really knew that I wanted to work in film so I went out to Los Angeles and was lucky enough to start working at Warner Bros. when they were opening their feature animation division. I started when there were less than 40 people. That is the division that ended up making “The Iron Giant” – which was Brad Bird’s first feature film. It was a great place to be and that is really where I fell in love with animation. A lot of those people ended up coming to Pixar. I did some live-action stuff, which really just made me realize how much I love animation. Then I did a bunch of other projects. I was a line producer on “Curious George” for Universal and I worked briefly at the Jim Henson Company. Then Pixar had an opening. Katherine Sarafian – the producer of “Brave” – had written the job posting and I loved the way that it was written. So I wrote a long cover letter about how much I agreed with her philosophy and was lucky enough to get the gig.
Q: What were your duties as an associate producer on “Brave?”
A: I often tell people that it is like being the project manager of a really large project. Katherine was in charge of the entire film and really partnered with the director – especially creatively, helping with the marketing, the casting and the big picture. As the associate producer, I was in charge of the nuts and the bolts – making sure that the film gets made. I feel really privileged to be working at Pixar because I work with people who are amazing professionals, so it is more about meeting with each group on a constant basis and trying to put the stakes in the ground for the film so that we are all chipping away at building this world and these characters and being ready to animate them.
Q: Having seen the inner-workings of the studio, how does Pixar know when an idea for a movie is up to its high standards?
A: One of the things that is most appealing about Pixar is the quality and consistency of the films. I think that there are a lot of reasons for that. But mainly its is because the leadership here really believes in people. They will choose directors that they really believe in and those directors will put forth projects. Then we are constantly reworking those projects. The directors will do story-reel screenings where they will do story sketches and scratch recordings and show it to the brain-trusts at the studio, who give a lot of great feedback and help the directors with their films. But everyone else is encouraged to send their notes to the director, too. It is really inclusive. Everyone here is very vocal. When they think something could be better, they are encouraged to share that thought. There is a lot of emphasis on that. I have worked other places where people can be less brave and more afraid of running out of time – having to finish a film even if it it is not the best film that they think it could be. But that is one of the exciting things about working at Pixar. People will continue to try to make the film better and everyone at the studio is asked to work that way.
Q: What has working at Pixar thus far taught you about yourself?
A: I have learned a lot of patience. Pixar really takes their time, considering what everyone thinks about a story. There is a real emphasis here on building consensus. Personally, that has been such a great lesson. Sometimes you can feel an urgency to get to a decision but it is not always the right decision. One thing that I have learned here is to take the time to talk to people. And to be inclusive – talk to everyone that is involved because sometimes you end up at a different decision that you did not even think about. That has been something that has helped me not only here but in life as well.