“Brave” is Katherine Sarafian’s baby. The first-time producer has been with Pixar for quite some time now, and has worked on several projects including “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” and “The Incredibles.” But “Brave” is a first for her. For the past six years, Sarafian has been overseeing the changes and growth of Pixar’s first heroine Merida, a fiery, red-headed princess with the bravery of a thousand lions.
We recently sat down with the producer and talked about her long career with Pixar, her hopes for “Brave”, and if she would ever produce live-action movies.
Read the interview below.
Why was is important to make Merida a princess? Did Pixar feel the need to add another Disney princess?
Katherine Sarafian: The princess part is interesting because it was never meant to be a princess film. It was meant to be about this archer heroine. It became clear to us that she needed to be royal though. A princess is good royalty for that age group. The reason was that the stakes were not compelling enough in early versions of the story. If she was a hand maid or a blacksmith’s daughter and she didn’t want to get married, big whoop, you know? So you almost really need the stakes to be higher. We wanted it to be her decision to have this argument with her mother about not wanting to marry into one of the clans. It has repercussions that are huge because the peace of the kingdom is at stake. And that’s because she’s royalty. Her decisions are more scrutinized.
How was this project different from any other? In many ways, ‘Brave’ is your baby.
Katherine Sarafian: Feature film producing was a game changer because it’s such a long haul. You are going to be with this group for five to six years. I was in Scotland when it all occurred to me that this was an elaborate matchmaking plan. I didn’t see it coming. I fell in love with the filmmakers, the team, Scotland and the story. This family story was so relatable to me. I thought, ‘God, how could I not?’ Who’s ever really prepared for a journey like this? You just sort of dig in and start. It was really great.
When did you realize you had the talent to manage people?
Katherine Sarafian: I discovered my ability to manage people in college. It wasn’t quite management but I was a Resident Assistant (RA) at UCLA in the residence halls. I loved it so much. I felt like my calling was sort of wrangling these teams of people and helping them be their best selves. The idea occurred to me during “A Bug’s Life”, when I was the Art Department Manager. It was way back in 1997 or ’98 and I was struck by the kinds of talent I had to use and the parts of myself I had to pull on in order to help the fine artist and the technical scientist all communicate their best way when they really didn’t speak the same language. I found that I used every part of myself. I really loved that. So that’s when I started to realize that this was my calling. When I was on “The Incredibles” as Production Manager, that’s when it occurred to me that producing was the way I wanted to go. I loved being Production Manager. It was the most fun I’d ever had. It was really, really hard, but I could see what the producer did and how interesting and difficult that was. That’s how it came together.
So in film school, you didn’t set out to be a producer?
Katherine Sarafian: No. I was a Critical Studies major, which is basically a degree in critical analysis of art and history and theory of film. But there was one helpful thing that did happened. One thing! Film school was great, but one thing that was particularly helpful was that I had to make a film. It’s a requirement. So I made an experimental video and a film. At the end of the process, it occurred to me, that what I loved about filmmaking was producing. People asked me, “Do you want to be a director?” And I said, “I don’t want to be a director.” The most satisfaction I got from making films wasn’t actually in the creative point of view of the film, it was in setting up my shot list and plan; checking things off my list. I had like 25-shots in the movie I made. I just enjoyed organizing everything. I realized I was managing the production. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to be a director. I didn’t fully know that what I did love doing was producing. I didn’t know that’s what it was, but I knew that’s what I liked doing. Later I was like, “Oh this is that thing I did.”
What sort of future do you see for ‘Brave’? A sequel? A franchise? ‘Brave’ on ice?
Katherine Sarafian: I don’t know. I know Merida is walking around the theme park these days. I just hope people want to be around these characters. We’ve been around these character six years now and we love them. We want to be around them. We hope audiences do too. But no, we never talk sequel unless there’s a story first. The story always comes first. This is just about getting the movie out there and hoping that audiences respond to the characters and want to be around them in other ways. But yes, she’s in the parks now.
How have the reactions been so far?
Katherine Sarafian: We’ve only shown it to a couple of public audiences and press like yourself. We haven’t really shown it to general audiences yet. So far it’s been really nice. We have really nice responses. People seem to be getting the emotion of the film and the humor of it. I think several people have commented on how different it feels. That’s nice to hear. We definitely wanted to tell the best story we could in the Pixar tradition, but also have it be distinct and original. It’s a real original story. It’s not like any other fairy tale you’ve scene or any other princess movie, it’s very original. People seem to be responding to that.
Did you have any input in pairing ‘Brave’ with ‘La Luna’?
Katherine Sarafian: When they told us “La Luna” would be on “Brave”, we were just thrilled. We didn’t make the decision ourselves, they said, “We’re going to put this on ‘Brave.’” And we loved that idea! Enrico Casarosa is an amazing filmmaker. His film is personal and about family. It takes place in his culture and that sort of reminded us of what we were doing. It felt like a good companion piece for “Brave”.
Would you ever produce live-action movies?
Katherine Sarafian: I don’t’ want to. I did a little live action in film school and it wasn’t for me. I like the community that you have in animation.
(SPOILER!) Pixar has given us talking animals, cars, toys, etc., but in ‘Brave,’ the bear is mute. Did you ever consider a talking bear?
Katherine Sarafian: We didn’t want a talking bear. We just talked more about why we didn’t want the bear to talk. We also didn’t want like a Scooby-Doo thing. It was very important, for the story, that the mom wouldn’t be able to communicate. If mom is in a situation where she is forced to listen, because she can’t talk, then she can’t express herself. Merida has the floor when she’s with her because she’s able to talk and mom has to listen. Merida finds her own way of listening to her mom too. That was quite deliberate.
“Brave” opens everywhere June 22, 2012.