Brenda Chapman at GHC 2013

Brenda Chapman at GHC13

This talk – by the woman behind Brave (Amazon) was absolutely on of my favourite ever GHC talks. Warm, and funny, and inspiring. Talked about some difficult things, but overall positive.

Scared to come to GHC, because she’s a technological dinosaur. Pixar was full of smart people, but kids. She was in the kids group. It hasn’t been easy but it has been fun.

Passion is an intense desire and enthusiasm for something. Brave was a passion project.

Storytelling is her passion, but she had worked on other people’s passion. Brave combined 3 loves – fairytales, scotland, and her daughter. Her daughter inspired the character (she’s 14 now). Also loved working with Billy Connolly.

What if you don’t have passion? Talks about working on the Prince of Egypt – someone else’s passion project. Was nervous because it’s got god in it, and this is Hollywood. But dug deep and searched for the human side of the story – it’s a story about two brothers.

The screen freezes and she asks “is there a technical person here” – so funny (of course a man goes to help). Takes questions whilst things are being resolved.

The relationship in the Prince of Egypt is between two brothers. Play on tragedy.

Perseverance – keep going no matter what, despite setbacks.

Tells story of getting into Cal Arts. Devastated when she was rejected, but her mom pulled her out of it. Said have another year and try again. She tried again a year later and was accepted. One of five women in a class of 34. Three glorious years, and put together portfolio with story real and note saying she wanted to do story eventually. Her film was nothing like the others. It was about an old lady who was alone on her birthday. She was nervous about submitting it, but Disney liked it and she got hired as a story trainee. She was happy for about three seconds, until she was told she was hired because she was a woman.

“I want to be hired because of my talent and my abilities, not because of my genetalia”. They had been getting flak for poor diversity in story, and she was the right price. They could send her away after six months and get another token.

Didn’t like it, but had a foot in the door. Worked hard to prove to them, and herself, that she deserved it.

The men were very inclusive, wanted to see what she could offer. They were supportive, she was very lucky. The first scene she did by herself was part of your world reprise in the Little Mermaid.

Got so into it, Ariel is a bit anorexic – kept drawing her neck. She’s singing and singing. Showed the scene and people were howling with laughter, saw it objectively, had neck like a giraffe. When they saw it again, had to laugh, they had just chopped the neck and taped it. Liked the expression, worries that they wouldn’t get it with another person drawing.

Showed the scene where the guy was washed up on the beach.

Got promoted to journeyman story artist. Still at the bottom of the totem pole, but not because of being a woman, but because of having the least experience.

Shows the scene with the eagle worried about the eggs (with the tiny boy – not sure what movie?) It’s beautiful.

Worked on Beauty and the Beast. Had a mentor, Roger, who went on to direct the Lion King. Belle in Beauty and the Beast was the first Disney princess that had yelled at her prince.

Showed us the original storyboard.

Wanted to trying being head of story, was feeling more confident, was going to do Swan Lake but it got canned because another company did Swan Princess.

Went to work on King of the Jungle. Got head of story, Roger was directing. Reworked the story, found passion for it, and it became the Lion King. Lion King was the B project, the A project was Pocahontas. It was a very green team, but they worked really hard, gave extra because it was their first gig.

The procession of animals at the beginning was saved by the music.

That took her to opportunities. Opportunities come from choices and luck, take them as the come. If you’re not sure, are you willing to never have that opportunity again? If you’re OK with that, pass.

Went to Dreamworks, starting on the ground floor. After someone left, she wasn’t sure. Got the opportunity to direct. Went to start story department, but he had other plans.

Started looking for other opportunities when projects started to feel the same. Universal, Sony, eventually Pixar, where she got to work on her passion project (Brave).

Change often comes when you don’t want it. Sometimes happy, sometimes lousy. But have to be open to it. The cliches are true, if she hadn’t been open to change, wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work on films. The ups and downs are worth it.

Brave was incredible. Her first computer graphics project. But it had a rough ending – change when she didn’t want it. Painful.

Opened up opportunities. Working for herself, a book, writing, speaking. Also developing a new project.

Change is important, accept it. You don’t have to accept how you’re treated, but accept change and move on.

Passion helps get through other sones. Helps lead other people. Has passion in leadership – make people feel like they are contributing. Know other people have better ideas, make what we have theirs. Make them feel ownership, feel proud of it.

Talked about Passion, Perseverance, Opportunity, and Change.

Passion comes through. The consumer will feel it, it’s a pure thing.

The fifth element is Resilience. Come through hard times. Women have to have it. Insecure people will be mean, backstabbing. handle it in a positive way. Handle it by standing up for ourselves – and others. Whether we fail or succeed, this gives us self respect. Responsibility to show young girls that, examples of failures as well as of successes.

Tells the story of her mother – this is lovely – reluctantly raised by her grandparents. Met a teacher who saw potential no-one else had ever looked for. Wanted to teach her. Grandparents though she was putting ideas in her head, and had the teacher fired. She was allowed to finish the year, and taught with grace, dignity, and compassion. Left the impression of resilience, and saw her as someone special. Her mom got a college education at age 60, after her husband (Brenda’s father) died. Cooking was her art, profession and passion. She had resilience, and taught it to Brenda, too.

Responses to Questions

As the only woman in the room, it’s hard to champion a non-traditional princess. Difficult in some places, but stuck to her guns – this got her taken off the movie after a while. A comment from a male exec, “How are we going to sell a movie about two women arguing”.

(I bet no man said that about 12 men arguing).

Look at what you’re doing and what you’re enjoying the most. She realised what she really loved was creating the story.

On getting kicked off the movie: “I wouldn’t do anything different”.

It’s harder to do independent animation. People trying not to work on standard fare, want to do something different for kids.

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