I love Pixar’s new movie, “Brave,” and it was a thrill to be able to talk to the producer, Katherine Sarafian, who told me what she learned from her trip to Scotland, what it meant to have a female lead character, and what matters most at Pixar. And of course about the HAIR!
Merida is such a wonderful heroine!
It was really important to us that we create a girl who did not want to be a boy. There are so many movies about tomboys. She’s proud to be a girl, she likes wearing dresses, she’s quite feminine, and she is adventurous and likes driving things forward.
I remember Brad Bird telling me that the biggest technical challenge in “The Incredibles” was Violet’s hair. And that was relatively short and very straight. Here you have a heroine with a magnifient head of unmanageable curls! It must have taken as many lines of code as a moon launch!
It was was quite intricate. The character is this untamed, wild child teen. When she walks into the room, before she even opens her mouth, we wanted you to know who she is, with that kind of presence and that rare shade of red. It speaks to what a unique type of lass this is going to be. The story required it and the technology didn’t really exist, so we had to build it, based on what we learned on previous films. Brad Bird saw this and said he was jealous of how much we could do with the hair! We really had an opportunity to let her act with the hair and had it as part of her character.
Tell me what your job was as producer.
I was responsible for bringing it in on time and on budget, assembling the crew of people, selecting the voice talent, working with the scoring, and keep everyone motivated over the long haul — six years. I really try to get the director’s vision on screen.
What was your most difficult challenge?
The number one biggest challenge in all Pixar films is the story. It’s really really hard to tell a good story. It’s easy to shoot the first draft of any script. It’s hard to say the first draft is the starting point of a long creative odyssey with a lot of twists and turns and challenges. We do it the hard way. We never give up on making the story the best it can be. And that’s hard, a lot of toiling in the trenches of story for a long time. It’s easy to fall into stereotypes of a teenager and conflict with parents. But it is harder to make rounded characters and appealing and where they both grow and learn, and the kingdom and its mythology is all in there, too.
You were the producer of one of my favorite Pixar shorts, “Lifted.”
It was fun because it was without words, so every language can understand the idea of a teacher and a student in a sort of driver’s ed test on a spaceship.
And the short with this film is also worldless.
Yes, it’s an Italian family story called “La Luna,” but it is also very universal.
You have wonderful voice talent in the film.
We’re thrilled with our cast. Billy Connelly and Emma Thompson as the king and queen brought the heft and weight and importance of a royal family but also the warmth and humor and heart of parents. It would be easy to make the queen unappealing and the king a buffoon, but you really wanted them to have that rounded quality, real rulers with real problems and real heart. And Kelly MacDonald has a beautiful voice and key into her teenage self so wonderfully well, and great humor, too.
Did you go to Scotland to research this film?
We had two significant creative research trips and I also went back for voice recording. We trekked through the highlands in late 2006. We studied the Gallic history and the rhytym of the accents and hiked through the dark forests and touched the heather and the guys even took a dip swimming in the loch. It helped us understand the setting of the story better. Scotland is almost a character itself in the movie. The region is steeped in storytelling and folklore and myth. The land itself has such diversity to it. The glaciers melted and showed off this volcanic landscape with jagged peaks an crags and rocks and because of the dampness everything is covered in something, lichen and moss, so it’s totally softened. There’s something growing on every surface. And there’s design everywhere, very tactile, very rugged, Pictish carvings and ancient patterns, and the standing stones. The texture of the land is very rugged. And it changes so much and it moves so much from very wet areas and very rich areas to very barren, stark areas. It changes and moves so much and that influenced every area of our story, the weather, the light, and the landscape change. The story is about a journey and change and setting it there made sense to us. The ruggedness of it and the dark forest made it a place for big adventures and it was a great place to set the story.