During our Disney/Pixar press trip, we had the chance to interview the creative people behind the much anticipated film, BRAVE. This particular interview was with the producer of BRAVE, Katherine Sarafian, who started working at Pixar Studios in 1994 as a production coordinator on the studio’s first full-length feature film, “Toy Story.” She later worked on movies such as “A Bug’s Life,” “Monster’s Inc.” and many more.
Below are some of the questions that were asked to Katherine.
Was there any cool research for the film that you really set out?
KATHERINE : Yeah, I mean, the archery lessons really stood out to me. We did them, I mean, we were, here we were in Scotland, and so we went to these Highland games, the ionic games and the Highland, Bramar gathering, and so we went to two different Scottish Highland games in Scotland – very authentic. Bagpipers and competitions and they were doing tug of war, caber tossing, hammer throw, all these different sports. And, of course, archery is big in the Highlands as well. So we were seeing it there, learning, and we knew we were going to be using it in our story. We came back here and organized archery lessons for our crew out at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and it was fantastic.
They have an archery range there. We got an instructor and we all learned — it was really memorable. We had a picnic and made a day of it. It was really nice. Here we are in San Francisco with our little bit of Scotland and our bit of adventure and archery, and everybody on the crew was so excited to learn it because they knew they could really not just, you know, use this as a skill in life, in case you ever need to shoot anything, but, to be able to learn form and how to do this, and so when we animate Marida, um, we’d be able to really get it right, and know how do you hold your body, and where do you put your weight, and how do you pull it back? We wanted to really get it right.
What was the biggest challenge in getting this film done?
KATHERINE : I think the biggest challenge, and I’d say probably the other producers of the other films here would, would say the same thing, is the story is really hard at Pixar. Trying to tell a great, great story to the Pixar level of quality, and it’s a challenge because you really want to, we put pressure on ourselves to do the best that we can, and, it’s hard work and it takes a long time, and, you know, you just keep doing, we never stop. John Lassiter always says our films are never finished, they’re just released. And that’s really the case. We’re gonna be putting Brave out into the world, but we could keep working on it because we always want to keep making these better and better.
Like, I could add a little highlight there, or I could put some moss in the background there, but you’re trying to tell the story that you want to tell, you really toil over it to make it great and make it right, and make it really resound and resonate with audiences and make the characters relatable, and that’s a great challenge. It’s an exciting one because you know it’s the team telling that story. I love it. It’s a challenge mixed with a happy process. Painful, yet happy, because you’ve got these people who are so, so in love with what they do. I love telling stories, I’m going to tell stories, and they care so much about it. So it’s hard but good. It’s like good hard, you know?
How is it working for Pixar?
KATHERINE : Working for Pixar? You know, I’m coming up on 18 years working here, so obviously I like it. I really like being here. I think of it as an anchor and a home for me. I like that it’s a collaborative environment –the people, even the design of the building is an open window. You know, you can see across to another conference room. We try not to keep secrets from each other. We try to guard our films from everybody outside of here, but in this building we, you know, ‘cause we want to reveal the films later, audiences, and let them be surprised, but in these walls we try to share information and share ideas and, and help each other.
I consider the people here some of my closest friends. So, yeah, I like it, and, you know, my kid is in the Pixar little day care center and it feels like my family.
How did the name come about?
KATHERINE : So a funny, a little known fact, is the original title was Brave, and we came back to it. We did a detour into the Bear and the Bow for a while. So the original title was a working title and we always give our films a working title in the beginning, but the original title of Toy Story back in 1993, ’94, was the working title Toy Story. And it was just a working title. You never end up naming the movie Toy Story, right? And one of my jobs as an entry level on Toy Story was make a list of all the other titles that have been submitted by people of what this movie could be called, because we’re not gonna call it Toy Story.
How important was Meredith’s hair?
KATHERINE : Well, we considered Meredith’s hair to be a very important part of who she is, and so it was very important that we get it right, and that was not easy to do, obviously, ‘cause it was a huge technological and artistic challenge. From the very beginning, this character, was conceived of somebody who was going to be fiery and passionate, and strong-willed, and a bit of a wild-child, and athletic, and out-doorsy, untamed spirit, which to to us, equated to also untamed hair that was wild and so it needed the fiery redness of it was not just Scottish, but that we thought, our teams talked about it being so perfect and majestic against the Scottish backdrop, the colors, the greenery, the landscapes, that she would really stand out as a one of a kind character.
Like no one you’d ever met before. So it was important to her character in, storytelling-wise, that she have this spirit, and that it be represented in her hair, and that it became obviously very important to our technology teams to learn how to do that and figure out how to make that hair, or make those curls, and make them move the way they needed to. It was definitely crucial to the story, and really, that she wouldn’t look like anyone else who’s out there in the world and doesn’t look like anyone else in the movie either.
Was there a conscious decision to have a female protagonist?
KATHERINE : Well, in this case, it happened, I mean, I think it, I would say, I have to call it conscious decision so much more as a filmmaker-driven studio, the ideas come from the directors, and the seeds of the idea from the directors from the story artists who pitch the ideas. And so our filmmakers write what they know, and in the beginning stages of this, when Brendan Chapman pitched this story, it was about this singular female protagonist, and John Lassiter and the brain trust, they liked the idea right away, and said, yes, let’s develop this. So, at that point it wasn’t because she was a girl, or it wasn’t, like, oh, we need to have one with a girl.
Can somebody come up with one? It was the story based on Brenda’s relationship with her own daughter who was very strong-willed and very, stubborn, and they were butting heads a lot. She was six years old, and Brenda said, what’ll she be like as a teenager? You know? And that was the impetus for the story, so organic in that respect, ‘cause it came right out of Brenda’s heart in that way. Then in the development process, it just took hold, and flourished and became what we see today.
How old is Meredith?
KATHERINE : She is turning 16 in the film, so it’s her 16th birthday — Right around then.
Is there a moment in the movie that you made sure was in there so you could develop the queen?
KATHERINE : Yeah, there are several. And you’ll see them because whenever you’ve got a core issue, is an argument or a disconnect between two characters, you’ve got to make sure that you can see both character’s sides of the story. You know, you’ll be able to relate to Merida because you know, modern people would want to be able to make your own decisions, but you can probably also relate to Elinor because she also, like “a don’t sass me kid,” you know? So, you’ve got to be able to relate to both of them and, and be sympathetic to their points of view, their expectations on Elinor as the working mother who’s running this kingdom, and needs it to be certain, needs things to go a certain way.
She cannot be complete without her appeal either, because she has very real things she has to deal with and challenges. There’s moments throughout where you’re going to see the more subtle parts of their personalities that show you there’s a lot of love there, and that this was when you see in the beginning of the movie, this was not always a problematic relationship. They began in a great place, things developed, and so I think you’ll see little things throughout. Keep your eyes open.
Are they blue ferries?
KATHERINE : Yeah, the will-o-the-wisps?
What are they?
KATHERINE : Will-o-the-wisps.
KATHERINE : Will-o-the-whisps. Yes. So those are inspired by an actual Scottish phenomenon that are bog gases that light up blue, and then as you come close to them, they disappear. Legend says they will change your, change your fate. And so that’s what we’re doing in our film. We have made these little will-o-the-wisp blue characters that will lead Merida, something that might change her fate. Those are based in either what we have been told is a scientific phenomenon, but we went through Scotland and did not see any of them, so I don’t know. I looked and looked.
Whose idea was it to bring those into the story?
KATHERINE : I actually cannot remember. That was early in the development phase, but I think was something from, based on our research, and the small development team that was on at the time, Steve Percel, Brenda Chapman, the story team, they did a lot of research in Celtic mythology, and Scottish history and climates, and landscape and everything, and nature, and, and they learned about it.
Which character would you most relate to?
KATHERINE : I think it’ll change depending based on the fact that I, right now, really feeling that working mom thing, I think I relate to Elinor, trying to kind of pull the kingdom together, and also kind of, you know, do a little bit of battle with one daughter, and try to keep those little toddlers from doing too much damage. I think I relate to her right this second, but on a core level, I probably relate to Merida more, because as a teenager, I was very sure that nobody understood me. I was very sure that they couldn’t see me for who I was, and I think the worlds and society’s expectations for me didn’t quite match who I saw myself as, so I thought that I would say, you know, at a deeper level, I probably relate to Merida more.
So there you have it. An exclusive interview from the producer herself, Katherine Sarafian.
Be on the look out for BRAVE, hitting theaters June 22nd!
Disclosure: Disney provided me with an all-expense paid trip to San Fransisco for three days for the preview of CHIMPANZEE, LA LUNA and BRAVE. All opinions are all my own, as always.