Sunday, February 17, 2013

Brenda the Brave

Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman at the British Academy Awards
Last week, BRAVE won the British Academy Award, or BAFTA, for best animated feature, just weeks after winning a Golden Globe in the same category.   But unlike the Golden Globes, the film's author, Brenda Chapman, not only attended but was given a chance to speak.  Much was made about her absence at the Globes, but this time around the tension and bad blood were kept out of view of the press for the sake of show biz.  After all, reading about John Lasseter jerking around a great director (and nice person) is like hearing Santa Claus fired Rudolph over a flight path dispute.  

Brenda's still "a little gun shy" about talking about the surrounding turmoil of making BRAVE, but she was very kind to answer some questions for FLIP.  

FLIP: What was BAFTA like?
Exciting… but bittersweet. I didn't expect that BRAVE would win honestly - I thought Tim Burton would be taking it home - and then ParaNorman is also a really really REALLY great movie.  So I was surprised.  I was told I wouldn't get to speak,  so it was another nice surprise when Mark offered me the podium when he was done… although I wasn't prepared.  I don't even remember what I said!
It was a blast to bump into Billy Connolly, again.  He just cracks me up.  So according Billy,  I won a "death mask on a stick".
The BAFTA Awards, a.k.a. "A death mask on a stick." 
FLIP: Was your family with you?
Sadly, no.  It was a really quick trip, so we decided not to put the whole family through the jet lag phase.  But my phone was buzzing with a multitude of texts from them when I got back to my seat.

FLIP: You left Pixar and went to Lucasfilm, which has now been bought by Disney.  Is Lasseter your boss again?
No, he's not.  I'm still working for Kathleen Kennedy and her team. I love it. She really is a great person to work with… a lot of trust there.

FLIP:  Female characters in animation: what are the biggest things we keep getting wrong in writing, design, and animation?
We don't always get them wrong these days - it's the past the we need to try to step away from and the stereotype of female characters' only goal being "a man" or "true love".  I mean, guys like to "get the girl" on occasion, too, but it's not the only thing that drives them, you know?

Writing: try to give the character a real point of view, not a guys point of view of what he thinks a girl should be.  I could give a ton of examples - even in some of more recent favorite films of how that is still the case today, but I don't want to get in trouble. :)   If a guy is writing or creating the character, then be observant of the ladies in your life - try to figure out what really makes them think and do the things they do - not just what your perception of what you think it is.  Ask your wife, girlfriend, sister, daughter or friend what they would do in the situation you are trying to create.  You just might be surprised.  And think about some of your old favorite animated non-princess films: What if Pinnocchio were a girl?  That could have worked!

Design: I tried to make sure that Merida has more meat on her bones - muscle and real girl curves - to give her a gymnast-like body instead of the supermodel look or ultra-hourglass figure.  Girls come in all shapes and sizes, and I think it's fun to see how designers are trying different ways to approach them that are out of the old Disney box.  Yes, we have boobs, but they are not all basket ball sized or raisin sized.  Yes, we have waists, but they are not all tiny or humongous… neither are our hips.  Just think outside the usual design box.  I'm not saying we absolutely succeeded with Merida, I wanted her to thicken up a bit, as well as the Mom, but I think we came close.

Animation: Only use the sex-kitten poses on the sex-kitten characters. Let the rest of the girl characters have some self respect and dignity… and fun beyond posing for the guys.  Put as much realness into the girls as you do the boys.  And honestly,  I'm seeing more and more of that as the years pass. So I'm very hopeful and have been happy with what I've been seeing lately.

FLIP:  You have been vocal about the lack of substantive female characters in animation. Given the great number of female development executives in our industry, how is this still an issue?
The "great number of female executives in animation"?  Really?  I believe the men still outnumber the ladies… And they still have to report to the men that are their CEOs.

"Funny is money" is the mantra I have heard way too often, and what's funny to most of the execs in animation seems to be butt gags, fart jokes and crazy ass action packed goof ball stuff - instead of humor through character - which has also been thrown in my face a few times, only to be replaces by butt gags, fart jokes and crazy ass action packed goof ball stuff that has not much to do with character. And seems girls just don't fit into that category of "funny" as much as the boys do.

FLIP:  I have to admit, my experience with development execs is now fifteen years old, when I was at Disney TVA. The direct to video sequels were the big cash cow then, and the development team was almost entirely women. They would insist on introducing a strong female character, which translated into a young woman of stock design who fought with the hero, saved his butt in the second act, fell in love, then had to be rescued and married off at the end. The execs would fixate on hair styles and wardrobe - I kid you not.   I guess there's no question here, but you can comment if you like.
Yeah… I find it really frustrating when women put themselves in that box.  Drives me nuts!  Actually, I just got an email from a mother and her 3 young daughters in Greece who hated the fact that Merida did not end up with a prince at the end of BRAVE.  So… we have to educate our own, too. :)  I mean, the only reason I made Merida a princess in the first place was to try and really turn the princess thing on its ear.  I'll be avoiding them in the future if I can!

(Editor's note: To find out more about Brave, read about why director Mark Andrews likes to wear a kilt, and learn about the secret Irish roots of Merida's hair....)

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