Most people take some time to pity themselves after getting fired. They wallow in cocoons of Snuggies, oversized sweaters and empty pizza boxes, spending their days watching Bravo reality shows with the blinds closed. But Brenda Chapman -- the animator who thought up the idea for Pixar's "Brave" and was the movie's director until she was let go due to "creative differences" more than a year before its release -- is not most people.
She admits taking a day or two to lick her wounds. After all, in a widely read editorial in The New York Times last week, she called being dropped from the project "devastating." But she quickly realized she wouldn't be happy with herself if she didn't stay active.
"Some other people that this has happened to have just disappeared and not done much afterwards," Chapman told The Huffington Post. "But I didn't want to do that. I have a fighting spirit. So I started on other projects pretty much right away. I'm the youngest of five kids, so I’ve learned how to stand up for myself whenever I need to."
Chapman said her experience on "Brave" had taught her lessons she wished someone had taught her before she became a director. She started speaking directly to aspiring animators through public-speaking jobs at film schools and started a personal website and blog that emphasized her desire to mentor young filmmakers. She said she's been surprised by the enthusiastic responses she received from would-be mentees.
"It just makes me realize how many young women and young men are watching the animation industry and watching those of us who have been in it a while to figure out how to do it themselves," she said.
Her central advice for fledgling animators is to remember, at all times, that they are working in a business. She says that even though she'd worked in animation for almost 20 years before being named director of "Brave," she still approached the job naively. She assumed that because Pixar liked the idea she'd pitched, she would be granted freedom and security as the head of the project. And at first, she was.
But it takes a long time to make an animated movie. Chapman first drafted the plot and character summaries in "Brave" at the beginning of 2004, a few months after she moved to Pixar from Dreamworks. Between then and 2011, Pixar was acquired by Disney, shaking up leadership at the top of the company. And Chapman said many executives, looking at the same material for years on end, start to get bored and demand changes to keep things fresh for them -- even though the material will be fresh to the audiences who eventually see the movie no matter what.
While Chapman's contract with Pixar precludes her from discussing the exact series of events that led to her departure from "Brave," she implied that executives started demanding story changes that she had no interest in making. When push came to shove, she felt powerless -- which showed her the importance of having an excellent legal team that plans for harsh contingencies when writing a contract for work.
"When you take something of your own someplace else, you have to be really careful," Chapman said. "You try to think of every possible scenario -- what if they like my idea, but don't want me to direct? What if they want to change something essential in the story?"
"Legally, you want to want to figure out how you deal with each of those scenarios, as opposed to just being stuck, which is what happened to me," she continued.
Yet once Chapman got un-stuck with regards to "Brave," she started to move on with her life. She ended up liking the final cut of the movie, which she says ended up almost identical to the version she'd had in mind.
"I saw it a few months before it came out, and I was really pleased that they had gone back to my work," she said. "I had seen a version earlier that had lost a lot of it. That they had done after I left -- and that had frustrated me a lot."
Chapman formally left Pixar this summer and is now working as a consultant on a movie in development at Lucasfilm and on several book projects. But the $64,000 question is whether or not she'll ever try to direct another movie herself.
"I'd like to. I thought for a while I wouldn’t want to. I felt so beat up after the experience on 'Brave,'" she said. "But I just love telling stories. I love working with a bunch of creative people that feel passionate about what they're doing. I miss that."
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