Life After Pixar: An Interview with Brenda Chapman
“We caught up with Chapman at Trojan Horse was a Unicorn in Portugal, an art/animation/visual effects event where the director and her husband, Kevin Lima (Tarzan, Enchanted), were both key presenters. Although getting projects off the ground remains a tough task, Chapman has relished the chance to try new things. And her and Lima even have plans to start their own animated feature production company.”
CB: Can you describe what it was like for you after Brave came out in 2012, and then winning an Oscar in 2013?
Chapman: After the film was released, that was the first opportunity I was able to work. I couldn’t work for another studio until the film was released. I’d been biding my time, writing my own stuff, taking some classes. Just waiting. And suffering!
CB: What happened after that?
Chapman: While I was working on Strange Magic, the Oscars took place. Everything seemed to start happening again. Jeffrey Katzenberg had called me the day he found out I was let go from Brave. He said, ‘Come back to DreamWorks,’ but I told him I had to wait. So he was always there, but DreamWorks went through a lot of changes until I got back there about two years later.
CB: Obviously you’d been at DreamWorks before. What did you do there this time around?
Chapman: Well, I had learned on Brave never to give any of my ideas to a studio again. That was a lesson very much learned. I tried to make a deal with DreamWorks where I would have some ownership for a film or some connection to it, at least to the point where they couldn’t take me off my own movie. But film studios are just too greedy in that way so I didn’t give them any of my ideas. However, I said, ‘If you have anything in your coffers, I’d be happy to work with you.’
Which is what I did – I helped develop a project called Rumblewick which was based on a children’s book. It was so much fun and it was hard to leave it behind when I did, but it wasn’t as heartbreaking as Brave. I don’t think anything will be, because I don’t think I’ll ever let anything I’m so attached to have that vulnerability again.
CB: It sounds like many new things have become possible…
Chapman: Yes, when a door slams shut and the wall falls down, screw the window and look at the view. There’s so much out there – too much to get caught up in the past and all the things that made you sad. OK, you went through your grieving period. That’s over, behind you. What’s out there now?
CB: When you had to leave Brave, it felt like there was so much immediate support out there for you. And when you won the Oscar with Mark Andrews there felt like even more support. What was that like for you at the time?
Chapman: That held me up. I wasn’t expecting it. I thought I was going to go the way of all the other directors that get pushed aside on any film. But to have that support from my peers in the industry as well as broader in live action and the animation community. And my crew, too. I got hundreds of emails from my crew on Brave that told me, ‘OK, I’m not what they’re trying to make believe what I am. I’m not crazy. I know I had a good movie. And it’s still there in the film.’ Without that kind of support, I don’t know if I would have been able to say, ‘OK, well what’s next?’ I think I would have been much more wounded and taken longer to heal. So I’ll forever feel grateful for that.
CB: Is there anything else you can say about your planned project with Kevin?
Chapman: Well, it is a live action/animation hybrid. We are getting ready to start pitching it around, so I’d like to keep it mostly under wraps right now. But if we can start getting it made, there’s going to be a lot of 2D animation but also CG and stop motion—it’s a big concept and we’re hoping we can pull some of the 2D animators out of the woodwork and get them back at the drawing board, as well as using all the new computer techniques.