Katherine Sarafian has filled just about every job there is at Pixar Animation Studios, from production assistant on the first Toy Story film to production manager of Pixar's short film department to director of marketing for the entire studio, and now producer of her first Pixar feature, Brave (see "Merida's choices," by Alicia M. Cohn, WORLD, June 30). Meeting the challenge of living up to the high expectations audiences have for Pixar films can be a daunting task, but Sarafian says her faith keeps her grounded, and her focus helps keep her eye on what a successful production needs.
The Pixar pedigree can be "a blessing and a curse," says Sarafian. "If you come in to work every day thinking a film has to be the next great Pixar film, the pressure is too immense, and you'll get paralyzed by it. What you do instead is put your head down and focus on telling the best story you can." Sarafian says she strives to provide a cocoon around the filmmakers that allows them to concentrate on their craft. When the Brave production team walked into the studio, they could just think about "this film, this character, what's her journey, what's her arc. We focus on that, do the best we can, then we hope it fits in and is worthy of the Pixar canon."
Raised in the Armenian Orthodox Church, Sarafian says she finds comfort and peace at what she calls her "home base": "Things may be going off the rails on the film or in the world," she says, but her church keeps her centered on being the mother and the "person the Lord wants me to be, and you sort of rise to that constantly."
Messages on motherhood and the challenges of the mother-daughter relationship dominate the film Sarafian has produced, and she says she takes pride in Brave's approach to family dynamics. "With this story, it's coming of age, and we wanted to show real consequences, dire stakes, and that Merida's reckless decision, and her impetuousness, and her irresponsible actions put the whole kingdom at peril and put her mom's life in danger. We didn't want to tread lightly on that. We wanted it to feel really intense for people because we were inspired by the cautionary tales that we read growing up like the Grimm tales where really dark stuff could happen, but then that would hopefully make our audience feel like the character, be along for the journey, and really be rooting for her to figure that stuff out and fix it, [to mend] that true love and that hurt connection with her family." At the same, she wanted to balance these serious topics "with humor and heart."
Sarafian says Pixar has several new films on the horizon. Next summer, the studio delves back into familiar territory with the prequel Monsters University, which tells the origin of Mike and Sully's friendship in college. The Good Dinosaur arrives in 2014, a film Sarafian couldn't discuss beyond the title. Following that is an intriguing project in which Pixar will take the viewer inside the human mind. Later comes a film revolving around the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) holiday, celebrated in Mexico and many other cultures, that celebrates and remembers loved ones who have perished.
As for Sarafian, she will take a brief hiatus from her work at Pixar-as her next focus is on the new son she hopes to deliver shortly.