Interview with the Filmmaker
Brave Producer Katherine Sarafian on Faith, Family and Magic
By Hannah Goodwyn
CBN.com Senior Producer
- Disney/Pixar’s new animated box office hit, Brave, won hearts last weekend. Set in ancient Scotland, the nontraditional princess movie tells the story of a young lass named Merida who’s desperate to find her own destiny even if it breaks her kingdom’s customs and parents’ hearts.
Producer Katherine Sarafian is a Pixar veteran who joined the ambitious project in its early days. Recently, Sarafian spoke with CBN.com about how her Christian faith affects her work, what Brave says to families and why Pixar put magic in Merida’s movie.
On how Merida's story attracted Sarafian to the project…
Katherine Sarafian: I was attracted initially to the core personal relationship in the center of the story. [Director] Brenda Chapman pitched this idea many years ago in our development process, and it was based on her very contentious relationship with her spirited and willful six-year-old daughter. And they were really butting heads, and Brenda thought, “What will she be like as a teenager?” And, out of that, we wove this mother-daughter relationship that became part of a family story that I found very relatable and kind of universal.
At its core, it's a family story about love. And I was very excited about that, because you know, who hasn't experienced some sort of family in their life and some sort of relationship like that?
On making Merida, the first female lead in a Pixar movie…
Sarafian: We’ve never had a girl at the center of one of our stories before. But, in making the film, we really had to treat it like a character. We had to kind of take gender out of it, like who’s a heroic character? What is this character's journey as a teenager? And what is this character's relationship with the parent? Because I think if we had focused on "it's a girl character", and then we'd start looking at the expectations of what the audience wants out of a girl character, it’s back in the conventions of a genre, or conventions of rules that are false. So we really wanted to treat her just as a character, and then kind of make it secondary, oh, and she happens to be a girl. But mainly, she's a warrior, and a hero, and a child of the family.
On what families can glean from Brave…
Sarafian: It says a lot of things specifically about bravery. There’s the outward like sword fighting and archery, and fighting big, scary beasts. But there’s the bravery in your heart, and in your soul, and in your family love.
Merida really needs to reconcile how she sees herself and who she believes she is as she speaks up about who she is, with how the world sees her, how her family wants her to be.
I hope that families come away with realizing that, you know, everyone’s different, and with your family love, you can sort of still love your family and still be a member of the family unit and go through a lot of trial and tribulations together. But that family love, it’s important.
Sarafian: I think it can be defined many ways. I don’t believe it’s just like, oh, fate, destiny. I think it grows and evolves with us, and you know, I think God’s plans for us and through our prayer. I think it’s all intertwined. I do like the message of the movie, it’s like, that fate is intertwined with others, but it lives within us. I believe in that kind of fate, like you know, I think that we have a great presence and say over how our lives go. And we do that in partnership with our higher power, with our Lord, in prayer or in however people want to communicate, within their faith that they can shift things. I believe it’s powerful.
On how faith guides her work…
Sarafian: I definitely feel an influence of growing up in the church, and I was baptized, and went to Sunday school and got married all in the same church. And that’s the church I still attend
It’s been a journey over six years, and it’s hard to make these movies. And having that grounding community, and a place to pray, or to be, or to sing, or to just experience and bring the family sort of a checkpoint on Sundays. It’s been very important for me, so that I don’t kind of go crazy.
On the spiritual lessons audiences can learn from Pixar’s Brave…
Sarafian: I think a very New Testament way of looking at things is the idea of this unconditional love and forgiveness. Merida, she makes some doozy mistakes. She’s not a perfect teenager. She’s a teenager, and she screws some stuff up. She sasses her mother, let’s face it. And mother’s not perfect, either. All of the imperfect characters are coming together. [It’s] the idea of asking forgiveness and learning to admit when you’re wrong. Then the family being able to love each other despite their differences, and how Merida, she doesn’t quite feel she fits into this family, or what’s expected of her. But they find that love anyway, and learn that we can love each other, despite how differently we would want to rule this kingdom, or who we are.
On why magic was used to help tell Merida’s story…
Sarafian: It’s not exactly a fairytale, really. It’s sort of a folktale, but we wanted to create a wholly original folk tale. But we were really inspired by the classic tales of the land, specifically in Scotland.
When we visited Scotland, we found that there was magic around every corner… whether it’s about the Loch Ness monster or where the trolls live. We didn’t believe most of it. But that’s the legend and the sort of magic and speech in the land. So it was something that was very much true to the Scottish culture that we wanted to include in the movie.
We also grew up watching Grimm’s Fairytales, and all of these sort of dark tales with real consequences. There was always that wee bit of magic in them. So we didn’t want so much magic that it took over to the story and changed the rules of the world, but just enough to facilitate things.
I think I would’ve been less interested in this movie if it was the magic that solved the problems. I think to us, the magic being an element, all it is, is a little bit of a facilitator and it helps a little with the lessons. But if you think about it, the magic doesn’t change mom. It actually is the love that changes her. In fact, if you look at it, the magic doesn’t even work. So at the end of the film, we know Merida’s counting on this magic, to, you know, “Oh, I broke the spell!” It’s like, oh, you know what, you didn’t. It didn’t work. You have to look in yourself; you have to love your mom. You have to ask forgiveness. You have to find that inner bravery. And that’s what changes mom. So, we tried to use it that way where it was part of the story and part of the legend, and folklore and the entertainment, but not the game changer of the story.
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Hannah Goodwyn serves as the Entertainment and Family producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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