Author: Jessica Faroy
She was not wearing a sharp black suit. She did not have a Bluetooth attached to her ear. Her personal assistant was nowhere in sight, and she did not carry around an Oscar. She did not seem to lack ethics or morals.
Lindsey Collins ’94 did not remotely resemble Hollywood’s stereotypical producer.
She dressed in simple cargo pants and boots. She gripped her cup of coffee, dismissing the lavish brunch displayed in front of her. She laughed. A lot.
Hilarious and humble, Collins is currently a producer of Pixar Animation Studios’ movie, “Finding Dory” (2016). As a producer, she handles aspects of the conception, creation and distribution of certain movies at Pixar. Her repertoire includes “John Carter” (2012), “WALL-E” (2008), “Ratatouille” (2007) and “Finding Nemo” (2003). In 2009, Collins won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for her role as co-producer on “WALL-E.”
The Career Development Center invited Collins to share her career path with students at a discussion on Thursday.
Collins did not always envision herself working in animation. As a recent Occidental graduate, Collins interviewed for a production assistant (PA) job with Disney Animation Studios just to move out of her parents’ house. According to Collins, snagging the position at Disney was a stroke of luck. After three years at Disney, Pixar’s rebellion and creativity lured her in. She transferred to Pixar and filled the roles of lighting manager in “A Bug’s Life” (1998), editorial department manager in “Toy Story 2” (1999) and production manager in “Ratatouille” and “Finding Nemo.”
Dabbling in different departments, Collins noted, has made her a stronger leader because she understands what everyone is going through and knows how to put a movie together.
Long before her life of storyboards and scripts, however, Collins was a typical college student, unsure what her eventual path might be.
Collins majored in Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA), never took a film class and did not hold much interest in animation as a student at Occidental. Nonetheless, Collins attributes her rise from a PA to a producer to the general skill set a liberal arts education provides.
“[Pixar] saw a skill in me that I didn’t realize was a skill: the ability to critically think, to walk into a room and know what was needed and what happened,” Collins said. “I had an organizational skill and ability to see things from all sides of a problem and problem solve. You walk into a class [at Occidental], and you have to be prepared to state your thoughts. Listen and engage and have a voice.”
During her time at Occidental, Collins recalled entering a classroom and being taken aback by the students who either seemed really smart or really prepared. Even after college, Collins said she continues to feel similarly, and to combat this, she asks a lot of questions. The strategy helped her weather the steep learning curve she faced when she began at Pixar.
“My boss and I call it ‘The Colombo Effect,'” said Collins, “Just ask the dumb question, because more than likely there are other people around the table that have the same question.”
Collins recalled her lack of knowledge regarding movie terminology and the industry’s overall process when she started. When given her first tour of a studio, Collins confused a render farm, which is a high-performance computer system, for an actual petting zoo.
“I was like, ‘There’s a farm? Is it like a petting zoo?” Collins said.
Collins’ initial lack of experience demonstrates that film school is not necessary to work in the industry. According to Collins, with modern, user-friendly, off-the-shelf software, everybody can create something if they want to. The ability to craft an engaging story, however, is essential.
With technology and the savviness to operate it abound, the sheer quantity of content can be overwhelming. Storytelling, according to Collins, is the only way to stand out amongst the noise.
“At the end of the day, great storytellers are great storytellers and people want to go see great stories,” Collins said. “It’s kind of why books have always existed.”
In regard to making a movie in particular, Collins’ advice centers on developing a solid voice, script and characters. The loss of something or someone important to a character, she believes, is critical to any story and helps viewers become invested in its outcome.
“If you’re creating the world out of nothing, you need to have some loss otherwise your stories are not going to have any stakes,” Collins said.
Collins is no stranger to stakes in her own career. As with any project, Collins risks rejection with each film she produces. While many of her films have received acclaim, her first live action project “John Carter” was marked as a box office failure by the media.
“It’s like having a kid, you do everything you can to raise the kid right and to set them up well and put the right values into them, and then you have to go, ‘Okay, go out into the world’ and you have to steel yourself for the world’s reaction because you can’t control it,” Collins said.
Despite the negative feedback, Collins does not regret her involvement in “John Carter.”
“If you’re going to spend four years of your life on something, make sure you’re proud of it,” Collins said.
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