In Monsters Inc., Mike and Sulley are shown as life-long friends who stand by each other through thick and thin. But in the prequel, Monsters University, the bromance has yet to begin. In our exclusive clip, Sulley (John Goodman) is being courted by the illustrious Roar Omega Roar fraternity’s president, Johnny Worthington (Nathan Fillion). Will Mike (Billy Crystal) be able to bounce back? You’ll have to wait until June 21st to find out completely, but in the meantime we traveled to Pixar’s campus in Emeryville, California to meet with some of the makers of the film.
An animation house that is organized closer to a web start-up than a motion picture studio, Pixar is a company unlike any other. From the lead animator to the mailroom person, Pixar acknowledges that an idea can come from anywhere. Taking that idea and molding it and polishing it is the role of the director, but getting the director everything the director needs to execute that vision falls to the producer. Kori Rae has been working for Pixar since 1993, when she came on board as a commercial producer. 10 years and multiple job titles later, Kori has worked her way up to the role of Producer on Monsters University. We got to chat with her about the film, Pixar’s unique atmosphere and managing team morale.
Nerdist: What is it like herding visionaries?
Kori Rae: (Laughs) Fun and challenging. It’s really great. As producer I continue to learn every single day I come into work, because it’s hard and the visionaries and what they’re working on changes all the time. So I’m working with new people, different visions, and it’s totally, totally ever changing – and fun.
Nerdist: How are you chosen for the projects you work on at Pixar?
Kori: It’s different every time, but it’s pretty organic most of the time. It has to do with timing, what shows are in development, what’s coming up, but it’s also important that the partnership between the director and the producer is really good. That they’re kind of like-minded or at least complimentary. That they want to work together. And it’s important that they’re both passionate, equally passionate, about the movie and the idea for the film. Even when it’s just an idea, at the very beginning. Kind of like, “We’re going to make a movie about X.” It’s like, “That sounds cool.” You’re in it together for a long time, and we would never want someone involved on a project that wasn’t passionate and who wasn’t loving it equally. It’s a partnership, and it happens in different ways.
I wanted to work on this movie. So I let it be know that I wanted to work on it if I could, if it worked out and if the partnership with Dan seemed like a good idea, if the timing worked and people believed in me. So I tossed my hat in the ring. It’s about timing, it’s about the director and making sure that works. It’s all of the above, but it happens pretty organically.
Nerdist: You’ve got some very passionate and enthusiastic people here at Pixar. As manager of such a varied group, how do you approach your job?
Kori: You know what’s interesting? I think because of the type of people we have here, how I see my role is not as much reigning in as much as making sure people are having fun and lifting there heads up, really remembering that we’re all here together and having fun. We did this awesome thing at the beginning, when we were only about 50 people on the show and we were in a different building. We started having this competition, these scare games. It started and it was just going to be this one time thing and we were going to have a mean game of kickball amongst different departments and stuff. But it took off because the whole crew just loved the competition between departments and between each other and just the camaraderie and being together in a different environment than in their offices or at their desks. So we took those things and we ended up doing them for over a year. And it just transformed and really, when you talk to a lot of people at the end of this show, it’s one of the highlights of the film, in terms of the experience.
Really, it just came from a place of let’s bring everyone together and let some steam off. For me, it opened my eyes to how important that is to helping create the whole team, because we had had an editorial department that had never ever talked to anybody in a character department before, playing each other in kickball and just getting into it and being so competitive and creating friendships. So, I did more of that on this film. Everyone here is type-A and hard on themselves. Everyone wants to come in on time, on budget, do the best work. For me, I just make sure that everyone is having a great experience and I put a lot of effort into that.
Nerdist: One of the greatest assets Pixar has is that no employee is boxed out. If the mail guy has a good idea, it’ll get used. As a producer, how does it feel to get to see people come up within the ranks and contribute so meaningfully to the films?
Kori: It’s fantastic, and the truth is, it trickles down. It’s been John Lasseter’s mantra from the very beginning, from way back in the shorts days and commercials days, that everybody’s input is valued and everybody’s notes are taken. That is a philosophy here, and it is palpable. I love the fact that people can go for something that might seem untenable or unrealistic and really succeed. It happens day in, day out here, but it really started with John.
Nerdist: So the mailroom guy has a shot at working on a film?
Kori: Yes, it has happened. A janitor and mailroom guy both are extremely successful artists here.
Nerdist: You’ve worked on numerous films and projects here, with this being your first feature as the primary producer, where do you go from here?
Kori: I’m just super excited to share this movie with the world, because we kind of have made it known that we have something cool. We have a really, really great story that’s pretty unique. So, I’m just really, really excited to get it out there and let everyone experience it and hope that they love it.
Monsters University is in theaters on June 21st. Stay tuned to Nerdist.com for more on the film in the coming weeks.