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"You always have to be sure & take those meetings"

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"You always have to be sure & take those meetings"

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It's one of Hollywood's great unwritten rules: "Take every meeting."

Meaning that -- no matter how unlikely it may seem that anything productive will actually come out of a face-to-face meeting with an industry exec -- you should still explore every possiblity. In short, take every meeting.

And no one understands this better than Bonnie Arnold, the producer of Dreamworks Animation's latest animated feature, "Over the Hedge." Back in 1991, Arnold was just an associate producer. Mind you, she was an associate producer who had worked on some very impressive motion pictures: Most notably Kevin Costner's 1990 Academy Award winner, "Dances with Wolves" as well as that 1991 holiday season smash, "The Addams Family."

Copyright Dreamworks Animation

But -- at the same time -- Bonnie was still just an associate producer. Which -- in the really-for-real Hollywood hierarchy -- wasn't all that high in the food chain. Which is why -- when Walt Disney Pictures called and said that they were interested in offering her a position as an in-house line producer -- Ms. Arnold followed the conventional wisdom and said: "Sure, I'll take that meeting."

Which is how Bonnie wound up at the Mouse House in early 1992. And during her get-acquainted phase (Where Ms. Arnold was making the rounds at the studio, trying to find a project that she actually felt passionate about), Bonnie bumped into Peter Schneider, the then-head of Disney Feature Animation.

And Mr. Schneider ... He was intrigued by Ms. Arnold's experience with visual effects. Particularly all of the sequences in "The Addams Family" that had made use of computer animation. Peter explained to Bonnie that "We've got this movie that we're thinking of making. One that would involve an awful lot of CG. But -- to be honest -- we're unsure about how to handle this project. We don't know whether to treat this production as a straightforward film or just as 1500 effects shots that are strung together."

Schneider asked Ms. Arnold if she might be interested in riding herd on this still-somewhat-shakey WDFA project. Bonnie said yes. But before Peter could actually give her the job, Bonnie had to "take a meeting" with this film's director, John Lasseter.

So Lasseter & Arnold met and really hit it off. Which is how Bonnie wound up being the producer of "Toy Story," the picture that helped make Pixar Animation Studios into the powerhouse that it is today.

Copyright Disney Pixar

Of course, one of the real challenges of making "Toy Story" was that Lasseter & Arnold basically had to build an entire animation studio from scratch. Assemble a team with the necessary skills to turn John's bare-bones notion of a "Roy Rogers versus Buck Rogers buddy picture" into a full-blown animated feature.

"That was a really interesting time, trying to get things started up there in Port Richmond," Bonnie laughed. "People who were interested in coming on board with 'Toy Story' would call me and say: 'What sort of job description are you trying to fill?' And I'd have to tell them that 'If you're the sort of person who actually needs a job description before you agree to sign onto a project, this probably isn't the project for you.' "

It took some time, but -- by working closely with Lasseter -- Arnold was eventually able to pull together a dedicated group of artists & technicians, animators & software specialists. The very people that John needed to turn "Toy Story" into a reality.

"That's something that I still pride myself on today," Bonnie explained. "Being able to pull together a team that can actually get the job done."

The folks at the Walt Disney Company obviously valued Ms. Arnold's team building skills. Which is why -- once work was completed on "Toy Story" -- the Mouse brought Bonnie back to Burbank. Where she rode herd on "Tarzan," a traditionally animated feature that -- thanks to its use of Deep Canvas (Where traditionally animated figures were seamlessly layered on top of moving CG backgrounds) -- offered its own unique set of challenges.

Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

And when "Tarzan" hit big at the box office in the Summer of 1999 ... Well, that's when Jeffrey Katzenberg came a-calling.

"I had been talking with Joe Roth at Revolution about possibly doing an animation-related project with him. But then Jeffrey called and asked me to come 'take a meeting' about possibly coming over to Dreamworks Animation and working on a project there. He and I met. We shared the same sensiblity. Which is how I wound up working on 'Over the Hedge.' "

After four years of hard work, this new animated feature finally rolls out into theaters later this week. And -- based on all the good buzz that currently surrounds "Over the Hedge" -- Dreamworks Animation could have another "Shrek" -sized hit on its hands. Thanks -- in large part -- to the efforts of Ms. Arnold.

Of course, what with Bonnie being naturally self-effacing and all, she's quick to brush away that compliment. Insisting that the real credit for "Over the Hedge" turning out as well as it has lies with that film's directors, Tim Johnson & Karey Kirkpatrick. However, Johnson says that Arnold played a vital role in keeping this production emotionally grounded, always making sure that the story stayed on track.

"Karey and I would have a gag that we loved, a bit of business that we'd want to keep in the movie," Tim explained. "But Bonnie would always be the one to say 'Isn't it time to service the story?' She always wanted to make sure that -- while we worked hard at entertaining the audience -- that we also kept the emotional connection in mind. That it was vitally important that the audience actually care about these characters."

Copyright Dreamworks Animation

And all of Arnold's hard work seems to have paid off. Given that critics have been calling "Over the Hedge" the most hilarious but heartfelt film that Dreamworks Animation has ever produced.

And Bonnie ... Well, she obviously takes some pride in that accomplishment. "I'm always pleased when pictures that I helped work on connect with audiences. When characters that I helped develop take on a life of their own. I still get a kick walking through airports and seeing kids carrying their Buzz & Woody dolls. I think that 'Hey, I played a little part in that.' It's a good feeling."

As to what Ms. Arnold is up to next ... Well, after four years of working on "Over the Hedge," Bonnie's looking forward to taking a few months off. Recharging her batteries, so to speak ... But -- that said -- she's already got a project at Dreamworks Animation that she's interested in tackling.

"So I would imagine that -- after I get back from vacation -- that I'll take a meeting with Jeffrey and talk about this project," Arnold laughed. "You always have to be sure & take those meetings."

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  • Sure-- give me a meeting with Jeffrey Katzenberg-- I'll take it…
  • Yes, she started out as the producer of Toy Story, and rose to become a hit producer at Dreamworks......to watch her movies get royally kicked in the pants by Pixar.    ^_^

    (And so ends the sad story of another poor, deluded victim who signed the "Jeffrey thought up Lion King!" Faust contract while she thought the signing was good...
    But don't worry, Bonnie, Spielberg fell for it, too.)
  • So she worked for Disney and "bumped into" Peter Schneider, but never met or talked with Joe Roth or Jeff Katzenberg.    Oh Kay.  

  • I can understand John Lasseter or Tim Allen or any of the animators getting a kick out of seeing a kid with a Buzz Lightyear doll, but someone that Disney sent over to make sure those crazy guys stay on budget - um no.
  • Thank goodness she focused on storyline and cut out the unnecessary gags - finally a Dreamworks cartoon without flatulence and burping.  

    Oops - just saw a preview - looks like flatulence and burping IS the storyline.
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