BONNIE ARNOLD Producer
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, OVER THE HEDGE
How did you get started in entertainment?
I always loved movies but, when I was going to high school, the curriculum did not include media studies, and pursuing film as a career did not seem like an option. I majored in journalism in college and got my first job as an assistant to a producer at the local public television station in Atlanta, thinking that would be a foot in the door to a career in broadcasting. The show I worked on was actually a movie for a PBS network series called American Playhouse. I did a little bit of everything and was able to utilize my writing background in grant writing and script development. When time came to start filming, I was able to tag along in order to write the publicity notes. It was on a movie set in Bellows Falls, New Hampshire that I fell in love! From the day I set foot in the production office, I knew this was my calling.
From there, I started working freelance in film production in Atlanta and met a producer, David Picker. He invited me to work at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles. It was while working for Columbia on a Tony Scott movie called Revenge that I met Kevin Costner. Kevin asked me to come and work with him on a film he was planning to direct called Dances With Wolves. I joined the production as the associate producer. Then, in 1992, Disney interviewed me for a line producer position and, in that process, I met Peter Schneider, who was running Disney’s Animation Studios. Peter and I hit it off, and he told me about a project that they were working on that he thought would be a good fit for me. The project was Toy Story and, by the next day, I was meeting with John Lasseter. I told John that I didn’t know animation, but I knew how to make a movie and I hoped that my skills from working in live action would translate to the new medium. He reminded me that no one had made an all-computer-animated feature film, so all of us were going to have to figure it out together.
After Toy Story was completed, Disney asked me to come back to Los Angeles and produce Tarzan. I loved the folks at Pixar, but it was my dream to live in Hollywood and work in the film business. Besides that, I was a big fan of the Tarzan movies – it seemed like a great fit for me.
In 2001, after I finished Tarzan, Jeffrey Katzenberg invited me to come to DreamWorks to produce Over the Hedge. I had met Jeffrey during the making of Toy Story and was excited about the possibility of coming to work for him again. The rest is history.
Was it difficult for you to go from live action to animation?
Creatively, it’s always about great storytelling. Technically, there were some things that I had to learn, but in terms of managing artists, budgets and schedules, my skills were applicable. What I like about my job is that
I am always learning something new and meeting people from all around the world. Personally, I feel like I have more control over my work schedule than I did when I was involved in live action production. That makes it easier to have a balance with your personal life.
Can you talk about the Geena Davis Institute on Gender & Media?
Geena and I are both graduates of Boston University, and I am a big fan of her work as an actor. She loved How To Train Your Dragon and was very complimentary about the character of Astrid. I hosted Geena here at the studio to help her raise the awareness among our producers, directors and writers of how women and girls are portrayed in movies and television. I am very supportive of her work and think her organization is making a difference.
Do you think it’s difficult for women to get into entertainment and animation?
I do think it is getting better all the time. My advice is to find something that you like doing and just do the best job you can. The people you work for will recognize that. Both Jeffrey Katzenberg and Bill Damaschke are very supportive of the women here at DreamWorks. There are a lot of smart women working here with great technical and creative expertise. And they are successfully managing both their careers and their families. I think it’s great for young women to know that they can do that.
What’s your best advice?
Try to discover the work you are passionate about. It doesn’t always present itself immediately. It took me a while to realize that it takes time to develop your career. If someone asks you what you want to do, just say it (even if you are not so sure). There are a lot interesting jobs out there, and you just have to be open to them. I would have never thought in a million years that I would be producing animation, but I took advantage of an opportunity that happened to come my way. Play your own course; don’t worry about what others are doing. Be good at your job. Don’t give up on your dream.