While many leading film and TV studios look to prove themselves as cutting edge and forward-thinking, always touting groundbreaking new projects and advanced technologies, what goes on behind the scenes can be equally as innovative. Take Lucasfilm, for instance. A highly successful film studio that, long before the #MeToo movement, was headed up by president Kathleen Kennedy, eight-time Academy Award nominee and Lynwen Brennan, executive vice president & general manager. In fact, the studio takes pride in how many of its leadership roles are populated by women and in its efforts to encourage young women to pursue careers in the industry. Some of the studio’s leaders have been participating with such groups as Women in VFX and Women in Animation, as well as speaking at such events as the Grace Hopper Conference, one of the world’s largest gathering of women technologists.
Pippa Anderson, vice president of post production at Lucasfilm, oversees all of post for the studio, including live-action, direct-to-consumer projects and animation. In fact, since 2013, she’s led the post teams through the entire process for such hits as Strange Magic, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story, as well as the Star Wars Rebels animated series.
“My role is to oversee the entire post process for all Lucasfilms,” says Anderson. “I’m primarily focused on the movies and now very involved in the new direct-to-consumer, live-action streaming projects [such as the newest Star Wars live-action series that stars Diego Luna as the Rebel spy Cassian Andor. The series will stream on Disney+, the Walt Disney Company’s new direct-to-consumer streaming service]. It’s very exciting and hugely challenging in terms of setting it up from scratch.”
Anderson continues that she works closely “with the filmmakers and the studio and all the various post teams, the editors, sound teams, music teams, composers, etc. to create and manage a customized post production workflow for every project and every filmmaker. This is because everyone has a different way they like to work and how they want to achieve their visions. So, that begins from as early on as preproduction, long before the shooting starts, and goes all the way through to final delivery and worldwide release. There are always plenty of challenges getting these really big movies — especially the huge tentpoles — out to the screens on time.”
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Anderson, who is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, actually received her degree in Business Communication from the University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and had her sights set on journalism. However, after an unexpected encounter with a well-known Australian TV director that resulted in her editing several films, Anderson’s career path took a new turn as a picture editor in post production. “I totally fell in love with that new role immediately,” she says. “It was a different pathway of telling stories, using image, sound, music, etc. than just words.”
That series of films launched an extensive and successful career in editing for both television and film until finally she moved full time into post production supervision. She worked closely with Peter Jackson in New Zealand and as head of post she supervised and delivered King Kong (2005), The Lovely Bones, District 9 and The Adventures of Tintin, where she met producer and future president of LucasFilm, Kathleen Kennedy. When Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney in 2012 and Kennedy was named president, she asked Pippa to lead post production.
Certainly, while running post for a top film studio such as Lucasfilm would be considered a dream job by many, it doesn’t come without its challenges. According to Anderson, “Time is usually the biggest challenge that we face because there’s a lot of expectation and desire for my team from the filmmakers and the studio to make sure that, in the time frame and budget that we have, we absolutely put the best movie out there. In order to do that, we usually have multiple projects on the go at once — always with a ticking clock, of course, and it’s always a question of getting all of those galloping horses all heading in the right direction. And that has a lot to do with picking the right teams and leading them. They’re all incredibly talented and committed and just helping them, where my own skills and experience are applicable, and just making sure that they have a really safe, supportive and stimulating technical and creative environment so they can get on with their jobs and not worry about all the other stuff.”
Anderson says that once the project moves into post, “that’s when all the chickens come home to roost. Post production is about working with what you’ve got, as opposed to what you think you might have had. It’s also just surrounding yourself with really good people. I have an incredibly good core team here who work with me on all of the different productions. Then we have post production teams wherever we’re shooting and some very good people who we’ve worked with over several projects who bring their best people and skills and talents and it’s really just building best upon best.”
With each and every project, Anderson says that the team keeps getting better at the post production process, perfecting it for the way they like to do movies, while also supporting the filmmakers each time. “I really enjoy the whole problem-solving aspect of the job and finding really creative solutions, balancing budgets and schedules on tight ropes,” she says. “That’s something that’s deep in my DNA and it’s all part of the fun of the job. But I’d be fibbing if I said it wasn’t hard at times and that I wasn’t working at night thinking, ‘how do I solve this conundrum?’ But all in all, it is that energy that makes me want to make the film the best it can be by getting with the team and the filmmakers and all getting together and solving it in as ‘outside-the-box’ type of way as we can.”
As for being a women in what’s still a male-dominated industry, Anderson says that she’s fortunate to be a part of a studio that is actively working to change the landscape. “One of the things I absolutely love about working for this company is that more than 50 percent of the Lucasfilm leadership team are women, led by Kathy Kennedy and Lynwen Brennan,” she says. “These are all incredibly strong and talented female executives who work closely and collaboratively in so many ways, across so many divisions, and covering not only post, but really diverse roles such as legal, finance, HR, publicity, marketing, visual effects, animation, production, etc. I’m really honored to be part of that group and because it means that the company as a whole is keeping up with the technology, and on top of that, there’s such a commitment to diversity and it certainly makes us a lot stronger as a company.”
She says that for herself, it was both harder and easier to come up in the industry as a woman. “In some ways, being a woman was great because I could kind of do it my way. For a very long time, it was a very male-dominated environment, and because of that, I didn’t have to fit in with the rules of the guys or go with how things had been done. I could figure out my own path and embrace my own way of doing things. Of course, always in conjunction with the most efficient ways to do it. And that was the good, easy part, if you like. The harder part, was literally then having to find my way and find a position where I would be respected. And, of course, to actually find the opportunity. It was about being really determined and tenacious in carving out those opportunities.”
She continues that we’re still having many of the same conversations about women in the entertainment industry because, “the industry has been going a long time, and for all good reasons, and it’s a slow moving beast. It will take time to make all the changes we want to make. And, just like technology, you don’t want to have technology for technology sake. We need to promote the best people for the jobs, whether they are male or female. What we’ve been missing is the opportunity for women so they can actually get the skills. That way, the best person for the job can be selected from a much broader group. It’s helpful that we’re talking about it now.”
Anderson ends our discussion with a few words of advice for anyone coming up in the industry. “Number one, trust your creative instincts. Number two, get a mentor, or the very least, start early to make friends and communicate with people in post or other parts of the industry and find out what you don’t know. That enables you to keep moving forward. Last, keep a sense of humor. However hard it is to say, it’s just a movie. Put it down at the end of the day, do something relaxing and have a laugh.”