Pixar Producer Lindsey Collins '94 Wins Oscar

Lindsey Collins ’94 has an affection for little metal creatures—including the star of the film WALL-E, which she helped produce, and the Oscar the movie won this year for best animated feature.

 

Snagging the Oscar was "hugely gratifying," Collins says, "because when you’re making a film, it’s such a long process that you lose all perspective and kind of don’t have any idea what the response will be."

Collins, a diplomacy and world affairs major at Occidental, has worked as a producer at Pixar for almost 12 years, following a three-year stint at Disney, where she worked on her first film, A Bug’s Life. She first collaborated with Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of WALL-E, on Finding Nemo in 2003. When he approached her about WALL-E, he described the story and "within about three seconds I was like, I’m in," Collins says of the film she calls "a simple, sweet love story at its heart."

She describes her job as helping writer/directors hone their stories and figure out how to get them made. "The first year of any production is really fine-tuning the story and the design elements," she says. "They write and rewrite, and we’re there as sounding boards for them. Then we make sure we come up with a plan that supports their vision--staffing the show, finding the budget, finding the cast. Eventually we ramp up to about 250 people working on the film. And at the end of the process, we help market the film and toys."

For WALL-E, the process took four years. "Everyone poured their heart and soul into it," she says. "In the end, it’s like sending your child out into the world: ‘I don’t know, here he is. I hope you’re nice to him.’"

Collins credits her experiences at Oxy with helping make her a successful producer, including negotiating roommate conflicts while head resident of Wylie Hall. "The diplomacy and negotiation skills play in quite a bit," she says. When making a film, "you’re wrangling all sorts of personnel, trying to make it fun, celebrating the differences while trying to make it cohesive in a way that makes everyone feel heard and still gets the movie made." Being at a small college also encourages leadership and having the courage to take risks, she says. "It’s basically being comfortable in chaos, where the answer is not clear. A creative environment is inherently chaotic. I think great colleges are similar in that sense. They bring students in to challenge the status quo, to challenge the administration. Both encourage critical thinking, to ask questions. That’s a really healthy kind of way to grow a great university or a great company. Being at Pixar feels very similar to being at Oxy."

Collins, who will receive Occidental’s Young Alumni Seal Award during Alumni Weekend this June, says she is currently working on Pixar’s first live-action project, John Carter of Mars, based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. "It’s going to be a big, big film," she says. She is the daughter of Dennis Collins, current chair of the Occidental board of trustees, and his wife Mollie, who met at Occidental when he was a member of the Admission staff and were married in Herrick Chapel. "Not only do I have to credit Oxy for my career, I have to credit it for my very existence," she says.