Exclusive: Darla K. Anderson Talks Pixar and ‘It Gets Better Project’

During the past year, hundreds of celebrities and employees at companies around the world have taken to the web to share a message of hope through the It Gets Better Project. In November of 2010, Pixar employees collaborated to create an emotional addition to the project that received overwhelmingly positive feedback across the world. Toy Story 3 producer Darla K. Anderson introduced the video to the hundreds of thousands of people who viewed it over the next several months. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Darla about her involvement with the video and how Toy Story‘s Woody went on to help out with the project. Read on to view the transcript from our discussion.

Can you talk a little about whose idea it was to get involved with the It Gets Better Project?

Darla K. Anderson: Sure. There were kind of three main employees that got everybody going or instigated it. One was Afonso Salcedo – he’s the first one, he saw Google “It Gets Better” from all the employees and he sent out an e-mail and he said, “Hey, why don’t we do one?”. The second one was Kate Ranson-Walsh and the third one was Daniel Combs. The three of them were the first three that just kind of sent out the e-mails that said, “Hey, why don’t we do one from Pixar?”. Then everybody else chimed in and said “Yeah, we’ll be a part of it!”. The three of them really drove the whole process.

You started to mention some of the response you were getting. What was the response from all the employees at Pixar when they found out about the video?

DKA: After we did the video and produced it, we showed it to the whole company. It was very cool, very supportive. Everybody came to the screening room – well, not the whole entire company, but a lot of people came in and watched it. It was just great. People would stop us in the hallways and say “We’re so proud of you for doing that and congratulations and good job” and all that great supportive stuff.

Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar

How much time did it take to make and how many people ended up getting involved in the video?

DKA: I don’t know exactly because it was done with so many employees and everybody, of course, didn’t work on it full time – we all had lots of other jobs like [preparing for] the Academy Awards. (we both laugh)

And everybody else was doing their other work full-time. Everybody was great because lots of people just squeezed it in between everything. I want to say it felt like four weeks or so, four/five weeks in total – and everybody did it at lunchtime and after work a little bit.

So the video just crossed 1 million views on YouTube. That’s one of the highest out of all the “It Gets Better” videos that were made. Can you talk about the response that you’ve gotten from the general public about the video?

DKA: You know, a lot of people have seen it. When I was doing a lot of the awards press and just being on the red carpet for the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, or kind of wherever I was, a lot of people – all different kind of people like actors or the press or just people attending the shows – would come up to me and say “Thank you so much for doing the It Gets Better Project. It meant a lot to my relatives or my friend” somewhere, like my cousin in Seattle or my friend in Oregon. And people went way out of their way to come up to me and tell me how much it meant to them to have us do that. That was great because it was pretty surprising, to be honest with you, because you do something and you don’t really expect that kind of profile from it, so it was very cool.

When they came to ask you to be a part of it, what was your first response?

DKA: Well, I was actually on the e-mail and when Afonso and Kate and Daniel sent out the e-mail and said, “Hey, let’s do one,” I said, “Count me in. I’ll be a part of it” and so then I had already said I had volunteered to be a part of it. Then they said, “It would be great if you could help us get it approved.” They then asked me if I would kick it off and I said “Oh, sure!”. That wasn’t my intention. I was just happy to be a part of it, but “Sure, I’m happy to help.” So then they asked me to help it get it through the approval process at work and stuff like that and I was just utterly honored to help to do that. Truly honored.

Now, this past week Google Chrome released a new ad featuring the It Gets Better Project, you know, compiling videos of different people contributing. Woody from Toy Story actually makes an appearance. Whose idea was it for Woody to join in on the video?

DKA: We thought it would be cool to do one of our characters as part of it. We really wanted that to be a part of [the original video]. So that had been in the back of our minds, but of course we’re so busy here – we’re just getting Cars 2 out the door and a lot of the people that were driving the “It Gets Better” video were on the Cars team, so we didn’t have the time to get it out for the original “It Gets Better” video. It was one of those weird things where we were trying to get it done and [were] thinking about it and then one of the guys from Google who I had met here at Pixar while we were brainstorming on some Toy Story 3 stuff reached out to me and said that they were doing this and was there any way that we thought that we could get a character involved. That met us where we were exactly, so we scrambled and pulled it together really quickly for them and got it on the air.

For a move like that, since Pixar is a subsidiary of Disney, was it a little harder to get the usage of the Woody character approved?

DKA: You know, it wasn’t. They were so great. We had to get the whole thing approved by everybody, including Tom Hanks because his voice is in it. In just like four days, from the time we did the original animation, we had to get everybody to okay it and I have to say that everybody was just – you can’t get something done in four days if everybody isn’t a hundred million percent supportive of it. That was just so wonderful to have, to have people say, “Yes,” an unmitigated “Yes.”

How does it feel knowing that people’s lives and perspectives are changing because of those two videos that Pixar was involved in and also a lot of the other videos that were created by others for the It Gets Better Project?

DKA: You know I can’t tell you how much it means to me and to all the employees here at Pixar – all the employees, not just the gay employees – but all the employees here are really proud of it. It’s just the coolest thing. It really surprised me. It’s one of those things where I just said, “Oh, yeah. I’d love to volunteer to do it,” and then I’ve gotten caught up in the importance of it because of the response to it. I’ve had so many people – all of us have had so many people – reach out to us because of it. It’s been so meaningful and it really does show you how needed it was in our society right now, which I think I wasn’t as sensitive to as I am now.

Right. I feel like that was one of the other reasons that these videos meant so much to people – these ideas of respect and looking towards the future.

DKA: Yeah, and that was of course the idea behind Dan Savage – his whole conceit was, “Hey, there is a future.” In my opening to our “It Gets Better” video, I wanted it to be really as inclusive as possible. I know the whole It Gets Better Project is for gay kids, but Pixar is a really unique collection of all different kinds of people and I have to tell you, most of us weren’t the most popular in high school. We were kind of nerdy and focused on our passion and had really eclectic interests. I wanted it to be really inclusive to all kids. I mean, bullying is wrong for all kids and part of my message was “Find your tribe.” Like, we all found each other here at Pixar. We have a shared passion and that’s what I think kids need to do. Don’t let the bullies get to you. Find your people and you’ll have a really fulfilling life, whether you’re straight or gay.

Are there any future plans at Pixar or anybody at Pixar with the It Gets Better Project?

DKA: No. There are no future plans at this moment, but we kind of keep reacting to needs that are out there. So, because of that project some folks have reached out to me to come speak or have kids come tour here and various things like that. That’s one of the most rewarding things – that understanding our local community’s needs and national community’s needs and being able to participate in a way that makes a difference because of who we are.

Anything else that you would like to say to those who are reading this and are going through a particularly difficult time?

DKA: I think I said it a couple seconds ago when I said – just, I’m a big believer in finding your “tribe,” finding those people, finding your family. Find your family away from your family. Find your group of people where you do have your shared interests and enjoy a full life of passion doing the things that you love and the things that you were born and put on this planet to do. Don’t give up if you haven’t found that group yet – found your people yet. Hang in there until you do because it does get better and you were put here for a reason, on this planet, and it’s your job to figure out – get in touch with your passion and follow that passion and you’ll find other people who are doing it too and you’ll have an extraordinarily rewarding life. You look at a lot of people that were bullied and picked on and the enormous contributions they’ve made to our society in thousands of different ways. We’re all here for a reason and it’s up to you to stand in your truth and make your own difference your own way.

What pushed me over to ask for this interview was just seeing Disney and Pixar willing to use Woody, one of their characters in an ad featuring “It Gets Better.” I realized how much it all meant to Pixar.

DKA: I do think that it’s those social icons that do say, “You’re okay.” Woody equals childhood for so many people and Woody being up there saying, “It gets better. You’re not a bad person. You are a worthwhile, good person.” I think that it’s so great that Disney and Pixar executives didn’t hesitate for a second to say, “Yes, we support it 100% to make it happen.” Another thing I’ll say is that I was on vacation when I was trying to get this through all the various channels. Nobody hesitated for a second but it just takes time to work it all out. There was a moment where I was just like, “Oh, my gosh. It’s just taking a lot of time,” and a friend of mine in Hawaii was walking by and he said, “What are you working on? What are you on the phone for?”, and I told him and he said, “Oh, my gosh. Keep going. My nephew just attempted suicide two months ago over here because he’s not comfortable, so you’re doing good work. Keep hanging in there. Keep going.” It was interesting – a couple of other things happened coincidentally like that when I was over in Hawaii and it was those weird things that kept me driving to get it done.

Thanks again, for not only doing the videos but also taking the time to talk about it.

DKA: No problem. My pleasure!

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