Exceptional is the theme of this year’s Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, and exceptional is the kind of year that Dorothy Arzner Directors Award recipient Jennifer Lee has been having. Disney’s “Frozen,” which she wrote and co-directed with Chris Buck, is the highest-grossing animated film ever and has won just about every award it’s been nominated for (including the Oscar).
“It’s such an honor. I’m overwhelmed,” she says of this latest accolade, which will be presented to her on June 11 by Kristen Bell, who voiced Anna in the film.
While Lee is the first female director of a Disney animated feature, she sees a shift coming for women in the field. “I think animation is almost ahead of the curve. I’ve seen it because there is just so much up-and-coming talent here.”
For women looking to break into directing, Lee advises having a well-rounded background. “My only advice would be to tackle the business from all sides. Understand writing, understand directing. Not meaning you have to do it all but really understanding all the angles and producing and working with actors. I think it makes fantastic connections and builds that collaboration.”
“Frozen” recently crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide and is now conquering the homevideo market, selling 3.2 million Blu-ray and DVDs in its first day of release.
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“She’s got a lot going on, she’s the first woman director to pass $1 billion (at the box office), she’s Disney’s first woman director in animation,” says WIF topper Cathy Schulman. “She’s an extraordinary achiever and talented woman.”
Lee says the response has been “quite a whirlwind. We spent almost two years intensely working on it with our crew in one building at Disney. And nobody knew what it was going to be and we didn’t know if they would embrace it. We were taking a lot of risks doing a film like this — a full-on musical when people felt like musicals were done. And with two female leads. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better reception.”
Lee came to Disney to work on the screenplay of “Wreck-It Ralph” and was asked to stay on to write “Frozen,” eventually taking on co-directing duties with Buck. She started out studying for a career in live-action films before finding her way to the animation studio.
“Growing up, I did have a dream of being an animator, but while I’m comfortable with drawing, my skills are not to the level of these artists,” she says. “I’ve always had a love of animation and I’m over the moon to be a part of it.”
She loves the collaborative aspect of working on an animated film: “You really are building everything from nothing. Everything. We’re depending on each other and over 600 artists to develop this with you. It’s a lot of communication. And you welcome the challenges. It’s one of the most rewarding collaborative environments I’ve ever worked in.”
She and Buck are taking some time off before tackling their next project. “We don’t know what it is yet,” she says. But she assures that it won’t be “Frozen 2.” At least not yet.
“”We’re actually going to start from scratch. It’ll be something completely brand new. Those are our marching orders Start over with what you’re passionate about..”
Lee notes, “Disney is a very filmmaker-driven studio and that means it’s very important to (chief creative officer for Disney/Pixar) John Lasseter that we come up with the stories ourselves and we tell the stories that we’re passionate about and that move us. That’s very important to him because you’re committing to three to four years with one idea. That has to come first. We feel very lucky about that.”