Meet the Speakers 2020: Maggie Malone

Meet the Speakers 2020: Maggie Malone
February 24, 2020 CG Futures

MEET THE SPEAKERS 2020: MAGGIE MALONE

Maggie Malone recently moved over to Illumination Entertainment as Executive Producer, after having served as the head of creative affairs and part of the studio leadership team at the Walt Disney Animation Studios for thirteen years. Having worked on the Academy award-winning films of Zootopia, Frozen and Big Hero 6, as well as Moana, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, The Princess and the Frog, Meet the Robinsons, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Frozen 2 and the Tinker Bell films of the DisneyToons Studio division.

Q: Can you briefly walk me through your story – how did you get your start in the industry? What’s your current role like?

A: I started out working in play programming in New York, and as a script reader. I transitioned into Development when I moved to Los Angeles and started working as an assistant on the movie Seabiscuit. I always loved animation and got my first real taste, when I found the manuscript to the lovely book, the TALE OF DESPEREAUX, which my boss Gary Ross brought to Universal and ultimately produced as an animated feature. In that time, I “got into the hat,” the Walt Disney Animation Studios building (it has a sorcerer’s apprentice hat attached to the building). When Disney had an opening in their development department, I was lucky to be hired as a Creative Executive. I went on to work on fifteen features, and in the thirteen years I worked there, I grew to become a part of the studio leadership of the division as the Head of Creative Affairs. In 2017, I moved over to Illumination Entertainment, where I currently work as an Executive Producer, creatively overseeing a small subset slate of films.

Q: Tell us about your work. What are you most proud of?

A: I’m known for finding, hiring and introducing writers to the work of feature animation. I am a teacher of story and master of the endless creative dinner party, in which I try to get creative people (directors, writers, story board artists, etc.) to have a good time, and in so doing, create movies out of nothing on a corporation’s timeline. It’s like being a creative camp counselor. I am most proud of my work on the Tinker Bell franchise films of the Disneytoons Studio division of the Walt Disney Company; and helping crack the stories of: Wreck it Ralph, Wreck it Ralph Breaks the Internet, Moana, Zootopia, Frozen and Big Hero 6 (to name my faves).

Q: Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way? Any advice for others?

A: I suppose relatively smooth, but I lost a lot of sleep when I was younger feeling I wasn’t being taken seriously by older dudes in management. I had a hard time being heard and being one of the few women at the table. I didn’t understand the importance of my own voice. I worried about what other people thought. I hid my light. I didn’t realize how powerful my opinion was when it mattered most to understanding our movie-going audience, in my 20s.

At bigger companies, it’s hard to learn how to “speak so you are heard”. There is not one formula, but it’s something like:

  • Speak clearly, think about what your audience cares about.
  • Speak with conviction, but not with so much passion that the decision makers think that your judgement is clouded. I imagine that last bit also works well for playing poker.
  • Also, find people who “get” you and support you, and they can do some of the pitching for you and your work!

Q: What’s one random fact that people would be surprised to know about you?

A: I used to be an aerobics instructor, which was actually great training for my career 🙂 I learned how to motivate large groups of tired people to work harder and longer than they wanted to.

Q: Any final words of advice?

A: The weirdest stuff helps in job interviews; you just never know. Don’t be bashful about your hobbies and what makes you “nerd out.” I’ve had directors and writers bond and become lifelong work partners over their shared love of: GI Joe, The Simpsons, Jaws, and playing the trombone.

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