Jane Hartwell ’83 
Producer at Netflix Animation

Q: You’ve had a successful career in animated films as a producer since the early 90s. Have you always been interested in film? 
A: When I went to college, everything interested me and it was very hard to pick a major. I started off studying biology, changed my major to English, and also took a bunch of Italian classes. When I left college, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and remember getting some advice after reading, of all books, What Color is Your Parachute. Essentially, I started thinking through what really mattered to me and what to pursue. I knew I wanted to live in the Bay Area and that I really wanted to work in film. At that time the only solid work available involved either visual effects or animation. After a lot of searching, I found a job as an executive assistant to a director at a commercial production house specializing in animation and visual effects. I discovered that I loved animation and that it was suited to my strengths. I had perceived my inability to focus in one area as a weakness, but actually it worked in my favor, especially in features, because I was interested in all facets of the making of the film. You need all sorts of people with different specialties to make an animated feature. When I started, the industry was expanding and I feel that I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time.

Q: You spent quite a bit of time in Italy early on.
What brought you there?
A: One of my personal goals was to speak another language fluently. I decided at a certain point that the only way to do it was to just move to another country because I never would learn at home taking classes and not interacting with people. I saved up money and moved to Italy with the plan that I could either spend my savings taking classes, or find a job and stay as long as possible. I believe that once you commit to doing something, things open up. I had told the company I was working for that I was quitting to move to Italy, they told me they would keep my job open for six months. Instantly I was in a situation where the risk was mitigated. When I arrived in Italy, I lucked out because they had passed a law stating if you were entering the country from outside of the EU by a certain date, you could gain eligibility to work legally. I just qualified for the deadline. I ended up getting work as a production assistant with Zoetrope, a San Francisco company, working on The Godfather Part III. After that, I stayed and eventually worked for one of the largest commercial production houses in Italy. I was there for four years. 

Q: Knowing exactly what you want to do and going after it can involve taking big risks. How do you think about risk-taking in your own life? 
A: I feel lucky that a lot of my choices, often purely personal, have turned out to benefit me professionally in ways that I never could have guessed. Going to Italy might have been perceived as a risk, but I’m comfortable making decisions based on gut feel; then I go back a second time and verify I can make it work on a practical level. It always helps for me to reflect and ask, “What’s important to me? Am I doing it or not doing it? What do I need to make it happen?” I try to keep tabs on what makes me happy and what doesn’t, and what values I prioritize. I don’t know that I’d say I’m always successful at being a happy person, but I try to be sort of analytical by understanding what is most important to me, and making choices that support it. 

Q: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on in
your career?
A: It’s so hard to pick because honestly, I’ve liked almost every project for different reasons. James and the Giant Peach was exciting because it was my first animated feature. Antz was challenging and fun because it was the first computer animated film at PDI/DreamWorks, and we had to figure out so much stuff as we went along. There was something really cool about working on the first Shrek movie in part because of the technical challenges. So much has changed in terms of technology in computer animation since that point. When we started, we knew that we were going to have a number of human characters that would show a great range of emotion and all wear somewhat complicated clothes, but we didn’t know how to do any of that. No one had really done that at that point. I loved being in that situation where we had to say to ourselves, “We don’t know how we’re going to solve this problem, but we’re going to get it done with these people and it’s going to be great.”

Q: Looking back at your time at College Prep, are there
any experiences that you feel have stayed with you?
A: I had a very supportive group of friends who have lasted through the years, and I still count my friends from College Prep as some of my closest. I initially wanted to go into science—Dr. Barzilay and Dr. Teller were two favorite teachers who just made it fun. College Prep was a very positive experience for me. I was so impressed by the caliber of the student body and felt challenged and inspired by the teachers and my peers.  
 
Q: Do you have any words of advice for current College Prep students who are looking at next steps after graduation?
A: I just gave advice to my own daughter on this. She had to think about what she really wanted to do and why, and where she wanted to go to college. We discussed where she wanted to be, in a big city, or at a small liberal arts college, or if she wanted to declare her major or wait a longer period of time. It was all about helping her figure out what her actual day to day would feel like and who she’d be interacting with. She went through something very similar to my own process. Once she decided what she wanted, she was able to winnow out the universities that she didn’t want to go to. I really do believe that figuring out what you want is the hardest thing of all. Once you do, you just need to decide how to make it happen.

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