Category Archives: In My Circle

Gail Currey Interview, Life & Lucasfilm Animation

In My Circle – Magazine Interview with Gail Currey, VP/General Manager Lucasfilm Animation LTD

CIS: When did you first notice you had an affinity to film?
What was that experience and how did you develop it and let it grow?

GAIL: I am not sure “affinity” is the right word.  As a child my father used to rent movies from the library and we would show them to all the neighborhood children.  I got to be the host for these events.   One time he rented a movie called ‘Nanook of the North’. It was a very old black and white movie directed by Robert Flaherty on the lives of Eskimos.   Well one of the things about “life as an Eskimo” is that the women have their babies at home and there was a scene showing in graphic detail the birth of a baby.  All my little friends then went home and told their parents all about “life as an Eskimo” and my parents were fielding phone calls for days.  None of these phone calls had to do with thanking my father for help in educating their children.

Also, like everyone else I knew, I read comics and watched cartoons, but I do remember thinking about how powerful images can be even without color or music or dialogue.

CIS: I know you went to film school.  Where did you go, and what was the most valuable lesson you took from those years?

GAIL: I actually didn’t go to film school.  I went to art school and that is really quite a different thing altogether.  I did study film and photography at The Art Institute of Chicago which I really loved, but the concentration was always on visual language rather than on dramatic presentation.    One of the most valuable lessons that one gets at an art school is that you have to live through critiques. You can’t just write a paper and receive the professor’s remarks to contemplate in private.   You have to show your work to your professors, other professors who are total strangers and peers as a group, and then listen to their reactions publicly.    You have to do this when something isn’t finished or not what you want it to be or not even completely formulated yet.  This is a difficult lesson in humility for anyone but it also taught me a great deal about where the lines of a common experience and the lines of a subjective experience cross.  You also learn how quickly a film or a photograph takes on a life of its own and can not always be manipulated into what you want it to be.

CIS: After school what was your first official “film” job?  What did you do and where did it lead you?

GAIL: I worked as a production assistant for a company doing videos for not-for-profit groups.   I learned all about lugging heavy equipment around, where the best deli’s were and all the usual pa things.  Paying your dues like that is actually a very important part of the film industry.  You learn the hierarchy and you learn to be the first one on location in the morning because you simply can not be late and those are really good lifetime lessons.   I also learned book-keeping which is a very practical skill and I found out I was a very good interviewer.  People would open up to me and talk to me in a very natural way even with the cameras running.

CIS: How did you land at Lucasfilm and when did you arrive?

GAIL: I was working at a post-production company that was doing work for Industrial Light & Magic and one day, instead of calling me up to book an edit suite, they called me up and wanted to know if I wanted a job.  I said that I did.

CIS: I also know you were the Visual Effects Producer for ILM on the movie “Schindlers List” with Steven Spielberg, and that that film had a profound affect on you.  Will you talk a little about that experience?

GAIL: Sure, as effects movies go, this was not a big film for ILM.  However,  ILM was able to do an amazing job of touching lightly on the emotional impact of the film by adding a red coat here or a candle glow there.   It would have been a powerful film without any thing that ILM did, but we had the opportunity to contribute visually to a truly great human story without adding explosions, or sinking ships or dinosaurs or aliens.  Don’t get me wrong, I love explosions, sinking ships, dinosaurs and aliens but to see my name on the credits of Schindler’s List made me cry.  I was proud to be a tiny little part of that movie.

CIS: You are VP/General Manager for Lucasfilm Animation.  What is it like spearheading a new division for  Lucasfilm?

GAIL: Well, to put it simply it is really very exciting to work for Lucasfilm.  It is quite a unique company.

CIS: Are you allowed to tell us what you’re working on?

GAIL: Sure, we have been working on a fully cg-animated TV series:  Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which will launch on Cartoon Network on October 3rd.

CIS: I know you have been spending a lot of time in Asia for Lucasfilm, and especially Singapore.  Why Singapore?  Why not Hong Kong or some other Asian city?

GAIL: Well, we knew we wanted to be somewhere where the infrastructure is strong and where IP protection is taken seriously.   However, mostly we wanted to set up a studio in a city where talent from around the globe could come and find it an attractive place to live.  Singapore is a multi-cultural city and we can pull in very talented artists from around the region in addition to local people.

CIS: Animation is so popular right now and most young filmmakers would give their eyeteeth to work for Lucasfilm.  Any advice?

GAIL: Sure, animation is a wonderful story telling medium because you are not constrained by the real world.  Yet what you find is that people respond to very human emotions and stories that touch their real world lives.  Our creative people, like Dave Filoni, the supervising director on The Clone Wars, can be telling a story about cloned warriors on a far away planet but underneath it all is the story about the individual strengths and weaknesses of a team and the role of a wise mentor.  So, some advice for young filmmakers is to understand the story you want to tell and only then think about how you visually and musically want to tell it.  Often people seem to want to start with “and this would look great” when they don’t know the story.

Secondly, animation right now is a wonderful collaborative medium requiring people with deep technical skills and people with deep creative skills but it is rare for people to have both.  The industry loves to find people with both.

CIS: Most people don’t know that you and your husband Dan are licensed pilots.  What is it like for you when you are in your plane?  What does flying give to you that film does not?

GAIL: My job is all about multi-tasking and problem-solving and making sure a great many people have the resources, the support and the training to be able to do their jobs well.   In that way it isn’t a very focused job but one in which one needs to bring focus to others.    Flying is nothing but focus.   You can be looking down at the Golden Gate Bridge and thinking how magnificently beautiful it is but you are still and always “flying the plane” because when you fly, any illusion you may have of immortality is lost.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery put it:  “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things”.

CIS: Since this is Cracks In Sidewalks I have to ask, besides not moving to LA, what have you done in your career that has been different or unexpected?

GAIL: Well, some days I wake up and think that everything I have done is unexpected.  I am a fairly simple person and I really always assumed I would have a simple life.  For example, I never wanted to learn to fly.  I am not one of those people that always wanted to be up in the air.  I really had no interest, but because my husband is very clever, he set it up so that I discovered that I could fly and then I discovered that I actually liked it.  Finally, I discovered that I absolutely needed it.

Lucasfilm is one of those companies where the unexpected, the surprising and amazing is the end goal and to work here is full of  unexpected moments and unexpected career changes.  I never would have guessed that I would be flying back and forth to Singapore as part of my job 10 years ago.  However, it has always been challenging and in that way it has been very rewarding.

CIS: Anything else you want to add?  Any important questions that I missed?

GAIL: Nope, I don’t think so….

In My Circle Singer/Songwriter/Artist Dana Calitri

In My Circle Interview, July/August

Subject: Dana Calitri

Profession: NYC Studio Session Singer/Songwriter/Recording Artist

CIS: First of all congratulations on your recent nuptials to British Recording Artist/ Songwriter Martin Briley. Also thank you for taking the time for this interview.

CIS: Let me start by asking how old were you when you first started singing?

Dana: “Hmmmm. I was 5 or 6, I guess.”

CIS: When did you discover you had a voice and how?

Dana: “My Mom is very musical and we were always singing around the piano. By 10

I knew it was my thing and I was starting to get noticed.”

CIS: In what ways as a child was your love of music cultivated?

Dana: “My parents were incredibly supportive. I had voice, piano, guitar and violin lessons; and public schools in those days stressed music so I sang in chorus and played in the school orchestra. I attended Manhattan School of music in the preparatory division, and when I was in my teens my Mom used to drive me into the city every Wednesday and sit in the car while I took my voice lesson with Lydia Summers who was an amazing teacher.”

CIS: As a young artist how did you develop your talent, and when did you start to take your music and singing seriously?

Dana: “I honed my skills singing all kinds of material. Doing covers can be a really great tool for helping you to expand your musical vocabulary. I sang every single day after school. I’d just sit in the middle of the living room playing piano and singing at the top of my lungs. I’d spend hours each day. I’m sure I drove everyone crazy.”

CIS: At what point did you realize music was your career choice and was it really a choice?

Dana: “I think by the time I was in my teens I knew I wanted to sing but it wasn’t until I finished college that I really made the leap. I majored in Comparative Literature at college although I sang professionally all through school. Yes – it was a choice. I’ve always been pretty flexible and have a lot of interests. I probably could’ve been happy doing something else but I was fortunate to be able to make a living doing music.”

CIS: When did you move to NYC and why did you choose NYC over LA? What did you hope to gain?

Dana: “I moved to NY as soon as I graduated from Brown. I knew I would live in NY ever since I was a little girl. I was never attracted to LA. Besides, my family was all on the east coast. In those days you had to be in NY, LA or Nashville if you wanted to do anything serious with your music.”

CIS: How did you support yourself in the early stages of your career?

Dana: “I was a waitress for about a year and then I started singing with a band doing club dates and weddings. After a year or two I got into doing jingles and that really got me going.”

CIS: How different is it from what you do today?

Dana: “Well I had the luxury of being a session singer in the days when there was tons of work. For 25 years my life was about going from studio to studio singing on all kinds of projects (jingles and records) and working with the most incredible musicians. Because we were unionized we got paid well and had things like health care and pension funds. We were able to live like regular people – to buy homes and send our kids to school. Most people who work outside the mainstream really struggle. That’s unfortunately how the business has changed. It is much harder for artists and musicians to make a living.”

“Because of technology the business really started to change. I was lucky because I got a record deal when things were slowing down and I was busy developing my songwriting skills and exploring the artist thing. Today I write songs for other artists, I sing on jingles and records and I teach voice. In the course of a day I do many different things, whereas before I just sang all the time.”

CIS: In the early days of your career how did you deal with the competition? What do you believe made you stand out?

Dana: “I never really worried about “the competition”. I believe if you are good and if you work hard and you have true passion for what you are doing there will be a place for you. What made me stand out? Hmmm. Well my voice, obviously, but I enjoyed what I was doing and enjoyed the people I worked with so I was fun to be around. I had a very strong work ethic and I was very dependable.”

CIS: What are some of the steps you took to get you to where you are today?

Dana: I studied and perfected my craft. I respected and tried to learn from those who came before me. I always try to look 5 years ahead and grow accordingly.

CIS: Who have been some of your biggest influences and why?

Dana: “My father was probably the biggest influence. He was so smart and creative. He loved what he did but had a very balanced approach to his life.”

CIS: What motivates you?

Dana: “I have always felt I had a vocation. My “job” is my calling. It’s very important to me to love and be engaged in what I am doing. Whether it’s singing, producing, writing or teaching, I am never bored. I feel as though I am here to be of service and my gift is channeling music.”

CIS: How did you get into what use to be referred to as the “jingle business”?

Dana: “I had a meeting up at one of the big Advertising agencies and I just wowed the guy. He got me started.”

CIS: What was that like for you?

Dana: “Fabulous!”

CIS: What were some of the biggest campaigns on which you sang?

Dana: “Coke, Pillsbury, Stouffers, Folgers …. Pretty much did it all.”

CIS: You had a recording contract with Universal. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

Dana: “Well I had two fabulous years writing and recording for the album. It was amazing to know that people were waiting to hear what I had to say. I had a lot of freedom so I was extremely creative. Once the record was done it was a nightmare. Universal and Polygram merged and nobody gave a shit. I felt like I had delivered a still-born child. I’m not being dramatic. That is just how it felt. I was silenced. It took a while to heal from that.”

CIS: I know that you wrote most or all of the songs that were on your album. Was it during that time that you really began to hone your songwriting skills and make more significant songwriting contacts that would help you grow as an artist?

Dana: “Oh absolutely!”

CIS: What do you consider to be your strengths as a songwriter?

Dana: “I am “top line”, as they say. I do lyrics and melodies. I play piano and guitar but I love collaborating. I am more arty than a lot of songwriters. I like big concepts and great lyrics.”

CIS: Knowing you have a wall full of gold and platinum records, can you tell us a few of the people who have recorded Dana Calitri songs?

Dana:*NSYNC, Daughtry, Dream, Jessica Andrews, Donna Summer ….”

CIS: Coming full circle, what has been the transition of going from full time studio singer, to recording artist, to singer/songwriter? How have you changed as a result? Which brings to mind also how has the music business changed for you over the years?

Dana: “I answered some of this in previous questions but … hmmm how have I changed? Well I am a much more versatile and a much better musician. I am also a lot more confident since I now understand all sides of the business. I also have a more spiritual approach to my career now. I started studying sound healing about 6 years ago and it changed everything for me. The business can be so ego driven. I don’t worry so much about it anymore. I know I am meant to do music and I figure the universe will send me where I am needed.”

“As far as the business goes? It’s completely different. Nobody wants to pay for music anymore so it’s really crumbling. Most of us have to spend way too much time on the business, which is really exhausting. I am hopeful that eventually it will be figured out, but I must say I am in the minority.”

CIS: Knowing how difficult it is to be successful in the music recording business, and there is no doubt you have and have had a very enviable career, what would be your advice to others trying to make it in this business?

Dana: “Work hard to be the best you can be. Work on your craft and educate yourself as much as you can. You always need to be evolving and the more skills and talents you have the better off you will be.”

CIS: If there has been one highlight in your career, what was it and why has it stood out among all your other accomplishments and successes?

Dana: “That’s hard to say. There have been so many wonderful moments. I loved making the record … The first time I ever heard a song of mine on the radio, that was definitely a highlight…. But it’s all good.”

CIS: Given that this site is called “Cracks In Sidewalks” what would you consider to be your own personal crack?

Dana: “I am very spiritual. I believe that not everyone has the gift to create music and it’s a really special thing. But it’s a gift that is meant to be given away. Ego is the enemy … it stops the flow. I think some of my colleagues, including my husband, roll their eyeballs at my optimism and innocence. But it keeps me happily moving forward and it makes me feel like we have a purpose on this planet.”

CIS: Anything you would like to add?

Dana: “You pretty much covered everything. Good questions!”

CIS: Thank you!

About In My Circle

“In My Circle” you will find monthly magazine type interviews of different kinds of people, mostly friends, who are all somehow connected to me and within my circle and sphere.

I’ve always had a lot of friends and they have covered a wide spectrum of life choices. Actually more than anything else including music, people have been my passion in life. Having explored many areas, lived different lifestyles, and having been open to all kinds of friendships with people of all ages from around the globe, some might say I’ve collected friends and good acquaintances; but truly it is what has interested me most of all.

I’ve also very much enjoyed discovering biographies, life stories of friends and others. What sets people a part, and if given space, a little cultivation, and inspiration to grow, what sometimes unexpectedly appears within our person that is uniquely different. How someone gets from point A to B to Z, sometimes only to return to point C. The journey fascinates me, the why in something and someone, and the what. What motivates us into making the choices we make and why?

“In My Circle” I’ll be interviewing people who for various and individual reasons I believe are special. I will explore their skills, talents, “cracks,” and accomplishments; the roads they have traveled both professionally and personally; posing them questions in an informal setting like only a friend can.

So grab a beverage of your choice, sit back and relax, and let me introduce you to some of the people “In My Circle.”