Tech Savvy: Collaborating with Pixar & Other Media Giants in the Bay

Developments in technology have redefined contemporary cultural life. Digital tools continue to transform the cinematic landscape, altering everything from film production to the movie-watching experience. Here in the Bay Area, we share a home with many of the tech industry giants who have pioneered these changes, including Netflix, Lucasfilm and Pixar.

As a film organization, we are thrilled to collaborate with these game-changing companies. We have partnered with Netflix to screen a number of their original productions—Chef’s Table and What Happened, Miss Simone? at the 58th Festival and Beasts of No Nation at special private screening this fall—and we have worked for years with our friends at Lucasfilm developing programs that bring leading players from the studio together with Bay Area school groups. The Art and Science of Lucasfilm has proven one of our most successful educational initiatives. Through interactive multimedia presentations and the opportunity to speak directly with industry professionals, students gain insight into the technical aspects of film production and learn about the crucial role of math and science in this sector of entertainment.

In recent months, the Film Society has also worked closely with Pixar to produce a variety of events. Last spring, we hosted a special advance screening of Inside Out at the studio’s Emeryville headquarters. In addition to seeing the now Oscar-nominated film before it hit theaters, attendees had the opportunity to hear from animators directly and to tour Pixar’s amazing campus. We also invited the winners of our annual Nelly Wong Magic of Movies Essay contest and their families to attend this singular event.

We were beyond excited to join forces once again in the fall. In October, we presented A 20th Anniversary Celebration of Toy Story with Pixar’s John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter on stage at the Castro Theatre. Through a richly detailed multimedia presentation, these legendary innovators took audiences on a personal tour of the studio's early days and detailed the process and creative vision that led to Toy Story—Pixar’s very first film and the first-ever fully computer-animated feature in the world.

With never-before-seen footage from Pixar’s archives, rare behind-the-scenes material and recorded testimonials from film and technology luminaries, John, Ed, Andrew, and Pete charted the development of the studio in the 20 years since Toy Story’s release before introducing a screening of the now-classic film that started it all.

The Film Society reserved a large block of seats in the theater for teachers and their families, extending invitations to educators in the Bay Area community who might ordinarily pass on an event like this because of financial reasons. Two public school teachers were even able to bring their entire classes of students to the program.

Opportunities like this help me feel connected to the heart of the city’s collective cinematic experience, and they undoubtedly enrich my students’ learning.
— Cinema Studies Teacher

In January, our Education team collaborated with Pixar to put together some programs around Sanjay’s Super Team, the newest (and recently Academy Award-nominated) short from the studio. Between a behind-the-scenes multimedia presentation at the Alamo Drafthouse and a visit to a local San Francisco school, we were able to connect nearly 400 Bay Area students and teachers to the film.

At Alamo, we were joined by director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle. The event kicked off with a brief introduction from Sanjay, in which he shared a little insight into the unique inspiration for this very personal film. We then screened the short and followed with a detailed discussion with director and producer diving into the making of the film.

We had a chance to really meet Sanjay’s Super Team—not just the characters on the screen but also the movie-makers behind the scenes.
— Teacher

Sanjay discussed how, having grown up in San Bernardino in a Gujarati family, his earliest artistic influences stemmed from two very different worlds: Comic books and Saturday morning cartoons, and the Hindu gods and spiritual culture that came to define his upbringing. Nicole also shared the ins and outs of being a producer and what goes into the production process of a short at Pixar. The audience was then given a second opportunity to view the film, experiencing it in a whole new way now that they knew the story of its creation, and after this additional screening we opened questions to the audience.

In the afternoon, we brought Sanjay, Nicole and their film over to Creative Arts Charter School, where they gave the same presentation to about 80 middle school students. Since the school puts an emphasis on the arts in their curriculum, Sanjay also performed a special drawing demonstration for the kids, hoping to provide them some inspiration for their own artistic pursuits.

At the Film Society, we feel immensely fortunate to partner with industry innovators as prolific as Pixar—and to be able to bring the work of these companies into Bay Area classrooms and into theaters for local audiences and school groups. As tech plays a bigger and bigger role in the production and consumption of film, it's crucial to learn as much as possible about the ways in which new tools can further expand cinema's capacity to communicate great stories. We keep our eyes on trends in this vein, recognizing visionary thinkers who develop film technologies and spotlighting exhibition programs that explore the role of tech in film and in society at large. As a Bay Area institution, we're in no better place to watch this story unfold.

The San Francisco Film Society champions the world's finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. 

SFFS Education programs serve more than 11,000 students and teachers every year, from kindergarten through college, to develop media literacy, cultural awareness, global understanding and a lifelong appreciation of cinema. SFFS Education aims to cultivate students' imaginations, prepare them for filmmaking careers and empower them to succeed in a media-saturated world.