***This interview originally appeared in the 35th Anniversary Issue of Animation Magazine (June-July ’22, No. 321)***
Recently, we had the chance to catch up with animation veteran Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, the trailblazing founder of the influential management and production company The Gotham Group. The Emmy-nominated producer of acclaimed projects such as the Aardman TV series Creature Comforts, The Maze Runner movie trilogy and Stargirl is currently producing Henry Selick’s upcoming Netflix movie Wendell & Wild which is slated for an October 2022 release following its TIFF premiere:
Animation Magazine: As you know, there’s a lot of early buzz surrounding Wendell & Wild. Can you tell us how you got involved with this movie and what makes it stand out in your mind?
Ellen Goldsmith-Vein: We’ve worked with the brilliant Henry Selick for over 20 years, but it took years to get him to return my phone call! I was leaving messages on his home phone and at his Colossal office when he was working on MTV spots. His auteur status was always apparent and it’s been a genuine highlight of my career to encourage and support his cinematic vision. His idea for Wendell & Wild, like Henry himself, was a true original with the potential to attract a wide audience. That’s exactly the type of project that we as a company champion as dealmakers and producers. When Jordan Peele came on board as a producer, co-writer and star opposite Keegan-Michael Key, it just seemed as if this idea had reached its fullest expression. We brought the concept to Netflix, who saw this film as the perfect debut project for a creative partnership with Henry.
What do you love about working with Henry Selick?
The phrase “creative genius” is really overused these days, but honestly, Henry fits the bill. He is a singular artist with magnificent vision and a true master of the stop-motion medium. Henry also has the ability to attract brilliant artists and a great cast to his projects, and Wendell & Wild is a perfect example of that.
Can you tell us a bit about other animated projects that you’re working on?
We are working on an animated series called The Search For WondLa for Apple TV+ based on the sci-fi fantasy series of books of the same name by Tony DiTerlizzi. It tells the story of a young girl raised underground who is whisked into an adventure when she goes above-ground for the first time. In addition, we are working on a couple of stop-motion projects based on high profile literary material which we have optioned, and are rebooting a very special series, also stop motion! Trust me when I tell you that these projects will reunite some of the great artists, writers and actors who we’ve worked with in the past. Since we haven’t announced them yet, I need to keep the titles under wraps!
How has The Gotham Group changed and evolved to meet with the specific demands and climate of creating entertainment in 2022?
We have been very lucky to have deep relationships in the publishing community and have been able to identify and option incredible books, articles, graphic novels and comics. Our strong taste has solidified us as respected producers of great film and television projects while also continuing to maintain our position as one of the top suppliers of high level, critically acclaimed and award-winning IP to the industry. Additionally, we recently launched an ‘Emerging Technologies’ division which has been a thrilling adventure as we dive head-first into blockchain-based media. We are constantly exploring new pathways and opportunities to build original film and television projects.
The partners at Gotham — Peter McHugh, Julie Kane-Ritsch, Lindsay Williams, Jeremy Bell, Eric Robinson, Lee Stollman, Rich Green and Matt Schichtman — have been instrumental in building the vision for the company. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we were the first to wade into the animation business 30 years ago when no one gave animation talent a second thought, and of the position we hold in the animation business as the true leaders in supplying talent and content across all platforms. That being said, our best days are still ahead of us!
What do you love about working in animation?
It was and continues to be the opportunity to help move careers along and to help people achieve their dreams and make great movies and television shows. When I founded The Gotham Group in 1993, no one represented animation talent. No one was rushing out to sign animation writers, directors, character designers, illustrators or children’s book authors and illustrators. While most other reps were chasing actors and directors, we were signing animation talent, content creators and studios! Take a look at the top grossing movies from the past 20 years and you will see that the majority of those films are animated. Many of the series that have produced hundreds of episodes and are still in production are animated shows: The Simpsons, Family Guy and Fairly Odd Parents are just a few examples.
What are some of the animated films and TV projects that have made a big impact on you?
That’s a really tough question, but here goes in no particular order: Wendell & Wild(!), Coraline, Shrek, Madagascar, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Toy Story, Monster House, Mary and Max, Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, Triplets of Belleville.
What is your take on the fast-changing world of animation as we all witness the unpredictable ups and downs in this industry?
The modes by which families ingest entertainment will continue to change and expand and we will continue to have to be nimble enough, brave enough and smart enough to embrace all of those pathways to reach our audiences. What won’t change, I think, is the immersive and magical experience that animation provides for a viewer. There is a dream-like quality to animation that allows us to depart from reality a bit and enter the realm of pure imagination.
As we continue to acquire and develop stories with significant audience potential, we’re also embracing newer technologies in animation. Production has already begun on the first project from our newly launched Emerging Technologies division, the fully Web3/Native adult animated series Alien to Me, in partnership with Connor Kerrigan and Melbourne-based animation studio Pixel’s Andrew Goldsmith and Monique Mulcahy. We’re putting significant energy and resources into this endeavor. I’m thrilled to be part of the band of magicians that create these experiences and think the medium’s greatest days are yet to come
Finally, what kind of advice can you give newbies who want to work in animation?
First of all, I say YAY! The more the merrier! Like anything else worth having in life, pursuing a career in animation can be challenging and you need rigorous dedication and a heightened work ethic to crack its entrance barriers — skills that you will ultimately deploy throughout your career. One of the great things about animation, though, is the sense of community. Although it has become a big “business,” it is still a family and people work together, support each other, and often cross paths throughout their careers over and over again on projects. People are always willing to help each other out and support each other when they need help on a project. One other piece of advice: Must Love Comic-Con!
For more info, visit gotham-group.com.