Jay Francis, VP, Current Series and Diversity, Disney Television Animation talks about his journey and duties.
In this episode of Ai LIVE, host E. Vincent Martinez chats with Jay Francis, the Vice President, Current Series and Diversity at Disney Television Animation. They talk about Francis’s start in the industry and some of the behind the scenes processes for the Emmy-winning series, Phineas and Ferb, and other shows.
Francis got his start in the late 1980s. As a graduate of Syracuse University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Television and Film, he went out to LA to find a job in the entertainment industry. He and Martinez reminisce on the past and how different things were: no real established means for home video, no internet, no cellphones; Francis had his resumes in a briefcase. In those days, Francis submitted his resume wherever it made sense. Animation was nowhere on his radar. He set off for Studio City, a moniker for the area where all the studios were in LA, hoping to find a job. Eventually, he was able to get a job as a production assistant at DiC Entertainment.
He acknowledges that he got lucky with that first job, but claims that he also made his luck by being ready for the opportunity when it came. Working in animation and cartoons wasn’t something Francis initially thought about, but his experiences came in handy when he joined Disney in 2007. He oversaw the production of many series, including the Emmy-winning Phineas and Ferb.
Now that Francis acts as the Vice President, his job roles have shifted quite a bit. When dealing with the process for a show like Phineas and Ferb, the creative executives are among the first eyes and ears on the creative materials the crew is working on. Part of that is making sure the materials keep to the brand created in the development process. He and others will give various notes and feedback, not to change the point of view of the show creators, but to improve the overall clarity. There are times where Francis may not agree, but he will defer to the show creators’ expertise. Another aspect Francis oversees is dealing with stakeholders, public, and media relations. If a show gets big enough, the characters may appear in park, and it’s part of Francis’s job to ensure they appear on model.
A newer area Francis oversees is that of diversity, both in the talent that gets recruited and in the internal offices. He believes that authentic stories come from a lot of different vantage points, not one or two, so he often asks what the writer’s room looks like or what does the leadership room look like, trying to improve on the internal culture. The company often draw from various schools, writer programs, and diversity inclusion panels. Francis acknowledges that, so far, they have been able to keep the promises and initiatives that they set out, and are constantly working to improve and move forward.
For any art students who want to get into the animation industry, or even have dreams of working for Disney, Francis has lots of advice. First, he points out that students aren’t likely to get into the job they want early on. Instead, he wants students to focus on having a lot of different skills, such as lipsync, backgrounds, prop design, turnarounds, expressions, and action poses, and having a portfolio that reflects all of these. The importance of this versatility is that it can give you a chance to join a team. He also notes that if students apply to Disney, they’re not just competing against other students; they’re also up against industry professionals, which is why having a diverse skill set is so important.
Being a Vice President of anything may seem a long way from a production assistant, but Francis didn’t become one overnight. He worked a lot of the lower jobs before he moved into the higher ones. For him, he reflected on what his skills were, and how they were connected to what he wanted to do. All of that was part of the process to becoming the Vice President he is today.
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