On October 23, 2020, Katch University was joined by Marie Colabelli, a Senior Producer at Walt Disney Imagineering and a Professor at Emerson College. Colabelli was a retired professional ballet dancer when she had a chance encounter with a studio producer on an airplane. The ensuing conversation made her realize that the worlds of dancing and producing weren’t as far apart as she thought and that she could transfer her dancing skills to the film industry. In her words, “my dancer brain that was constructed and formed and grew as a young person is very precise...you must create structure to be creative...you create your technique and then you apply it.” Subsequently, she decided to study film at the American Film Institute, an experience she described as “extraordinary” from day one.
Colabelli was offered a job as a creative executive assistant before she graduated, which set her film industry career in motion. She initially focused on development but switched to physical production because she wanted to learn more about how a movie, TV show, or experience is made. She was later brought on as a production coordinator to work on 30 Days (2005-2008) and American Candidate (2004) — an experience she described as being “like AFI but the beast that ate AFI.” Here, she learned about “the creative process, the physical production process, working with crews all across the country, and what it meant to deliver to networks and studios.” She then worked on the first dual-language talk show, A Place of Our Own - Los Ninos En Su Casa (1998-2011), as a production manager.
After several years in the film and television industry, Colabelli pursued a job at Walt Disney Imagineering on the recommendation of her mentor who believed that she was more than capable of “handling multiple teams and multiple locations.” Here, she produced Soarin’, a flight motion simulator that can be found at Disney theme parks across the world. She subsequently became the post producer for Soarin’ and was staffed at Disney, where she went on to work on other immersive experiences.
Colabelli spoke about the challenges of delivering immersive experiences like Canada Circle-Vision. She had about 90 Canadian collaborators, and it was her responsibility to speak to all these different people and gain as many points of view as she could, so the experience could represent Canada as wholly as possible. She also touched on the challenge of balancing between effective content creation and sustainable business practices. Overall, she described the work at Imagineering as “anti-perfectionism” because it’s fluid and necessitates constant evolution owing to audience expectations.
Colabelli repeatedly emphasized the importance of networking, building relationships with those we can learn from, and working with teams that are the right fit for you. She believes that we should especially get to know the people most available to us, even if through day-to-day conversations. Drawing from her experiences with her own mentor, she stressed the importance of cultivating relationships with those who will be supportive of your choices.
On the topic of applying to jobs that are different from what you’ve experienced, she said that there might not really be something like “a 100% right fit.” Rather, if someone gives you the confidence that you are a good person for their team, that’s enough, provided you represent yourself truthfully. Colabelli believes that the key to making a good impression at an interview is to show that you want to pursue greatness and contribute to a team to make it better.
The talk concluded with Colabelli highlighting the importance of being true to ourselves and honest in our intentions: “Tell the truth from your stories, tell the truth from who you are as a person. That will get you everywhere. It might not always be accepted and perhaps that’s when we should decide whether we want to continue working with the same group of people...but if you come from a place of good intention to move your story forward, it will be received positively.”