Not Just For Kids
As Senior VP of Creative at Sony Pictures Animation, Jenny Marchick ’99 has helped herald a golden age of animation in Hollywood.J
enny Marchick ’99 has always loved movies. But pursuing a career in the exclusive and enigmatic film industry didn’t occur to her until fate intervened in the form of economic calamity.
By the end of 2001, the San Francisco Bay Area had transformed from the beating heart of the world’s most exciting industry into a cautionary tale of fad-based investing. The dot-com bubble had burst violently, emitting shock waves of financial panic and mass layoffs.
Marchick, a Bay Area native, had moved back to San Francisco after graduating from Conn to work for a sports Internet company. When the market collapsed, she was forced to reappraise her options.
“That’s when I started wondering what sorts of jobs there were in the movie business aside from writing, acting and directing,” Marchick recalled by phone one day from her office in Los Angeles, where she serves as Senior VP of Creative for Sony Pictures Animation. Her division’s film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse recently took home the Academy Award, Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Award for best animated feature and has garnered universal acclaim.
But Marchick’s journey to the top of the industry didn’t happen overnight.
“In the beginning, I really didn’t know how to approach that career transition, so I called the alumni office at Conn and asked them to give me the names of alumni who worked in entertainment in L.A. The next thing I knew I was scheduling informational interviews,” she added.
For Marchick, the key takeaway from those meetings was discovering that she wanted to go into the development side of the business, either as a producer or studio executive. She packed up, moved to L.A. and started networking and landing internships while working as a nanny.
In 2002, within about a year of moving, Marchick secured her first job assisting the president of production at Mandeville Films and getting a crash course in the mechanics of the movie industry.
“There’s no formula in this business, so when you’re starting out it’s essential that you work with somebody you can learn from,” Marchick says. “I was incredibly lucky in that my first boss was exceptional at what he did, and so I was able to absorb through osmosis how to do the job. Nobody will sit you down and show you—you have to be attentive
Marchick’s talent and ambition were immediately apparent, and she was promoted to Creative Executive at Mandeville Films, then ultimately named Director of Development at the company before moving on to 20th Century Fox in 2007, where she worked on live-action films.
But she was interested in animation and the direction the medium was headed. Not only were animated movies attracting A-list writers and actors, but the technology was also advancing in exciting ways. When the opportunity to join Sony Pictures Animation arose, Marchick jumped at it. She says one of the most important roles she has is to advocate for the creative visions of the filmmakers she works with.
One of the projects Marchick was intimately involved with from start to finish was 2018’s Hotel Transylvania 3, which holds the distinction of being Sony Pictures Animation’s highest-grossing global release ever, boasting an all-star voice cast and raking in an astonishing $528 million worldwide.
Many of the highest-grossing movies at the global box office these days are animated, and Marchick attributes that success to a confluence of factors.
“I think shows like The Simpsons helped to change the way audiences think about animation, and certainly when CG [computer-generated] technology developed people were simply astounded that animated movies could look that great,” she said. “But the important thing is for people to understand animation isn’t a genre—it’s a medium, and from the start, going back to Bambi, or Dumbo, animated movies were sophisticated from both a story and a technological perspective.”
Movie audiences are notoriously fickle and unpredictable, and Marchick is the first to admit she doesn’t possess a sixth sense about how audiences will respond to any given film. But she says, as a movie fan herself, she tends to rely on her gut reaction to the characters in a story and what message or point of view the writers or filmmakers are trying to express.
“I’m moved by a filmmaker who wants to tell a story that means something,” she said. “When someone pitches me an idea, I want to know about the characters and I want to know what the characters are going to feel, what they’re going to learn and what the filmmaker wants the movie to say. How do they want the audience to feel when they watch the movie? That’s the stuff that, throughout the process—as crazy as it can be—you always try to return to, because that’s what got you excited in the first place.”
That desire to find the humanity in characters—animated or not—can be traced back to Marchick’s days at Conn when she studied human relations with a psychology focus. She also has an established pattern of following her instincts, which has served her well. Conn College wasn’t even on her list of schools initially, but her mother, an alumna herself, suggested she visit the campus just for a practice interview.
“Since my mother had gone to Conn I think I liked the idea of having my own experience when I was looking at colleges,” Marchick said. “But after I saw the campus and met with the dean of admissions—who spoke passionately about the philosophy of the school—I was sold.”
Moving forward, Marchick and Sony Pictures Animation are continuing to build on the studio’s extraordinary momentum, with a full slate of movies set for development.
“What I love so much about this job is that animation involves an incredibly collaborative process, and we have hundreds of creative minds working on these movies,” Marchick said.
“And that means we get to hear so many different points of view. We want to make movies that people of all ages can respond to, not only kids. It’s truly a privilege to be a part of something that can take people’s minds off their problems for a bit, so they leave the theater feeling good.”