Talk to Danielle Gillis about her work at FableVision Studios and you’ll hear two words repeated over and over: playful and passion. These two words are so deeply ingrained into her personal and professional interests as a producer that it’s become a mantra: playful passion and passionate play.
“It’s been interesting because as media changes, I’ve changed with it. I always say that I’m most engaged when I’m learning something new,” Danielle says.
A producer’s job is to handle the day-to-day management of projects, which includes scheduling, deliverables, and maintaining communication between the FableVision and partner’s teams. Danielle’s unflappable and curious personality lends itself perfectly to this role.
“I always like to dream big and I like a challenge,” she says. “I think I gravitate toward team members that have an adventurous side too. I love working with people who actually enjoy trying to solve puzzles and make projects better than anyone ever imagined.”
For July’s FableFriday we chatted with Danielle about her adventurous path that brought her to FableVision, what drives her, and the “sweeter” side of her life.
How did you become involved in children’s media? Has it always been a passion?
I’ve always had a playful spirit so even though I’ve worked in various types of media, I gravitate back to children’s programming. It fits my personality and, in my opinion, there’s a lot of creative freedom.
Back in 2000, I was part of a really dynamic team at Nick Jr. Magazine. In those early years of my career I was suggesting story ideas, editing articles, booking celebrities, working at photo shoots, going to Toy Fair, and testing out toys! I had such a great experience at Nick Jr. Magazine that I think that prompted my continued interest in children’s media.
Can you share a bit about your career before FableVision?
My college internship was at YM Magazine. I remember picking the winner of their big contest: a serenade from the Backstreet Boys! My ears are still ringing from that phone call.
After graduation, the editor-in-chief of YM hired me to go with her to Redbook as her assistant. She actually planted the idea that one day I would make a good television producer.
From there I went on to Nick Jr. Magazine where I worked with a really playful and passionate group of people. But during that time, I felt the pull to move back to Boston and live closer to my family.
Back in Boston, I started working in television at WGBH. At FRONTLINE I learned from the best documentarians in the business. They introduced me to the power of great storytelling. When I saw an opening in the Children’s Programming department at WGBH, I made my move to what would be a fantastic journey in kid’s programming,
I started on Time Warp Trio, then continued to work on Curious George, Postcards from Buster, and Arthur. One of my favorite experiences was creating a video workshop for kids. My colleague Natalie and I travelled all over the country and taught kids how to tell their stories. These videos aired as interstitials on Arthur.
Then in 2007, along came WordGirl. I went over to the Boston-based animation studio, Soup2Nuts to get into the heart of production. I had amazing mentors there and I learned so much about animation and comedy from a super talented team.
What is your best memory working on WordGirl?
How can I pick just one memory? The best part was being on a team that cared so much about the details in every episode. I saw each person who touched the show contribute creatively in their own way. There’s nothing better than getting a script that makes you laugh out loud. You know it’s a great episode when you find yourself laughing every step of the way, even after you’ve watched it 20 times. Funny and educational is a winning combination.
At FableVision Studios, you’re the producer on Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Good Thinking! The Science of Teaching Science animation project, can you share about the process – how did this project evolve?
When we first met the team at the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) I knew that this was going to be a winning partnership. They brought their passion for science education to the table and we brought our passion for quality entertainment.
We knew from the beginning that scripting would be a crucial step. SSEC works with their content experts to deliver script templates to us. Then our animation writers get to work making stories, telling jokes, and bringing the characters to life.
In my opinion, you can actually see how great a collaboration is in the final product. When the folks at SSEC described these videos as “lovingly crafted” I smiled a big smile. For me, that’s the ultimate compliment.
What makes Good Thinking! unique?
Good Thinking! is really innovative in that I don’t think anything like this exists in professional development for educators. I like to imagine a group of teachers watching Good Thinking! in staff meetings and learning and laughing together.
You took a detour in your producer career and attended pastry school in Paris. What sparked that decision?
WordGirl was going on hiatus and I was feeling overwhelmed by the idea of jumping into another production job. So I took a few days off from work and really thought about my life and what was important to me. I did a little research and came up with my grand plan to move to Paris and attend pastry school. I’ve always loved to bake and for years I said I wanted to live abroad again. This was my chance to step away from the computer, work with my hands, create in a new way, and challenge myself to learn a new language. Best. Decision. Ever.
What do you love most about baking?
I love that you can take quality ingredients (good butter is really important), follow a recipe, and a short while later have a beautiful and delicious treat. My favorite part of baking is sharing my creations with family and friends. I think I should host an annual dessert salon. Wouldn’t that be fun? And so French.
Last October you went on an African safari. What was the most exciting moment on the trip?
Well, I could tell you about when we saw a lion kill a warthog and eat it, but that would be gross.
What made that trip special was spending time with my South African friends, feeling in awe of these beautiful creatures, smelling the smells, and remembering that I’m just one small part of a very big world.
Pastry: To make: tartes, to eat: pain aux chocolat.
TV Show: Mad Men, Orange is the New Black, The Affair, Silicon Valley, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Book: The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Paris restaurant: Pierre Sang Boyer
Boston restaurant: Townsman
Vacation Spot: My aunt Ginny’s cape house in Brewster