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Disney Television Animation @ 30: An Interview With Lisa Salamone Smith, SVP, Production, Disney Television Animation

BY: Marjorie Galas

Disney Television Animation is celebrating thirty years on the air. Throughout the past thirty years, Disney Television Animation has consistently presented programs that have become triple threats: fan favorites, critically acclaimed and award winners. Senior Vice President, Production Lisa Salamone Smith looked back at her twenty years with Disney Television Animation and a tenure that has produced programs including “Gargoyles,” “Phineas and Ferb,” “Jake and the Never Land Pirates,” and “Sofia the First,” through most recent hits including “Wander Over Yonder” and “The 7D.”

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Salamone Smith began her tenure at Disney Television Animation as an associate producer. Prior to joining the Disney Television animation team, she was an associate producer at DIC Entertainment where she worked on the Emmy-winning series “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?” Prior to stepping to a producer role, Salamone Smith rose up the ranks taking on a wide variety of roles in production before becoming a line producer, a background that has allowed her to not only find the best people to work with, but support them in their daily needs.

“The goal of the team is to be great,” said Salamone Smith. “We all share ideas and communicate, that is the key to keep our team and projects strong and vital.”

Salamone Smith works closely with the development teams to find and bring on fresh talent that will elevate the content Disney Television Animation puts forth. A great deal of effort is spent not only maintaining relationships with the company’s core workforce, but finding new and fresh talent through film festivals, online program and venues where animation is displayed.

“The animation community is a small community, and it’s all about building relationships,” said Salamone Smith. “We’ll see people at festivals and continue to build a relationship with them. Sometimes we’ll court them for five years, and we’ll grab them when we are able. We all like each other, it’s a great vibe in the studio and people like to come in and be a part of what we’re doing.”

Juggling the needs of diverse material and teams has been the most challenging aspect of Salamone’s Smith role. While the studio has grown significantly, Salamone Smith has learned that focusing on efficiency has been a key to success. While there are times when a large staff feels appropriate, the workflow has a natural ebb and flow through the course of a year. Delegating responsibilities amongst staff has proven a key to her success.

“You have to look at it a bit like a stock holder,” said Salamone Smith. “Over the past ten years our growth hasn’t been so much about getting bigger but more efficient. We want our teams to be big enough when there is a lot of work to handle, but not so large when the programs drop.”

Salamone Smith also focuses a great deal of energy on finding the best studios that match the unique visions and qualities represented in the diverse slate of programming. The work she was involved with with last year’s Emmy winning “Mickey Mouse Shorts” was particularly gratifying. It was important for the new shorts to pay homage to the classic character of Mickey Mouse, while feeling fresh and timely for a new generation of viewers. A number of animation panels were presented to the studio’s steering committee who were involved with selecting the final course of the series style and direction. Salamone Smith knew guiding each episode was a great responsibility not only to present a valuable series but also to stay in line with the Disney brand. Winning the 2014 Emmy for Outstanding Short-Form Animated Series was second to the gratification that came when the classic characters were embraced by a new generation of viewers.

While Salamone Smith doesn’t become heavily involved in the evolving technologies that have shaped the animation world, she is aware that the pipeline at Disney Animation Television includes proprietary programs and an IT team that manages daily operations in a nearly transparent fashion. She “stays on her toes” – keeping up with the latest developments, allowing her to constantly have her finger to the pulse of emerging animators and innovators. The technology she uses on a daily bases allows for immediate review of material between states and countries simultaneously. Her greatest focus involves fairly managing her time between the unique needs of each program she oversees.

“Juggling tasks is a constant struggle, trying to figure out the best way to be in many places and make sure we are all on the same page,” said Salamone Smith. “Some of these shows have 600 people involved. You have to be growing with their growth, and make sure you don’t lose sight of their needs. It’s important to make sure you have regular meetings, and that every need is getting the proper attention devoted to it.”

Despite growing needs and splitting her attention over anywhere between six to eleven shows simultaneously, Salamone Smith is very attuned to ensuring her staff maintains a fair work/life balance. She is committed to encouraging everyone on her team that they manage their time responsibly. Delegating tasks both provides a chance for a rising star to shine and prevents individuals from burning out.

“There is always going to be more work to get done. You have to be aware of diminished returns,” said Salamone Smith. “When I leave at the end of the day, I know I have done everything I can do to answer the questions put forth to me. Everyone always puts in the extra hours, but we try to find that proper home life balance. It’s very important to me and to everyone.”

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