Kevin Goetz sits down with his good friend, Robbie Brenner, the head of Mattel Films. Robbie is one of the producers of the record-breaking blockbuster Barbie and has had an illustrious career making acclaimed movies like Dallas Buyers Club, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. We’ll hear Robbie’s insider stories of how Barbie went from an idea that seemed destined to fail to the biggest comedy hit in years. We’ll hear her war stories guiding Barbie through development and testing while retaining the bold creative vision needed to reinvent an iconic brand by bringing on director Greta Gerwig at the suggestion of Margot Robbie. Robbie also shares her vision for Mattel Films and gives insight into her upcoming projects.

Getting Barbie Off the Ground

Robbie shares the early development process for Barbie, and why Kevin initially thought it would fail.

The High Heel and the Birkenstock

At the suggestion of Margot Robbie, Brenner brought Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach on to the project, and Brenner shares how they shifted the tone of the movie.

Robbie on Greta Gerwig and her initial idea on the tone of Barbie:

And she had this idea, and it’s actually in the movie, she said, you know, I feel like the movie lives between this high heel and this Birkenstock. That somehow the movie, it’s going to live between these two shoes. And I don’t know what it is, but that’s sort of the leaping-off point.

Behind-the-scenes stories from test screenings of Barbie

Kevin and Robbie share stories from the early screenings of Barbie and the changes that were made to the film.

Kevin Goetz on Barbie director, Greta Gerwig:

I remember very clearly she stuck to her guns. She knew what she wanted, but she also listened. And I think the great filmmakers that I’ve worked with have the ability to respond to the research but keep their vision at the front and center.

Convincing Mattel

Robbie explains how she had to convince the Barbie brand team to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” during the filmmaking process.

Robbie Brenner on working with Mattel:

I had many meetings with the people from the brand team, from the Barbie team and they had never made any movies before. They didn’t know what the process was. They didn’t know what to expect. So there was a lot of educating. Here I am working inside of a toy company and I’m educating people, and they’re reading the script going like, I mean, are you, are you crazy? I mean, have you like lost it? Like we don’t even know you that well. I know you’ve made some good movies, but like, are, are you sure?

Polly Pocket, Hot Wheels, and Barney

Robbie discusses the future slate of films based on Mattel brands, including Hot Wheels, Barney, and more. She shares the big Hollywood names attached to the projects; stars like J.J. Abrams, Lena Dunham, and Daniel Kaluuya.

The Cultural Significance of Barbie

Robbie explains how Barbie unpacks cultural issues in a substantive way, beyond just being commercially appealing.

I mean, look at Barbie, it’s sort of the perfect intersection of art and commerce because it is really, truly a personal story of a woman who had a very intimate and personal experience with Barbie that did something that is authentic and bold and is not afraid of speaking her mind and saying the things that she wants to say and doing those things. It has such a singular, strong point of view. And I think the movies that really work, especially in 2023, where there’s so much in the world, there’s so much noise, there’s so much television, there’s social media, there’s gaming, there are so many distractions, are movies that feel, as you would say, sticky and singular and different. And those are the movies that drive people to the box office that people want to see.

— Robbie Brenner

Taking Risks

Robbie talks about having conviction as a filmmaker to take bold risks, even if you “fail miserably.”

Robbie Brenner on taking risks:

Lean into things that feel authentic and singular and bold and different and scary, and that is where the magic happens. I always say to my children, have conviction in what you do. Have conviction. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks or whatever. Go at it with everything you have, and if you fail, fail miserably at it.

Tune in for an entertaining glimpse behind the scenes of a contemporary classic in the making. Robbie brings an infectious energy as she shares anecdotes that capture the importance of conviction and the power of meaningful storytelling in producing great films. Robbie has an innate sense for compelling stories, a passion for telling them authentically, and the talent relationships and tenacity to get films made. Her insights into utilizing audience research to craft satisfying endings, grabbing viewer attention early, and leaning into a filmmaker’s unique voice reveal why she’s been behind so many memorable movies.

Don’t Kill the Messenger, hosted by movie and entertainment research expert Kevin Goetz, brings his book Audienceology to life. This bi-monthly podcast takes a peek behind the filmmaking curtain as Kevin talks with famous filmmakers, studio executives, stars, and other creatives about movies, filmmaking, audience test screenings, and much more.

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