A visit to campus by a famed movie producer gave Mary Hill a chance to get closer to her dream.
The junior, who is majoring in theatre, plans to become a teacher, but hopes to one day work for Disney, the company that made some of her favorite films.
So when Roy Conli (’83, drama), an Academy Award-winning animated film producer at The Walt Disney Animation Studios, visited with students recently, Hill got the chance to share her love for “The Lion King” and the Conli-produced “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules” – in that order.
“You know a way to a guy’s heart,” Conli said.
For Hill, the chance to meet Conli showed her that working at Disney is possible, as long as she works hard.
“I thought it was extremely nice of him to take the time out to come to talk to us and answer our questions,” Hill says. “It was really an honor.”
The Jan. 18 visit was the second time that Conli, who was given a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2016, has come to campus. Bernardo Solano, chair of the theatre department, says that Conli accepted an invitation from College of Letters, Arts & Sciences Dean Sharon Hilles.
Solano says he noticed that the audience paid close attention to Conli’s message.
“I would occasionally look at the students to see their reactions to what Roy had to say to them. They were extremely focused and it was clear that they were taking it all in, which was terrific because he talked about a lifetime of professional milestones that essentially began at Cal Poly Pomona,” Solano says. “His advice to them was spot-on, and I actually listened as much for myself as for the students. These are the kinds of insights that we should all be attentive to.”
During his talk in the University Theatre, Conli recounted his time at Cal Poly Pomona in the 1970s. Although he came to the university wanting to become an actor, the general education he received and the experiences with set design, sound design and marketing made him well-rounded.
“It set me up for being able to produce because I wasn’t a one-trick pony,” he said.
Conli, who won an Oscar for “Big Hero 6” in 2015, trained at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts and the prestigious American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco after graduation. He helped to re-open the famed Pasadena Playhouse and earned a graduate degree at Boston University before coming to the Mark Taper Forum, where he oversaw production on all new work including “Angels in America,” “The Kentucky Cycle” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.”
During his talk, Conli disclosed two keys to his success: collaboration in movie-making and finding people you trust in the business who can give you honest feedback.
“Find the brain trust that will feed you,” he said. “Find three or four guys you trust, bring them in and let them look at your work.”
He also talked about the joy of being part of the legacy that Walt and Roy Disney started when they launched their studio more than 90 years ago.
“They created stories that are timeless and boundary-less,” he said. “When things are functioning well, these stories touch hearts around the world. We really want to tell engaging stories and live up to the legacy the family gave us.”
He encouraged students to find a career that makes them happy, even if it is off their original path.
“I found a career in a weird way. It wasn’t like I was looking for producing,” he said. “What is the theme of your life? What drives you? I chased my bliss. I just chased what I wanted to do.”
Kendra Culla, a senior theatre student, says she connected with Conli’s message, specifically about what drew him to acting and storytelling.
“I feel like it hit home more for me when he said he became an actor because he likes telling stories. I became an actor because I like telling stories,” Culla says. “I grew up watching Disney films, and to have a person who produced some of them in this building is inspiring.”