Excellence in Action

Scott Sakamoto ’00

Photo of Scott Sakamoto

Scott Sakamoto ’00 is a Production Supervisor at Walt Disney Animation Studios, where his passion and experience have centered around the Story Department. In his current position, Scott is helping to oversee the creative process on a yet to be announced animated feature. His other recent projects at Disney have included the Oscar®-nominated feature Moana and the upcoming theatrical sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet. Previously, Scott was involved in the front-end production departments at DreamWorks Animation, where he worked on projects such as How to Train Your Dragon, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and Monsters vs. Aliens. Scott began his career in entertainment as a Development Intern at Spyglass Entertainment and then as an assistant in the Feature Literary Department at The Gersh Agency. Scott earned his Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from UCLA in 2000.

Interviewed by Monique Beals • May 16, 2018

Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.

My path was anything but direct. When I was at UCLA, I was convinced that I would have a career in sports marketing. Everything I had experience-wise in terms of internships and entry-level jobs right out of college was geared towards working in advertising, getting an MBA, and ultimately to get into Nike. I did advertising for about two years and I worked on brands like Nestle and Sony Pictures. I realized that my passion wasn’t really in what I was currently doing or in what my boss was doing or in what my boss’s boss was doing. I felt like I needed to make a change and find something I was really passionate about.

I did a lot of soul-searching and realized where I wanted to end up was in animation. I actually found a business card for Walt Disney Feature Animation in a desk drawer at one of my internships, and I just kept it with me as the goal for where I wanted to ultimately end up. So, I decided I wanted to do feature animation, but I didn’t know anything about it or how to get into it, but I had seen Monsters Inc. and was so inspired by the world they created and the story that they told that I cold called the Head of Story on that film, Bob Peterson.  I called him every day for months actually, and he was never at his desk until one day he finally was. We talked for about 10 minutes or so and he recommended that if I wanted to get into animation in the story department, I needed to learn the fundamentals of storytelling. To do that, I needed to get a position where I could read as many scripts and books as I could in order to break apart, analyze, and understand what makes a good story.

I quit my job in advertising and I took an internship at Spyglass Entertainment. For three days a week, I read scripts and books and did coverage, created writer and director lists, and even helped brainstorm set pieces for some of their upcoming projects. The other four days of the week, I was selling shoes at Nordstrom at The Grove just to pay for bills. My internship ultimately led to a job in the mailroom at one of the agencies. That led to a desk for a below-the-line agent which led to a desk for a feature literary agent. While I was on that desk, I took a phone call to set a meeting for one of our clients at DreamWorks Animation. That conversation led to a job offer as a Production Assistant. I was at DreamWorks for about 8 years in which time I was lucky enough to work on movies like How to Train your Dragon, Monsters vs. Aliens, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and a few other shorts and development projects. That led to a job at Walt Disney Animation Studios. I’ve been here for about five years now, where I worked on Moana for about 3 years and worked on Wreck-It Ralph 2 for about 1 year, and I’m currently on an untitled unannounced 2020 release that I am very excited about!

What inspired you to choose this career path?

As I was soul searching to figure out my career path, I wrote down a lot of the characteristics and aspects of a job that I wanted in my career. I’m very collaborative so I wanted something that was team oriented. I didn’t want a job where I sit by myself in an office. I have a theory that there are team sports people and individual sports people, and to me, animation is the ultimate team sport. It takes a huge number of people with diverse skillsets several years to make one feature. I also really loved animation and Disney for longer than it was probably cool. I think everyone watched the movies and enjoyed them as kids, but I continued enjoying them, and still do. Also, my dad is a big Disney fan, so I was raised in that atmosphere.

How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?

UCLA is such a big school that you have to take initiative and be very proactive in how you approach your major, student organizations, etc. You have to be a self-starter. That’s something I really applied once I got into the working world. Also, when I was a student, Dustin Hoffman came in to speak to our class. He told us that he loved acting so much that he would pay people to do it. If we could find that passion in our careers then we would always want to work at it which will lead to success. That mindset has stuck with me.

In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?

I didn’t know a lot of people in entertainment when I graduated, so I didn’t really have much of a network when I started. As I have continued down my career path, I have met several UCLA alumni and our shared interests, including our love for the school, have established a strong network.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge I had was trying to get my foot in the door. I was so convinced that I wanted to do marketing as an undergrad that I didn’t get exposure to any other fields. Once I wanted to get into the industry a lot of companies wouldn’t even look at my resume, because they were interested in giving internships to students who could receive school credit, and entry-level positions wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have any relevant experience. I ended up calling every production company and studio that I recognized out of the Hollywood Creative Directory. I would also write down the names, job titles, and production companies of movies I liked so that I could call them to see if they would give me an informational interview. Luckily, one of the assistants at Spyglass Entertainment was gracious enough to meet with me and eventually offer an internship.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry?

I think the first thing would be to be open-minded. I was so driven to graduate and get my experience, so I could get my career started.  I think you should keep an open mind about what paths you may go down. Even if you’re sold on going into entertainment, it is worth it to look at marketing, finance, or other fields you don’t even think you’d consider. Look at everything and give yourself that breadth of knowledge and opportunity to try new things. You never know what might come of it.

How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?

I have always been an avid sports fan so I have supported the Wooden Athletic Fund for many years. More recently, I was able to get reconnected with the Communication Studies Department when I was asked to join a “Life After the Degree” panel with Disney employees. That then led to me getting to meet with Kerri Johnson, the Chair of the Department of Communications, and after talking with her, we organized a tour at Walt Disney Animation Studios for students.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

I have been a Bruin supporter my whole life. My love for the university goes all the way back to when I was 10 years old and had open heart surgery at UCLA Medical Center. The doctors and staff were so awesome and great and supportive. I have also always been a big fan of UCLA sports programs. I think UCLA is such a great university in terms of academics, but the students there are generally well-rounded and proactive, and I appreciate that and feel proud to be a Bruin.

And finally, what’s next?

That’s a great question. I have no idea! Disney has been great, and I have been really fortunate to be here during such a great time for the studio. I have learned under a lot of really great storytellers, managers, and leaders, and I am really proud of the experience. At some point, I’d love to produce my own movie, or possibly head down the road of creative development, so we will see. For now, I’m trying to do the best job I can on the project I’m working and we will see where things go from there.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.

Interested in learning more about UCLA alumni who are creating lasting impressions and impact in their industries? Visit Excellence in Action for the full collection of interviews.