Encanto Is A Producer's Swan Song For Clark Spencer, Walt Disney Animation's New President

Clark Spencer has spent two decades at Disney, where he has produced some of the studio's biggest animated hits in recent memory, including "Zootopia" and "Wreck-It Ralph." He's also producing the upcoming "Encanto," alongside Yvett Merino, which will serve as Spencer's last hurrah as a feature producer. Back in August 2019, he was named President of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Now, he is now about to dive head-first into his gig as one of the head honchos of this important corner of the Disney empire, which means he can no longer serve as a hands-on producer on features.

But Spencer had a strong desire to finish his work on "Encanto" before taking his place alongside the studio's Chief Creative Officer, Jennifer Lee, in guiding the future of Walt Disney Animation Studios as it rapidly approaches its 100th anniversary. During a recent press presentation for "Encanto," Spencer had this to say about it all:

"I've had the honor to produce five feature films at this studio. I'm deeply proud of each of them. But during my nearly 20 years of producing, I never had the chance to produce a Disney musical. So when the opportunity presented itself to work with [directors] Byron Howard, Jared Bush, and Lin-Manuel Miranda on 'Encanto,' I jumped at the chance. And while it might seem crazy to run a studio and to continue to produce a film at the same time, I just couldn't step away from a project I loved so deeply."

A Producer Does What Exactly?

Producers are, or at least should be, valuable members of a filmmaking team. For those who aren't neck-deep in Hollywood stuff on a day-to-day basis, the job of a producer can seem nebulous and ill-defined. Is it just a studio fat cat that sits in a chair collecting money? Sometimes, maybe. But Spencer views it differently:

"I think what's interesting is that in all different types of media, there's different roles a producer plays," Spencer says. "In animated film, it is such a collaborative environment, right? There's 500 or 600 people who work on these movies. So we really are trying to ensure that we get the director's vision up on the screen, but we've got to figure out how we do that in this very, very collaborative environment. So we're building the team, we're bringing the team together, and we're ensuring that everyone's communicating with each other. We have, obviously, a schedule and a budget that we're trying to hold things to. We're trying to make sure that we're hiring, we get the cast hired, and all those pieces of the puzzle, get the songs recorded. There's a lot of logistical side to it. But ultimately, the job is just trying to make sure that everyone is working together in the most positive and productive way possible."

The Head Honcho and the New Blood

While Merino had worked on Disney movies such as "Big Hero 6" and "Moana" as a production manager, "Encanto" represents her first feature credit as a producer. And, as it just so happens, she was partnered up with Spencer, the new head honcho of the studio. So, what was it like working in this situation for her first feature as a producer? She told us:

"You know what? It's a dream. It's a dream to get my first producer credit on this film, telling a story about a Latino family based in Colombia. It really, really, truly is a dream to be able to work with Clark."

Spencer knowingly chimed in joking, "She had to say that." While there is a knowing tone in his response, given that he is now the boss, there is also a pinch of modesty there — a grounded guy who loves the work. When Spencer was offered the big job, it was important for him to be able to finish what he started with "Encanto":

"What happened is I was actually working with Yvett. We were producing [Encanto] together before I was offered the job to be President of Disney Animation," Spencer recalls. "When they offered me the job, I said, 'Of course, yes. I'm so honored that you've offered me that job. But I love this film so much, and I've always wanted to do a Disney musical, and I love producing. And this is going to be my last chance to produce, once I step into that job. May I please finish this film?'"

Producing Encanto

One might think someone in Spencer's position would be able to pull rank over Merino. Rather, in talking with them, there was a great deal of respect on both sides of the table. There was a divide and conquer mentality. If anything, Spencer tried to let Merino take the ball and run with it, rather than throw his weight around:

"When you have a partner like Yvett, it makes it much easier because we can divide and conquer, right?," Spencer says. "She can be on the floor working with the team on a daily basis. We can be meeting in moments in time and talking about where we're at and how we're going to make the next steps forward, so we can kind of strategize together. So we would meet every night, at the end of the day, and talk about those pieces. And then we would figure out during the day, which were the areas that were best for both of us to be. And then where Yvett was driving it forward, I could have the time to focus on the studio itself."

When I make a joke about Spencer potentially pulling rank during the filmmaking process, Merino simply laughs it off. She, very genuinely, explains that it's not his way:

"It really was the best-case scenario for me," Merino said. "He is such a collaborative partner. We were such great partners in the sense that he would guide, he'd let me say what I say. And then maybe later, he's like, 'Or you can go this way.' Which is always great because it really allowed me to kind of stretch and have my opinions, and he valued my opinions and really allowed me to kind of grow into this role."

With this movie nearing completion and awaiting its release later this year, Spencer is set to guide Walt Disney Animation Studios into its next phase. Weighty though that job may be, one of the crown jewels of the Disney empire appears to be in good hands.

Disney's "Encanto" arrives in theaters on November 24, 2021.