Meet Janice Karman

Location: Santa Barbara, CA
Age: 56
Marital Status: Married
Education: UCLA and The Strasberg Institute

The hard work paid off. Their company, Bagdasarian Productions, produces feature films, hit TV shows, specials, DVDs and albums featuring the lovable ‘munks. And Alvin, Simon and Theodore are still going strong; The Squeakquel, which Janice and Ross co-produced, opened Christmas ‘09, making over $440 million worldwide. This time around, Janice wrote and designed female chipmunks, The Chipettes, for the movie. “They’re kind, good girls. I’m not into the mean girl thing. They all have a heart and that was really important.” Sound familiar?

Where did you grow up?

The Culver City Housing Projects in Los Angeles–until age 11. It was a wonderful place, very diverse — there were kids all around. My parents were studying theatre and film at UCLA and my father used to bring the cameras home for the weekend. He would get the kids in our row in the project to do all the different filming jobs: Nacho would be the camera assistant, Ronnie would be the makeup, another person would be the costumer. We would make movies. As poor as we were, he always made sure we had season tickets to the music center. I saw Man of La Mancha, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady…all the classics.

When did you leave the house?Image

When I was 16, I raised enough money to send myself to Europe for four months; I went to London, Paris and Amsterdam by myself. I was very close to my family and I wanted to see how I would respond without them to rely on. In my family you were encouraged to challenge your fears.

It’s amazing that you did that alone at 16.

Yeah, I question my mother now.

Did you go to university?

I took theater, film and directing classes at UCLA Extension. I also got a scholarship at the Strasberg Institute. I was terribly shy and self-conscious in front of people so I thought acting would help. And I wasn’t one of those shy people who blossomed on stage. No, it was like pushing an elephant up the stairs.

Tell me about your husband.

I met him when I was 19 years old. He stalked me for many years. He knew that we were meant for one another. One day he came to my boyfriend’s house, and I said, ‘Please, Ross, this has to stop, you’re making my life miserable.’ And he said, ‘Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t love me and I will leave you alone.’ And so I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I don’t love you.’ And he said, ‘I don’t believe you.’ and continued to pursue me. And then one day I fell madly, head-over-heels in love. So he was right. We’ve been married for 30 years.

You’re still in love?

I’m so in love with him. When you find someone who wants you to be the best person you can be and who supports that and who respects you and likes you and listens to you, it just doesn’t get better.

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When did his father create The Chipmunks?

In 1958. We started trying to bring them back around 1980.

How long did it take?

Several years. We went knocking door to door and everyone said no. Then a disc jockey played a Blondie song in the style of the Chipmunks and told everybody that it was Chipmunk Punk. And the phones lit up. The next day a record company found us and said, “Would you be interested in doing an album of Chipmunk Punk?” We said, “Sure.” It went platinum. Then all the doors started opening. We got a Christmas special and that did great, then we got the Saturday morning TV show.

Tell me about the first movie.

We produced Alvin & The Chipmunks three years ago for Fox. And it was very successful.

You’re so down to earth. How have you maintained that in the world you’re in?

Well, my parents were educated, generous people who gave everything away. I really have no patience for affectation or snobbery. I really don’t. Money has never defined me. I’d rather be poor and proud than successful and embarrassed. Ross and I have put our money into so many projects that we believe in, so there were many times when we were financially unstable. And I always thought, worst-case scenario I go back to the housing project. It was really important that my kids knew that we aren’t what we have ‘cause that can all go away.

Tell me about your style.

It has to be approachable and comfortable. The comment I get most on my house is that it’s warm. By the way, I’m more comfortable decorating a house than I am decorating myself.

In terms of your personal style, why do you like Wendy Foster’s store?

She is so warm and her store has a great ambiance. She has unique classic clothes that you can style to fit your personality. And I love the women that work there because they’re smart and they will not let you walk out the door with something that doesn’t fit.

A lot of women say their mother inspired their style. Was your mother into clothes?

It’s interesting. My mother is a beautiful woman, but she just never cared about clothes. When I was little and I thought of making money, all I wanted to do was buy my mom beautiful dresses with shoes to match. I always thought she just didn’t have the money, but when I got older, I realized she wasn’t interested.

What’s your signature accessory?

A Loree Rodkin gold chain with little hearts and I put my own charms on it too. Every charm has a meaning to me. I made one charm from an earring my sister-in-law wore. She passed away. I wear it almost everyday.

What’s your favorite restaurant in your area?

The Ivy. My husband and I are vegetarians and they have a great Caesar that you can get without anchovy. They have a great grilled vegetable salad.

Favorite wine?

Vodka.

Great answer. Your secret favorite spot in Santa Barbara?

My favorite spot is on our property, down by the guesthouse, which looks like a little Snow White cottage. I love sitting there listening to the tweet-tweet of the birds.

What about your exercise routine?

I have a Pilates bed in my house —  a reformer —  and I’m pretty disciplined about getting on it.

ImageWhat about your biggest indulgence?

A massage here at my house with Melany Minors. She is fantastic.

What about favorite books or authors?

I loved The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. It’s historical, it’s romantic. I love going back in time. I love Pat Conroy. He wrote Prince of Tides. He’s a very poetic writer. I love Amy Tan, who wrote The Joy Luck Club. I connect with stories that have a strong female character. Like The Other Boleyn Girl. Again it brings you back in time, and it’s about issues that women had to deal with then. To me a great book is like a great friend, you can’t wait to get back to it.

Do you have a passion project?

A preschool show about emotional intelligence for kids. I’m editing it now. The shows deal with different issues: jealousy, lying, sibling rivalry… I put it out for a short while to get some reactions and people loved it.

Who or what inspires you?

People who work on themselves to be better parents, communicators or kinder people. My parents took the blueprint that was laid out for them on parenting and changed it. They said, ‘We’re not gonna do that.’ And people who get over horrible obstacles or tragedies in their lives and switch it up and make it better… that’s what inspires me.

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