Thursday, September 20, 2007

The "Great" Movie Ride

I have noted in my previous entries (many, many months ago) of my numerous responsibilities while working at WDW. Some have been memorable and others unbearable. I’d like to share with you now a time there that will forever be tops in my book as the greatest place to work, Disney MGM’s the Great Movie Ride.

I’m sure many of you know that GMR was the reason for MGM’s existence, as originally Great Moments into the Movies (its original title) was intended to be sandwiched in between The Land and Journey Into Imagination at Epcot. Luckily, Mr. Eisner in one of his few wise choices gave the Imagineers carte blanche in devising a new park to make this attraction fit. So Disney MGM Studios was opened in 1989, and the very 1st thing you would see is Grauman’s Chinese Theater looking at you all the way from the (at the time) back of the park.

I have had a fascination with GMR since its inception. At the time my sister was on the College Program and got to open the ride. She was even the bandit in the very first MGM guidemap; you can still see her picture on the Disney website! Anyways, I was about 12 and when we’d go visit her, I’d always haul ass to the Movie Ride and ride it 10 or 12 times.

This ride stuck in me in such a fantastic way; the history of old Hollywood, the stories the ride would tell, and the detail was, and quite frankly still unsurpassed. Every time you go, you can see something else brand new. The whole building is just magical, and just 8 short years later, it would be I, dressed in red suspenders and newsboy hat welcoming you aboard.

Luckily, through a friend, I was able to transfer to GMR from Journey into Imagination/HISTA in the winter of 1997. Never having a fear of speaking in front of large groups and quite frankly being a wiseass, I was more than excited to start. Little did I know that the next 5 years would be some of the peaks and valleys of my young adulthood.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of each show scene, heck there are about a billion sites that will do that. What I will share with you are some stories about some of the best people in the world, and maybe some near backstage secrets. This may get lengthy, so bear with me, hopefully my memories will be as captivating to you as they were magical for me.

When I started I was a bit overwhelmed, there were scripts to memorize, attraction positions to learn, how to drive the vehicles, etc. It was daunting, but I was bound to make it work. When you are new, you’re stuck in what’s called “Dock Rotation”, simply meaning you were not spieling on a vehicle until you do a sign off show. Dock consisted of Greeter, Pre-Greet (aka Head Usher) which loaded the pre-show, Pre-Con which spieled in the pre-show and opened the doors to dock, Load which loaded the vehicles, and sometimes Load-Con meaning you just stood around and helped. Let me tell you now, I absolutely hated these positions, hated! In fact, I used to do people’s shows and bump around them to break. Once I did 27 B shows (the gangster one) in a row just so I wouldn’t have to work Dock. That was all until I was character trained.

You see to be a Gangster/Bandit back then you had to loosely audition and get approved. Being a character was the absolute highlight to working there. Gangster shows were 8 minutes, Bandit shows were 4. There were always 4 Gangsters and 4 Bandits, and what we would do is 2 of each character would work for an hour and the other 2 would take a break. Sometimes, we’d get 5 Gangsters and I would do my 5 and then not work again for 2 hours, (we called it a “matrix” and it was great). At any rate, characters ruled the ride, it was something of the “A” crowd back in high school, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s not that we were jerks or lorded it over the Tour Guides, it was just prestigious and everyone knew it. The conditions up there were somewhat otherwise.
You see when they designed the ride, they left out 1 simple fact; the air conditioning did not cool the building, and up in Gangster/Banditland, it was hot, very hot! Gangsters had to wear wool suits with many layers and that didn’t help out at all. Bandits had it a bit easier in that I basically wore jeans, a light shirt and vest.

Gangster Alley wasn’t much to look at, but it was home. Basically, there were 4 theater seats attached to the floor, a bookshelf, and a water cooler; that was all there was room for, so cramped was an under statement. Banditland had it much nicer, two couches and an old vinyl thing you could sleep on right behind the bank, funny how you could sleep through all the gun play and explosions and not even flinch.

I won’t bore you with the details on how the show worked, but a few things are neat to know: we did use real guns Smith & Wesson/Taurus for the Gangsters, Rueger Blackhawks for the Bandits, the door we swung around in Anubis during the death scene is directly behind Gangster Alley, and the elephant in the Tarzan scene is hollow (I’ll get into that later).

So enough of all the insights as to a day in the life of a “Movie Rider”, let’s talk about some the great elements that I have the opportunity to experience behind the scenes……tomorrow.

I promise part 2 tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Part II

When I last left you, my family was racing from Ft. Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom for a day of rides, shows, and way too much junk food. We were now standing behind the rope waiting ever so impatiently for it to drop. “Stay together,” Mom would order, “and don’t run.” However, she knew the minute that rope showed the least bit of slack we would be off faster than Kirstie Alley to a bag of Doritos, and probably wouldn’t be seen again until the money in our pockets ran out. So there we were, waiting in anticipation.

Then there it was, the famous spiel that instructed the CM’s to “drop the rope”, and before I knew it we were off. Back then the big draw was Space Mountain, and that’s where everyone headed. I, being the youngest, found it hard to keep up and I had to consistently yell to my siblings to wait up. Not wanting to wait in line for more than 30 seconds, my oldest brother would throw me on his back and off we would run.

Upon reaching the megalith known as Space Mountain I was instructed to sit on this bench and not move, as I was much to short to ride, (Mom never knew this ride had a height requirement, or maybe she thought that someone would watch while the others rode, not bloody likely). So off they would all go to have fun zooming and zipping across the cosmos. However, in my best “Screw this” mentality I have adopted through my lifetime I would take off on the WEDWay Peoplemover for my own journey through Space Mountain. The WEDWay, known for its short lines was always a fun ride for me, as it was this elevated taxi through Tomorrowland. I would look at all the rides and mentally make a “Ride it”, or “Don’t ride it” list. I always figured nothing was going to happen to me, after all I was 6 years old and at Disney World. I’d come back to my assigned bench and of course there were my siblings half pissed I took off, and half relieved they weren’t going to have to go back to Mom and Dad sans 1 child. I’d usually get a punch in the arm as brothers do and off we would go about the rest of the park.

After they would ride their big thrill ride, then it would be my turn to hit the fun rides. I generally loved every ride except 1: The Haunted Mansion. It would scare the bejesus outta me, and I wanted no part of it. Funny, because today it’s one my top 3 favorite attractions. Anyways, the rides I had to hit were 20k, Mr. Toad, the Star Jets, the Jungle Cruise, and Pirates.
I really enjoyed Mr. Toad, because it’s a ride the whole family would ride. I usually would ride in the front seat with my Mom. She would always be overly enthused at my ability to a) drive a car b) seem to narrowly miss all the characters. Funny thing about Toad was that in the last scene, you know, when you go to Hell, I never realized you die until I was older.

The other fun ride for the family was 20k. I actually thought you were completely submersed and visited all of the locations portrayed in the ride. My siblings helped with the freakiness of it by asking, “Hey, is that a leak in my glass?” or “Too bad you can’t swim”. I always loved the lost city of Atlantis scene. I don’t know why, just always have.

Around noon we’d all gather on Main St. for what Mom called “Hot dogs on main”, and then in the blink of any eye gone in a flash. I’d usually be tired by then so Mom and I would hop on the train and ride it for an hour or so while I napped. My rejuvination would hit and I’d be ready to go for some more excitement.

Adventureland was always a good place to run around, and for whatever reason it always seemed like it was separated from the rest of the park. I think my whole family loved Pirates of the Caribbean, I especially love the queue. Talk about a well themed queue; it had skeletons, and cannons, and overall just this mystique of a Caribbean themed fort. Has anyone else ever thought that Pirates had a certain smell? Hard to classify what it was, maybe some kind of crisp, damp odor? I dunno, but when go to Pirates I always smell it.

The other fantastic rides in Adventureland were the Tiki Birds and the Jungle Cruise attractions. I hated the Tiki Bird show, but loved the music, and so the rest of the day I’d sing “In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room, in the Tiki…..” much to the annoyance of my brothers and sister. The Jungle Cruise was fun as I loved going into the Vietnamese temple, it had this eerie music that was so spooky. I never really got the jokes, but played along anyways.

We also enjoyed the Dole Pineapple Whip, I mean who hasn’t. That still is one of my favorite stops in Adventureland, although A-Land just doesn’t have the same feeling since they added in that God awful Aladdin attraction.

The day would end with us watching the fireworks. I remember one time my sister jumping into my Disney stroller (remember the light blue ones that were more shopping carts than strollers) and getting stuck because she was too tall. So my brother grabbed her and rolled her all around Main St. with her screaming bloody murder. After the fireworks we would take the boat back to Ft. Wilderness with me usually falling asleep.

(End of Part II – Look for Part III “Epcot” soon)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Monorails with buttons on the outside of the cab to open the doors, a live steam train in Ft. Wilderness, the StarJets, and of course If You Had Wings

First off, there are numerous accounts on the internet that are impeccably written and go into great details of all things WDW. Discussions on X. Atencio and Buddy Baker, Mary Blair, and the great Marc Davis. I love these blogs, and find a lot of them inspiration; however I try to write mine from a first person perspective of how I either remember or choose to remember my trips to WDW. So, please bear with me if I can’t remember all of the car names to Mr. Toad, or if I mention the asteroid in Space Mountain as the big cookie.

I am lucky to be the youngest of 5 kids, each of my siblings having some type of influence on me as they were quite older. Their sole responsibility in life was babysitter, while sometimes they would actually watch me, most of the time was spent trying to terrorize me with Muppets and stories of the man with the hook who would kill me if I stepped outside my room. However, generally we all did okay, especially on family vacations.

My folks used to love to vacation all over, I thank them now for the experiences, but those car rides of sitting in between Mom and Dad in the front seat “hump” for hours was never fun. (Back then if you owned a station wagon those things were like tanks and child seats were something of a fad). Anyways, more times than not we would get called to the office at school around noon, and there was mom. She and my dad would have the car packed and off we would go on another adventure; my older siblings grumbling about being too cool to go, the younger ones gearing up for game “are we there yet?”.
My parents were great in that about 4 times a year we would truck from the Midwest to Orlando to go to Disney World. Most of the time we would rent a cabin at Ft. Wilderness. My mom thought Disney was nice as she could basically turn us loose and not have to worry much about how we’d get home. During this time there was no Sea World, Universal, no nothing, except WDW.

I don’t remember my first trip to WDW, I was a toddler and my mom swears that someone kidnapped me at the Contemporary. She claims Security looked for hours only to find me traipsing the monorail queue looking quite flustered. My only thought was that I wanted to get to MK so badly I said “screw this” and looked to the shiny train to get me to the castle. However, I recall none of it, and wonder if it ever even happened. I do, though, remember taking the small boats from MK back to Ft. Wilderness and seeing the Water Pageant. To this day when I hear Handel’s Water Music, I immediately regress back to the days of light up sea monsters and U.S. flags. To digress one second, anyone remember those old brown busses in Ft. Wilderness?

Anyways, our day would begin like this 5am, Mom’s up like a rocket, kicking us out of bed. Peter and John on the bunk beds, Missy on the hide-a-bed, Paul on the couch, and me, curled up on the hide-a-bed cushions with a blanket. We have our Fruit Loops which was already a vacation to us as no sugared cereals unless it was a) Christmas or b) we were at Disney. Next step would be mom putting out our clothes in order from tallest to shortest, all outfits looking the same so we could we be identified easily as the nerdy family from the Midwest, all the long while Dad just drank his coffee. Next, out the door for the mad dash to get to the boat dock, this was quite a sight to watch 5 kids with bowl cuts wearing the same clothes, screaming and yelling at 6 in the morning. Dad, well he just drank his coffee.
We’d get to the MK and wait in line for what seemed an eternity. I could barely hold the anticipation knowing that just behind this flimsy rope was an adventure filled with ghosts, pirates, giant squid, and oversized animals waiting to inadvertently scare the bejesus out of me. While we waited would mom pin our tickets to our clothes (which now seems really odd), and go over her “if we get lost spiel”. My mom was cool in that even in a park of 30,000+ people you could always find her: either at the hot dog place on Main St. now known as Casey’s or at the Tomorrowland Terrace watching Michael Iceberg and his incredible synthamagnetic musical device; “The Iceberg Machine”. All of a sudden the P.A. blared, “To all who come to this magical place…” This was it, it was go time.
(End of Part I)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Production Coordinator: Part 2

So when I last left you a young, non-crazy Britney Spears was taping a concert at Disney MGM Studios, infront of the Rock n Rollercoaster for about 2500 girls and their moms. Since this was a rehearsal, not all the production elements were in place, most namely, Britney's top.

When Britney turned around to face the audience after a contorted dance number, in the true fashion of Tara Reid and Janet Jackson, Ms. Spears was, ahem, exposed. Well, of course, the mothers were dumbstruck, the director was embarassed, but not Ms. Spears, she remained calm and collected; almost as if she had noticed her breasts had popped out.

While Britney was stuffing herself back in, Disney personnel braced for impact; everyone imagined the throngs of angry mothers going straight to Guest Relations to exclaim how Disney was responisble for sullying the adolescence of their daughters. Managers were tripping over eachother in attempts to provide some damage control, others unable to move much like a deer in headlights; but we coordinators were steadfast. One of my favorite peers, went over to the camera guy and calmly asked, "Did you get that?"

These are the times I cherished being a PC. Other times, well, not so much. Let me tell you about a little thing called Super Soap Weekend. (Please do not read on if you are easily offended).

Super Soap Weekend, in my words and my words only, seems to be the only time that 40,000 three hundred pound women leave the house to shmooze with female ABC soap stars, and eye hump the men. Now, I wouldn't have a problem with these lovely ladies if they a) didn't all drive motorized carts, and b)have some common deceny. It's like this:

For an entire weekend MGM is turned into a Soap fans wet dream. There are meet and greets, concerts, trivia, soap stars taking their shirts off (unfortunately, guys). While it's soap fan nirvana, it's my personal Hell.

Planning for this thing is crazy, everyone whose anyone is tapped to handle this event. Queues have to be devised, stanchions (movable poles) have to be stolen from all around property, talent has to be coordinated, and we PC's give up all kind of rest. It's literally a month of planning, then when the weekend arrives we just sleep when we can, where we can (thank you Banditland @ GMR). So let me take you to Saturday morning. We get in about 3am, and as you are walking in, you can see the beat up motor homes with a whole bunch of Bertha's/Betty's/Marge's/ and Thelma's inside. These ladies will line up outside the gate for an 8:30am opening, you would think they were waiting for Stones tickets.

Anyways, the moment the gates open is a term a I affectionately call "The Stampede". Trust me, if you've seen the bulls in Spain, you've seen Saturday morning during Super Soap Weekend. It's bedlam. Since the event is parkwide the ladies spread out and wreak havoc on the park the Mouse built. Oddly enough, the park is packed while most of the rides will have walk on times during this weekend.

I was always in charge of New York St. and the Arch. Susan Lucci came every year and always remembered me. She is a very tiny, but extremely nice person. The stars will do 2 signings a day, plus Q&A's, and Wally Kurth's band will always play some crap music. My whole day is getting more headshots, water, and trying to be personal WDW diplomat to the guests (who are always angry), because it's too hot, there's not enough shade, Kelly Ripa's too thin, or why Brad Taylor won't take his shirt off.

The best part of SSW are the weeks that follow it. That's when we have to clean up the pigsty and return all the crap we stole from other parts of WDW. My favorite memory was being in a rented Ryder truck with expired tags, with a driver who had an expired license, stolen stanchions in the back, and ramming the awning to the monorail track infront of about 500 guests. Classic.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Production Coordinator: Part 1

I have had the pleasure/pain of working for the mouse for nearly 10 years. Some jobs were fantastic, some made it hard to get up in the morning. As I continue down the blog path I will recap some from time to time; today being one of those times. For a stint, I was what is called a "Production Coordinator" at MGM, ahem, I mean the Disney Studios. What a PC does is basically this, everything. When I mean everything, I mean everything. From logistical planning, to activation, to strking, and a whole lot of diplomacy with others who plainly just don't want to be diplomatic.

So to get down what we do is whenever something big comes to MGM (sorry, that's what I know it as), like Super Soap Weekend, Concerts, Marathons, Cheerleading, Star Wars Weekends, we are in charge of it. (You didn't think it just "magically" happens did you?)
Anyways, if you have never been to those events, they are really circuses. Not only do we have to take care of production (film crews, staging, grip work), we then have to take care of talent (in this case we'll say Regis & Kelly), but then we also have to make sure the day guests are happy and not interfere with the production. Easy. Now, I have to say some events are easier than others, some are excrutiating, some are just plain odd.

Take for instance a concert we produced for Disney Channel's "Summer Jams" Concert Series. This particular one starred Britney Spears, but way before her shaved head and sans panties days. It was to be held in the brand new, at the time, Rock n Rollercoaster courtyard for about 2500 girls who entered a contest and their moms. This wasn't too bad as RnR courtyard has a gate that we can close, so while the day guests won't get to ride RnR for the day, they can still hear the music and if they crane their necks right, can catch the taping. Normally on day like this, shooting will take place mid to late morning as it will be ridiculously hot later, meaning our crew had to get in about 3:30 am. This, however, was a much better time than the stage techs who were there all night putting the stage together. (Disney is wildly known for having an empty space one day, the next day some monstrosity standing in place, and then overnight it seems to disappear, so kudos to WDW on that). Anyways, to get back to my story. We get in, go through all the logistics and set off to the stage. Everything is set up, and the camera crew is unloading, everything perfect. Fast forward about 6 hours to sound check/dress rehearsal. Britney is just finishing up wardrobe and the courtyard is bulging to the brim with pre-pubscent teens and parents who keep looking like they would like to be somewhere else. We are ready, the director's ready, and the back up band is ready (of course it's all tracked).

Out comes Britney in tight black pants and nothing but a long piece of green fabric across her chest, quite the wardrobe for a Disney sponsored event. So everyone gets quiet, lights go on, and the director yells "Action". Britney and her dancers bust into a sequence of twists turns and God knows what, the music is pumpin', the kids are screamin', and Britney turns her back to the crowd to perform a dance move. When she turns around the look of parents immediately turns to horror.

(Part 2 tommorow)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Welcome to my blog

This blog will be dedicated to, as the title states, all things WDW. I have spent nearly a decade working there, and nearly a lifetime building fond memories of a magical place in Central Florida. Sometimes this blog may say things that don't agree with you, sometimes it will be complete utter nonsense, and other times it may help you remember a cherished time while at Disney with family. So, welcome to my blog and of course "por favor mantangse aleado de las puertas."