One of the main reasons why I created this blog was to maintain a personal space for storytelling. It serves as my creative outlet and a way for me to reflect upon past memories. This is a personal reflection on the highlight of my career in 2012, back when I was a Disney Cast Member.
Lately, I’ve missed my time working at Disney more than ever. Perhaps it’s because we’re all quarantined to our homes for an indefinite period of time, or because the Disney theme parks are closed (also for an indefinite amount of time, as heartbreaking as that may be). Whatever the case, I’ve been digging up lots of past Disney media, and it’s evoked a ton of nostalgia.
One particular memory was the highlight of my career – the $1.1 billion press event for the grand re-opening of Disney California Adventure Park in June 2012. The first two days served as the media’s sneak peek at all the new offerings (Cars Land and Buena Vista Street) before being unveiled to the public on June 15, 2012.
One of the main perks of working for The Walt Disney Company was the amount of unique experiences I gained, such as being a Media Host. This entailed “hosting” a media station, acting as the liaison between them and the company. It was like being a tour guide, intern, executive assistant, and runner all in one. I hosted multiple times during my time at Disney, but this particular group was the absolute best (obviously).
For this event, I had the complete pleasure and fortune of hosting a fantastic media group, KMPH Fox 26, a Fresno TV station. Looking back on this, I’m positive that I was somehow given the BEST media group out of the hundreds present. These guys were the most positive, hardworking (I can’t emphasize this enough), hilarious, entertaining, compassionate, talented, and overall incredible people I had ever met – and I had the privilege of being their Disney chaperone, essentially.
For only three days, I acted as their Media Host, and I couldn’t have had more fun doing it. Additionally, a few other lovely Cast Members (Frankie, Kathleen, Cat, Nondie) joined us on the excursions, which made for even more memories and conversations.
The best part? They weren’t just any ol’ boring media group that wanted to film promotional info stuff about the event. No, they had gone above and beyond and drafted a script that they were filming in the parks, and they wrote in several famous faces as well. The ultimate was John Lasseter (former CCO of Pixar), who I heavily admired at the time. It was my lifelong dream to do PR for Pixar, and I literally almost lost my mind when I read the e-mail that their script contained a hopeful meeting with Lasseter himself.
The group interviewed several big-name Imagineers, managers, and high-tier names in the company (including our beloved Jolie Hales, one of the Disneyland Ambassadors at the time). The footage of Brandon meeting Jolie is literally priceless.
A $1.1 Billion Dollar Re-Opening
This 3-day press event was the largest in the history of the Disneyland Resort. Disney is notorious for spending huge sums of money to ensure the perfection of everything they put their minds to, and this 5-year development was no exception.
Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company at the time (and the most legendary human alive), was the reason all these plans came to fruition. Before 2012, Disney California Adventure Park struggled with ticket sales compared to its glorified big brother right across from it. I was part of the general public opinion – I remember groaning in sheer dismay when I was assigned to work attractions in this park rather than Disneyland Park back in 2011. (Sidenote: Now, I couldn’t have been more grateful to have been placed in the less-crowded theme park that allowed me to work TWO big-name attractions)
This grand re-opening was a huge deal. The continued success of this theme park depended on it, so these three days of grandiose PR and marketing meant everything for the company. Over 400 print, online, and broadcast outlets were present. I understood a bit of the extent at the time, but not as much as I do now, when looking back at all these memories and realising that I got to be part of actual Disney history. (Anyone involved in the 2019 opening of Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, I’m forever envious)
Cars Land, the 12-acre expansion dedicated to Pixar’s “Cars” films, and Buena Vista Street, a lavish 1920’s re-theming of the park’s entrance, were the two main things being added to the park. Radiator Springs Racers, the top-tier attraction of Cars Land, was hailed as “Disney’s best attraction in 35 years.” It’s still one of my favourite attractions I’ve ever ridden (throughout every theme park in the world). The Imagineers truly blew it out of the water with every detail in this attraction.
Meet the Media Behind the Magic
It’s been almost 8 years since this pinnacle of my career, so the play-by-play details of these three days have faded from me. However, the memories will be in my heart forever. People are the ones who always create these memories, and people are the ones who make or break your job.
My media group was truly the best I could have ever asked for.
Here’s a quick summary:
Tyler: “The Boss,” and the literal leader of the pack (probably the wisest of us all)
Brandon: The goofy, charismatic actor in all our filming scenes who would start laughing uncontrollably, either out of delirium or hilarity or both, several times a day. He handcrafted the excellent script (along with Tyler, I think?), and it was certainly an accomplishment!
Jeff: Cameraguy #2 who also carried the SnorriCam when Larrin needed to eat (jk, I think they just alternated between themselves, but these guys were carrying the weight of the team – LITERALLY)
Pat: The actual director who always seemed to be the calmest person out of all of us
Andy: The one always stuck with pushing the giant cart somehow (just look at the photos, haha)
David: Helped craft the wonderful script, was in a few shoots, and worked with us tirelessly day in and day out
Mark: The amazing photographer responsible for the thousands of high-quality photos taken in 72 hours (and then so much more)
Kathleen: Our mama bear and kickass production manager who literally made sure all of us were fed and hydrated properly. And if Tory needed a churro for a scene, she damn well got that churro within seconds.
Frankie: The best relationship marketing manager the world knows. He always had a smile on his face and was giggling throughout the shoots – he was the mastermind (along with Kathleen) who got all the permissions and interviews squared away for the boys to film seamlessly.
Cat: Another one of our great production/broadcast contacts who bopped around like an Energizer Bunny even when all of us felt deflated
Nondie: My faithful sidekick who divided her time between servicing BEOs and organizing internal events while also coming into the parks to “play” with us
The common element that bonded all these people together?
They all have hearts of gold.Debbi Shibuya, 2020
We recently had a Zoom video chat reunion in which Kathleen recalled that her first impression of the media group wasn’t entirely favourable. Her colleague seemingly passed the group onto her, saying something along the lines of, “Watch them, they shoot off the cuff, just don’t let them jump over bushes and stuff.”
We howled with laughter as she recanted this, since this couldn’t have been farther from the truth. These guys were just a fun bunch from Fresno who also ended up being the most compassionate people on the face of this planet Earth. They literally required zero supervision. Quite frankly, the complete opposite of what you’d expect from any media group as well.
I’ll always remember how these three days (which sounds like nothing, but all of us literally got 0-3 hours of sleep over those few days) ended up being the most fun, exhilarating and unbelievable moments I’ve ever had. And yes, I still got paid for all this – even though it felt like I was living a dream.
I can’t even express how much I was in awe of my media group (not to mention the magic-makers, Frankie & co.). I’ve always been fascinated with the film industry, especially since it was an old pipe dream to work in it as an agent. Thus, it was truly fascinating to see firsthand how many takes were necessary in order to get the perfect shot down, how many different camera angles were needed, how much heavy equipment needed to be carted around, and how much stamina and patience are valued in this industry. The amount of enthusiasm and energy that had to be kept up (even after 20 takes of the same shot) was so surreal to me.
The guys took turns pushing this large, cumbersome media cart to every new shooting location (probably every 30-40 min.). It carried all the spare media equipment (spare lenses, cords, supplies, etc). At first, it seemed badass, and I felt like I was escorting an entourage around the park. But after three 10-12+ hour days in scorching heat coupled with sore feet, that cart became the bane of our existence. I recall us abandoning it in several backstage areas – just like how people do to the carts at Costco.
And nowadays, 8 years later, a lot of crew have downsized to use pocket cameras or their own mobile phones with gimbles – how times have changed!
The Red Carpet Event: June 14, 2012
What was supposed to be the highlight of the 3-day press event ended up being my least favourite few hours since it was so chaotic and barely manageable. Sure, all the Disney execs were there, along with many Disney Channel and ABC stars, but the row of media was never-ending and dizzying.
I realised in those moments that I wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry in the slightest, so I’m quite glad that my direction of having “no idea what I wanted to do with my life” led me to travel instead.
Regardless, I still enjoyed the experience, especially since it’s the downright closest I’ve ever gotten to walking on a red carpet.
True ‘VIP’ Treatment
Much aligned with the title of their show (VIP Access), I felt like I was treated like a true VIP throughout these three days.
I honestly can’t remember anything important I did for them – maybe I helped run bottled water back and forth between locations? Regardless, they made me feel so loved and like I was part of their filming family. I couldn’t have been luckier.
And thanks to the guys, I got to meet John Lasseter.
Tyler was good pals with some guy named Tory – who ended up being the famous Tory Belleci (known for his work on the TV show MythBusters). Thus, Tory shot quite a few scenes with us, and the whole time I literally had no idea who he was (this is what I get for never watching Netflix). He seemed like the real VIP whenever random people would come up to him and start geeking out.
Fast forward to 2020, and after Google stalking him, I also learned that Tory used to be a sculptor/modeller with ILM. He worked on some of the stuff you see in Star Wars: Episodes 1 & 2, which is absolutely freaking cool.
The Cars Land Opening Ceremony
It’s hilarious that only a couple of the guys got to witness the official evening ceremony of Cars Land opening (to the media). The rest of us were pushing the giant equipment carts back to the Disneyland Hotel… and when we heard fireworks going off, we all looked at each other and let out a “Well, damn,”-esque look in unison.
The little bit where John Lasseter got up on stage to mention that he used to live “near” the Disneyland Resort, right off the 605 Fwy at the Beverly Blvd. exit was hilarious (Nondie: “He just gave the directions to your house!”).
The Lion King Stampede Moment: Opening to the Public
June 15, 2012: I’ll never forget the moment when thousands of guests stampeded toward me when the entrance gates to Disney California Adventure Park were finally opened. Thousands upon thousands of guests had even camped overnight in the esplanade area JUST to be among some of the first to experience the grand re-opening.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t dealing with a number of other factors that happened at once: A few minutes before the crowd was set loose, I managed to lose the entire media group. On top of that, my phone suddenly died and wouldn’t reboot. THIS ALL HAPPENED AT THE SAME TIME.
I distinctly remember my face going white with terror, hands shaking, and trying to frantically do anything to my phone in order to reach my media group (that I was, under no circumstances, supposed to outright lose). I was livid.
In that second, I was Simba, gasping in horror at the oncoming crowds as I literally got trampled once the gates opened.
It probably ended up only being about 5 minutes of separation, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so internally stressed out and worried in my life. In that moment, I realised that I’d never be a mum (never wanted to anyway). I mean, I turned my back for one second and managed to lose a whole group of EIGHT grown men. Imagine me with kids? Nope.
In retrospect, that makes for one great story when talking to future employers about taking a stressful situation and turning it into something positive (you know, those ones that you tweak to make it sound like you emerge as the hero).
“This type of event with the greatest people may only happen once in your life”
Our 2+ hour Zoom reunion chat the other day proved Kathleen’s quote to be 100% true. All of these people were absolute legends, and I’ve come to terms that I’ll never be able to recreate a greater moment in my career with a better group of people. These moments were perfect, and I’ll always be able to reflect on them with much happiness.
I’ll never forget laughing myself into delirium when the parking lot hand fell on us at the worst timing ever, right when all of us were walking under it.
I’ll never forget being amongst the hundreds of Glow-with-the-Show ears that made their debut at the media-exclusive World of Color show.
I’ll never forget running into one of my managers and laughing uncontrollably when seeing her semi-tipsy at the Mad T Party, her nametag upside down.
I’ll never forget getting paid to party with the crew for two evenings in a row (yes, that still counted as media hosting).
I’ll never forget rushing the group at lightning speed toward Disneyland Park just so they could catch a glimpse of the “Magical” fireworks show.
I’ll never forget how my happiness and smiles were on extreme overload for these three days, as if everything was cranked up a notch in righteous theming.
I’ll never forget seeing the scripts, call sheets, and production notes for each unit and feeling so happy because I’ve always wanted to understand what goes behind assembling a proper TV show.
I’ll never forget meeting John Lasseter (Tyler, I can’t thank you enough for working him into your script!).
I’ll never forget how difficult it was to return to my regular role after experiencing all that adrenaline for three days (although, to be fair, I had a pretty glorious “regular” gig as well).
Most importantly, I’ll never forget “The Boss” himself – Tyler. He wrote up the longest, most beautifully-crafted and meaningful thank you e-mail that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I pinned it next to my computer in my office for the remainder of my time at Disney, since it was the best reminder of why I loved working for the company so much. To this day, it remains one of my favorite messages of all time since he took the time to personally thank each and every one of his crew members and all the Cast Members involved – and not many people have the compassion (or time) to do that. Cheers to you, Tyler.
All photos courtesy of the incredible Mark Hodorowski and Tyler Kinsey.