In today’s From The Mouth Of The Mouse, we continue with a multi-part series we started two weeks ago where we talk to Stan, who worked all over the Walt Disney World Resort. We think you’ll find this interview to be informative and a lot of fun. Catch up on previous installments with Stan:
Today, we talk a bit more about Stan’s time at Disney-MGM Studios, where he worked at Backstage Pass and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Play It!
Let’s hear what he has to say!
JEFF: So, last week we were about to move onto the Backstage Pass. Tell us a bit about it.
STAN: Well, when the Backlot Tour was closed for 3 months for a rehab of Catastrophe Canyon, all of us were farmed out to other attractions. I chose to be trained at Backstage Pass. A new spiel to memorize and an indoor attraction to boot? Yes, please!
It was pretty cool to learn the show, there. In the Creature Shop, we would take time between shows and climb around to look at all the little props and miniatures up above. Most people never noticed things like the Captain Eo creatures and Witch Mountain Winnebago up there. We would also do little things to try to crack each other up prior to bringing in a tour, which killed dead time in between.
Brief side story here: It was hilariously funny, when it was pointed out to a guide immediately prior to her Creature Shop show, that the back half of “Punch” the horse was anatomically correct. She didn’t believe us, then looked, turned bright red, yelled in shock and tried to hold it together as the tour came in. She wouldn’t look at the horse during the show when she had to talk about it, and slipped up and replaced the word “animatronic” with “anatomically correct”.
JEFF: That is too funny! I’m sure that was a rough one to recover from! Aside from trying to crack each other up, were there any parts of the job that were tough on the guides?
STAN: The toughest part of that attraction was trying to get volunteers for the shooting stage. Many times, we simply couldn’t find anyone wanting to do it. This was a far cry from how things were at Superstar Television, where I am told, people would nearly kill each other to get in the show. The shooting stage was made up of the Dalmatian Bike, and a scene from Home Improvement. The Dalmatian Bike was where a guest was inserted into the scene in the live-action 101 Dalmatians, where Roger is pulled by a runaway Pongo and lands in the fountain. The Home Improvement scene was a wallboard hanging race between Tim Allen and a guest standing in for Richard Karn’s Al.
Honestly, I never was a fan of the Shooting Stage. On one hand, it was nice to have the challenge of perfecting the timing of the video, and the unpredictability of the guests, but it was also extremely dull.
However, I was a big fan of being the tour guide. The tour bridge was where all the fun stuff happened. As the tours went across above the soundstages, we never knew what we would see. From celebrities, to set building, we never knew what we might see…and always had to be ready, even more than at the shuttle tour.
JEFF: Any memorable scenes you saw shooting during your time there?
STAN: A few. One episode of E.R. was shot on our soundstages, but from the main cast it only involved Eriq LaSalle. He was very gracious and came up to the tour bridge to chat with a few tours in between shooting. We also had the series Mortal Kombat shooting there. In itself, that wasn’t very exciting…but, we had a surprise one morning when we had a tour go across the bridge that stumbled into a very racy scene being shot involving two scantily clad women. All tours were suspended by management (after a few had managed to go through without warning) until the production crew could hang drapery in front of the windows.
JEFF: What other responsibilities did you have?
STAN: We also had to act as assistance to the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show. When a tour was on the tour bridge, and the contestant in the hot seat used their “Phone a complete stranger” lifeline, we were the ones that chose a volunteer to answer the question. This was fun, but led to difficulties in getting the tour to move along. People just wanted to hang out up there.
My time at Backstage Pass came to an end when we re-opened the Backlot Tour. Funny side note, and appropriate to the touchy nature of Catastrophe Canyon, the re-opening did not go smoothly. That morning, the first loaded shuttle to go through the canyon did not get a show. This led us to joke that “3 months, 3 million dollars, and this is how well it works.”
JEFF: So you left Backstage Pass to go back to the Tour, but then left after that, didn’t you?
STAN: I left Shuttles to open the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Play It! show. One of our shuttles managers was the project manager of the attraction (which was known before the big reveal as “Project M”). So, being a major fan of the game show, I pushed to get on the team. I was one of the first over there, which put me in the unique position of being able to help create the operating guidelines for the attraction. Nothing like this had ever been attempted, so we had to base our document on the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular Operating Guidelines. We made the necessary changes to the procedures and added things as we needed. Hilariously, we left in a reference to the Indy show. There was a special note in there for a house position to open a gate when the German Mechanic dies.
Additionally, I was also a backup Prize Coordinator for the show. So, I also helped in writing the procedures for that position as well. This was interesting, because there had never been prizes given away in a show before. What many people didn’t know was that we were governed by Florida gaming laws. So, people were taxed on prizes above $599.
This was also a unique attraction in the fact that it had “groupies”. These were people who were at multiple consecutive shows, every day. The problem here was that guests who saw multiple shows were beginning to see the same people in the hot seat, in different shows. This began to make the show look rigged. So, to prevent the appearance of impropriety we had to implement a 30 day rule. Only one time in the hot seat every 30 days, win or lose.
It was extremely cool to see the attraction come along from the ground up. It was great to see the excitement around it. One of the greatest things was to see the live tapings of the show done from our soundstage.
JEFF: Any fond memories from your time there?
STAN: My favorite memory of the attraction was during our cast previews. We would never be permitted to play in the hot seat, except during the previews. So, every break I had, all my off time was spent in the show trying to get in the seat. Eventually, it happened. I went all the way to 250,000. I still remember the question I bombed out on. “The Mansfield sisters were characters in what Jane Austen novel?” I will never forget the feeling of being in the hot seat. This is every bit as intense as it appears on TV. The sounds and lights are a huge mind game. No matter how prepared you think you are, it isn’t enough.
The other thing that I will never forget was being there when 9/11 happened. I was working Millionaire that morning. We had just started loading our first show if the morning, when someone came into the theater from the break room and told me that there was a plane crash in NYC. We finished loading and I stepped in to look at the TV, just in time to see the second plane hit the tower.
It was an unreal morning. I can’t say enough about how our management team handled things that day. We were instructed to load another show, once it was clear that we were experiencing a terrorist attack in NYC. No one knew if there might be more planes targeted at us and it was a scary morning. So, the evacuation of the park began. The park did a fast close, all the attractions cleared, and all guests were directed to exit the park. Our show was directed to load second show and continue as normal to help control the flow, then to exit our guests straight to the front of the park. We were instructed to only tell guests (if asked what was going on) that we were under a state of emergency and that the guests should go to their hotel room and turn on a TV. It was a much more orderly evacuation than I would have expected. Once the park was cleared of guests, we were gathered back at our soundstage, briefed and dismissed to go home.
When I left the attraction to head to EPCOT, I was the first of the opening team to leave. I was given a million point winner “Boarding Pass” signed by everyone at the attraction, and a million point medallion from the press event. These are the kinds of special things that make it hard to leave when you transfer. When you come to get close to a group of people that you work with on a daily basis, they become like family. In the best areas at Disney, it was definitely like this.
Thanks for sharing with us, Stan! Check back in two weeks for the final part of this interview!
A brand new book from a Disney Legend, as told to MiceChat’s own Jeff Heimbuch!
The Imagineers, those men and women who helped Walt Disney bring his creations to life, have achieved legendary status among theme park enthusiasts. It’s Kind Of A Cute Story is the life story of one of the most beloved Imagineers, Rolly Crump. Covering his long and varied career, including designing some of Disney’s most famous attractions and working directly with Walt himself, Rolly’s stories weave into a lighthearted yet riveting narrative of his life and accomplishments. Packed with over 200 photos, many of which have never been seen before, It’s Kind Of A Cute Story is a tribute to the life and work of a true original.
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you!
You can read older columns of From The Mouth Of The Mouse here!
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