Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Trip to Corporate Disney

My Uncle's business connections landed me with a tour at Disney studios in Burbank.  I originally entered at the wrong gate and the security guard's kind instruction to the proper gate was my first taste of what seems to be a Disney standard of politeness.

A few right turns and I was at the right entrance.  Another friendly security guard asked for my i.d. and then gave me a Disney Company visitor pass to wear and one for my car.  After parking I found the elevators.  Brave posters were displayed on a billboard in the vestibule holding the elevators.  And so it began.

I met two more security guards.  "Hello...I'm supposed to be meeting someone in a building being held up by the seven dwarves?"

"Well, good.  You're in it!"

"Oh.  Thanks."  The building was made of clay-red pillars and walls, the spaces with offices connected by partially outdoor walkways, the first atrium circular, the second rectangular.

I peered out the other direction to see a miniature and classier version of what appears at the Chinese Theater, a courtyard of bronzed placards with handprints of "Disney Legends" creating a perimeter around three statues: Walt Disney with Mickey, Walt Disney with Minnie and a giant conducting hand over a castle and wave, a symbol for Fantasia, I believe.

I stepped farther out to view the building and saw the seven dwarves, huge facades built into the design of the building to appear as to they're holding up the top.  I wasn't sure if I was impressed or a little turned off.  

I must make the confession here that I have never been a Disney fanatic.  I loved the Princesses, and Pixar has been responsible for some of my greatest crying sessions, but as a child I was always oddly disengaged by personification.  I found Whinnie the Pooh dull, Peter Pan generic (and I certainly despised Wendy for agreeing to be the mother of kids who didn't want her to have fun with them) and Pinnochio and Aladin too boy-intense. I actually haven't seen a lot of movies too, Dumbo, Bambi, the Fox and the Hound, the Lady and the Tramp.  But I was at Disney, damn it, and I was going to put that all of that aside and let myself be swept up into the Wonderful World of Disney.

"Laura?" I turn to see my guide, a young blonde woman with sunglasses, a bright top and jeans.  I curse myself for forgetting my sunglasses and my hat, because we spend most of the tour outside.  But first!  There was lunch.

The cafeteria, just like everywhere else on the Disney-Burbank campus, felt like an upscale college campus.  Most people wore California business casual: some combination of pants, ties, vests, sunglasses perched on top of heads, boat shoes, button-down shirts.  The different stations were neatly labeled and Anne and I went for salads, filling our biodegradable containers with food from the Disney Ranch, somewhere else in California.

Anne works for the creative marketing division, she helps design the posters for movies that come out, usually flipping through the photoshoot and deciding which images would look best on a poster.  "It's hard to complain about your job when you have to look through photos of Jonny Depp all day."  True that.  Anne also identifies as a photographer and an auditioning actress "Still hoping for something to happen."

We chatted about the movies we'd seen, what Disney does now, all the things it acquires.  I told her about my discovery of MoviePhone interviews on YouTube, and how I had spent ten sad minutes watching  the following video:

An interview with the horses who played Seabiscuit would have been more engaging that Kristen, Robert and Stephanie.

We finished our delicious salads and headed off on broad sidewalks marked by black posts "Mickey Street" or "Dopey Drive".  We walked by the buildings that housed lawyers, CEOs, Walt's office, animators, the painters, the large Disney store all decked out for Brave.  As the sun beat down, we weaved our way through prop storage, building docks, studios and lots.  "They used to film Alias in here.  We would always see Jennifer riding around on her pink bike.  All the stars have bikes they ride around beween lots."  There are no huge studio tours at Disney like at Universal, just a few guests like me, grinning from ear to ear on the inside, but trying to keep calm on the outside.  "Oh yeah, having a bike makes total sense."

She showed me some building facades.  "I was in an episode of Ellen here!  We had to wear pink and red, and we were all grouped like gay couples.  I stood right on this corner and Ellen walked by me."

Elllen!!!!!! ahhhhhhhh!!! I LOVE ELLEN!!!1

"Oh, that must have been fun."

We took a break from the heat in the Disney archives room.  There was a very small tour there, and they were all taking turns holding an Oscar that had been removed from its usual black velvet case. I stood glued to the outer rim of the crowd...maybe the tour organizer wouldn't realize I wasn't with them....maybe he would hand the Oscar to me....maybe he would realize I wasn't with them and say "Hey, would you want to hold this anyway?"....maybe I just should have grabbed Oscar and bolted.....none of these things happened, and the tour guide slipped Oscar back into his quiet place.  I tried to stop drooling.  I convinced myself that not holding an Oscar, but getting so close to it was a good thing, it would just make winning one all the more rewarding.....whatever a girl can do to stay motivated.

The archives had little trinkets from the tiny sketches of Mickey from the company's conception all the way up to the Wardrobe from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Through open doors, I could see vintage posters hanging on the walls and labeled bicycles on top of shelves.

Eventually Anne had to go back to work, but she said as long as I had my "guest pass" on I was free to wander.  I went back to the store, but determined it was not different than the one at my local mall, and left.  I then wandered through the animation building.  That was much more exciting.  The hallway had beautiful examples of the different steps of animation, and used some of the most iconic movies to do so.  I read a lot of the placards, but I would feel like a fake trying to actually explain what goes into creating these, so I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

It was excited to be at Disney, to feel the energy of a successful label with staff that were regularly recognized for their work.  Anne and I seemed to share a similar love of movies, and movie soundtracks, and my journey at Disney was magical in that it was one of the first times I could really see myself in L.A.  If I don't make it as an actress, I could easily picture myself in Corporate California, tryna catch a glimpse of the day's star on her bicycle and pretending like I don't care. :-)

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