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MousePlanet Mailbag for July 10, 2003

Cast members and readers speak out from the dark

David Koenig's July 2 Mouse Tales article, “Taken Prisoner: Shocked cast members held hostage during Pirates premiere” elicited a torrent of feedback. The following are samples, as well as some interesting feedback from cast members that serves as a follow-up to his article. Today's mailbag is punctuated with photos from the movie premiere, taken by Moxie (whose Pirates review ran here on June 26).

A ride operator recapped and elaborated:

While Disney was busy spending a vast amount of money for the premiere of the new Pirates movie, it was spending change on the cast members who had to work the event party afterwards. While the movie was going on, cast members were invited to go to the festival arena in pairs, as not to make the audience believe there was a crowd, and gather for a free meal on the company (these days, cast members will take anything free the company throws at us).

Shock of all shocks was that at the arena, the lights were not on… none. Headlights from a maintenance vehicle and some flashlights were all the cast members had to use when eating their cold meal, best described as “bad airline food.” Not only was the food bad, but it literally was spoiled.

Add to that the rule that at least one cast member had to be at every location control area, otherwise the attraction would have to power down, and take longer to come back up, because the state mandated “pre-opening checklist” would have to be done again.

Here is the twist, once at the festival arena, cast members couldn't bring food back to the cast member manning the location, 1) because that person had to come get it himself, and 2) because once at the festival arena, cast members were told that they had to stay there, and could not leave… all this while those invited to the party were enjoying a movie premiere that must have cost the company thousands to put on.

Invited guests and press to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie premiere at Disneyland were each issued an official access badge. Organizers of the premiere made information and coordination convenient for the guests by providing the evening's schedule right on the back of the badge. Note that all the attractions available for guests are E-ticket rides (except for Pooh, which is Disneyland's newest attraction). Image courtesy of Moxie.

A co-worker echoed:

I just wanted to let you know I was one of the cast members who worked the Pirates event last Saturday and I have linked your article to all of my fellow cast members. It's nice to know that somebody heard what happened and drew much needed attention to it.

The article is extremely accurate besides one quote: “I couldn't believe it when I saw it. Some cast members were apparently hassling the caterers so much that security had to be called in.” Actually, there were no caterers at all. We were served out of a giant fridge behind the arena by a half-friendly outdoor vendor. We really felt like were at a forgotten camp for orphaned children and given rations.

Anyway, again, I do appreciate your article. We can only hope that if there are any plans for a Haunted Mansion premiere, things will be a little different.

Intrepid Web reporter C.W. Oberleitner elucidated:

Great story. I wish I'd gotten it. Just an FYI: I think the limited, stale sandwiches and chips you referred to were the leftovers from the media relations room. As I checked out Saturday evening I thought I heard something about what was to be done with them. If so, those things had been around since 1:00 that afternoon. And even then they were pretty stale. A lot of the press in the room turned their noses up at everything but the free candy. Instead they took off their badges and went into the park or Downtown Disney for food.

As to all the “nobody sees the movie unless we say they see the movie” attitude, Buena Vista marketing and PR was laying most of the blame for the Gestapo-like tactics and demands on Bruckheimer Films. Several of my sources in BV were grousing that even they couldn't get in to see the film.

A Disney Store employee wrote:

I'm in complete shock after reading your article, “Taken Prisoner.” I cannot believe that a company like Disney would treat its own cast members in such a humiliating and disgraceful manner. I'm absolutely livid!

I myself am a cast member at the Disney Store and am used to being treated like the red-headed stepchild of the Walt Disney Company, but I've never been treated in such an insulting manner as the poor Disneyland cast members. I'm completely against it and feel that something should be said and/or done. Is there any way that the general public and other concerned cast members can file complaints and make themselves be heard? Since Disney is turning a deaf ear to its Disneyland cast members, maybe hearing from guests outside of the so-called “Disney Family” will open their eyes.

You know, David, reading your article today was like the straw that broke the camel's back. As a child and young teenager, I always regarded Disney as a leader in family entertainment and a top-notch company to work for that would do anything for its cast members. However, as I grew a bit older I started to realize that it's not at all true. I'm afraid the Disney that once was during Walt Disney's lifetime is nothing more then a memory.

What would Walt do? First of all, he would not have allowed anything to interfere with the guest experience at Disneyland. Second, Walt would never belittle his very own cast members the way Disney, the company, does today.

Instead of asking “What would Walt do?,” I feel that we should now ask ourselves, “What can we do?” How can we help? What can we do to help the situation?

A cast member added:

I heard the cast that had been working the stands ushering in guests to the premiere had to go down behind the stands during the movie itself where they couldn't see or watch the movie for all fairness to other cast not in the area.

Also a little fun fact. I heard that all employees working the event had on Pirates costumes, and so many were needed that they had used every one Disneyland had, and had to borrow like 140 to 150 from Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

New Orleans Square mime Lagnappe gets into the pirate spirit during the premiere as he entertains invited guests in the seating area before the start of the movie. Photo by Moxie.

Doug wondered:

How/why on Earth did any of these employees remain employees? The whole bunch should have en masse left the grounds. Where is the union?

This was because the Studio and “Bruclousy” were ensuring no one got to see the movie for free and not pay admission down the road or what?

I'm sure a few hundred good folks lost all respect for their employer, as well as many who are reading this column. Well, here's my shot… no way in hell will I spend a nickel on this stupid movie.

This treatment is appalling and just plain stupid. And these morons consider themselves executive level?

If I were Knott's or Magic Mountain I'd set aside a free day/night for Disney cast members with free food to boot. Screw the Disney Suits. Once again, I've had it. Rasulo should fire immediately anyone complicit in this atrocity and publicly apologize to all those treated like POWs.

Cast members, there are a lot of us with you. Stomp loud and clear.

Doug – There was once a day that Disneyland would show just-released movies at the Lincoln theater, free to cast members, to drum up positive word of mouth and strengthen the bond between the park and the studio. That now seems an eternity ago.

Tim noted:

Great story on the Pirates premiere last Saturday. I, too, would have been very upset as a cast member that day. One cast member in the Disney Gallery stated they were able to stay up there, but their windows were blocked off as well.

I walked into the park at 4:30 p.m. that day and got a great spot in front of Coke Corner [the refreshment stand at the end of Main Street near the central plaza]. Many of the stars stopped there for short interviews, which provided us just enough time to get a few shots. If you're interested, here's a link to my photos from the Red Carpet walk (link).

We heard rumors from other cast members that they are going to do the same type of event for the Haunted Mansion movie starring Eddie Murphy. Have you heard anything about this?

Tim – Have not heard if the Studio and Park have made a decision on Haunted Mansion. The executives were very happy with how the Pirates premiere went, the cast members obviously not. But we know who makes these decisions.

My guess is that if Pirates bombs a la Country Bears, Disney won't be anxious to kick off Mansion in a similar fashion. Then again, if it's a blockbuster perhaps they will attribute part of its success to all the press it got from the Disneyland event, and want to repeat history.

No theming opportunity missed — The Sailing Ship Columbia, waving a huge Pirates of the Caribbean movie flag from its masts, dropped anchor in front of the movie screen (erected on Tom Sawyer Island across the Rivers of America) to provide additional ambiance before the premiere screening. On the ship was a band that provided musical entertainment for the invited guests… no word on whether the band members got whisked off into the darkened corral after their performance. Photo by Moxie.

Andy wrote:

Great article about the Pirates premiere and the treatment of cast members. It's a very sad statement on the overall company, though. For a company that once boasted of its incredible synergy, this is an example of how detached every branch has become.

Instead of isolating the cast members in a dark, empty corral, why not give them the chance to see the movie, too — maybe in the Fantasyland theater, so as not to disturb the Hollywood elitists? What better way to get a better buzz on this movie than to have actual employees talk it up? Now these people are just going to be bitter and probably have nothing good to say.

I think this could have been such a huge opportunity for the Disney Company to demonstrate synergy by not only hosting the event, but televising parts of it the next night on the Wonderful World of Disney. I mean, Walt did this all the time on his shows. He constantly showed off the park, and made a huge media event of the opening. Why not learn from that and get everyone involved? But no, instead of bringing the company closer together, Mr. Eisner and his minion allow it to drift separately.

Stop and realize, Mr. Eisner, if you want Disney to maintain its image everyone must be treated fairly and all work as part of the bigger team. No one is too low to have an impact.

Oleg queried:

I read with great interest your story on the corralling of cast members during the Pirates premiere. What comes to mind, of course, is the possibility that Disneyland management, indirectly from the Studios, violated some Cal-OSHA rules for workplace environment and expectations of the work day. Being corralled and kept against your will, so to speak, seems to me some sort of violation. Also, the fact that adequate amenities (lights) were not provided surely calls for some sort of review.

I don't have any Cal-OSHA friends, but I thought you might know some given your position as a journalist.

Oleg – I do have news contacts at DOSH/Cal-OSHA, but I don't think I'd be the right person to report something like this.

If the situation was truly dangerous, the cast members really should be the ones to report it to authorities.

Bryan wrote:

Your story, “Taken Prisoner,” really shocked me. Not only the fact that the cast members were totally shut out from the event, but also treated like they were peasants of some sort. The cast members make a standard $6.50 (or lower) an hour, which would cover the cost of seeing Pirates of the Caribbean in an actual theater. Does management not see a plain and simple answer to a problem such as this?

Management A: Hmm… what should we do? We're too cheap to have a catered dinner… I know, let's let them watch the movie, but they have to punch out for an hour at some point.

Management B: I'm sorry, Joe, that's too smart. Why don't we just herd them somewhere and keep them there for a couple hours… so as not to “disturb our guests.” We don't want any of them getting close to any of the Hollywood big shots.

It's sick how the company wouldn't even let them see a movie to kill time. Anything was better than what happened to them.

A cast member noted:

I read your latest article and it truly ripped the Studios for the uptight, pompous a--es they are. We cast members have been mistreated in the past, but this takes the cake. That is why a lot of old-timers refuse to work such events. I hope your article will stir things up and this injustice will appear in the media.

As for Cynthia, T, and the other Disneyland execs not knowing this was happening... ignorance is no excuse.

A story appeared in the business section of the Register a couple of weeks ago stating that corporate managers can take seminars in how to run their business “the Disney Way.” Hmm. I wonder if this includes giving the hard-working backbone of your company “the shaft?”

A rare site — A limo cruises up Main Street, USA after the premiere, presumably to take one of the many celebs back out to the park entrance. Photo by Moxie.

Pam wrote:

I just had to write and express my outrage at your column about how the employees were treated on premiere night. Someone needs to remind Burbank that without that “little amusement park over in Anaheim” there would have been no basis for their “blockbuster” movie. The fact the movie is based upon a classic Disneyland attraction is their hook, the hook that will coerce me and assorted family members to part with $40-some odd dollars to go see this movie. Hello!?

My question is this, where is the union? I know I read in your first Mouse Tales book that there were issues concerning who is part of the bargaining unit and what employees are covered. I'm just wondering if those employees were covered by a union. How they were treated would certainly violate any union contract and may even be violations of California labor law or OSHA standards. Of course, though, sacrifice safety for “show.”

I know I have encountered some rude cast members who have given me less than stellar service, but the majority of them have been hard-working, pleasant, and made my trips that much better. They deserved better than they got. I had envied being a cast member on premiere night. I figured, what a perk! I know I will never be at a Hollywood premiere and here they are, right in the middle of it all. How great can it be? Yeah, right! I guess I figured wrong.

As always, I loved the column and keep up the good work!

Vincent vented:

Since 1997, I have been able to visit both Disney Resort properties in North America. And since that time, I have been reading articles such as yours in a effort to try to understand why the overall state of things at the Walt Disney Company have been going downhill. And while I understand there is always good and bad, I have tried to seek the positive in a company that has meant so much to me since I discovered it as a child. However, this is becoming more than exacting. I am running out of places to look.

I wrote the Walt Disney Company asking them why Epcot's Future World is closing at 6 p.m. this summer. I was told it was always that way. Always? No, I don't think so.

Once at Disney's California Adventure park, I overheard a cast member use the “F” word while cleaning the men's room.

The Carousel of Progress near death was bad enough. And then during the 100th Birthday of Walt Disney was obviously a statement that monetary issues have taken higher priority than the brand Disney built during his life.

And, finally, the premiere story about the cast members at Disneyland. I am absolutely sick.

I have a trip planned to Disney World this August. It will be my last for a long time. I just cannot give anymore money to this company until someone reminds the powers that be, that the theme parks and the movies are the most important part of the company. They generate word of mouth. But, they must maintain excellence in customer service. To do that, you must keep your staff happy by paying them respect.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Send your thoughts and comments to David here.


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