56 – So Long, Skippy

My last project at Universal is particularly satisfying.

A 2-page memo from Jay Stein outlines his idea for the grand opening of the long-delayed Jaws attraction. The company has invested in the building of a ferocious-looking Jaws Truck that Jay wants to attack the audience and press at the dedication event. The (need creative) question is, how do we set this up without tipping the gag? I really like the idea because it is truly out-of-the-box thinking on Jay’s part, avoiding all the Jaws clichés while focusing on the one thing everyone wants from the franchise – a good scare.

Jay’s not asking for a treatment from me, though. He’s called a property-wide board meeting in the big room up in the admin building… and the only two people he’s invited from Entertainment are me and Skip. Skip comes by my office to pick me up for the walk to the meeting. As we walk I get the feeling he can’t understand why I’m being summoned to such an important gathering; especially when we’re halfway there and he casually says, “Why would they ask you to come to this thing?”

“Gee, I guess Jay wants me there.”

“Oh.” We make the rest of the trip in silence.

The seats around the huge meeting table are almost filled. Skip goes to the right, I to the left and we wind up directly across from each other. The room continues to fill until it’s standing room only all the way around the perimeter. After a long delay Jay finally arrives, takes his seat at the head of the table, turns to look right at me and asks, “Ron, what did you think of my idea?”

Before answering, did I take a moment to turn and relish the baffled expression on Skip’s face? You bet your ass. That’s the part that was ‘particularly satisfying’. As for the event itself, I wouldn’t be around to see it.

# # # # #

As preparations get under way for the Jaws event, the company holds a big awards dinner for the actors to convince them that they’re loved and appreciated; and it works. The union is voted out. After having listened to the actors’ case for the union I don’t quite believe it, but it’s not my call.

Having defeated the union, Skip is now free to take off on a two-week vacation. But before he steps off property he has one last bit o’ business to take care of. He walks into my office and shuts the door, sitting down across from me. “Ron, I’m afraid we no longer have any work for a writer. I have to let you go.”

I don’t blink. “You’ve got plenty of work for a writer, you’re just giving it to everyone else except the guy with the track record and the job title.” We stare at each other. “Thanks for stopping by.” Skip gets up and heads straight to his car and off property for two weeks. I guess he’s just bright enough to know how this is going to go over with the rest of the company.

All my old workmates are shocked and depressed, no one more so than my look-alikes. We hold an old fashioned Irish wake in Finnegan’s Pub and I clean out my desk and split. Moving on.

# # # # #

I take my severance pay and buy my first personal PC.

When I was made a full-time writer at USF I had been using a typewriter and resisted learning to use a computer as long as possible. Now I sign online for the first time on Prodigy Classic and find a community of nationwide Disney Fans; a new family.

I wish I could find something online these days as much fun as the Prodigy Disnoids. We have online mad tea parties, costume parties, improvisational story sessions and glorious trivia tournaments. The toughest trivia is conducted by a young man named Josh Young for two hours on alternate Sunday nights. After a year and a half Josh retires and I get to take over the show and have a ball creating challenging and entertaining quizzes for my online friends.

Meanwhile freelance gigs keep popping up… voice-over work, shows for Orlando Civic Theater and other local production companies and the occasional odd job for Disney.

Back when I was Dreamfinding I had spotted a job listing in the WDW Employee newsletter looking for an experienced video editor. I immediately thought of my old Universal Tour Guide friend Jeff Palmer and rang him up, only to find he was already on the other line to Disney discussing the job in question.

In the years that followed, Jeff rose to the position of senior editor with Disney’s post production facility and helped direct many projects for the Company… even winning the Emmy for his work on the WDW Christmas Day broadcasts. By the time I leave Universal Jeff’s created his own Orlando production company and he brings me in on the odd freelance job. We had worked together on the Chuck E. Cheese shows and now we collaborate on preshow videos for the ‘Doug Live!’ show for Disney-MGM Studios and the WDW 25th Anniversary Press Event in Orlando Arena.

# # # # #

Another old friend with his own production company is puppeteer Steve Hansen.

Steve has married a wonderful woman from Alberta, Canada. She had grown up in the small town of Canmore at the entrance to Canadian Rockies National Park. On a visit with his new wife, Steve decides to move up there and start his own company producing events and convention entertainment.

Canmore is located next to Banff, a major ski resort and convention town, founded in the late 1800s by the General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, William Cornelius Van Horne. As he was carving a path through the Canadian Rockies for the CPR, Van Horne discovered a natural hot springs at Banff, and decided this would be an excellent tourist attraction to promote the railroad. He built the Banff Springs Resort, first of the Canadian Historic Hotels, and went on to build a reputation as the Teddy Roosevelt of Canada.

When Steve started making the rounds of the hotels in the area he came to the Banff Springs Resort and was intrigued by a statue of its founder, W.C. Van Horne. In his first meeting with the Hotel Manager, he presented his credentials and they discussed ways that Steve might be of service. As they were wrapping up their meeting, Steve added, “By the way… That statue of Mr. Van Horne? I know that guy. I can have him up here working for you if you’re interested.”

W.C. Van Horne

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About Ron Schneider

Creative Consultant, Lecturer, Freelance Writer, Director & Show Doctor, Actor and Voice-Over. Lifelong student of themed interactive entertainment.
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One Response to 56 – So Long, Skippy

  1. Mike Scibetta says:

    1. OUCH! The lay-off hits me square in the gut! I was 32+ years in the Rolling Steel Door industry. Cut my teeth with the 3 most ingenious guys who built a little, private company into the BEST door manufacturer in the USA, and I was not only part of it, I was an instrumental piece of the solution. Then they sell the company, put just about $5 Million in each of their pockets, and say to “us”, good luck. The corporates never appreciated “us” and they would rather pay consultants to tell them what path we should be on. Except, my eventual lay-off included no severence…..
    2. PRODIGY! I am so proud to say, I was there, and of course I met you Ron! It was a great, we did have a fantastic community. I was the official Disney Dining Guru, and we had many DDT (Disney Dining Team) meals together.
    3. “Steve added, “By the way… That statue of Mr. Van Horne? I know that guy. I can have him up here working for you if you’re interested.”” – A great LOL moment!

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