September 14: And biiiig smiles right over here, guys! Yesss, fantastic! Lovely!

In the spring of 2017, I worked at – not to name any names – a certain mouse-based amusement park in Central Florida. (All the work I did there is proprietary anyway, so I have little to show for it besides my name tag and the remnants of a tan that lasted for longer than I’d have expected.)

It was certainly a very different job than I was expecting. Funnily enough, I was actually hired as a sports photographer at Wide World of Sports, but, as it happened, they had more need for photographers at Epcot than WWOS, so that became my de facto home base. 

The first part of PhotoPass training is learning to shoot the icons – Spaceship Earth (“the golf ball”), Cinderella Castle, the Tree of Life, etc. Once you’ve mastered those, you can move on to character training and The View, the photo center in each park. Working at The View was always the best assignment to get – it was generally quiet, air-conditioned, and pretty simple. Most of the time, guests just came in to find photos that didn’t attach to their Magic Bands – a very easy fix on our part. Working at The View, at any park, was a nice reprieve from… well, the bulk of the job.

Although I pride this website on being professional and positive, I will freely say that this job was… not a forever fit for me. It was certainly a learning experience, though: every single job I have had since working in Florida has involved skills or habits that were a regular part of my day-to-day job at the park.

Not to mention, the predictable-unpredictability of each day kept me on my toes. I had groups of all sorts, and I worked outdoors at least forty to fifty percent of the time. Large, drunk groups of adults, Make-A-Wish families, elderly couples, families with young children, non-native English speakers (I got to use my French on a number of occasions, which was fun!), guests with disabilities – Central Florida is honestly one of the most diverse places I’ve ever been. I had to adapt to all sorts of possibilities and requests in a variety of situations.

That said, from location to location, I tended to settle into a bit of a rhythm and a natural script. It usually went something like this: 

“Hi! Yeah, come right on over about fifteen feet in front of me!” 

Once they were in place: “Aaaaand big smiles right here! Keep holding, keep holding juuust like that! One, two, three… one, two, three…Fantastic! Can I scan your bands?” etc.

But since I disliked this element of the job so much, what I found ironic was that when I was called upon to literally do the exact same thing at Williamstown, it was one of the best parts of my job – something I would have volunteered to do even if it hadn’t been my responsibility. Despite the banality and repetitiveness implied by their name, the step-and-repeats were actually one of my favorite parts of the summer. 

It wasn’t exactly a red-carpet setup per se, because of space – our opening night Celebrations usually took place in our lobby, which meant I had to keep control of a relatively small amount of area as the volume constantly increased and as donors and audience members swarmed the celebrities (and me in the process.)

Doing this was actually half the fun. As mentioned in a previous post, one element of this job that I enjoyed was getting back into a managerial role after time away from one. Similarly, being able to have a space in which I (literally!) called the shots was nice. One of my friends later joked about this microcosm of authority: “So you would tell Matthew Broderick to do something, and he’d just do it! You had that power!”

I tended to revert to my PhotoPass script, because, honestly, if it ain’t broke… 

I would also usually throw in a few extra “yesss!” “lovely!” and “oh, fantastic!” and it got me the cheerful photos that I needed and helped everyone feel good – on both sides of the lens.

On Celebration nights, the step-and-repeats were my sole responsibility, and solely my responsibility. We had Sarah shoot with me early on, but we soon figured out it was more effective to have her shooting the event itself, for the sake of space. But it was nice that, while many other Festival staff had to run around keeping track of the actors and donors amidst the chaos, I only had one job to do and one space to be in.

Once I had finished the required photos for each show – the cast, the cast and creatives, the cast and creatives and the Artistic Director, etc. – it essentially became a free-for-all with all of the Festival staff who wanted photos. I found this to be useful for myself, because getting people to recognize me as The Photographer early on led to numerous benefits throughout the season: actors were more comfortable seeing me shooting their rehearsals and final dresses, apprentices stopped to ask me if I’d be shooting their events, etc. It was cool to learn the different personalities each cast or department had. It was fun to watch people have fun!

Most issues relating to the step-and-repeats tended to resolve themselves quickly, but there was one memorable occasion where I discovered that the flash head that I had had since London had corroded internally, making it unusable. I was stressing – hours before the the shoot itself – because I was debating if I should drive an hour each way to Albany to get an expensive, but familiar and guaranteed to work, Canon flash from Best Buy, or if I should take a chance and get a cheap off-brand flash head from the Walmart in the next town over. I went with the Walmart option – and the flash I got is not only just as effective as the more expensive one, it’s also significantly easier to use. 

(That said, we did, at most Celebrations, have theatre lights set up, for my benefit, but the issue was that they were tungsten, and the surrounding environment was largely wood, and I was, of course, shooting with flash – not an ideal combination, white-balance-wise!)

As a Festival tradition, each department gets to do a creative group photo for our playbill shell. (Shooting these and helping departments come up with ideas was actually my very first responsibility at the Festival.) Some examples:

  • CoMo (who oversees housing) posed in a pile of pillows
  • Props had me stand on a ladder to get an angled shot of them recreating the famous ”Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” photo
  • PTP, who are known for working very late, did a morning photo in which they were all
    collapsed upside down on the hill next to Goodrich with papers and empty pizza boxes surrounding them
  • Producing had Catherine sit in the middle working on her laptop with a serious expression while Lisa and Mike toasted champagne over her head
  • The Directing Interns held up light bulbs over their heads 

Our theme was the step-and-repeats themselves!

Last year’s Marketing team (which was then separate from Print and Graphics) decided to take a Polaroid of themselves, and the photo they submitted was a photo of that photo. We had a similar idea: we had our social media intern, Chris, take a group selfie of us, and our supervisor, Communications Manager Kate Hyde, took the photo of us taking the photo.

We look lovely! (Fantastic! Yesssss!)

[ETA: in the past, blogs I’ve posted and edited retroactively have appeared with their original posting date, but this went offline for a time, hence the incorrect date.]

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