What goes into a book like One Day at Disney?
One Day at Disney is both a book and a film that explores the inner workings of the Disney Company. Disney is a name synonymous with family entertainment, magical storytelling, and exuberant hospitality. They invented guest service and are the worldwide leaders in happiness. But cultivating a company that becomes so iconic isn’t done with some magic formula. It starts with people.
Disney searches for people who exude the qualities and characteristics the company is known for. They hire and cultivate people who are not just enthusiastic for Disney, but are enthusiastic for other people and who want to carry out the company vision of “We Create Happiness.” It really is developing a culture where you not only hire good people but work with them to cultivate their talents and gifts so they can contribute in a way that brings out the best in themselves.
Bruce Steele, author of One Day at Disney, and Wendy Lefkon, editor, shared some of their own insights into developing this beautiful book that explores the “magic behind the magic.” They were kind enough to spend some time answering questions about the process with all of us.
The Disney company has so many talented individuals working all over the world, how did you choose which cast members to feature? Did they apply or did you scout them out?
WENDY: We reached out to each division to suggest people from each area. The criteria included jobs that were visually interesting and jobs that are distinctly Disney. The team was surprised over and over by how many fascinating roles there are at the company.
How did you pick the day to track all of these people? How long did it take to actually interview all the people who took part?
WENDY: One day was chosen so we could demonstrate the breadth of how much is going on during any given day and show that at any hour something interesting is happening around the world. This particular day was chosen to be an “ordinary” day. The interviews were done by Bruce over a 5-6 week period.
BRUCE: Everyone sat for an interview with me of about the same duration. Even Bob Iger (Disney CEO) got on the telephone and answered the same questions I asked all cast members, as well as questions unique to his duties. Each person was generous with their time and with sharing their personal histories and on-the-job anecdotes.
The Disney company has long been an icon in both America and on the world stage. Why do this book now? Why was it important to share about the inner workings of the most magical company on the planet?
WENDY: The main goal of the project is to give people a glimpse into just how diverse jobs at the company are and how committed and passionate the people who work here are. We aim to have readers and viewers get a feel for the magic behind the magic.
BRUCE: I was in Walt Disney World last weekend, catching up with “Finding Nemo: The Musical” actress Katie Whetsell, who’s in the book and the Disney+ series, and I asked her what she hoped fans would get out of the project. She said she hoped that after reading “One Day at Disney,” people would look at cast members, whether onstage or driving a tram or ringing up purchases, and think, “That person has a story to tell.” I thought that was a fine goal.
Were there any ground rules about what you could and could not divulge? Was there anyone you had hoped to interview but was not available?
WENDY: There weren’t any particular rules. And thankfully we were able to include everyone we hoped to.
BRUCE: Other than not discussing projects that aren’t yet public, no one put any limits on what I could ask cast members about.
In writing and putting together the book, what was the most surprising thing you learned?
WENDY: For me the most surprising thing was the array of jobs that I never knew existed at the company. It was a fascinating opportunity to discover just what people do every day all over the world.
BRUCE: I agree with Wendy. Some of the jobs were real eye-openers. There’s Thom Self, the scuba-diving machinist who works underwater overnight on the Jungle Cruise and other water attractions at Disneyland, and Cyril Soreau, who carves Disney characters into the rinds of watermelons and pumpkins in Disneyland Paris, and Lupe de Santiago, who dresses and re-dresses the Audio-Animatronics figures in Pirates of the Caribbean—and on and on.
What do each of you hope people who read the book walk away with?
WENDY: The hope is that readers and viewers come away with a sense of the passion and commitment the people have to bring joy to audiences every day. It’s pretty special to get up every day with that being a guiding principle. And I hope that people will be inspired by reading the stories and perhaps use the information to help them find their dream job!
BRUCE: That’s right. This isn’t a book about how to get a job at Disney. It’s a book about the dedication and the focus needed to find your perfect place in the world, wherever that might be. Many of these cast members knew what they wanted to do from childhood and figured out the education and training and internships and entry level jobs they needed to commit to on the path to their dreams—sometimes modifying their goals along the way because of what they learned about themselves. Or they stayed alert to opportunities and made sure they were where they needed to be to jump onboard.
Did writing and putting together this book change your own perspective or view of the company? If so, in what way(s)?
WENDY: This project has been a joy to work on and given me a better sense of just how many diverse roles there are all over the world.
BRUCE: Yes, and that’s not just about geography. It’s remarkable how the dedication to storytelling that drives all of Disney’s enterprises permeates every culture represented by this project. The clearest lesson I took away from writing the book is that Disney’s success stems from an ideal synergy between great stories that speak to everyone and dedicated people who have a passion for sharing those stories. When a custodial team member at Hong Kong Disneyland, Kenneth Ko, is inspired to draw Mickey Mouse with water and a broom on the pavement to entertain the guests, you know there’s something magical in the mix.
Having done this book, do you have any follow up ideas for another one? If so, can you share what future projects might be on the horizon?
WENDY: We have been asked this question a lot lately but at the moment there are no plans for a follow up. Of course, that could change!
BRUCE: I’m ready to start again! Who wouldn’t want to find the next 75 amazing cast members stories to tell?