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Turn out the lights, the party’s over
They say that all good things must end…
The Party’s Over/Willie Nelson

Over the weekend Disney World closed its Studio Backlot Tour. It was a tram ride through the backlot and into a studio where tourists could be given a glimpse into the world of filmmaking—and if they were lucky they might even see animators working and a feature film being shot.

Back when Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then called Disney MGM) opened in 1989 it was kind of the first part of a bookend to Universal Studios Florida (that opened in 1990) for what was touted as a part of  “Hollywood East.” And while there was actually about a ten-year run of films and  TV programs being shot in the Orlando area— Passenger 57 with Wesley Snipes and The New Mickey Mouse Club both shot on the Disney sound stages, and Nickelodeon Studios and Parenthood with Steve Martin shot at Universal— “Hollywood East” it wasn’t.

Nickelodeon Studios ended its partnership with Universal Studios Florida in 2005.  For a variety of reasons, including a lack of film incentives, neither Disney or Universal in Florida lived up to the hype in terms of  feature film and TV production.

“The whole romance of seeing where movies are made really began to die as people got the ability to make movies themselves. The only movie production that’s happening in there are people holding up their iPhones and uploading to YouTube.”
Robert Niles, editor of the Theme Park Insider website
Orlando Sentinel article by Dewayne Bevel

The side benefit for local crews that worked on projects like From the Earth to the Moon is they got valuable experience that eventually led some of them to greater opportunities in LA, New York City, Atlanta, and Louisiana. (Certainly true of some of the Mickey Mouse cast; Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.)

I actually moved back to Orlando from Los Angeles partly with the hopes of getting on the ground floor of Hollywood East. And while I didn’t work on the features or TV programs shot here, it did lead me to working for a non-profit educational group were I gained valuable experience producing multi-camera productions and learning non-linear video editing  (AVID/Final Cut).

Experience that when coupled with my film school background eventually led to video productions I’ve done from Aspen, to Berlin, to Cape Town.

Disney hasn’t announced plans yet with what they’re going to do with the studio tram ride. But I imagine it will be something like when Universal got rid of the JAWS ride in favor of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  So even though they’re turning out the lights on the Disney backlot ride, I don’t think the party’s over. There are still plenty of films to be made in Florida, but no one here really uses the term “Hollywood East” anymore.

Related post: Screenwriting from Florida

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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