Interview with Gary Goddard (June 2017)

Founder of Goddard Group & Landmark Entertainment

Stefan Zwanzger: Gary.

Gary Goddard: Yes?

Stefan Zwanzger: You're a legend.

Gary Goddard: (laughs) Okay.

Stefan Zwanzger: You are. You're both a filmmaker and a theme park designer. If someone would give you 1 billion dollars in cash, would you make a theme park or would you make a movie?

Gary Goddard: Ah, I know that's one of those "Which door would you go through?" [questions], you know? Well I guess the good news is you don't need a billion dollars to make a movie. So I can make a movie for a hundred million and I can still do the theme park for 900 hundred million, so I think I'd do both.

Stefan Zwanzger: That's a very good answer. I think you did one feature film, right? It was in the 80s.

Gary Goddard: Yeah. Masters Of The Universe, yeah.

Stefan Zwanzger: But you've recently directed a broadway [play].

Gary Goddard: I've been producing some broadway shows but I did direct a big special benefit of Jesus Christ Superstar about 9 years ago. It starred the original stars of Jesus Christ Superstar: The Movie; Ted Neely and Yvonne Elliman and Bary Dennen, Carl Anderson who played Judas had passed away so Ben Berin did it, but Jack Black played Herod. It was quite a night. And the audience-- everyone was there, my God. Harrison Price was there, Jeffrey Katzenburg, Janet Jackson was there. Everyone wanted to see this show. It was great, that was pretty cool.

Stefan Zwanzger: This directing ability of yours I mean the sense of timing it obviously helps with theme park attractions, right?

Gary Goddard: Oh definitely. I think that people, for some reason, you understand in stage you have to pace the show. A comedy is different from a drama, and a drama is different from a musical. In a film, you have to establish the pace. But when it comes to theme parks, everyone forgets that. They think you put a boat in the water and you put some animatronics up, and you float it, and that's a ride. But you know, that's not really a ride. I think intuitively I've always understood my life. I've worked in so many different media and at my core I'm a writer and a director, so I'm a storyteller. I intuitively understood about pacing. Back in the time, it wasn't a conscious thought when I was doing Conan or the dark rides, it wasn't conscious it's subconscious. It's the way you work. I'm afraid that most theme park attractions today, no matter how much money they spend, do not understand pacing.

Stefan Zwanzger: I absolutely agree with you. And talking about the three rides where you probably were responsible for the pacing, we're talking about Jurassic park, Spiderman, and Terminator 3D. All three of them are perfectly-paced and timed rides. That's your legacy.

Gary Goddard: Absolutely.

Stefan Zwanzger: But since then, I have to say there's not been much that was paced very well. Technology evolved, but pacing, storytelling…

Gary Goddard: I think it's a combination of pacing and media like you know, I think Universal did a fantastic job with the theming of Hogwarts, Harry Potter, and the whole land, the whole pre-show, the queue, and everything that leads up to the ride. When you get on a ride, and they misfire there because they put 2D projections with 3D sets. With 2D, you don't really establish either world so you're jarringly pulled out of it. You're in a 3D world, when I say 3D, I mean dimensional sets not 3D glasses, and then suddenly in front of a flat screen with not particularly great projection and then suddenly you're out of that and then you're back in the world. I think that was a mistake, that was a misfire. Mixing the media like that. In Spiderman because it was 3D, we were able to really combine 3D and physical sets in a way that really blurred the edge. You weren't really sure what was 3D and what wasn't in that ride. Then they came along with Diagon Alley. Fantastic job on the land, and fantastic details. They really really took the whole idea of a Dreamland to a whole other level which was fantastic, the immersive element of it. The ride itself, you know, major achievement, cost a lot of money. But the thing that killed it was the lack of pacing. When they decided, whoever decided-- and I hate to be negative because I think the land is great and there's a lot of great things, but you know, racing along and stopping to watch a movie and then racing along to stop and watch a movie. Every time you stop, it kinda signaled that you know okay, "Here's the ride wow and oop-- Watch a movie, watch a movie. And off we go again, and then stop. Watch a movie, watch a movie." And then on top of that, the way they designed it is like they learned nothing from Spiderman. Everything was presented in a proscenium arch manner. You know, you stop and you look at a set that is kind of frames the thing. And then there's the 3D part. There was no real attempt to merge these things into something. And it would've been so much better if that car never stopped. It could have slowed down, you see, and then you go off again. But that stop-go, stop-go, stop-go... And it was clear at the end, you know, no one comes off that ride applauding because on top of all that the last scene is probably the weakest of all of them. And then on top of that, you have that slow little bend: you come around before you come into the unload, and the employees are applauding. They're applauding, like hoping to get you to applaud, not a good sign, not a good sign. But uh, [there were] some great moments in the ride. I mean, you know, some of the stuff, some of the use of projection was really cool, but as a ride again, stop, go, stop, go, stop, go. I, I think they killed it. They killed the pacing. There is no pacing because of that.

Stefan Zwanzger: Applauding. Yeah. The T-Rex that comes from the top at Jurassic park and the classic first universal Hollywood. That was your idea, right?

Gary Goddard: Yeah. Right.

Stefan Zwanzger: And the pacing to have the T-Rex coming exactly at that angle and then surprising people with the drop that is pacing, right?

Gary Goddard: Yep.

Stefan Zwanzger: And that is exactly what caused the applause. So why do we have so many crappy dark rides in the world?

Gary Goddard: Because most, uh, okay... It's a long story. But if you wanna hear my theory on this, you know, I knew the Nine Old Men, it was the guys that Walt used as his key animators. When I was very young, before they had fans, when I was in junior high, it was before I could even drive. When I met the first one and they invited me down to the studio for a tour. I had to have my high school teacher drive me because my mom wouldn't drive on freeways in those days. And I went down to the studio and I wound up meeting them and I kept up, uh, a relationship with them. You know, there was no email. You had to write letters, you had a phone. And uh, so I got to know them very well, and I learned a lot. The first thing they told me, cuz I had an interest in animation as well. They said don't draw Disney characters, draw from life, learn from life. Right? And I just... you transfer that over into theme parks. Because what has happened is there's a generation of theme park designers now, who just copy the things they've seen in others. Remember these guys invented the pirates of the Caribbean Ride. They invented the Haunted Mansion Ride and they invented the Jungle Cruise. They invented all these things and they invented it from life and from movies and creating things. And now there's this tendency to repeat, you know, versions of this, versions of that, versions of that. And I think that's a problem. The other thing is, a lot of them strictly come from the architectural side or from the design side. You know, I don't try to be an art director. I work with great art directors. I don't try to be a music composer. I work with great music composers. Unfortunately, a lot of art directors decide they're show directors. You know, a lot of show writers decide they're show directors. They have no experience in it, but they think they know, they think it's easy to do, but you see the results because you don't understand timing, pacing, sound, lighting, audio costumes, all the things a director thinks about to bring something together. It's hard. You know, it's hard to do it and do it well. And in fact, it's harder in the theme park medium than anywhere else. Because in film you can cut. If that shot didn't work, you can cut the time by the way you cut it. On stage, you cut scenes, you take the lights down, oh you have all kinds of tricks. You know, in a theme park ride, you have all these animatronics or this or that, a project, you have all these things you have to coordinate. You really have to work these things out. And you have to really try and think in a immersive way about how these elements are gonna come together at the end of the day. And the other thing that happens is, in a play and a movie, when you're directing those things, you're always hit with things that didn't work the way you thought they would, and you have to fix it on the fly. You gotta, you have to keep making it better. I always say to all the people I work with: "Remember the ride you design is not gonna be exactly that when you open it, because so many things are gonna happen along the way, not just executives, changing their minds, but the soundtrack isn't quite right or this doesn't... and you can't make excuses. You have to figure it out. You have to solve the problems as you go. And directors with, you know, background are all problem solvers. That's what they do every day. That's, you know, there's a whole set of problem solving you have to do every day. And people forget that in theme park attractions, I mean, T2-3D [is] the finished attraction in terms of the spirit, the feeling the way it works, the way it impacts audiences that's as it was designed. But if you went back and looked at exactly what the script was and exactly what the production design was. No, we made variations sometimes because of budget sometimes because of schedule sometimes because you put an effect on and you go "Oh my God, that sucks". That's the other thing, you have to be willing to get rid of things, even though you spent money on them and that very rarely happens. As a director you say "Okay, that sucks. If I do that, it's gonna bring the entire attraction down because it's amateurish. So I have to cut it. I have to get rid of it". And even if, and then the client says "We spent, you know, $300,000 on that". "I know, but sorry, doesn't work looks bad. Looks fake, gotta get rid of it. Gotta... doesn't work". So it's a constant process of making those decisions and getting rid of all of the Achilles heels, whatever the weakest link is, you have to get rid of it, while you emphasize the strengths. And this is a serious ongoing kind of set of decisions you're making against the fabric, of all the things that you just mentioned, pacing and timing, and all of those issues. So, if you approach these things the way a lot of them [do], well, you know, "it's just the scene and we'll light it up and we'll put the music on and the ride will go through" then no, it's not gonna work. And I think I'm disappointed. You know, there's nothing I like better than going on a theme park attraction or something. For instance, let's jump to something positive, Pirates of the Caribbean in Shanghai. Awesome. You know, they nailed it. You know, there's one spot, that's a little dead, you can tell. And I know Luke, you know, but there's that little spot right after the squid and before you get to the ship and before you get to the Oregon thing, right. That little part, I think something else was meant for that. I have a feeling there was a little bit of a budget thing, probably something, I think, was supposed to happen there. But it doesn't matter because everything was so good. It's kinda like a moment of rest before you go into the next thing. And I didn't notice it the first time because the first time I was really... well, but the second time I noticed, okay, this is the only dead zone. There's a little zone in there where nothing's quite happening, but that's a minor complaint. That attraction is really great and it is well-paced and they really did figure it out. And to me, that's great, that was a great achievement, you know. And they took... the pirate security being arrived, which is also great. And they kind of just amped it up and they brought it into the 21st century. And I thought it was really well done.

Stefan Zwanzger: That was almost an exception, right?

Gary Goddard: Yeah. Yeah. But it's good. It's good to go on something like that and you get off and go "Okay. That was really great", you know?

Stefan Zwanzger: I agree with you. Do you think it would help to not allow new impact designers to ever visit Orlando?

Gary Goddard: (laughs) Well, I think, well, not necessarily, but you have to have a mind for it. And by that, what I mean is, you don't have to be a great actor or great artist, great writer, you learn the rules and then you forget them and follow your instincts. That's part of the whole learning process. To be a great artist you can't just throw paint on a thing. You've gotta learn the techniques, but once you learn the techniques, you have to forget them. So that they're back there. You know? So there's a lot of rules of the game that if they go to Orlando, but the problem is, if you go to Orlando just to copy things, then no, that's bad. You have to go there. See what's good. See what's bad. By the way, it's a good point. You can't just go to Orlando, you have to go to theater, you have to go to movies. You have to go to museums, you have to go to art, you have to travel the world. You have to, like any artist, you have to continue to fill your artistic soul with new influences. And those influences can't just be theme parks. You know, the great movie makers don't just watch other movies. They do watch other movies, of course, but they do other things, too. They experience life. They go to theater, they go to museums. They, they are... I have found Jim Cameron, Steven Spielberg, all the people that I've dealt with at that level. Plus the theater people that I deal with, they're naturally inquisitive. They naturally, and I'm naturally inquisitive. You know, it's something that you have, if you're an artist, you know, you're never, I mean, first of all, if you're an artist you're never really a hundred percent happy because no matter what you did, I don't care if it's Jim and Avatar. I'm sure Jim, if you ask him, you know, "Was Avatar perfect?". He goes, he would say "Probably no. I mean, it's great. And I love it, but it's not perfect. There were a few things that I would've liked...". You know, there's always a couple more things that you would like to have done or things that you wanted to do that didn't quite, you know... But that's okay. Cuz then you'll use 'em on the next thing you do. And I think it probably sounds funny if someone was to say that, I think of doing theme parks as the same kind of artistic journey as someone who does paintings or books or movies. It's, you know, it's an artistic journey in a different medium. And the one thing that we can do better than anyone else is put you into immersive kind of worlds. Those worlds might last five minutes. It might last 14 minutes. If it's T2-3D, it might be, you know, 18 minutes, if it's part, you know, parts the Caribbean for its time. The first one that Walt did, that was a truly immersive experience for that time. For me, I think I was in the eighth grade or something-- groundbreaking. They're just like "Whoa", cuz you'd never been in a ride like that, with that scale, with those caves and then the ships, it's like, you've never been [to] anything like that. And I think that sense of wonder a lot of times is missing. But as I said, I think that Universal nailed that part of it with Diagon alley in terms of the actual land. You see those kids, you see the parents. I mean, it is so immersive, so great. People love it, you know? And by the way, the queue was great. The queue for the rides is fantastic, going through green dots and those animatronic figures there, they're fantastic. So my life, when I look back on it now, um, but I guess because of my theater background, everything was always a push to be immersive. The Hoop De Doo show, you know, for Disney, the dinner show, immersive live entertainment. The cast comes through the audience. They get on the stage, they jump in the audience, they bring audience members on stage. We dance with 'em at the end. The whole thing was "let's make everything part of this thing". It doesn't just happen on the stage. It's experiential. Forum shops. At Caesars, you know, was a shopping mall, totally immersive with the skies that changed day and night and immersive world that you go into. But the goal there is for shopping, you know. Interesting about the forum shops, right now, I dunno if you know, but the retail world is-- they're shocked, the cover of the retail magazine three weeks ago at the retail convention in Las Vegas, the magazine, the cover says "Retail is", and then it says "F" blank, blank, blank, "D". So for the cameras, I'll say "retail is screwed", but actually it was a different word.

Stefan Zwanzger: Right, right, right, right.

Gary Goddard: That's the cover of the magazine for the retail industry, because the malls are losing business at about 10% a year and have been for the last three or four years and they are facing like "What are we going to do?" Right. And I think that the interesting point is the forum shops has not gone down. The forum shops is not a unique thing. It's in Las Vegas and there's turn around, but people that go to the forum shops go again and again and again, because they like going to the forum shops. They like being in that space. And I think it's interesting after 25 years, it is still always in the top five grossing per square foot retail malls in America. It's never gone down. It's always stayed there. It's stayed there now. And they're not dropping off like the other ones because they're offering an experience and people go in there and then of course, while they're there, they eat, they drink, they shop and it works. So I think that's interesting. That's proof that if you can do a quality experience in the retail world and create something that is an attraction and that I would say Henry Gluck, who was the chairman of Caesars at the time, he's the one who kept driving that he could-- he didn't know what he wanted, but he kept saying to the developer who wanted to have anchored and anchor department stores, cuz that's how you think. And Henry Gluck was like "No anchors. Caesars is the anchor. And this has to be an attraction. The only way I'm gonna prove this is if it's an attraction, because what I want-- I understand what you want. You wanna sell retail? What I want is to drive millions of people through my casinos". And we made that work for both. They both got what they wanted, which is also pretty incredible. Right. We increased the attendance and the per capita expenditures in the casino while the retail mall itself made money.

Stefan Zwanzger: Talking about casinos. You just opened two casinos in Macau in the past decade, right?

Gary Goddard: Yes.

Stefan Zwanzger: City and, um, Galaxy.

Gary Goddard: Yes.

Stefan Zwanzger: I think, uh, you're very busy now with casino developments.

Gary Goddard: Yes.

Stefan Zwanzger: Probably continues up until this day and they're fantastic facades and they can be immersive as well. But pacing and timing can't be so important when it comes to casino building.

Gary Goddard: Different kind of pacing. I think, um, now the problem with the casinos, both of those, we designed the entire project, master planned the entire project, but we didn't do the attractions, which is weird because we're the attractions guys normally, right?

Stefan Zwanzger: You mean the small attractions?

Gary Goddard: Yeah. The ones that are inside there. Other than we did the-- uh, we created the concept for the golden reel, but again, the internal team did the execution, and I would've done a few things differently, but you know, it's a story for another time. Uh, the main job of it was to do, what it did, was become iconic for the hotel and, you know, let people know that's Studio City. I want to go there. And there is, instead of pacing, I would say you can create a rhythm. A rhythm that works by putting the restaurants in the right places and the retail in the right places, the casino in the right places and the entrance, and things. You can create a rhythm that works for these projects and achieves what the owners want, which is to fill the stores and fill the restaurants and fill the casinos, of course, you know, because that's, what's driving everything. So to me, I always say that designing theme parks and attractions is an art and a science. And most people don't understand the science. And I have to say, I never sat down and studied it. But in those years that I worked at imaginary and I was very fortunate. I was very young. I was 23, I think. But I was working with all the guys that designed Disneyland and Disney world. Now we were doing Epcot in the world showcase in the very beginning stages of Japan. And no one taught you anything. You know, these guys were doing their thing. You had to learn by osmosis. You had to be in the room. Listen. See what's going on when they (and I was the kid), [said] "Kid, why don't you get some boards ready for this? And why don't you do that?" And blah, blah. You know, I would do it. I was doing it so fast that Albertino, big Al, one day, cuz his office was next to mine, I was like running around, getting these boards ready, and Al goes (he used to say chucker), "Hey chucker, slow down, slow down". You know? So-- but anyway, I think, there is a science to all of this and every single project, I try to explain this to clients cuz they come to me and they [say] oh (yeah, it's really funny), "Okay, we have a thousand acres. Okay. And you know, how much will it cost to build a park?" And okay, whoa, whoa, whoa. First of all, how many people are gonna come? "What?" Well, we need know how many people, because you have to know how many people, because that tells you not only how many rides and shows you need, but how many restrooms you need? How many toilets you need? How many kitchens you need, how many rest-- and suddenly it hits them. But that makes sense that there's no some magic number. You know, we have 300 acres. How much is it gonna cost, a little theme park? Everything's driven by attendance, right? And so I try to explain to 'em that a theme park project is like a giant jigsaw puzzle and you're moving these pieces around because you're always [having] in your mind there's capacity issues, right? There's entertainment issues. F and B issues, budget issues, schedule issues... So many things that you have to-- And to do it right, you have to bring all these things together in a way that makes sense for that client in that place at that time. That's what I call the big idea. What is the big idea? We're always trying to find what the big idea is. And the big idea is the right idea at the right time, in the right place for the right market. And you have to really understand all those things as you're creating this project,

Stefan Zwanzger: The casinos are great, but I would like to see another well-paced Gary Goddard big dark ride anytime soon.

Gary Goddard: Me too.

Stefan Zwanzger: Is there anything happening?

Gary Goddard: There might be one for Chimelong. Yeah. We're fighting for one and I think they want one, but they're a little, you know, not sure if they're ready right now to do a dark ride and, and of that kind of caliber, but yeah. And, you know, I would say that a lot of the great things, the Magic Empire, Caesar's Magic Empire was a very cool place. A lot of the great things that I was able to do was because I had someone on the other side, Jay Stein at Universal, Henry Gluck at Caesar's Palace and Mr. Suji at Sanrio and all these. You know, creators like us need someone on the other side who believes in you and who are willing to go the distance with you, to try and create something that's new. And those are not easy to find, especially today, everyone's--, they want a theme park, but they want... they have a Disney appetite and they have a Six Flags budget, you know? And, and so that's-- it's difficult, you know,

Stefan Zwanzger: They basically want to have a movie without a script.

Gary Goddard: Yeah. Happens all the time. Yeah, absolutely. I like Chimelong, they're very, uh, they want, they really want to do great things and, you know, of all the Chinese developers right now, he's one of the only successful ones who's actually--, you know, and, uh, so I think it's great that we've paired up, and I have high hopes for this new project. I think it can be, I think it will be quite fantastic. It's on a mountain side, you know, so it's gonna be very unique, very well-landscaped. It's gonna be, I mean, I can't say too much about it, but I think it's gonna be pretty cool.

Stefan Zwanzger: Is it in Zhuhai or somewhere else?

Gary Goddard: It's up, in Guangzhou.

Stefan Zwanzger: Okay. Last question. Cirque du Soleil theme park in Mexico, you're also involved. What's going on?

Gary Goddard: Yes. Well, we're joint venture partners with Cirque. Okay. And we're not just doing Mexico. I think we'll probably be the first one, but we also have two other ones now and two different guys that I can't talk about yet. So I'm not sure which one will be the first to open. But that's gonna be pretty fantastic. I think it's a great union of what we do and what Cirque does. So my goal is to do for theme parks, what Cirque did for circuses. We're really trying to reinvent the theme park experience with the Cirque. And I'm actually calling this the world's first experience park. It really will be a series of immersive experiences unlike anything that you've ever seen. And we couldn't even attempt this except for the company like Cirque because so much of his life [is] entertainment based, but we still have rides. We have rides, we have shows, we have immersive things, but the whole idea has a lot to do with restaurants, retail. If you look at my life, right? If you look at the forum shops on Hoop De Doo and all these things, this is a chance where really everything will be immersive, but in a very cool way, everyone you meet won't, it won't be a host with a thing here. They're characters. There the Maitre d' is a character, your waitresses are characters. Of course they're real waitresses, but they're characters. Every single thing you go through will be an experience. And it really will be kinda like falling down the rabbit hole and you're in a different world, you know? And I think it's gonna be really amazing.

Stefan Zwanzger: When is it gonna open?

Gary Goddard: Well, knock on wood. Um, probably 2020, 2019 was the target, but I think it's gonna more realistically be 2020, probably.

Stefan Zwanzger: Thank you so much, Gary.

Gary Goddard: Sure.

Stefan Zwanzger: Appreciate it.

Gary Goddard: No problem. All right.

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