Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
Chances are, if you've been to Disney's Hollywood Studios, you've seen Mike perform before. No, you won't see him wandering Hollywood Boulevard, trying to stage a comeback or his big break. Nor will you find him enticing you into a service elevator at a once prestigious hotel that has seen better days. In fact, you probably wouldn't even recognize him if he walked right by you. You wouldn't even be able to see his face!
That's because his normal costume is a little abnormal for a Disney Cast Member. Outside of the Richard Petty Driving Experience, it's not every day you see someone wearing a full NASCAR racing outfit and helmet on Disney property. But that's the proper attire for a stuntman in the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney's Hollywood Studios!
Mike is a former stunt driver for the show, and I was lucky enough to chat with him in between stunts working at his day job as a Hollywood stuntman.
And now, here's Mike!
JEFF: Tell me a little bit about what you did on the show?
MIKE: Well, when Lights, Motors, Action! first opened, they had about 35 stuntmen and woman from various areas staff the show. Some people were given very specific jobs, and they stayed in that role. The director, for example, or one of the camera guys. Some of the more experienced stunt folks, like me, worked on various aspects of the show, in different areas.
For one show, I'd be in the 'hero' car, while in another, I'd be in one of the 'bad guy' cars pursuing the hero. So, it really changed from show to show. In the 'instant play back' parts of the show, where they screen what they just 'filmed', I'm driving a few of those cars, too.
Nowadays, I think they have more people working on the show, and nobody switches roles. Everyone stays the same, just to avoid confusion. You don't want a guy in the hero car thinking he's in a bad guy car by accident!
JEFF: So you have been on both ends of the chase before?
MIKE: Absolutely, and it was a blast every time! I'll tell you, it never got old.
JEFF: How much work went into creating the show?
MIKE: A lot. More than you can possibly imagine! Everyone that you see in the show is a professional stunt person. A lot of us were, and still do, work in movies and TV.
When they were creating the original show (The Moteurs, Action! Stunt Show Spectacular) for Disneyland Paris, they had a lot of stunt people over there working everything out. A few of the guys who helped create that show and train their stunt folks came over here for when they opened the Walt Disney World version.
It's made to look very spontaneous, but everything is precisely timed out. Lots of very carefully choreographed movements. We used to call it a 'ballet on wheels,' and it stuck so well that Disney used it in their press release announcing the show.
JEFF: How did you first get involved with the show to begin with?
MIKE: One of my friends, another fellow stunt guy, helped develop the original show for Disneyland Paris. When they were talking about bringing it over here, he asked around, seeing if anyone was interested in being in it. I wasn't lined up for anything else at the time, so I figured why not?
I came on-board early on, and helped work out some of the kinks in bringing the show over. I worked on the show for about four years going back to California for other stunt work.
JEFF: Was there any part of the show you enjoyed working on more than others?
MIKE: I loved being one of the hero cars! That was always fun, but everything really was a blast. But the hero cars, the red ones, were so much fun. Not sure if you know this, but there are three hero cars, all playing the same 'character.' Made the flow of the show go faster. One would race out one exit, and another would fly in from somewhere else, but they were all supposed to be the same person.
Those cars were a blast to drive because they were custom built and designed specifically for the show. They weren't based on any existing frame. The pursuit cars are based on Opel Corsas, but obviously with a lot of modifications.
My favorite pursuit car was the one that was cut in half. That was right behind the front doors, to make it look more realistic when it 'explodes' in the one scene. I even drove the Herbie car once, when someone left sick. That was cool, because I loved that movie growing up.
JEFF: Can you tell me more about the custom cars? How different are they from regular cars?
MIKE: Depends on what car we're talking about. Like I mentioned before, the three hero cars are a custom design for the show. One is just a normal design, for the most part. Another one has the interior facing backwards, to allow whomever was driving to look like they were driving in reverse. To the audience, at least. That was always kind of neat. The last one has a seat and steering wheel bolted onto the side of the car, to make it look like no one was in the driver's seat.
JEFF: That's really cool! Especially because they look like normal cars, but obviously the insides are very different.
MIKE: That was one of the things they were aiming for, I think. These normal looking cars are doing these amazing stunts! But yeah, they are very different inside. They weigh about 1,300 pounds each, which is about half of a normal car. This obviously makes it easier for them to move faster, since they weigh less. Amazingly, they only use about a quart or two of fuel per car, per show!
They are all reinforced with rally car roll cages for the safety of the driver. They use 150 horsepower motorcycle engines to help them accelerate faster than most cars. The engines themselves are mounted directly behind the driver's seat, which makes for a noisy ride when you're driving!
They also have a bump shift for easier gear shifting. This way, the drivers can just bump it, in one direction or another, to change gears. There are four gears in forward drive and four gears in reverse, allowing the drivers to accelerate to high speed going backwards. That was always a neat feature, I thought.
A neat little hidden thing is that every car has a license plate with the initials and birth date of the Imagineer who designed that car. We drive by so fast, though, that I'm sure it's hard to see!
JEFF: I guess, because everything is so precise, there really isn't a lot of room for goofing around or jokes during the show.
MIKE: You're right, for the most part. You know, if one thing is off, the entire show could be ruined. I mean it very literally when I say people's lives were at stake every day. If something went wrong, if it was only a fraction off, we could have a problem. But we were all professionals and I'm proud to say we never had any serious accidents or anything.
That's not to say we didn't have fun, though. With a show like that, we were always practicing and honing, trying to make it a little better. Even today, when you go, you can hear them practicing the show before show time. There were a few times, during practice, that we'd put stuffed animals in the front of the cars, or attached to the chassis, just as a chuckle for the other guys.
And someone drove in a banana costume once, over their protective gear, on Halloween. That was pretty funny!
JEFF: Why did you leave the show?
MIKE: I wanted to be challenged again, to be honest. Everything is very planned out, to the exact second almost, so it was getting to be the same thing for me. That's the life of a stunt guy, I suppose. Granted, even after doing it for so long, there is still a degree of adrenaline racing through your system. That feeling never went away. But when you're doing the same show, three times a day, for a couple of years, it gets to you. You start to miss trying new things, and new stunts.Thanks, Mike, for chatting with me. I still love that show (it's one of my favorite attractions to photograph), so it was fun to talk to one of the stunt drivers!
Adrenaline junkie, and all.
Don't get me wrong, it was never a bad gig. I loved every minute of working on that show. It was the steadiest job I ever had, which is rare for a stunt guy. But I needed more. I'm happily working in stunts still to this day, but I do have very fond memories of the show. Some of my greatest work memories are from there, and I'll always be thankful for having that opportunity.
Don't forget come back each week to hear more of the magic directly From the Mouth of the Mouse.
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at email@example.com. I'd love to hear from you!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626. We invite you to check it out!
Jeff also co-hosts the VidCast Communicore Weekly on MiceTube.
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