“Behind the Attraction” Season 2 debuts today on Disney+, and I had the opportunity to interview director and executive producer Brian Volk-Weiss about this season. The series features 6 episodes this time around – a very nice mix of episodes that include Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and EPCOT. There is also an episode all about Disney parks food!
Here is my interview with Brian Volk-Weiss.
MS: How are you today? I have watched all 6 episodes of “Behind the Attraction” Season 2. It’s been really fun to see the various parks and more again for another season. This time you have 6 episodes.
Brian Volk-Weiss: Instead of 10.
MS: Was it hard to to whittle it down to just 6 this time?
Brian Volk-Weiss: Yes, it was extremely hard. I mean, it made sense. The trend of all of streaming is to do more seasons of fewer episodes. So I mean, we’re used to this. That doesn’t make it any easier, though. So yes, it was extremely hard.
All photos copyright Disney+
MS: You chose a really nice mix of topics for “Behind the Attraction” Season 2. What is the process of choosing what will be on the series?
Brian Volk-Weiss: So, because we do a lot of shows about pop culture and things that are connected to pop culture…I kind of have this saying, it’s the very first question we ask – what’s the constituency? It’s a very dry word I know, but there has to be a constituency, and it also has to be a multi-generational constituency. So I remember being 3 years old and going to Pirates of the Caribbean with my grandfather, and being like, “Oh, my god, the wood! How do they keep the wood on fire all day long?” And you know, my dad was like, “Well, it’s not real wood, it’s plastic.” And there’s a light bulb spoiler alert. But I remember having a very similar conversation with my son who was about 5 years old when I took him the first time. And the amazing thing with Disney is…when I went to Disneyland for the first time, it was, I think, 1979. And that was before YouTube. That was before streaming. That was before iPhones and whatnot. So the fact is that my son, 40 years later, is having the same visceral reaction. That’s what we look for when we pick a topic. We want there to be at least 2, ideally 3 generations of people who are passionate, because we need as many people to watch the show as possible. Otherwise there’s not going to be more seasons.
So are there is some obscure thing…I’m obsessed, everybody at Disney+ makes fun of me. I am obsessed with Mineral King. I want to do a whole episode about the Disney park that never was, but here’s the problem with that. Who has been inspired by a park that never was? So, the story I’m telling you about my grandfather and my son can’t do that for a park that wasn’t built.
I’m obsessed with Mission to Mars (a former attraction in the Magic Kingdom). I remember I made my grandfather take me on that, probably 5 times in a row. It’s been gone for 30 years… that’s that’s the kind of stuff that we manage. My favorite attraction of all time is Indiana Jones….we didn’t get that into Season one, so, luckily for me, we were able to get it into Season 2.
MS: When did planning for “Behind the Attraction” Season 2 start?
Brian Volk-Weiss: Probably about 6 to 8 weeks after Season 1 came out. What a lot of streamers do is…nobody really cares about the first day, I would argue, most people don’t even care about the first week. So there’s like the 10 day numbers. And then there’s like the 30 day numbers. So basically, after a month we knew how we had sort of done. And then they’re like, Hey, you’ve done good. But we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t fall off a cliff. So about 2 months later they were like, “Great news!. You didn’t fall off a cliff.” It’s funny, I used to be a manager, and I had a client who said something to me which I thought was brilliant. He said he was an actor, and said, “I never think a job is real until wardrobe calls”. And what that means is, even if you have a closed contract, even if the contract signed, the movie could still blow up. But if wardrobe is calling, that means they hired a wardrobe director, a wardrobe associate, they’re buying clothes, so it’s probably real. And in my line of work, the version of that question is, “Please send us a budget”. So when you get asked for a budget that’s usually when things are getting real. I think for Season 2, that was about 6 to 8 weeks after Season 1 premiered.
MS: How long does it take to gather everything? You have an incredible mix of vintage and new in Season 2, and all the parks (domestic and overseas). And what’s that process like?
Brian Volk-Weiss: We don’t really gather it up in the beginning and then make a show based on what we gather up. That would probably be smart. We actually do the opposite. So we’ll basically make an outline. We’ll do tons and tons of research, which is both internal and external to Disney. Then we will present Disney+ an outline, “Here’s what we want to do for Indiana Jones. Here’s what we want to do for nighttime spectaculars.” We go back and forth with Disney until we are all in agreement. Then we just start shooting, and we go all over the world. We interview everybody. We ask all the questions. Then we start editing that footage together. We send a rough cut to Disney. Disney gives us notes, and then the episode starts to form.
And, by the way, during that whole process of sending cuts to Disney, there’s literally what we call slugs. There’s black holes that say, picture of Walt, picture of Walt and Roy, picture of Tony Baxter when he was 29. So we don’t even have the pictures. And then, as we start locking the structure, we start working with the Walt Disney Archives and ask, where’s the picture of Walt? Roy? Do you have one? Do you have one in color? Do you have one in front of this? Do you have one in front of that? And that’s how we make the show.
MS: Does Disney have a lot of say in or do they have input into what shows you’re going to do? Is there a back and forth?
Brian Volk-Weiss: Well, it’s funny. Yes, there’s a back and forth, and to say that Disney has a say would be the understatement of the millennium. They have a say in everything we did. I mean every single frame of the show. Disney has approved and triplicate as is necessary. But the funny thing is that Season 1 was a lot of horse trading, and Season 2 in many ways was all the stuff we didn’t get to do in Season 1. So, like I wanted to do a food show while we were in production on Season 1. I was pitching them with Bob Weiss, a food show. And that food show became the food episode of Season 2. Everybody at Disney+, Yellow Shoes, Imagineering…they all knew I wanted to do Indiana Jones. I knew if I fought and never gave up.. and it wasn’t really fighting…it was more like, “Please, please, please”, I knew I would get it.
I knew I would never get Mission to Mars, nor did I really try to get Mission to Mars except to make jokes about it. Because we only had 10 episodes in Season 1 and not 20, it was kind of obvious what to do.
The only big exception to that is Animal Kingdom (park at Walt Disney World). I mean, that’s like back to what you were saying before. If we had made 7 episodes, we absolutely would have done Animal Kingdom. I love if I had to go to Orlando next week, and I could only go to one park, it would be Animal Kingdom. It’s a great park.
MS: We’re in the parks a lot. I just want to say, I really have enjoyed watching “Behind the Attraction” Season 2. And really you can tell it’s a labor of love.
Brian Volk-Weiss: I’ve not had more fun doing anything in my career. It is the access, just hanging out with Bob Gurr. I don’t even understand how that happened. I’ve been to Tony Baxter’s house twice, I got a tour of Anaheim. We do these third shift (Disney park) tours that are the most unbelievable things in the world.
Thank you to Brian Volk-Weiss for taking his time to talk to us! Watch “Behind the Attraction” Season 2 now on Disney+. Here is the trailer for this season.