Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Interview a CP: Christie (EPCOT Photopass)

Christie was kind enough to share her experience as a Photopass cast member during her college program last year! Here's her story:

What role did you have during the DCP, and where did you work?
I was a PhotoPass photographer in Spring 2015, and while my home park was Epcot I had the chance to work in all of them!

What was a typical day like at work?
PhotoPass training occurs in a few different stages, so my typical day actually changed about about a month into my program. Usually I worked in seven or eight hour shifts, and I tried to get to base about half an hour before my shift started just in case there were problems with traffic or finding a parking spot (I think they’re trying to work on it, but when I was there parking at the Epcot cast lot was a hot mess). Once it was time to clock in, I would grab my camera and other assorted pieces of equipment and get everything set up, and then I would check the computer for my first location. I would shoot in that spot for two or three hours, then someone would come take over my spot and I would go on break. After break, you check the computer for your next location and repeat the same process over again. It works pretty much the same way no matter how long your shift is, with different amounts of time in a location before going on break for however long. The only time this routine changed was when you were with a character who was going or their lunch or returning home for the day, or if you were in a location that was closing at a certain time. Then, you would just call base and have them figure out what you should do next! Depending on how long your shift was you’d get a certain number of breaks, and the length also varied based on how long your shift was. The shortest break is 15 minutes, and the longest is 45 minutes. Your breaks are your time to eat, check over your equipment, reapply sunscreen (a huge must for PhotoPass, since we spend so much time outside!) and relax before heading back on stage.

As I said, although the timeline of each shift was pretty consistent, there were some aspects of my typical day that really changed depending on what stage of training I was in. For PhotoPass, training takes and entire month! Most of that time is spent working, with daylong training sessions partway through to teach new skills. Basically, they want everyone to get the hang of one kind of shooting situation before moving on to the next. You start with general Icon [Landmark] training, and then you move into park specific training where you learn about all of the different photo locations, break rooms, etc. After that, you get to hop in and start working (while still 'earning your ears'!). During this time, you’ll do day shifts only and solely shoot families in front of Icons.  After a few weeks of that, you get Night and View training, so that you can shoot Icons at night and help families figure out which photos they wanted to keep and if they’d like to add any extra magic to them!  Once you have Night training down, you start getting the typical CP closing shifts, which I actually really enjoyed since I’m not exactly a morning person. One of the nice things with Epcot is that since park hours are shorter, even if you  generally shoot in daytime conditions. Daytime shooting is more fun and creative. My favorite was always shooting a family hug.  Besides this, daytime shots can also have a little extra splash of magic, as sometimes characters may show up in your pictures afterwards! Olaf was a guest favorite during my program, although sometimes Stitch, Tink, or some others popped up as well. Different parks have different magic shots, so it was always fun getting to learn some new ones when I picked up in different parks! 

After Night training, my typical scheduled shift started around 2:00 pm and ended around 10:00 or 11:00. Finally, after a few weeks, the most anticipated training shows up on your schedule: Character! Character training for everyone involved in Entertainment happens in Epcot, and involves quite a mix of them! My group trained with Pluto in Future World, and then we moved over to World Showcase where we worked with Donald in Mexico and Mulan in, of course, China. After this training session, you are officially a fully-fledged PhotoPass Photographer! Your abilities now include ability to shoot at almost every location, and pick up shifts in any of the four main parks! I took advantage of this at least once a week.

Is this the role you originally wanted? If not, are you happy you got it?
PhotoPass was one of my top choices, and I am still amazed at the fact that I got the chance to do it! This was my first and only CP, whereas most of the other people I knew who were PhotoPass were on their second program. I also didn’t have any real photography experience going in, as I always loved taking pictures on vacations and things and had a decently nice point and shoot, but I had never used a DSLR or taken any photography classes. Of the thousands of people doing the College Program, only around 70 are chosen for PhotoPass, and I am still so surprised and happy I was among that number.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about your job?
My most favorite part of this role was being able to capture so many happy memories for our guests! I treasure all of the photos I have from vacations I’ve been on with my family, and it was always such an honor to be able to give people pictures they could hold onto forever. I also loved the fact that, with our help, the entire family could be a part of the photo. I learned some pretty useful skills as well to get children to give me genuine smiles, most of them involving stickers, so it was always pretty wonderful when I could turn a child’s day around and give their parents a happy memory.

Another favorite part for me was working with Characters, as there’s some extra sort of magic that floats around a Character meet and greet! I loved seeing kid’s faces light up when they finally got to meet their favorite character, especially if they came dressed like them. I also enjoyed the opportunity to take candid photos, since we’re trained to keep shooting throughout the interaction. Some of my best shots were candid shots, especially hugs! Although I thought I would enjoy working with the Princesses the most, my favorite characters were the fluffier ones. I loved helping to interpret what they were saying. Getting to help be the voice of the character was such an honor, and it made my day whenever they told me later that I’d done a good job doing so!

Another thing I really, really enjoyed with PhotoPass was the chance to pick up shifts at different parks. Although I spent most of my time at Epcot, once I had finished training I tried to pick up at least one shift a week in a different park, usually Magic Kingdom. I loved getting that variety in shooting locations, as Epcot is a wonderful place but can get a little monotonous after a while. It’s also a fun challenge, as instead of having a full day of training devoted to learning where the shooting locations and break rooms are, you get a map and about 15 minutes’ worth of description from the Coordinators. I found Hollywood Studios to be the most difficult to navigate, although most of the other parks weren’t too hard. Besides getting to shoot different Icons, working at other parks also gives you the chance to work with different characters. Mickey and his buddies tend to pop by every park throughout the day, but besides that there’s a lot of variation in who meets where. By picking up at other parks, I got the chance to work with Rapunzel (!!!), Stitch (!!!), Anna, Elsa, Peter Pan, Gaston, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Jessie, the Tremaines, Fairy Godmother, and Jake the Neverland Pirate, among others. 

My least favorite part of my role was working with guests to add borders and things to photos in The View. It was always difficult for me to add some of the bigger borders to pictures when I felt like they were better in their original condition, especially because I knew how hard my fellow photographers worked to set up just the right shot. Besides that, I was not a fan of shooting the Anna and Elsa topiary during Flower and Garden Festival, because guests just went a little crazy when they got within a 10-foot radius of the display. However, these were fairly minor annoyances, and overall my program was wonderful!

Any specific magical moment you want to share?
Oh gosh, it’s hard to narrow it down! I actually had quite a few, but I’ll try to limit it to my top three:

During my in-park training, I was shooting guests off to the side at the front entrance to Epcot, and I had this adorable family with a special little girl come up to me and ask for a photo. I said of course, and after doing the usual family pictures, I knelt down to the girl’s level and asked if she might want to do some special pictures, with just her. She loved that idea, and I managed to catch some pictures of her with just an absolutely beautiful smile on her face! She clearly had difficulties with muscle control, and I managed to catch a shot right at the exact moment she gave me a big, wide smile. Her family was there through the Make-A-Wish program as well, which made the whole moment that much more intense. When we looked over the pictures we’d taken that day, the ones of her were the only ones I wanted to see, and they turned out fantastic! I almost cried on the spot, and this is probably my most meaningful memory from the entirety of my program.

My next magical moment was during one of the first shifts I picked up outside of Epcot. I was working in Magic Kingdom, and specifically in Tomorrowland. After my break, I checked the computer, and found out the next part of my shift would be with Buzz Lightyear! I was beyond excited, and headed over there eagerly anticipating how much fun I was going to have working with him. One of the guests who came up to meet Buzz was this adorable little boy who was dressed to the 9’s in his Buzz Lightyear outfit, and he was so excited that his mom had to hold him back while the guest before him had their interaction. The second it was his turn, he ran straight over and gave Buzz the biggest hug, and he spent the next few minutes just talking to him and having the time of his life with his hero. It was so neat to see him so jazzed to meet Buzz, and I think he was the most excited I’ve ever seen anyone during a meet and greet. 

My last top magical moment happened during one of my last shifts, which probably made it that much more meaningful for me. I was at the backside of Spaceship Earth, which isn’t the most exciting spot but can be fun, and it wasn’t a very crowded day. I had a family come up to me who had a little girl, and once I’d finished taking pictures for her family I took some pictures of just her, since we weren’t busy. Afterwards, I asked her who her favorite princess was, and she said Belle because both she and Belle love books. I told her I loved Belle too, because she was so smart, strong, and brave, and I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She told me that she loved math, and that she wanted to be a rocket scientist someday! Her parents chimed in as well, and we talked about how much she loved school, and they also asked me about medical school. Right before they left, I pulled out my Sharpie and a PhotoPass card, and I asked if she might be willing to sign it for me, since I could tell she was incredibly smart and would be a very successful rocket scientist someday, and her eyes got all big and excited and she gave me the biggest smile ever! I do think that was a very inspiring moment for her, and it was so neat to be such a big part of that! I still have the PhotoPass card with her autograph on it, and I fully expect to see her in the news someday working with NASA.
What made you want to do the DCP?
I grew up in Northern California, and my family went to Disneyland many times during my childhood. We moved to Texas when I was in middle school, and after that we started going to Walt Disney World more. My parents are pretty big Disney fans as well (obviously!), and I’d actually known about the DCP for a long time. As a Biology major, I didn’t think I would have enough time to do the program without having to take an extra year or semester, which I really didn’t want to do. However, between AP credits and summer classes, I figured out I could graduate a semester early. I started medical school in July of 2015, and I needed something to do between then and graduation! The DCP ended up working out perfectly!

Is there something you wish you would have known before doing your program?
I actually did a lot of research before my program, and pretty much every moment not spent studying involved me Googling to find different blogs and information. I can’t really think of anything DCP-specific I wish I had known beforehand. I would suggest looking up if any rides and such are or will be under refurbishment or going away during your program, as that does happen and it can be really frustrating to not know in advance, especially if it’s a favorite and you only have a week to ride or watch it before it goes away.

What advice would you give to those who want to participate in your role?
Even if you don’t have photography experience, this is still a role that’s open to you! Disney will train you, so while it’s good to have at least a bit of a passion for it, you don’t need a Photography major, your very own DSLR, or anything like that because Disney will give you the training and the equipment they want you to use. PhotoPass is all about guest interaction, so make sure you show that off in your phone interview! If you enjoy talking to people, show off your enthusiasm for it and do your best to sound as approachable as possible over the phone (Believe me, I know how hard it is! It is beyond awkward to try and make a joke and hear…nothing. Not even a chuckle. Just keep smiling and being friendly, as weird as it is). 

What advice would you give to people who are interested in doing the DCP?
For application purposes, I think they do like to see if you have previous employment experience, as that shows them that you can handle having a job. Be consistent and honest with the web-based application as well! 

Also, try to spend some time before or during your program thinking of a specific and unique way to remember your program. Whether that’s through pictures, a blog, a scrapbook, etc...find something. Although I’m very glad to be in medical school now and wouldn’t trade this for the world, I do really miss Disney. Having all of the pictures I took while I was there is one of my favorite ways to remember the wonderful times I had, and I don’t know what I would do without them! One of the things I did was make a character board, which I had signed by every character I was a Photographer for. I kept a list going throughout, and on my days off I would go into the parks and do meet and greets, so that I could have both a signature and a picture with that character. It’s one of my most treasured mementos!

Finally, take advantage of all of the time you have there! Yes, Netflix is fun, but having free access to the parks is way more special than that. Take the time to go with friends, and if everyone is busy or if you just feel like it, go alone. I had a ton of fun just wandering around on my own, especially when I had my camera in tow.

If you're a current or past college program cast member and would like to share your experience, email your name and role to thedisneyden@yahoo.com to participate!

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