Saturday, April 17, 2021

All the World’s a Stage

Gary Goddard’s theatrical roots govern his creative process

by Martin Palicki

It’s clear that while Goddard’s shrewd business sense has served him well through the years, he is really a performer at heart, guided by his love for theater and film from an early age.

“I had always wanted to be an actor, a director, a writer and an animator,” says Goddard. As a teenager, Goddard learned that one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” animator Les Clark, had a home near him in Santa Barbara. Gary reached out and soon Les had arranged a tour of the Disney Studio. During the tour, Gary noticed two trailers nearby that were the beginnings of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) – a college envisioned by Walt Disney where young artists would live and work with professional mentors.

“Honestly, before this moment I did not plan on attending college. My intention was to get cast in a touring musical and see the world while being paid as a performer,” says Goddard. “But I decided there and then that if I could get in to CalArts, I would go.”

While at CalArts, Goddard produced Musical Theater Workshops during the summers with college friend Tony Christopher.

One summer show the duo put together was dedicated to “50 Happy Years with Walt Disney Productions.” The show alternated between live scenes and clips of Disney films Goddard had solicited from contacts at the Disney studios.

Several Disney legends came to see the production and news of the show and workshops eventually made their way to Robert Jani, then Vice President for Entertainment at Disney, who invited Gary and Tony to participate in a free workshop one night a week about the business part of “show business.”

That workshop led to Gary and Tony both being offered entertainment management positions at Walt Disney World, and subsequently Walt Disney Imagineering.

Goddard reports that while at WDI, he was offered a job in Marketing directly by Card Walker, the Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company at the time, but he turned it down. “At that point I saw myself as a writer and director and producer, but I wasn’t a marketing guy,” claims Goddard. Seeing the course that was charted out for him at Disney, Goddard decided to strike out on his own.

Gary initially formed Gary Goddard Productions to work on film and television production. He also partnered with Phil Mendez on Goddard Mendez Animation and eventually started The Director’s Company with Tony Christopher to direct live entertainment. Within a couple years, they all decided to combine the companies into one entity called Gary Goddard Productions (GGP).

“Within the first year of starting GGP, we got a call from Peter Alexander who had just started at MCA Recreation Services (Universal Studios Tour) as head of Shows & Special Effects.  The studio was considering adapting the Conan movie into a new live show attraction,” says Goddard. Goddard credits Rolly Crump for referring him. Within weeks Goddard’s team was creating, and then designing, producing and directing the popular show at Universal.

The early 1980s were a busy time for Goddard and GGP. The team was soon working on projects for not only Universal, but Six Flags and Busch Gardens as well.

Al Bertino approached GGP to back a project opportunity he had with Six Flags. The deal came together and the team launched their first major theme park project: Monster Plantation for Six Flags Over Georgia.

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Projects outside of theme parks also materialized. They first worked for Sanrio in 1982 on a Hello Kitty concept for American audiences. In 1983, they sold the concept for SnuggleBumms to Milton Bradley, who then asked Landmark to design characters for their popular CandyLand game in 1984.

By 1986 Goddard was directing the motion picture Masters of the Universe, and work started with Mattel Toys on the crossover television show and toyline Captian Power. That year they changed the name from Gary Goddard Productions to Landmark Entertainment Group and expanded their portfolio to resorts by working with Caesars Palace (The Forum Shops at Caesars).

In the 1990s Gary and Landmark were firmly entrenched in theme parks, resorts, movies, television, licensing.  The company’s achievements included creating the concepts and doing show design for industry changing attractions that included Terminator 2: 3D, The Amazing Adventures of SpiderMan, Caesars Magical Empire and Jurassic Park: The Ride.

Gary and Tony parted ways in 1998, with Tony keeping the Landmark company name and Gary forming Gary Goddard Entertainment in 2002 (renamed The Goddard Group in 2012).

Through the years, Goddard has persevered. Through his work he shows innovation and versatility – whether in business models, applying new technologies, or expanding in the Asian market.

“I’ve learned that you have to think on your feet and be ready to shift as parameters begin to change, whether it’s a challenging client, or budget or schedule or all of the above,” says Goddard. “This is the arena I thrive in – where my theatrical and entrepreneurial backgrounds meet. As with any great movie or live show or concert, it’s all about the content, and more than that, it’s about how you bring it all together – how you pace it for maximum impact.” • • •

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