Interview: Head of D23 Steven Clark dishes on 2013 D23 Expo plans, Disney fan club direction, and future exhibits

in Disney, Entertainment, Events

With the latest Destination D event having just wrapped up and nearly a year until the next D23 Expo, this week was an opportune time to chat about the state of Disney’s official fan club with the head of D23, Steven Clark. Over the duration of a half-hour phone conversation, I voiced many of the positives and negatives I’ve heard from D23 members and Disney fans throughout the club’s 3.5 years in existence and Clark thoroughly, honestly, and exuberantly replied to each one.

Interview topics ranged from overcrowding and poor queue management at past D23 Expos to D23’s recent efforts to reach more fans around the country and across all arms of the Walt Disney Company.

For those who just want the quick hits, here are a few bullet points of new and/or interesting information that came out of the conversation:

  • Fanniversary events were launched as a direct response to fan demand for more D23 events around the country. D23 is currently developing more Fanniversary events for 2013.
  • Movies likely to be featured in the Walt Disney Studios presentation at the 2013 D23 Expo include “The Lone Ranger,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” “Maleficent,” and “Frozen” (among others).
  • 2013 D23 Arena will still have 4,000 seats. The unused seats are all obstructed views and Disney does not want to offer a poor experience.
  • An overflow theater will seat 2,000 offering a live video stream of Arena presentations.
  • Some Stage 23 and Stage 28 presentations will be held more than once, allowing more to attend.
  • Pending legal clearance issues, some 2013 D23 Expo presentations may have video replays after show hours.
  • Wristbands will be available for all Stage 23 (and possibly Stage 28) presentations guaranteeing a seat, but not a specific seat. Attendees may still stand in line to get a better spot. No wristbands will be given out for the Arena.
  • Stage 23 will have 2,000 seats, more than double that of past Expos.
  • There are no immediate plans for another Great Disney Scavenger Hunt.
  • Magic and Merriment, Sip and Stroll, and other similar annual events are repeated as they have become tradition for many fans.
  • Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives may evolve into a touring exhibition.

  • Below is a partial transcription of our conversation, elaborating on the information above. The full thirty-minute interview will be included in Show 385 of our Inside the Magic podcast on Sunday, August 19, 2012.

    D23 Vision and Scope

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: Did D23 have a set path and plan when it was created and have you followed that since its inception?

    STEVEN CLARK: By and large the overall structure of D23 has remained consistent with what we launched three and a half years ago. We wanted to create this exclusive membership organization where there are special events, special opportunities, the magazine, a web site, the Expo – all of it was a part of the initial pitch, what we initially launched with, and we’ve continued down that path. What I think has evolved over time is our ability to grow the membership, our ability to do more events and events and offerings that are based on our member feedback.

    Disney fans attend the first Fanniversary event at the Walt Disney Studios

    Whenever we can, we do listen to the feedback of our members. I think a really good example is the request that there be more and more events all around the country, rather than just east and west coast specific. So this year we were able to roll out our Fanniversary events and those have been very well received, in fact so well received that in some of the cities we had to add an additional showing of the program and then just recently we announced the addition of four more cities. That’s an offering that we’ve gotten great feedback on and we’re already starting to pull together the Fanniversary for next year.

    INSIDE THE MAGIC:: What efforts are made to ensure that all Disney fans feel there is something for them in D23?

    STEVEN CLARK: There’s two really good examples. Number one is the Expo. If you are a film nut, whether it’s past or present, or you’d like to see the celebrities, or you just like to talk to the Legends, we have all that there in one place. In our next Expo, I would venture to guess, though I don’t want to commit to anything, you’ll get a little bit of things like “The Lone Ranger,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” “Maleficent,” “Frozen,” a lot of great content coming from all over the studio, whether it’s Disney or Pixar animation or the actual live action group.

    We have a tremendous opportunity with the Expo for our members to get to interact with our Imagineers and get a peek at what’s coming from Parks and Resorts, which is a really unique experience. But then there’s also things like Disney Channel and some people who are the more legacy-driven fans who are fans more of Mickey Mouse Club or Davy Crockett or Zorro – contemporary Disney Channel may not be for them. But it is for the fans of that age group. If you saw the Disney Channel pavilion at the last Expo, it was busy non-stop with kids and tweens.

    Disney Channel pavilion at the 2011 D23 Expo

    What that tells you is that there are fans at all ages and stages. The Disney experience is not just for one specific set of people. It’s funny because we did get some member feedback from the Expo survey that they didn’t like the Disney Channel pavilion and I was like, “Well, it wasn’t for you! There’s other Disney fans! But did you like the Parks pavilion? Did you like the Legends ceremony? Did you like the studio showcase?” Those all got very high marks.

    The other example is the magazine. We try to balance past, present, and future. We try to showcase everything from stories about Walt or about the development of Epcot. […] Our most recent cover is Cars Land. The one before that was Marvel and The Avengers. The diversity of the content in that magazine, again, is something I’m proud of, the work that the team has done to really give, say, park fans a really deep dive into our history and our future, but we’re not just focused solely on parks. There’s so much great Disney content to cover.

    2013 D23 Expo

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: What stage are you at in planning the 2013 D23 Expo?

    STEVEN CLARK: Part of the conversation this year is tackling the matter of venue and capacity and queueing. We were pleased with the number of people that turned up for the Expo in 2011. I think we were caught a little bit off guard and we’re going to adjust for that. It’s hard for events that you only do once for every other year to know exactly what to expect, but our time for this time around is to take our most popular venue, which is the Arena – which seats around 4,000 people, we did have to turn quite a few people away from some of those presentations – but we’re going to be adding a second theater, an overflow theater, that will do live streaming of the show for 2,000 people.

    D23 Arena queue at the 2011 D23 Expo

    The 750-seat theater Stage 23 that we had upstairs last time, we are expanding to 2,000 seats, so shows like the Dick Van Dyke concert or John Lasseter with Cars Land or things like that can accommodate more people. We’re also looking at doing reprises of more of the presentations that we know are going to be the most popular. Whether it’s a live reprise or after-hours opening up a theater after the Expo show is concluded and replaying the program.

    Another thing that hopefully will alleviate some of the pressure is the way we’re going to handle queueing. One of the things that we think will make people happy is that we’ll be handing out wristbands for each of the presentations that are on the second and third floors, primarily Stage 23. That way you can just go up, get your wristband. You do not have to wait in line. If you have your wristband, you are guaranteed a seat and you can come back probably 20-30 minutes before the show begins and if you have a wristband you will get in. If you want to stand in line and have the first row, front row seat, then you’re welcome to stand in line for as long as you like but you don’t have to do that in order to be a part of those experiences.

    [Note: Clark also said that, for now, there are no plans to utilize wristbands for the Arena presentations.]

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: Why aren’t many of the Arena seats used in the D23 Expo? Many have said they’d rather have a bad seat than no seat at all.

    STEVEN CLARK: The reason those seats aren’t used is because of the sight lines. You wouldn’t be able to see the screens and most of what we present during these presentations is all on-screen. It’s all clips from films and concept art and 3D as well, so even if you could see part of the screen the 3D’s not going to work. Those are the factors that come into play here. As you would probably guess, being Disney we want it to be the highest quality viewing experience and you can’t do that if you sit in the seats that we’ve blocked off.

    Inside the D23 Arena at the 2011 D23 Expo

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: Do you feel D23 Expo attendees come in with the expectation of being able to see every single presentation and that’s why some of the disappointment came about?

    STEVEN CLARK: I definitely think that’s true and I can sympathize with that. Everyone wants to be able to take in everything. But we have three days and the good news is that we have a company, an enterprise here at Disney, that is excited about the Expo and wants to provide great content. So we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to business units coming forward and wanting to show their latest and greatest and I don’t really want to turn them away. And we do try to program things strategically so there’s not John Lasseter and Kevin Feige [of Marvel Studios] going head-to-head, that’s no fun.

    John Lasseter and others celebrate 25 years of Pixar at the 2011 D23 Expo

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: The D23 Expo show floor will be expanding in 2013. Do you anticipate even more interactivity in addition to stores and upcoming product displays?

    STEVEN CLARK: A lot of the opportunities that we did give on the show floor did offer interaction. In the Parks and Resorts pavilion, for example, when you flow through that space, there’s Imagineers positioned throughout to talk about the projects they’re working on. I kind of feel like that is some good interaction. One of our most popular pavilions, which even surprised us after the first year, was the Disney Voluntears.

    Those are cast members committed to donating their time for various causes and the number of guests who flowed through that space was extraordinary and I think a lot of people not only enjoyed being able to participate in a Disney philanthropic activity but getting a chance to interact with the Disney employees who are there. Disney Interactive is looking at a larger footprint and we’ve had people there who work on the games. Another example is Disney Consumer Products. The people who are there in the various pavilions are the people who worked on the product or worked on the books.

    Guests line up for the Disney VoluntEARS booth at the 2011 D23 Expo

    Other D23 Events and Social Gatherings

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: It seems like a big focus of what D23 is all about is to differentiate itself from the theme park experience – rides and shows and attractions. A lot of what D23 is about is meeting those who create movies and theme parks or products or video games. Is that a really important part of what D23 is all about?

    STEVEN CLARK: Absolutely. That was one of the things we came out of the gate wanting to achieve was to give our fans that deep dive, that rich experience. Whether it was getting a better understanding or hearing stories you’ve never heard about the Disney legacy, meeting the people who make the magic, meeting the people who make the theme park attractions, who create these great animated features, the filmmakers who make these landmark live action films. Quite frankly, it’s history in the making.

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: How do you prevent repeated annual D23 events from growing stale?

    STEVEN CLARK: One of the things that I think is special about some of these types of events is that it’s about tradition and it’s about being social. One of the things that we try very hard to do with D23 is also the social aspect, meet other fans from around the country, find people of a like mind, or find people around who are the biggest Tinker Bell fans – you’re not alone! I think the social aspect of a series of events like Magic and Merriment or Sip and Stroll are unparalleled. In many cases we have repeat visitors.

    For example at a Magic and Merriment event, we always do Candlelight [Processional] or we always go to Osborne Lights and we noticed there had been some people who had been there the first year and came back the second and we were like, “We had such a demand for this show. We kept the offerings the same. We hope you’re not going to be bored or anything.” And they said, “No, no, this is now part of our Christmas tradition. And we love coming to this, we love being able to sit around and celebrate the holidays with other fans and we look forward to getting to sit down in our reserved seats for Candlelight. And we look forward to going back and seeing the Osborne Family Lights after the park is closed.” While there are events like Destination D and an Expo that we always want to have be different and they’re always changing, there are some events that I think it’s comforting to know that you’re going to go and have a nice relaxing weekend with friends.

    D23 members gather for a photo during Magic and Merriment at Epcot in December 2011 (Photo by D23)

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: Will there ever be another Great Disney Scavenger Hunt?

    STEVEN CLARK: That remains to be seen. We’re going to have a find a time when it’s not so hot! […] We’re shelving that one for a little while.

    Disney fans line up outside Epcot to participate in the 2011 D23 Great Disney Scavenger Hunt

    D23 and the Walt Disney Archives

    INSIDE THE MAGIC: Do you feel D23 is the only group within Disney that can give fans up-close access to the Walt Disney Archives via exhibits like the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives?

    STEVEN CLARK: I also oversee the Walt Disney Archives, so the answer’s yes. [Laughs] Well, yeah, I think the answer is yes to your question. D23 and the Walt Disney Archives are very tightly linked and work very closely together. If you go to any of our events, you know the Archives team is there. They create a lot of the content. When we started working on the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibits for the Expo, we immediately saw value. We knew before the first Expo opened that people were going to laugh, cry, weep, whatever it is when they see what we had sitting in that hall on the second floor. And we did it again a second time with mostly new content and when you know you have a hit on your hands you want to be able to share it with folks for more than three days.

    So we started our conversations with the Reagan Library and […] we put together the Treasures of the Archives exhibit which – there’s no announcements yet – but could very well travel at some point.

    I can assure you that we’ve only scratched the surface of what we have in the Archives. We have 75,000 square feet of warehouse space all around Burbank and Glendale and we’re bursting at the seams. In fact, we’re trying to figure out a little bit more square footage around town. We have a lot to share and I think D23 members and our fans are going to be really pleased with what the future has in store.

    Thanks to Steven Clark for taking the time to elaborate on the good, the bad, the past, and the future of D23. Tune in to Show 385 of our Inside the Magic podcast on Sunday, August 19, 2012 for even more about where D23 is headed in the coming months and years, including more about the 2013 D23 Expo and the upcoming 30th anniversary of Epcot.

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