INTERVIEW: How to land a cool job in the themed entertainment industry, from the tech point of view

in Entertainment, Theme Parks

When theme park regulars move past merely being fans and become hopeful to break into one of the most creative industries on the planet, they often are immediately drawn to the more artistic side of themed entertainment. Over the years, Inside the Magic has run a few articles on how to be an Imagineer and offering tips for getting a job as a designer for a highly-desired company like Universal Creative.

Now we take these helpful hints a step further for those who aren’t particularly artistic but do possess plenty of talent: the techs. Becoming an Imagineer doesn’t automatically mean you have to know how to draw, paint, or sculpt. Engineers, architects, and audio specialists are just a few of the more technical career paths that still could one day give that coveted title. Likewise, producers and production managers are vital to any big theme park project’s success, requiring their own skill set as well.

Carlos Oropeza

To gather advice for getting a great tech job, I spoke with theme park technician Carlos Oropeza, who has worked with Disney and Universal, among other big-name media companies in the roles of Production Manager, Producer, Audio Engineer, Lighting Designer, and Entertainment AV Technician.

ITM: What roles have you had at various theme parks and entertainment organizations?

OROPEZA: My main roles at theme parks and entertainment organizations have been mostly on the technical and productions aspects – mainly in charge of the three most important departments of any live production environment: audio, video and lighting. I had the great opportunity of performing those show productions roles throughout different theme parks and organizations, producing and working on different rides, live concerts, private events inside the parks, and some tech gear consulting.

ITM: What set you on a path toward the jobs you have had in the industry?

OROPEZA: Show Production has been my passion since I was 14 years Old. I started in this industry about 12 years ago at my local church back home in Venezuela. My early beginnings in the industry were more about live video production and camera directing for church on Sunday mornings. Then I started doing some work at local TV stations and radios in my city.

I strongly believe that audiences these days are demanding more from live performance than just music or a theme park that just has fun rides. Being a multi-sensorial audience, they are expecting to see a whole experience where they can enjoy their favorite ride or artist with some audio-visual entertainment as well.

ITM: What talents or skills do you possess that allowed you to get the jobs you had and how did you acquire those skills?

OROPEZA: It was really powerful when I understood that in my industry things happen “live” and sometimes you can’t do anything to avoid it. However, you have the choice to complain about it or be prepared for next time and learn from you past experiences. That last point in my opinion, its one of the most important skill every person should have in this industry. “How can I do it better?” – without the frustrations when it doesn’t go the way we intended the first time we tried.

ITM: For those who are still in school and want to get on a path toward working for a theme park in production / design, what would you recommend they do or study?

OROPEZA: Technology changes every single day so, I guess my best advice will be to always keep learning. Keep yourself as a entertainment tech in the loop of the new “gear” coming soon or the best way to do approach the different aspects of the Live show entertainment. Also, I normally recommend to be “integral technicians” – meaning you have audio, video and lighting knowledge. That really helps when trying to find a good job, it expands your possibilities of getting hired for any of those production aspects.

ITM: For those who are out of school and want to get into theme park production / design, what advice would you give them?

OROPEZA: I will recommend them to first find their real passion and then start looking for a job. […] I strongly recommend the theme park industry for people right out of production school that want to gain more experience. It’s a great environment for getting your foot in the door and an incredible networking place where you meet different people that also love what they do.

ITM: What is the most challenging part about getting a themed entertainment job?

OROPEZA: In my opinion, the most challenging part about the themed entertainment job is the balance between our “tech side” and the customer service experience. Normally, we as “techs” are not very sociable. For that reason, I guess it’s a little bit harder for us. Besides my job as a show production specialist at the theme parks, one of the most grateful experiences is to help our guests and make them feel great.

Another really important part of the themed entertainment industry is teamwork. I truly started growing professionally when I understood the positive impact of a team leader and how to be one. Those two things, being able to work as a team and learn how to interact with people as part of your job is the most challenging parts.

The advice Oropeza gave is strikingly similar to nearly every Imagineer or any other kind of entertainment designer I’ve ever spoken to. There is no one magic path to becoming an Imagineer and joining this enticing industry, other than to follow your own passion – and back that up with the skills needed to get the job done. In this case, if you aren’t artistically inclined and don’t feel that path is right for you, perhaps looking to learn all the latest technical tools will assist you in finding your place in helping to create the next big theme park attraction.

And it is important to emphasize that hundreds of people work on every single new piece of theme park entertainment – and you would be just one of them. Figure out your particular desired role and be the best you can be at its required skills – including the ability to work as a team and be social, which are equally as important as every other specific job requirement. With all that under your belt, you’ll be armed with the necessary tools to find your way into your dream job.

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