Not everyone can pinpoint the exact time and date of a moment that changed their life. I can…
Wednesday, April 13th, 2005 at 7:15:36pm, Eastern Time.
That is the exact moment I uploaded the very first “Inside the Magic” podcast. Whatever plans I had for the rest of my life at the time were altered dramatically in that very instant.
What began as a simple hobby grew into an unexpected career that has created jobs for a talented team of reporters whom I have had the great pleasure of overseeing over the last couple years. But today I find myself at another life-changing moment, as I have now made an exciting and incredibly scary decision.
After nearly 13 years, I have decided to leave Inside the Magic.
But I am not leaving behind the themed entertainment industry by any means. Instead, I am eager to finally be pursuing a dream, replacing my unplanned career as a journalist with my lifelong desire to be a creator. I am heading down a path toward dreaming up entertainment in the very industry I’ve covered on the “inside” for so long. And I couldn’t be more thrilled.
This decision has been a long time in the making for me.
My fascination with the themed entertainment industry, as we know it today, began when I was a young child. Growing up in Miami, my parents took me on frequent trips to Orlando, first visiting Walt Disney World annually, then adding Universal Studios to the mix when it opened. As I got older, I continued these trips with friends, absorbing everything I could while captivated by theme park fantasy worlds.
I remember as a young kid crouching down inside the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea subs to see just how far under the water we really were. (Not far.) I remember turning around in Pirates of the Caribbean boats to check out the lighting rigs. I remember peeking outside my Doom Buggy on The Haunted Mansion to try to figure out how exactly the grim grinning ghosts materialized. While away in college, I listened to homemade CDs full of theme park background music while walking to class. (The Innoventions exterior loop was among my favorites.) And as the Internet became popular, I became glued to low-resolution videos of theme park rides, downloading from my dorm room, analyzing every frame.
Sitting on my desk throughout high school and college was a statue I purchased at Disney-MGM Studios back in the ’90s. It was a golden Oscar award-style statue featuring Mickey Mouse and a custom engraved plaque that read, “Future Imagineer – Richard Brigante.” This was the goal I set for myself as soon as I discovered what an Imagineer was – the fabled designer of theme park magic. Tony Baxter, John Hench, Marty Sklar, and Walt himself became my idols.
That dream became a near reality when I discovered the Walt Disney Imagineering ImagiNations competition in college, which offered me the opportunity to design my own ride (awesome!) and submit it to be reviewed by actual Imagineers (amazing!) for the chance at getting an internship at WDI (whoa!). Much to my delight, my “Monsters, Inc. Factory Tour” design was chosen as a finalist and I was whisked away to Glendale, California to present. There, I found myself face-to-face with my idols, chatting with Tony, Marty, and John, who delighted me with personal stories of working with Walt.
My ImagiNations competition project:
But the reality of what it means to be an Imagineer quickly became apparent to me while I bounced from office to office, interviewing for various internships. While a dream job for many, it became all too apparent that working in Corporate America was not for me.
My dad ran his own construction business. His father was a self-made carpenter. The entrepreneurial spirit had been instilled in me my entire life. As I saw a potential life chained to a corporate desk dangling in front of me, all I could hear were my dad’s words echoing through my head: “It’s better to be your own boss.” So I turned away from all the available Imagineering internships to pursue my own path, having no idea where it could lead or how I’d get there.
Shortly thereafter, I first heard the word “podcast” used to describe online audio broadcasts that everyday people could create for anyone to download and enjoy. Already familiar with amateur-level audio production, I decided that if I wasn’t going to be an Imagineer, I could at least share my love of Disney and theme parks by starting a podcast of my own.
I whipped together a simple logo and web site for something I called “Inside the Magic” which I dubbed “The Internet’s First Orlando-Based Disney Podcast” – which was true. There was only one other Disney podcast out there at the time and it wasn’t updated regularly. I saw an opportunity to get in on the ground level of something exciting… but I never expected it to take off as quickly as it did.
Within days, hundreds of people had tuned in for my first show. And within a few episodes, hundreds had turned into a couple thousand. I was receiving emails from strangers all around the world who already loved what I was creating and appreciated the feeling of being connected to the parks from thousands of miles away. Suddenly I had a co-host and segment contributors and the Inside the Magic podcast took on a life of its own.
But it was just a hobby. I had fun producing the shows to offset the grind of working a rather mundane graphic design day job I had taken. So I jumped at the chance when a listener approached me to partner on the business that ultimately became Orlando Attractions Magazine. My entrepreneurial spirit had kicked in.
A couple years later, I parted ways with Orlando Attractions Magazine, as my fellow co-founder and I had differing visions of the future of the business. But there was no way I was going back to a dull day job, so in addition to starting another unrelated business to help pay the bills, I pushed forward with Inside the Magic to make it the most of whatever it could possibly be.
The podcast expanded into a blog, which quickly turned into a news web site with daily updates. I added frequent video and photo updates as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter came into existance.
And suddenly, theme parks began to pay attention.
As the Inside the Magic podcast, web site, and YouTube channel grew to an audience of hundreds of thousands, I found myself being invited to attraction grand openings and other press events. Standing alongside newspaper and TV reporters, I had unexpectedly entered into a career as a journalist – and I embraced it full force.
I was there for the unveiling of Cars Land, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, New Fantasyland, Transformers: The Ride 3D, Pandora – The World of Avatar, the inaugural voyages of the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy cruise ships, and hundreds more incredible events, big and small. And I strived to bring the absolute best coverage of these events I could. Over the years, I began enlisting help from others, first as volunteers, then as paid freelancers, and ultimately hiring full time employees in cities around the country.
The past few years have simply been a blast. Reporting on some of the world’s most exciting attractions and being among the first to experience them has been a real thrill as someone who practically grew up in the Magic Kingdom.
So why in the world have I decided to leave it all behind? The answer is simply one word: Inspiration.
Over the past 13 years, I have had the amazing opportunity to meet and interview some of the world’s best and brightest talent in the themed entertainment industry. Artists, designers, creative directors, and even (some) executives. It’s been an honor to have many opportunities to get to know the fascinating creators behind the world-class attractions that I have loved my entire life.
I have absorbed their every word as they told me how they designed and built these creations. The “Future Imagineer” within me has never left.
I’ve always had the utmost respect for these designers and the work they have created. While I may not have been covering important world issues at Inside the Magic, I have always tried to give the incredible artistry of the themed entertainment industry as much (if not more) respect than politics gets (or deserves). It’s always been important to me to take this industry seriously, but not too seriously. It is all about fun, after all. But that fun is created through a tremendous amount of hard work, which is something I’ve always wanted to reflect in every piece of coverage this site has run. ITM appreciates all of the behind-the-scenes efforts across years of passion-fueled labor that go into creating what is often just a few minutes of entertainment.
Moreover, while Inside the Magic began with a sole focus on Disney, I have pushed to expand it over the years. We were among the first to cover Universal’s theme parks and I take pride in loudly lauding the artistry of the Halloween season and haunted attractions over the years. At first, I received a lot of pushback from Disney fans about venturing “off property” but in recent years it has delighted me to see practically everyone appreciating all forms of themed entertainment, not just those created by Disney’s Imagineers.
This rather self-indulgent letter aside, I have also tried to keep myself out of the story. I deeply appreciate everyone who has become a fan of what I’ve done with ITM, but I suspect it is really the material itself that has allowed people to feel such a strong connection to the coverage I’ve created. It’s always been important to me to focus on the subject at hand and offer my take on it without making myself the center of attention.
Throughout all of this, much to my delight, I have often had the experiential designers that I respect tell me how much they have respected my approach and appreciated the way I have covered their creations, helping them share them with the world after literally years of working in secret on them. And apparently I have even inspired more than a few young designers to become Imagineers themselves.
Most importantly, spending time with these talented creators both at official events as professionals and separately in social gatherings as friends has increasingly inspired me to find a way to pursue the dream that has stayed with me practically my entire life.
So just as unexpectedly as the moment I uploaded the first Inside the Magic podcast changed my life, a simple tweet I received (of all things) a few years ago became another life-changing branching moment for me.
Saturday, January 10th, 2015, 11:52:59pm, Eastern Time.
That is the date and time of the message I sent to the creator of a new “real life interactive video game theatrical experience” after an ITM follower tweeted it to me, thinking it was something I might be interested in. In the message I sent, I expressed my interest in not only writing about that new experience, but also joining the team creating it. I had no idea that simple message would eventually allow me to finally fulfill my longtime dream.
I discovered the team behind that experience was comprised of current and former Imagineers and designers at Universal Creative, along with many more talented people that I instantly knew I needed to surround myself with. The company was called Pseudonym Productions and was exactly the creative outlet I was looking for.
Throughout the past three years, I have worked with Pseudonym Productions to develop a series of live immersive experiences in Orlando. We have created four tremendously successful productions: The Republic, When Shadows Fall, Catharsis, and A Study of Dreams, each receiving critical acclaim.
Our experiences have been called “innovative,” “thrilling,” “monumental,” “unforgettable,” and “revolutionary,” as featured in the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Weekly, Broadway World, WESH2, FOX35, News 13, and even Playboy. We also were thrilled to have top designers and creative directors at Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens attend our experiences – all of whom loved what we created.
I can’t express how much it has meant to me to receive such glowing compliments from people I have respected and looked up to for so many years – and to now be considered a fellow creator is a feeling I’ve been searching for nearly my entire life. In the three years we’ve been creating these productions as a side hobby, we have already found a following of a few thousand loyal fans who are eager to participate in each new experience we make.
So now, just as I grew Inside the Magic from an audience of a few hundred to a few thousand and eventually millions, I am beyond excited to have the opportunity to help grow Pseudonym Productions with the goal of becoming a leader in creating the most uniquely interactive experiences around.
But to make that happen, I have had to make one of the biggest decisions of my life.
So here I am, saying goodbye to Inside the Magic. But it’s not really “goodbye” as much as “see ya real soon” (to borrow a phrase from the Mouse himself).
As stated above, this was not at all an easy decision. But it is ultimately a necessary one for me to finally fulfill that desire within me to design and create. To achieve the vision we have at Pseudonym Productions – and trust me, we have big plans – I just can’t divide my time any longer.
But Inside the Magic is not going anywhere. This site, the podcast, the YouTube channel, and everything we have all accomplished over the past 13 years have been just the beginning. I am leaving it all in the extremely capable hands of people I trust to make ITM even better than I ever could.
The new owner, Kurt Schmidt, is more of a businessman than I have ever been at ITM. He has a solid background in the financial world and will be able to make smart decisions to enable ITM to grow beyond anything I ever could dream up. Perhaps most importantly, he is also a lifelong Disney and theme park fan. He’s a Disney Vacation Club member at multiple properties worldwide and visits the parks as often as is humanly possible with his family. And he has a tremendous passsion for making Inside the Magic more fun than ever.
But of course, Kurt won’t be doing it alone.
For the next year or so, you will still find me around here as I help transition the site into the tremendous potential of its future without me. (I mean, how could I pass up the chance at being among the first to step foot into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? Count me in for that assignment, Kurt!)
But mostly, in the weeks, months, and years ahead, you will continue to get great coverage from ITM’s talented team of reporters that have already been creating the majority of the site’s coverage for the past couple of years.
ITM could not have grown as much as it has since 2015 if it weren’t for the efforts of Mike Celestino, Sean Sposato, Cristina Sanza, Mike Mack, and Michael Gavin. While I have been directing them from a distance, they have truly been the ones running the show here. And I couldn’t be more proud to have them fully take the reigns.
If you do happen run into me at a theme park or special event, please ask me all about Pseudonym Productions. I’ll be delighted to tell you about the amazing ideas we’ll soon be bringing to life. I am thrilled for the opportunity to finally fully pursue my dream of being a designer, but will always look back at Inside the Magic with the fondest of memories.
I have to sincerely thank everyone who has ever helped me in any way with Inside the Magic over the past 13 years. Skipper Ben. Mark and Jay. Jeremiah and Josh. Paul and Calvin. These are just a few of the many names I will always fondly remember.
To all the Imagineers and other designers I’ve met and gotten to know over the years: Thank you for always helping me in my efforts to learn more about your amazing accomplishments. Your work, kindness, and generosity have inspired me so greatly.
To all my fellow theme park reporters: I’ll miss our always entertaining off-camera banter in the parks as we all crammed together to get “the shot.”
To all the many ITM readers, viewers, and particularly podcast listeners: I cannot express deeply enough how much your support means to me. I could never believe just how much you loved hearing me blab about theme parks each and every week and I will truly miss having that opportunity to share my experiences with you. I’ve been moved by your stories of how my podcast helped you get through hard times, even reuniting some of you with lost loved ones. I never imagined that sharing my passion for Disney and theme parks would ever reach people so deeply, but I am touched that it has. My only regret is that I never gave the Inside the Magic podcast a proper sendoff, instead simply fading away. But as I saw the tremendous momentum the web site and YouTube channel had behind it, I had to spend my time focusing on those and something had to give. Sadly, that was the podcast. But I’ll never forget the wonderful times I had reading listener feedback each week and occasionally meeting up in person with those who shared the passion with me.
So I now add one more life-changing moment to the list… the time and date I am publishing this ‘farewell’ letter as my final article as Owner and Editor of Inside the Magic – and the official beginning of my career as a creator in the themed entertainment industry.
Monday, March 5, 2018, 2:56:13pm Eastern Time.
And this date couldn’t be a more fitting one. 35 years ago today, Journey Into Imagination first opened at EPCOT Center. I was just two years old when it opened, but as I grew up and visited the park more and more frequently, this attraction became one of my favorites, with Figment and the Dreamfinder imparting me with memorable words of wisdom (thanks to the catchy Sherman brothers tune) that mean more than ever to me on this big day:
One little spark, of inspiration
Is at the heart, of all creation.
Right at the start, of everything that’s new.
One little spark, lights up for you.
Today is indeed the start of everything that’s new. The future has lit up for me – and I am immensely inspired to get to work on new creations. I hope you follow me on my continued journey into imagination.
And with that, I leave you with the immortal words of the infamous Ghost Host: I’ll see you all a little later…
Founder of Inside the Magic
and lifelong Disney fan