One Day at Disney: Book Review and Interview with Wendy Lefkon and Bruce Steele

The Disney Blog

“A Disney job is less a destination than a limitless journey.”

And boy, what a journey it is – even just in one day!

We first mentioned our enthusiasm for One Day at Disney in our August 24 article. The unprecedented book-and-documentary collaboration between Disney Publishing Worldwide and Disney+ explores what an “ordinary” day might look like for cast members at The Walt Disney Company (TWDC) across the globe and in various roles. 

Cast members’ stories are captured by astonishing behind-the-scenes photos and engaging text. Safe to say, you are going to want this book on your coffee table. We were lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy, and we enjoyed it so much that we simply had to chase up editorial director Wendy Lefkon and author Bruce Steele to chat about it.

Wendy says, “[t]he team was surprised over and over by how many fascinating roles there are at the company.” From Bob Iger’s position as CEO; to Thomas Self, an attraction machinist who works predominantly under water(!); to Cyril Soreau, Disneyland Paris’s unique food sculptor; and lawyer-turned-Photopass photographer Fabiola Kersul De Salles, there are countless interesting and exciting roles and personalities at TWDC at every level. 

There are some great trivia tidbits in there too: did you know that Disney Cruise Line required special permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to have yellow lifeboats instead of regulation-required orange? Naturally, the lifeboats had to be the same yellow as Mickey Mouse’s shoes!

My favorite story comes from Animator extraordinaire and Director of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Eric Goldberg. He recalls one phone call with a Disney recruiter: “Directors John Musker and Ron Clements are doing a movie of Aladdin and they’re getting Robin Williams for the genie. I don’t know if you’re interested.” You just can’t make that stuff up!

Each featured cast member’s favorite Disney film or attraction is another fun inclusion in the book – and the answers are equally diverse! Their input and experiences are just as magical as the memories they create, and TWDC need not look far for new story content. Every cast member’s journey could be the storyline for the Company’s next big hit.

One Day at Disney makes you feel like you can do it – whether that is pursuing your own dream of working at TWDC, or more generally applying the lessons therein to your everyday life. Ultimately, “one day” you’ll reach to infinity – and beyond! 

Enough from me – let’s hear from two of the key contributors to the epic project.

Wendy and Bruce, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. We are delighted to host you on the blog!

Wendy: Thank you for including us.

Bruce: Thanks for inviting us.

The Disney Blog, along with the rest of the world, is counting down to the release of One Day at Disney – both the book and Disney+ documentary series – on December 3. How did the idea for the project arise and how did you both get involved?

Wendy:  The idea for the project began with our CEO Bob Iger. As the Editorial Director for Disney Editions, I’ve worked on many deluxe books over my 25-year career at the company so this project naturally fell to me. 

Bruce: I’ve been writing for Disney twenty-three magazine for several years, filing behind-the-scenes stories about movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Coco, and Mary Poppins Returns. Since One Day at Disney is a behind-the-scenes project that involved a lot of interviews not unlike my twenty-three magazine stories, the folks at Disney thought of me for this project.

A book of the same name was published in 2000. What is the difference between the 2000 publication and the upcoming 2019 publication?

Wendy: I worked on that one as well. That book covered only our theme parks and at the time there were fewer of those. The new One Day at Disney includes every division of the company and covers a much broader view into Disney. 

Bruce: I’m only vaguely familiar with the earlier book, but my understanding is that it was all photos and captions, without the deeper dive that the new One Day at Disney provides with intimate profiles of dozens of Disney cast members.

Why did Disney choose to open its doors to the world and give us a glimpse of behind-the-scenes magic-making?

Wendy: The main goal of the project is to give people a glimpse into just how diverse jobs at the company are and how committed and passionate the people who work here are. We aim to have readers and viewers get a feel for the magic behind the magic. 

Bruce: I can’t speak to the motivations of Disney, but I know the goal was to show the scope and diversity of what’s happening behind the scenes at Disney properties on any given day, and I think the book does just that.

The title – One Day at Disney – is literal in that the photographs (which are astonishing, by the way) were taken in one single day – a Thursday. Why one day and why this particular day?

Wendy:  One day was chosen so we could demonstrate the breadth of how much is going on during any given day and show that at any hour something interesting is happening around the world. This particular day was chosen to be an “ordinary” day. One during which there wasn’t a major event going on and that the Parks wouldn’t be dressed in holiday décor. As we narrowed down the options, that Thursday was a press junket for Captain Marvel and we thought that would provide a unique view behind the scenes of publicizing a new film. 

Bruce: As I understand it, the day was selected in part because there were no holiday celebrations ongoing at the parks or other sites, so we could focus on the tasks that cast members perform every day, in every season. But you can just imagine how much more goes on around, say, Halloween or Mother’s Day or sports playoffs.

The book takes us to Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris, Madrid, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and many locations in the United States. The timeline puts into perspective how much work cast members are doing around the clock and around the world! How did you choose which global locations to showcase?

Wendy: We wanted to showcase as many areas/regions as possible since the company is active all over the world. The Parks locations were easy to define and then we found the opportunity to include an actor performing in Spain and a tour guide working in Costa Rica providing even more interesting locales.

Bruce: The scope and focus of the project was set before I joined it.

There is such a broad spectrum of jobs that appear in the book – from actors, animators, imagineers and TV personalities, to ranch hands, cruise line captains, chocolatiers, arborists, attractions coordinators and even a unique food sculptor! How did you choose which cast members to feature?

Wendy:  We reached out to each division to suggest people from each area. The criteria included jobs that were visually interesting and jobs that are distinctly Disney. The team was surprised over and over by how many fascinating roles there are at the company. 

Bruce: The cast members were selected before I came onboard, but I applaud the work Wendy and her team did to select the people featured. Everyone was a pleasure to talk to.

Which came first: the cast member selection or the location selection? 

Wendy: It was all part of a single process.

Why is the One Day at Disney project important to Disney?

Wendy: As it says on our back cover, “You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” That’s a Walt Disney quote and the sentiment has never been more appropriate. With the vast number of things going on at the company and the passion people have for Disney we felt the project would provide an intriguing peak behind the curtain and perhaps inspire some readers and viewers to pursue a path that could lead to Disney someday.

Bruce: Again, I can’t speak to Disney’s motives, but I think One Day at Disney is a unique window into everything that goes on behind the scenes to create the experiences that are the Walt Disney Company — not just theme parks, but movies, TV shows, sports coverage, books, theater, radio, travel adventures, and so much more. People take for granted that SportsCenter will be on ESPN every day, or that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would open in Disneyland when Disney said it would, or that the Disney Magic cruise ship will dock on time at Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. But there’s a ton of planning and just plain sweat that goes into everything Disney does. It takes a lot of hard work to make everything look so easy, and One Day at Disney introduces you to a lot of the people who make that happen.

What was your favorite part of the project?

Wendy: It’s been the best project I’ve ever had the chance to be part of. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people—it’s been a privilege to work with the teams that helped put this together.

Bruce: Interviewing every cast member was fun, and every discussion was different, but it was even more exciting to get to meet them in person, where they work. It’s one thing to hear about how Disneyland Railroad engineers do their jobs, but it’s quite another to ride with engineer Mark Gonzales in the private Lilly Bell railroad car and hear firsthand about the railroad’s history. Or to go backstage with actor Katie Whetsell at Finding Nemo: The Musical at Walt Disney World and walk among the sets and props and hold Katie’s Dory puppet in your hands. I got to have a lot of those kinds of once-in-a-lifetime moments as part of this project.

What was the most challenging part of the project?

Wendy: Early on the toughest part was coordinating all the pieces so that the One Day could be captured. It was a monumental effort and again the teams came through in ways we could never have imagined. 

Bruce: Scheduling nearly 80 interviews within a window of just a few months was quite a feat, and I’m grateful to all the help Disney provided to make that happen. But when you’re trying to get onto the schedule of busy people like Brie Larson and Robin Roberts and Eric Stonestreet and Jon Favreau, it takes patience and a willingness to adjust at the last minute. And that’s in addition to figuring out how early I needed to get up in Asheville, North Carolina, where I live, in order to interview cast members in Tokyo, Japan, before they went to bed.

What do you hope readers, as well as viewers of the Disney+ series, will get out of One Day at Disney?

Wendy: The hope is that readers and viewers come away with a sense of the passion and commitment people have to bring joy to audiences every day. It’s pretty special to get up every day with that being a guiding principle. And I hope that people will be inspired by reading the stories and perhaps use the information to help them find their dream job!

Bruce: I hope that One Day at Disney encourages everyone to pursue their dreams as the cast members in the book and Disney+ series have done. The hard work and sacrifice and determination illustrated by all these cast profiles can be applied to any occupation. You don’t have to want to work for Disney to learn something about persistence and focus from the people in this book.

One Day at Disney is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and will be available for purchase in stores on December 3, 2019 — the same day the documentary series of the same name premieres on Disney+. When you use the Amazon link a portion of your purchase price will help support The Disney Blog. Thank you.

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