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Filmmaker's documentary would capture the making of Walt Disney World

29 March 2018

A Central Florida filmmaker is working on a documentary featuring people who worked alongside Walt Disney and how they made Epcot a reality after their leader and mentor had died.

The project is called “Walt Disney – Master of Dreamers,” says director-producer Anthony Cortese, who lives in Celebration.

“The story itself is about Walt Disney’s journey from the 1964 World’s Fair, beyond his death and then how everyone sort of rallied together to pull off Walt Disney World and, ultimately, Epcot, and the challenges they faced in trying to figure out what the heck did the old man want,” he said.

Among his interview subjects are former Imagineers Bob Gurr, Rolly Crump and Richard Sherman, one-half of the famed Disney songwriting brother duo.

“Those guys are really all about keeping Walt’s legacy alive,” Cortese said. “They are amazed at the amount of interaction that they get from even very young fans who are just really interested in the legacy and the heritage.”

Although the film isn’t finished, he created a trailer to show to potential investors and to land other interviews.

Sherman “was a tough one to get. I pitched him several times,” Cortese said. “He kept saying no until he saw the trailer that I put together with Rolly and Bob.”

Disney didn’t always explain the purpose of his assignments, but he was admired by the people interviewed for the documentary, Cortese said.

“I think the one thing they all essentially felt about Walt was that they felt he was such an incredible mentor who believed in them … believed in things that they could do that they didn’t even know that they could do,” he said.

Crump, who said he’d wanted to work for Disney ever since seeing “The Three Little Pigs” in 1933, agreed.

“He gave different assignments to different people, but he didn’t tell us who else was working on it, which was kind of crazy,” he said. “He was in charge. … It was kind of like his playground. We were his little toys that he played with, which was great. We did whatever he asked.”

Crump worked as an animator, then was groomed to be a theme-park designer, he said. Among his projects were the Haunted Mansion and the Enchanted Tiki Room. He worked for the company “off and on” for 50 years, he said.

Disney had had success with films, Disneyland and the World’s Fair. Then he really wanted to build Epcot, Cortese said, but he died in late 1966, about five years before Walt Disney World would open. Members of his creative team knew how Walt Disney wanted Epcot to be designed — a radiating hub and transportation system he once touted on television. But they met obstacles in planning an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, where people lived and worked.

“They didn’t know how they were going to deal with the government agencies and voting and schools,” Cortese said. It also was a tough sell to companies, because the concept was for them to share research and development and general cooperation about new technologies with each other.

“They were hitting roadblocks because to sell this idea to the big corporations, you needed Walt, because he knew it in his head,” he said.

Eventually, the Epcot concept manifested itself into a theme park with an emphasis on technology and a global outlook. It was the second of the four Disney World theme parks built.

“I feel like this whole Florida thing is something that I don’t even think he would have imagined it could have turned into,” Cortese said.

He hopes to have a version of “Master of Dreamers” ready by fall. He plans to have a fund-raising event at Celebration Town Hall on April 28. It will include a panel featuring Gurr and author Jeff Barnes, along with a silent auction with artwork from Don “Ducky” Williams and Joe Kaminski. Cortese said that 15 percent of the event’s net proceeds will be donated to Kissimmee-based Give Kids the World.

“There’s still a lot of work to do in post-production, and I need capital for that. It’s not cheap,” he said. He hopes to get Walt Disney Co.’s blessing, access to some archival footage and perhaps get the finished product sold in the theme parks. He’d like to show it at film festivals.

It’s not Cortese’s first Disney-based documentary. In 2016, he produced “The Dreamfinders,” a film about Disney superfans who were making careers out of their passions in Orlando.

“I learned a lot about filmmaking in general,” he said. “But I think more than anything I learned that there’s a real deep thirst for Disney history.”

Crump said he had worked to keep the memory of Walt Disney alive, at one point making slideshows that explained the creative processes.

“I’ve always wanted to make sure that the outside world really understood Walt,” he said.


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