I IMAGINE THIS As a teen, I made money doing odd summer jobs; I was in a band, I sang, I played guitar, got paid to perform on weekends. During the summer holidays, I set up musical theatre workshops, through which I earned the money to pay for college. I was always entrepreneurial as a kid.
When I was young, I wanted to meet three of my heroes - Errol Flynn, Gene Kelly and Walt Disney. I only got to meet Kelly, the others died way before. I had a slight obsession with Disney and his work; I read every book about him. Do you know about the nine old men of Disney? The key guys who worked with Disney; they were all about 10 years younger than Walt, but they worked on all the major productions. I knew every film each guy did. I called up Les Clark after finding his number in the Yellow Pages. I knew he worked for Disney. I spoke to him and made such an impression that he invited me to the studio. I met every one of the guys. No one knew who they were and they certainly didn't have any fans, but there I was, a kid who knew every film they had done, every character they had drawn. It endeared me to them so I was always welcome to the studios. Every time I could get away from school, I'd be there. I learnt so much from them, just talking to them, watching them work. I thought I'd be an animator but was told, 'You're too active, too restless, animators sit at drawing desks all day.' So I didn't end up there but, right after graduation [from the California Institute of the Arts], for three years I worked at Disney as an 'imagineer'. I worked on the parks, how to light it, how to make it more exciting. All this before I was 23.
FATHER'S PRIDE I got into arguments with my dad over my career choices and I'll never forget the biggest one. One day, while I was at university, my dad said, 'This summer, you're not doing theatre, you're getting a real job. You're not doing this 'playing' any more'. 'Dad, I'm going to be a millionaire,' I said. 'Don't worry about me.' This made him laugh. 'Doing what?' he asked. 'Doing this. Doing theatre. Playing. I'm going to be an actor, writer, director.' He could not fathom any of it. But that's exactly what happened. I did all that and made my first million pretty early on. Was my dad proud later? Well, he never acknowledged it to me. Years later, I went to visit him, a friend of his was over and dad hadn't come into the room. This guy asked me, 'You Larry's kid, Gary?' This guy started rattling off all the things I had done, the movies, the projects. That's how I found out my dad was proud of me.
PLAYING WITH WORDS At 23, I got interviewed by Marc Davis, who created Tinker Bell. Davis was like my mentor. Because he did so many things, I got restless and wanted to do more. I wrote a screenplay, Against the Gods, which was a retelling of the Ten Commandments, but in space, set in the future. I pitched it to Paramount Pictures and they liked it, so I started writing screenplays. I wrote Tarzan, the Ape Man and lived with Bo Derek and John Derek in the Seychelles for a month. I knew Bo when she was at the peak, she had just finished 10.
FAMILY VALUES In 1980, I formed my own company, Gary Goddard Productions. We created attractions for Universal Studios. I had done theatre, animation, acting, directing, so I understood how when someone got into a theme park, they were looking for a sense of adventure, excitement and action.
The concept of Las Vegas is changing. Where it used to be a playground for adults, now it's a family show. That's when they started making even bigger money. When told that he made children's movies, Disney said, 'I never made a movie for children, I made movies for parents of children. I put things in the movies that children would like as well.' To me, that's how I approach a project. I aim for the key No1 target market, then we widen it out. Every show, every ride, every building, every resort, first and foremost who are you trying to attract?
LONG SHOT About six years ago, I was in San Francisco when we had the first meeting about Galaxy Macau and I [told them] they're going to need more than fountains and sparkles to jazz up a casino in a place that's full of casinos. There was a suggestion that we try to recreate Spain in Macau. I argued that if people wanted to see Spain, they can go to Spain.
I think like a filmmaker, so whether you're coming in from the north, south, east, or west, every time you see a view of [the Galaxy], you see a fantastic sight. Think of it as a long shot in a movie: you see this giant structure, then you see the design of the first few floors, that's your medium shot, you see the gates, the entrance, it's still majestic but now you can see the details, we're bringing it down to scale where you can touch it, feel it - that's the close-up.
I'm not one to subscribe to the Venetian philosophy. I've been there only once - never again. I got lost in that place. I've never seen a place as chaotic - in terms of design. It is too big; it's not well planned; how do people move through? The old-school idea that chaos is OK, getting people lost in the casino is a good idea as they'll spend more money [on retail and restaurants] - that is so stupid.
LESSON LEARNED In 1984, we got a project to convert an old power plant into an indoor entertainment centre. I kept saying, you gotta have a roller coaster that would go up and across two large smoke stacks so people from miles around could see it. I kept getting told, 'We heard you, we understand your passion, but we want no rides.' The project gets made, it's a disaster. No one knows what's in there. I was really young back then and didn't stand my ground. A year later, the management changed, the owners changed and I got a letter. 'We are considering a lawsuit against your firm for the negligence you showed by not putting in a ride. And how irresponsible you were in creating an entertainment destination with no rides.' So I wrote back a very nice letter, attaching six pieces of correspondence from the old management. That was the last of the suit - but I learned an invaluable lesson: this is how the world works; in success it'll be rare that you'll get credit, in failure expect to be blamed for everything.