Cast Behind the Magic – Meet Rebekah Leyshon Show Writer, Walt Disney Imagineering Paris

Tell us about your job. What do you do? What does the day-to-day work of a writer at Walt Disney Imagineering Paris entail? 

I’m a writer at Walt Disney Imagineering Paris. As part of the Show Quality Standards team, my job is to work on enhancing and maintaining the stories we tell throughout our destination. I am here to provide fellow Imagineers and Cast Members with the right level of information and story elements to deliver a final Guest experience that makes sense and is coherent with everything else. Storytelling is at the heart of everything Disney does and the Parks are actual living proof of that.  

No two days are identical – it depends on what projects we’re working on and/or who needs my help. I can be in a brainstorming session one minute and proofreading Guest-facing signage the next; one day be talking with the Costuming team and another be updating our Show Information and Nomenclature Guides; sometimes I go on-site for inspiration or to see with my own eyes what challenges we need to face, others I’ll be behind my desk or talking with one of our designers about an ongoing project. I work with so many different people within the company and that’s what I love about my job – I get to be, do and see so many things, sometimes all within the same day!     

What did you study? Was writing your dream? 

I’ve always loved reading and writing. As a child, I would try and fit as much reading as I could into 24 hours, even pushing back my bedroom curtains to read by the light of the streetlamps when it was way over my bedtime. After high school, I studied languages and communications. But I always had this yearning to go back to what I love most – imagining stories and writing. So yes, it was a dream and still is. It’s just that now, I actually get to live that dream.   

How did you get to Disneyland Paris? 

I was lucky enough to meet a Disneyland Paris Human Resources representative at my college’s job fair. A few weeks later, I had my first interview and was taken on as an intern in the International Marketing team, working on Press Relations and Promotions with trade partners. At the end of my internship, they offered me a temporary position as Marketing Representative, which eventually turned into a permanent job. After five years working there, I was ready for a new challenge but this time really wanted to fulfil my dream to write and create. Never would I have imagined an opportunity would open up at Imagineering, but it did and I applied, only half believing it could work. I’ve been here five years now and have never looked back!  

What is the writing process at Imagineering? How do you manage to incorporate Disney storytelling? 

Story is central to all the experiences we create or enhance in our destinations. Whether we’re updating or re-imagining something completely, that’s where we start. And it’s never just one person working on their own; it’s a whole team working together, each person bringing their expertise and ideas to the table.  

Depending on the scale and type of project we’re working on, the process can vary. Some things are very straightforward; bigger projects involve a much longer approval process. But there’s always a phase of research. We’re given an artistic direction but it’s important to have a holistic understanding of what came before and what that story means before putting anything on paper. For the projects I’m part of, I very often reach out to fellow Imagineers here or across the world as they are a wonderful source of information, inspiration and history that I couldn’t get anywhere else. There’s always something to learn about our destination – why something was done in a certain fashion or how a certain effect is achieved – and I try to delve as much as I can into what’s already in the Parks to make sure the work I contribute is coherent with the story we’re already telling. If we’re using a Disney film as a base, I’ll look at the art books, interviews and of course the film itself. There are worse things than having to re-watch a Disney Classic as part of my job! What I enjoy most is when we get together, as I find this helps energise and spark new ideas. Once we have a couple or more ideas, we try to see which one best answers the objective and whether it’s something we can then build on. There is usually quite a lot of back-and-forths and fine-tuning, but once we get the go-ahead it’s my job to provide a written synopsis and detailed information on how it’s brought to life, to keep a written trace which will help keep that storytelling alive.  

How do you work with the other teams at Walt Disney Imagineering Paris? 

I feel very fortunate to be part of the Imagineering team because I get to talk to so many different talented people every day. As I’m naturally curious and need to work closely with the designers and architects to make sure I capture all the details as I get our story down on paper, I will often ask my colleagues what they’re working on and if I can take a look at the work in progress. Chatting with other team members involved in the creative, design and production process helps me work more efficiently on the projects I’m part of. Even a quick conversation can lead to an idea.  When in doubt, I know I can also reach out to fellow Imagineers elsewhere in the world – they are so passionate about their work and are very generous with sharing their knowledge.  

How does Disney’s heritage inspire your work? How do you combine Disney tradition and innovation? 

Walt Disney was above all a storyteller. And from the very start, he was always looking for new ways to bring those stories to life. Take for instance the synchronisation of sound and animation in Steamboat Willie in 1928, the use of the multi-plane camera or quite simply the idea of Disneyland itself! Disney and innovation have always gone hand in hand, and always will. Working at Imagineering is being part of that mindset – of looking at things and wondering if there’s another, better way of looking at it. Taking something and imagining the new and unique way it could be used or experienced by our Guests. I’m inspired by this legacy that is still very much alive in all the Imagineers I admire and get to work alongside every day.  

Tell us about a project that was particularly demanding for you or that you’re particularly proud of. 

The project I will always remember is the very first one I worked on. Soon after I joined WDI, I was asked to work on The Chaparral Theater which was going to be replaced by a much bigger building. How were we going to tell that story and explain how a massive lumber mill got there in the first place? Frontierland, the Land where this theatre is located, tells the story of the town of Thunder Mesa at the end of the gold rush. Going back to the time of the gold rush, wood would have been essential, being used to build homes, stores, and even to make the sluice boxes essential to panning gold, amongst other things. With that knowledge in hand, I started working on a storyline that told how a certain T. M. Burr, one of Thunder Mesa’s first inhabitants, had caught on to the commercial potential of providing wood to the town and its surrounding area. Once the gold rush was over in 1885, the era in which our Frontierland is set, people had either moved on or settled down, creating the town we now know. Tim Burr was part of the latter group and had fallen in love with a talented stage actress. His love was so great that he re-purposed his old mill into a grand theatre so that his beloved could continue to live her passion for the stage. Frontierland Theater was born, sitting on the edge of Cottonwood Creek Ranch, and becoming the ideal venue for travelling shows. Going on-site after the project was finished and seeing for the first time the copy I had written, and on which our artists had then worked their magic by turning it into show graphics for all Guests to enjoy, was a moment of great pride and joy.  

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