Blooloop spoke to Deborah Buynak, Vice President of Entertainment for Universal Orlando Resort, who worked on The Bourne Stuntacular for over three years, from start to finish. She talks about the experience of creating an exciting new attraction, working with live stunt performers and how guests have reacted so far.
Buynak has always been passionate about the attractions industry:
“There are six kids in my family and my parents were very big about regularly taking us and our friends on outings and family vacations. I have amazing memories from those trips and activities. And now, I love being a part of providing those opportunities for our guests.
“After graduating from college I drove down to Universal Studios Florida to try to get my foot in the door. They let me in, so I have stayed for the last 28 years. I was originally hired as a seasonal entry-level ride attendant for the Attractions Operations Department.
Working at Universal
“While working my way up through the company I had the opportunity to be part of the opening of several attractions including Jaws: The Ride, Twister…Ride it Out, MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack and Revenge of the Mummy.
“I also joined the opening team of Universal’s Islands of Adventure during the pre-construction phase and worked on the leadership team through grand opening.”
During this 12-year stint in the Attractions Operations Department, Buynak also worked closely with the Entertainment Division on some of the resort’s most popular events. For instance, Halloween Horror Nights, Mardi Gras and the inaugural Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida.
“It was this relationship that resulted in me joining the Entertainment Division 16 years ago. I now oversee the teams responsible for the daily operation of our Entertainment offerings at all three of our theme parks and CityWalk. I also oversee the production of marquee events, grand opening media moments and new show products, like The Bourne Stuntacular.”
The Bourne Stuntacular
The Bourne Stuntacular is a stunt show like no other, which Universal says will leave guests wondering, “How on earth did they do that?” It features a groundbreaking combination of stagecraft and film to create a truly immersive adventure.
“Our guests are going to travel across three continents and visit seven unique locations as we monitor a rogue special ops team on the hunt for Jason Bourne,” says Buynak.
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“Extreme stunts, groundbreaking technology and practical effects come together to put the audience in the middle of all the action as Bourne jumps across rooftops in Tangier, dangles from a helicopter in Dubai, races a motorcycle through the streets of Washington, D.C. and engages in bruising fistfights around the globe.
“It is intense storytelling and high action drama for all ages. And it all takes place in the comfort of a gorgeous theatre with amazing air conditioning.“
Designing a new attraction
The Bourne Stuntacular replaces the popular Terminator 2 3D: Battle across Time. There is, as Buynak says, extra pressure when it comes to replacing a ride that people love:
“But that pressure makes us work harder, which isn’t a terrible thing. We started work on this project over three years ago. It began with the desire to create an attraction the whole group could enjoy together.
“There is no worry about height restrictions or the fear of heights, but with all the thrills that people have come to expect from Universal Orlando Resort. That concept really pointed toward creating a stunt show. One that would utilise leading-edge technology and provide an immersive environment for our guests.”
“The Bourne film franchise has been wildly successful for Universal Pictures and combines intense storytelling in amazing locations with incredible action sequences. The Bourne Stuntacular is a perfect combination of what we were trying to achieve.
“We wrote a script and created storyboards to act as a map to develop this project. We knew we wanted to change locations throughout the show and a giant LED screen would allow us to do just that.
“Self-moving set pieces also gave us the opportunity to change perspective and see all angles of the action. With the addition of practical effects, the audience could not only see that action but feel it as well – which was an important aspect of the show. And finally, we brought in the most talented stunt people in the business to bring the whole show to life.”
The innovative technology behind The Bourne Stuntacular
While audiences enjoy a thrilling experience, there is a variety of new technology working behind the scenes to bring the show to life.
“We took several aspects of cutting edge technology and layered them together to immerse our guests in the world of Jason Bourne,” says Buynak.
“The LED screen is 28-feet tall and 130-feet wide. There are over 19 million pixels creating images so detailed that it blurs the lines between what is on screen and what is on the stage. Self-guided moving set pieces not only drive themselves on stage but then move across it in sync with the action on the screen before cruising back of house to dock on their charging stations.
“Finally, the last layer consists of an advanced projection mapping system. This allows us to project pinpoint accurate images on top of our travelling set pieces and even performers.”
Audiences enjoy the show
After working on The Bourne Stuntacular for more than three years, Buynak says that seeing it come to life and seeing audiences enjoy the experience makes the whole process worth it:
“It has been amazing to see the project go from a mock-up in a warehouse to this advanced technology in an incredible theatre.”
“At one point people were pushing plywood sets around in front of a random projected image to see if any of this was even possible. Turns out it was possible and the guests are responding so well to it, which we’re very proud of.
“We have received really positive feedback from our guests in survey results, guest comments and social media posts. But it is really the wonderful reaction during the show that we are paying special attention to with our guests.”
The popularity of Bourne
The Bourne films are hugely popular around the world and it is an IP which really appeals to a wide audience. In fact, The Bourne series has grossed over $1.6 billion.
“I enjoy the Bourne movies because both the storylines and the action keep me on my toes,” says Buynak, when asked about the appeal of the IP.
If you ask yourself, how on earth did they do that!? Check this out:https://t.co/ueogNmFYvI
— Universal Orlando Resort (@UniversalORL) June 30, 2020
“Bourne, and in turn the audience, is always trying to figure out what in the world is going on and how to get out of it. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? What are they trying to do and can any good come from it? How can they be outsmarted both mentally and physically with the very limited resources at hand?
“All of these elements provide some clever twists and turns throughout the films. It was important for us to fold all that intrigue into our show as well. Even our pre-show provides a cool twist for fans of the films and Julia Stiles.”
Choosing a show format
Buynak also talks about the decision to use the Bourne IP for a show, rather than a ride:
“I don’t know that it wouldn’t make a great ride as well as a show. There is an amazing motorcycle chase scene in the films. Of course, we already have something here that is pretty magical on a motorbike at our destination.”
“But at this time we were really looking for something all of our guests could participate in with their entire party. Something where everyone could stay together, go inside and sit down while still experiencing major thrills in an incredible environment.
“The Bourne films combine intrigue, excitement and non-stop action in unique locations around the world. It was a perfect fit.”
Overcoming challenges and enjoying opportunities
Given the groundbreaking technology used, and the sheer scale of the project, developing the new attraction was not simple.
“Having several elements take place in many different locations throughout North America was challenging,” says Buynak.
“The digital images being created in Canada needed to perfectly match the set pieces being built in California and Pennsylvania. And the build of those set pieces needed to meet certain specifications for the stunt performers rehearsing here in Orlando.”
“It took a lot of coordination, but this entire team was completely committed to the process and each other.”
The Bourne Stuntacular also features live performers:
“I see working with live performers as more of an opportunity than a challenge. We are able to enact change in a moment. No programming, no rebuilding and no waiting for parts.
“These women and men are the best in the business. We rewrote scripts. Changed characterisation. Re-blocked entire scenes. And they just rolled with the punches. Literally. It was a special opportunity to be a part of. “
The Bourne Stuntacular and COVID-19
The attraction opened to the public on 14 June. It was initially going to open sooner but was delayed due to the park closure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking of the impact of coronavirus, Buynak says:
“There were some small tweaks we made that are likely not visible to guests. However, one big change we made to The Bourne Stuntacular is now the majority of our performers are wearing face coverings during certain sequences throughout the show. Especially when engaging in close-range combat scenes.
“What has never changed for us throughout producing the show is prioritising the health and safety of both our guests and team members.”
“To ensure proper social distancing, we have implemented new procedures in the theatre, including appropriate spacing between travel parties and assisting our guests with seating and exiting the theatre to avoid congestion.
“These procedures mean that our show capacity is currently limited. So wait times may be longer than usual to experience the show.
“We have also increased our already-aggressive cleaning procedures and are sanitizing high-touch surfaces between each show. All guests are also required to wear a face-covering while experiencing The Bourne Stuntacular.”
Bringing the franchise to life
Buynak is proud of The Bourne Spectacular project, and praised the rest of the team involved in the creation of the new attraction, including Universal Pictures, the Ludum Estate and Frank Marshall:
“We worked very closely with Universal Pictures, the Ludlum Estate and Executive Producer Frank Marshall to bring the excitement of the Bourne film franchise to life in front of an audience.”
“Mr Marshall was so supportive and stayed involved throughout the process. He gave us incredible guidance as we navigated the world of Jason Bourne. He was a wealth of information regarding filming locations, story points and even fight techniques.
“We also had the opportunity to work with Julia Stiles. She reprised her role as Nicky Parsons, Bourne’s main confidant in the films. Both Ms Stiles and the character she portrays are insanely popular with fans. Nicky appears in the pre-show to provide our guests with their mission briefing.”
The Bourne Stuntacular is open now at Universal Studios Florida.
Images kind courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort.