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On Storytelling and the Theme Park Industry: Interview with J. Michael Roddy

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is going to be one of the best examples of an intellectual property brought to life.” 

J. Michael Roddy is a writer/director based in Central Florida who has worked for several major entertainment operators including Universal Orlando, Disney, the former Busch Entertainment Corp. and Mirage Entertainment. His most recent stint was as manager of show development and senior show director for Universal Orlando. Blooloop’s Chad Emerson caught up with Roddy to talk about his new business endeavors as an independent.

Chad Emerson:
You recently left Universal Orlando and started your own company. What are you focusing on these days?

J. Michael Roddy:
I have been focusing my talents on live shows and film and media production.I am fortunate to be involved with a really diverse set of projects. I am in production of a new documentary entitled MONSTERKIDS, which focuses on the love affair with things that go bump in the night. [There is a teaser trailer for MONSTERKIDS at]michael roddy headshot universal studios disney

I just finished the script for an X-Men Stunt show for Germany’s Movie Park. It was awesome to revisit the classic characters and create what I anticipate will be a great live moment for them. The show opens in early May. I also worked on a new guest experience for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay called Animal Connections. It is a really unique opportunity to interact with a live animal.

Tell us about your start in the amusement industry and what drew you to it.

I was hired as an actor at Universal Studios Florida and also Terror On Church Street, both in Orlando. Because of my background in live theatre, I was afforded some opportunities to write and direct events at Universal. I also helped script and design some experiences at Terror On Church Street which was a fantastic year-round Haunted Attraction.

I have always loved storytelling. Every aspect of it fascinates me. I can remember being at the front of the class in kindergarten re-telling stories and scenes from movies to classmates, adding my own sound effects and acting out all of the roles. That early fascination and desire to tell a story was what continued to guide me. I became an actor and studied theatre with an intensive on writing and directing. I studied photography, film as art, editing… anything that could help me tell stories.

When I became a professional actor, I was lucky to work with some great directors: creative storytellers who provided great guidance and allowed me to shadow them through their process.

You’ve worked with some of the major amusement industry operators. What are some general lessons you learned about creating shows for themed entertainment?

Every project allows for a new perspective. It is imperative to learn from every experience. In my opinion, that is how you stay fresh. You interact, collaborate and try to open a show or project as a stronger creative individual than you were at the beginning.

You can learn so much from a seasoned professional but sometimes just as much or more from someone who is just starting and has a real passion for creating.

The biggest lesson for me, and one of which I continually remind myself on every project, is to cultivate the arts of flexibility and patience. These are crucial tools to have in your bag of tricks on any project.

Can you describe some outstanding high points you experienced in the theme park industry, and also tell us about a moment of professional frustration?

Working at Universal in the early 90s allowed for some amazing opportunities. I was fortunate to see Halloween Horror Nights in its infancy and be a part of its growth. I was part of the creation of Mardi Gras and Grinchmas. Those were all very rewarding.

For me, the proudest accomplishments were at Universal Orlando in connection with creating the “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” Musical. It was just a perfect combination of elements that added up to a really special moment. I was also proud to have become friends with some of my influences in the business, like Roy Scheider, Tom Savini, and Carl Gottlieb.

The most frustrating moment so far, is that our current documentary project, “The Shark Is Still Working” has yet to be released. Argh!

Emerson: Okay, we have to ask. You left Universal just before the Harry Potter attraction opened. How do ou think the public will respond to this attraction and where do you think it will fall within the industry in terms of being a creative milestone?

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an exciting project. The fan base of the brand alone will drive attendance through the roof. The attention to detail and immersive set design is unbelievable. It is going to be one of the best examples of an intellectual property brought to life. Like T2-3D, and the Simpsons attractions, the original creators have a major involvement in the creation. For Universal’s creative team, I believe it will be their finest hour. As far as the impact it will have on the industry, I personally think that it will set a new mark that will be referenced anytime an attraction is being designed based on an intellectual property. It will now be, “I want something like the Harry Potter attraction.”

I also think that it will be a major destination for guests. And that there is only one place to experience it will be great for Orlando, drawing guests and visitors to the region.

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