TPU Interview: The Hackmeister 2000

Dear Reader – I always look forward to any new theme park show, eternally hopeful that I will be thrilled, amused or moved by what the park’s creative forces have in store. Certain shows have exceeded my expectations, but there’ve always been disappointments as well. Right now, I’d say the industry is running about 50/50 in the quality of writing.

I recently had a chance to sit down with the world’s most prolific writer of theme park entertainment. This timeless artist has somehow lasted for decades… and while you might not know his name, I assure you that people everywhere know his work when they see it.

All of us at TPU are proud to present the world’s first online interview with that mysterious source of every boring, bad, unfunny and childish theme park script… The HackMeister 2000!

HACKMEISTER 2000: Hello there!

TPU: Good afternoon…

HACKMEISTER 2000: Oh, come on… You can do better than that. I said, “Hello there!

TPU: Hello there!

HACKMEISTER 2000: That’s more like it.

TPU: Okay… I just want to say what an honor it is to meet the man – er – the machine behind all those theme park shows I grew up with.

HACKMEISTER 2000: Gosh, thanks. You don’t get a lot of ‘attaboys’ doing what I do.

TPU: Really? Well, how would you describe what you do?

HACKMEISTER 2000: That’s a great question.

TPU: Thanks.

HACKMEISTER 2000: Do you want to hear my answer?

TPU: Uh… Yeah.

HACKMEISTER 2000: I fill time without offending anyone.

TPU: What do you mean?

HACKMEISTER 2000: Another great question! Do you want to hear my answer?

TPU: That’s why I asked.

HACKMEISTER 2000: Do you really want to hear my answer?

TPU: YES.

HACKMEISTER 2000: Okay, then! Someone comes to me with a job, see? Like they want to create a street show, or they have a movie to promote so they’re going to put it up on a stage. They get all these designers and technicians to put all the stuff together for the show, then they come to me and I pump out a script that fills the time and doesn’t offend anyone.

TPU: And you make it entertaining?

HACKMEISTER 2000: Not my job.

TPU: But you’re a show writer…

HACKMEISTER 2000: Correction… I’m a theme park show writer.

TPU: I understand that. But isn’t your job to entertain the guests in your audience?

HACKMEISTER 2000: No, sir. My job is to keep my job.

Photo copyright © 2007-2013 Denise Preskitt

TPU: But I thought –

HACKMEISTER 2000: Listen, it’s up to the designers and technicians to make everything look nice. They can afford to be entertaining and original. It’s my job to tell the story the way the boss wants me to tell it.

TPU: Doesn’t your boss want the show to be entertaining?

HACKMEISTER 2000: I’m not sure; all he ever says to me is, “Make it cute”.

TPU: But surely his job is to produce an entertaining product.

HACKMEISTER 2000: No. His job is to keep his job.

TPU: But since that job is to produce theme park shows, I would have thought it’s important to be entertaining.

HACKMEISTER 2000: Oh, it is! Don’t get me wrong… Every project starts out with an entertaining premise and lots of good ideas. But for every funny and original idea there’s someone in an office somewhere who’s afraid of anything that’s too funny or too original. Someone who thinks we have to tell our audience the same story they already know or they’ll lose interest.

TPU: But aren’t there experienced people on staff who know how to create a great show, who can help with the –

HACKMEISTER 2000: Not if they want to keep their job. The people ‘On Staff’ are there because they get along with the other people ‘On Staff’. If they try to ‘help’ that may be interpreted as being ‘difficult’. People like that don’t last long.

TPU: Well, you’ve certainly lasted a long time. What’s your secret?

HACKMEISTER 2000: Another great question! Do you want to hear my answer?

TPU: WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING THAT?

HACKMEISTER 2000: Sorry. It’s one of my techniques for making stuff feel special and exciting.

TPU: But you’re really just wasting time.

HACKMEISTER 2000: Oh, hell yes.

TPU: Any other special techniques?

HACKMEISTER 2000: Yes, instead of filling a show with action or ideas, I try to fill every show with PAP.

TPU: PAP…What’s that?

HACKMEISTER 2000: P.A.P. – Pointless Audience Participation. We get folks to stamp their feet or wave their arms or chant some inane phrase and tell them that doing so will have some kind of dramatic effect.

TPU: And people are entertained by this?

HACKMEISTER 2000: My boss thinks so.

TPU: I see. Well, as long as your boss says he likes it…

HACKMEISTER 2000: Oh, he never says that. All he ever says is, “It’s cute.”

TPU: Doesn’t that mean he likes it?

HACKMEISTER 2000: No, it means he expects that you’ll like it.

TPU: That explains a lot. One more question…

HACKMEISTER 2000: Sure.

TPU: Every once in a while I see a new show open that doesn’t waste the guests’ time. One where the jokes are really funny and the story is original and exciting. Where do those scripts come from?

HACKMEISTER 2000: Oh, those shows are written by people.

TPU: And that makes them better?

HACKMEISTER 2000: Not always… but a script has a better chance at being funny and exciting if it comes from people, because people tend to respect each other. You see, a machine like me can be satisfied with just filling time, but people want to create something that will actually entertain other people.

TPU: Well, this has been very educational and a lot of fun.

HACKMEISTER 2000: Thanks. Just don’t tell the guy I work for.

TPU: I won’t.

# # # # #

Okay, fun’s over. How do we end the reign of the Hackmeister?

Start by closing your eyes. Go on, close them. (Dark, isn’t it?)

Now with your eyes closed, I want you to picture your typical theme park audience. Imagine them sitting in front of you, waiting for the show to start — a show you’ve written.

What do they look like, this imaginary audience? Are they your age? Older or younger? Lots of kids? Large families? Parents standing by patiently while their offspring are wrapped up in the story?

Okay, now open your eyes and go find a mirror. (DON’T try to find a mirror if you haven’t opened your eyes. Those of you with your eyes closed can imagine a mirror; shouldn’t be hard for someone who can read this with their eyes closed.)

Look in the mirror… THAT is your ‘typical theme park audience’. That’s who you should write for. An audience that you respect, that won’t accept ‘cute’ or ‘good enough’. Don’t settle for jokes or dialogue or any element that doesn’t make you laugh or think or thrill as you would have them do.

True, no theme park script ever reaches an audience without passing through many hands. But if you regard each contrary note and roadblock as an opportunity to rewrite and improve you’ll find the process can lead you to something better than you could have previously imagined.

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