8/6: Werner Weiss -- Another Happy Place




Interview with Richard Kraft
about his movie, Finding Kraftland


My interview with Richard Kraft was originally published by MiceAge on August 6, 2007.

— Werner Weiss   

The actual sea serpent from Disneyland’s old Submarine Voyage is not your typical collectable. Richard Kraft is not your typical collector. And Finding Kraftland is not your typical documentary film.

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No three hour lines here!

Super collector Richard Kraft and his teenage son Nicky are the subjects of the documentary Finding Kraftland. Although Kraft originally made the film for a single screening at a father-son birthday party, the film has taken on a life of it own. Finding Kraftland has been a hit at several film festivals and will soon be screened at several more, including the Central Florida Film Festival in Kissimmee on August 31st and September 2nd, 2007. (There’s more about the screenings at the end of this article.)

When MiceAge editor Al Lutz asked me if I’d like to interview Richard Kraft, I thought it would be fun—but how could I do so if I hadn’t seen the film? Although the film is not available on DVD, Kraft offered to send a “screener” DVD to me. The next day, I found a FedEx envelope on my front porch. My 17-year-old daughter and I admired the contents. Sitting at my computer, I suggested, “let’s pop in the DVD and watch the first five minutes.” Finding Kraftland began to unfold on the monitor. A half hour later, we finally paused the movie so that she could get a chair. We watched the rest of the film.

In other words, Finding Kraftland was utterly successful in holding our interest from beginning to end.

Richard Kraft runs Kraft-Engel Management, the agency that represents a who’s who of great film and theatre composers—including John Barry, Christophe Beck, Jon Brion, Alexandre Desplat, Danny Elfman, Philip Glass, Maurice Jarre, Alan Menken, John Ottman, Rachel Portman, John Powell, Trevor Rabin, Graeme Revell and Marc Shaiman.

Nicky Kraft is a smart high school student who lives in Oregon when he’s not visiting his father. Nicky not only puts up with his father’s excesses, he and his father are best friends.

Stacey Aswad, who hosts Walt Disney World: Top 7 Must Sees on Walt Disney World resort room televisions, reprises her cheerful, energetic role as the host of Finding Kraftland.

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Stacey Aswad

This time, it’s the “Kraftland Top 10.” To some degree, Kraftland is Richard Kraft’s home and the “stuff” within it. To a much greater degree, Kraftland represents the lives of Richard Kraft, his son Nicky, and the people in their lives. The “Top 10” aren’t artifacts, they’re experiences of father and son Kraft. The film is ultimately about the importance of family, not about Disneyland or pop culture or collectables.

There’s plenty of fun along the way. One of the “Top 10” segments is about Disneyland and Richard Kraft’s incredible collection of current and “Yesterland” artifacts, including various actual ride vehicles. If there’s a scene you don’t like, don’t worry—there will be a new scene in about two seconds.

Be on the lookout for Finding Kraftland at a film festival near you.


The Interview

WERNER WEISS: Walt Disney World resort guests will appreciate your creative decision to model Finding Kraftland after the Walt Disney World: Top 7 Must Sees loop that repeats over and over on resort room televisions—right down hiring the same host.

RICHARD KRAFT: Finding Kraftland was really born out of a trip to Disney World. Every year, I gather up a flock of friends and we head off on a “Buddies Trip.” Two years ago, we were the “Orlando Buddies” spending a week at Disney World. Every morning we would gather in the lobby of the Grand Floridian and debate the merits of the promotional video that was endlessly looping in all of our hotel rooms. It was a hyperactive promo piece hyping the parks’ top attractions. The host of it was a really high energy woman named “Stacey,” and over breakfast each day we would argue over whether we were in love with her or wanted to suffocate her with a giant Pooh plush.

By the end of the trip, we were hooked. My son and I came up with the idea of doing a “Kraftland Top 10” video to feature our various collections. When we returned to L.A. I asked my assistant to track down “Stacey.” Within minutes I was on the phone with her agent in North Carolina. I explained what we wanted to do, trying mighty hard not to sound like a stalker in the process.

An hour later Stacey Aswad called back. After making sure I was not a total nut-job, she agreed to fly out to California for a three-day shoot.

WEISS: How did that go?

KRAFT: Over three grueling 18-hour days, we had shot about 20 minutes of Stacey hosting a “look at this neat stuff” video. It was really boring. As much as I loved the stuff featured in the film and as great as Stacey was, after about 10 minutes of product shots of thousands of board games and mountains of Disneyland ride vehicles, it all blended into one long episode of “Cribs Goes Geek.”

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Stacey and an Atom-mobile

My collaborator on the movie is a filmmaker, Adam Shell. We were writing and directing the film together. The entire time we were shooting Adam kept asking, “Why do you collect all this crap?”

And as I started to answer, he started to film. Eventually he went out and shot 50 hours of interviews with our friends, family and clients. I also dug up hours of old home movies. Then, over a three-month period of editing from 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. (we both have day jobs), we started to make a very different film than the original “Top Ten Countdown of Kraftland.” It became increasingly personal, and more and more about my relationship with my son, Nicky.

WEISS: Did Stacey Aswad enjoy doing a self-parody of her enthusiastic Walt Disney World role?

KRAFT: For us, she was a dream. She put in insanely long days and was always upbeat and perky. She had a trillion costume and hair and make-up changes so she never had a moment to rest during our 18-hour days. Our final shot was of her and Nicky sharing a bath surrounded by a hundred of Soakie Bubble dispensers. She ended up having such a great experience that she recently decided to move from North Carolina and follow her acting dream in Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, she just got hired as the on-court host for the L.A. Sparks.

WEISS: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with so many quick edits, as well as so many image inserts. Has anyone counted how many scenes there are? If so, what’s the count?

KRAFT: Both my editor and I are fairly ADD. The one thing I didn’t want my film to be was boring. I liked throwing the kitchen sink into every shot. I could not begin to count the number of inserts, but it is rare that anything is on the screen for more than a few seconds. And at 70 minutes, that is a lot of seconds to cut to new things.

WEISS: Your movie’s website says that Finding Kraftland was “originally intended to have a one-time-only Birthday screening.”

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Nicky, Stacey and Richard

KRAFT: Since Nicky and I almost share a birthday (his is March 2nd and I am March 1st), we always throw elaborate themed costume parties together. We decided for his 16th birthday we would do a big “Premiere Cast and Crew Screening” of Finding Kraftland at Paramount Studios. There were 750 people in the audience. As soon as the lights went down I panicked, it was like giving hundreds of people a guided tour through my dirty sock drawer.

When the film ended there was a surprising reaction, besides people laughing and having a good time, a number of people said they were inspired and were touched emotionally. They suggested submitting to film festivals, which had never crossed my mind.

WEISS: You submitted Finding Kraftland to the 2007 Santa Barbara Film Festival, where it had its public premier on January 27, 2007.

KRAFT: It was really strange to walk into a real movie theatre and see our poster in the lobby and the name of our film above the theatre door. I had no idea if anyone would show up to see what is basically a very grand home movie. It was sold out—filled with people I didn’t know. They laughed at the right places and seemed to really connect to it. Afterwards there was a Q&A with Adam, Nicky, Stacey and myself. The moderator said that over 2,500 films had been submitted to the festival, and after watching a thousand films on suffering and misery, they were tickled to see something so goofy.

WEISS: What’s next for Finding Kraftland? More film festivals? A theatrical release? A DVD release? Showings on premium movie channels on cable?

KRAFT: As far as future plans, we have submitted to a number of other festivals and have been accepted to almost two dozen so far. It is unbelievable. We have been to screenings across the county and recently in Europe. In a way, going to film festivals with Nicky is some cosmic extension of what the film is really all about in the first place. What is so wonderful is having worked so hard in making the film purely out of joy and passion and having zero expectations of it beyond entertaining some friends at a birthday party. Anything that follows that is pure gravy. Having no expectations makes this whole journey a magical joy ride.

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If Richard ever decides to sell tickets, he’s got the booth.

Everywhere the film plays we get to meet amazing people and have extraordinary experiences. We treated the entire audience at the Sonoma Film Festival in raiding a local candy shop. In Mt. Rainier, Washington, our film screened in a yurt... and won the Audience Award, which was the first of a half a dozen awards it has won so far. In Spain, we had the film subtitled, and even with the language barrier it was greeted with lots of laughter and tears. It truly is a small world, after all.

On a pragmatic level, I don’t envision a theatrical or commercial release. It might just be ideal for film festivals.

WEISS: What do you hope to achieve by exposing Finding Kraftland to a larger audience?

KRAFT: The best thing about more people seeing the film is the opportunity to share our home and our family with others. I love having visitors come to our house, and the film lets us give a cinematic tour to share in the fun stuff we are so lucky to have. And it lets me share my relationship with Nicky, which is the most important thing in my life.

WEISS: I doubt I’m the only person who will think of the term “self-indulgent” while watching Finding Kraftland. You call it an “incredibly shameless home movie.” The movie is primarily about you and your teenage son Nicky (but there’s also a loving tribute to your late brother David).

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Son, Father and Doombuggy

KRAFT: I love all forms of indulgence, self or otherwise. As long as nothing is at the expense of someone else, I think everyone should luxuriate in self-indulgence. The TIME Person of the Year was “YOU.” Billions of us made it on the mirrored cover because things like My Space and YouTube have shifted the storytelling away from a handful of creators into the hands of everyone.

The truth is, everyone’s story is more interesting than 99% of the films that get made in Hollywood. We all have quirks and eccentricities and histories that are rich and ripe and juicy. We live in a blog world where we realize our lives are important and worth sharing.

My life has also had its share of tragedy, having lost my brother, mother and father all in a short period of time. I would much rather “indulge” in celebrating the joys and memories of them than quietly sleepwalking through life. And I have promised anyone who watches Finding Kraftland that I will gladly sit through any slide shows anyone wants to give me on their family trip to the Grand Canyon.

WEISS: Would you have made the movie differently if you had intended it to be for a wider audience?

KRAFT: I don’t think I would have ever made the film if it were originally intended for a wider audience. I would have been too self-conscious about what would “they” think. It was quite liberating to make something to just amuse my son and myself.

WEISS: You run a successful agency representing some of the biggest film and theatre composers, several of whom appear in the film. How do they feel about exposing the film to a wider audience?

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Dumbo on final landing approach.

KRAFT: My clients are tickled. Most have been with me for almost two decades. They know their agent is a big kid with a Dumbo in his living room. They are getting a kick out of being the Greek choir in the film commenting on my madness. And Marc Shaiman’s music video from the film has gotten thousands of views on YouTube. He has been nominated for five Oscars and won both a Tony and an Emmy, and this silly little ditty has gotten him more public exposure than almost anything else.

WEISS: How did you get involved in representing composers in the first place?

KRAFT: Everything good in my life has started with passion. As kids my brother and I were obsessed with film music. By the time I was out of high school I had thousands of soundtracks that we had purchased at thrift stores. My brother and I were interviewing our favorite composers for Xeroxed fan magazines when we were 9 or 10 years old.

I never went to college and instead followed my passion for film and music to Los Angeles, were several of the composers I had met as a kid helped me get into the business. My first client was Danny Elfman, followed by Jerry Goldsmith. Over the years I have been blessed to work with many of my heroes like Henry Mancini, John Barry, Elmer Bernstein and more recently Alan Menken. I cried like a baby after the opening number “Belle” in Beauty and the Beast, I was that overwhelmed by the genius of that score. I still can’t believe that I get to give something back to Alan after all the happiness his music has brought me.

As a Disney fanatic, you can only imagine the thrill of being involved in the music of their animated films and theme park attractions. One of my sweetest memories was riding Soarin’ Over California with Jerry Goldsmith who was composing the score. We rode it while it was still under construction and were like two giddy kids getting to sneak behind the scenes. While the ride was interesting and novel, I had no idea how extraordinary it would be until Jerry’s majestic music was put into it.

WEISS: There are many people who collect popular culture artifacts and Disney memorabilia, but I think it’s safe to say that few collections are as extensive as yours or contain actual Disneyland ride vehicles. What are your favorite popular culture artifacts in your collection? What are your favorite Disney items in your collection?

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Fries are extra.

KRAFT: I really love my Bob’s Big Boy in my foyer. I was really lucky to have recently become friends with Richard Sherman and his wife. When they first came over to my house he was totally taken by Bob. He saw it as a real piece of art... a genuine comment on America and Commerce and joy.

After dinner he went over to the piano and started playing requests. There were songs from Poppins and Pooh and Charlotte’s Web. After he sang Feed the Birds. I asked him to indulge us with one more song. As he started to sing ‘There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,’ I looked up. There soaring over this magnificent songwriter was my Dumbo ride vehicle. Every hair stood up on my arm. All of my hopes and dreams as a little kid had magnificently come true in that perfect moment.

WEISS: Any other favorites?

KRAFT: In addition to Dumbo, I love the Mr. Toad car in my library and the Submarine Voyage Sea Serpent by the pool; he always cracks me up. Also love my Sky Bucket, my Space Mountain car and my Davy Crockett Explorer Canoe. Heck, I even like my Rocket Rod, which makes a far better decoration than it did an attraction!

The item I most covet is a Caterpillar Car from Alice in Wonderland. I love his smug, self-satisfied look, like, “I may be your slave schlepping you back and forth over these giant leaves, but I am still superior to you, you tacky tourist.”

WEISS: The Bertha Mae, one of the actual keelboats from Disneyland’s Mike Fink Keel Boats ride, appeared on eBay’s Disney Auctions site in December 2001. The description said that the boat “is not actually a seaworthy craft. It is suitable for display and/or storage on solid ground only...” Someone paid $15 thousand. Now that I’ve seen Finding Kraftland, I finally know who bought the Bertha Mae!

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Love, exciting and new, come aboard, we’re expecting you!

KRAFT: I never went on the Keel Boats when they were in Disneyland. They looked like such a snooze. I was certainly not going to waste a ticket going on one. Then the Bertha May came up for auction. I felt possessed. I had always loved your website, Yesterland. I loved the idea of a cyber-space where all of the attractions of the past lived on. Owning a keel boat would be like really visiting Yesterland. So for quite a bit more than the cost of a “C” ticket, I can now visit Disneyland of the Past whenever I want.

WEISS: Currently, you have the Bertha Mae in storage, but your plans are to build a lagoon for the Bertha Mae on your property. How is that project proceeding? How will you make sure the Bertha Mae is seaworthy? How do you plan to use the Bertha Mae? As a floating work of art? Or perhaps as a floating outdoor dining room?

KRAFT: The original plan was to crane it over our house and build a lagoon in our backyard. I envisioned a picnic area with the keelboat as the centerpiece, sort of like the Chicken of the Sea Ship in Fantasyland. After a few meeting with various engineers and my business manager, reality kicked in. So it has lived in storage ever since.

My son keeps reminding me that when Walt ran out of space in Anaheim he went to Florida. So maybe one day the Bertha Mae might be re-christened in Kraft World! I am also interested in exploring the idea of donating some pieces of my collection to the Walt Disney Family Museum.

WEISS: Actor John Stamos was the winning eBay bidder for the Disneyland sign on Harbor Boulevard from 1989 to 1999. Did you bid on that sign?

KRAFT: Actually, I bought the other side of the sign!! For about a year they stored it for me at a Disneyland warehouse. Then they needed the space and I had to move it elsewhere. After calculating the cost of moving the sign and storing it indefinitely, I had a rare moment of sanity and decided not to take it. I did get the giant “D” from the Disneyland Hotel instead.

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Bucket feeds seven!

WEISS: According to Finding Kraftland, you and Nicky rode on 425 roller coasters. How many states, countries, and continents did you visit?

KRAFT: For five summers, Nicky and I traveled around the globe riding coasters.

We started the adventure when he was 10. At first it was just going to be riding all of the coasters in America. In two summers we clicked off every major coaster in the U.S. (there are still a few kiddy coasters and such that we have not bothered with). That covered about 25 states, which is almost every one that has a coaster.

We then spent a summer in Japan, which is a coaster-crazy country. Then we spent two years doing Europe and Canada. Somewhere along the way we also hit Australia and Mexico.

WEISS: You and Nicky rated the roller coasters from 1 to 10. What’s the best roller coaster in the world?

KRAFT: The best wooden coaster is the Cyclone in Coney Island, New York. We got black and blue marks from being battered by this beast. And they let us go down into the machine room and sit under the tracks. It was insane. The best steel coaster is “X” right here in California at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Sorta shows that if you are looking for happiness sometimes you don’t have to look farther than your own backyard.

WEISS: What’s the best roller coaster at a Disney park?

KRAFT: From a design point of view, Space Mountain in Disneyland Paris is beautiful—but no Disney coaster can top the Matterhorn. From a historic point of view, it is the father of all steel roller coasters; the entire new generation of coasters can be traced back to this one.

From a nutty point of view, who else but Walt Disney would have envisioned a giant snow mountain in the middle of Southern California based on a esoteric feature film? And from an atmospheric perspective, it is amazing, especially at night. The sense of inside and outside, up and down, around and around is unique among roller coasters. And to make it even better, there is a giant snowman stalking the place. And what guy going through puberty hasn’t enjoyed straddling his sweetheart on the darkened chain lift where hands can “accidentally” slip?

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Operating hours: Whenever you like.

WEISS: Is there anything you want to tell MiceAge readers?

KRAFT: I am the luckiest man in the world. I know that. And I deeply appreciate it.

I have always loved Disneyland. I am forever a geeky fan every time I pass under the train tracks and head down Main Street. I love that no matter what is happening in the outside world, a day at Disneyland is always transformative. I marvel at the immersive effect of all the senses. I will forever love the sound of the organ beckoning as you enter the Haunted Mansion and the sight of the Mark Twain crammed with so many childhood friends at the finale of Fantasmic! I will always be tickled by the smell of the water in Pirates and the taste of Pineapple Whip from the Tiki Room on a hot summer’s day. Even the feel of running my fingers on the shellacked handrails snaking around the lines transports me to somewhere beyond a plot of land surrounded by freeways in Orange County.

I really am taken to the Happiest State of Mind on Earth.


Where to see Finding Kraftland

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A happy place.

Since its premiere earlier this year at the 22nd Annual Santa Barbara Film Festival, several other film festivals have screened Finding Kraftland. On August 31 and September 2, Finding Kraftland will be shown near Walt Disney World as part of the 2nd Annual Central Florida Film Festival. Then, later in September, Finding Kraftland will be screened in the Los Angeles area. Finding Kraftland is also coming soon to Seattle, Paducah, and Temecula.

At most film festivals, it’s a good idea to secure tickets as soon as they are available because well-publicized films (such as Finding Kraftland) tend to sell out.

Future Screenings

See the News section of the official Finding Kraftland website


App: Field Trip
DVD: Secret Tour, 2nd Edition

© 2007-2019 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated September 27, 2019.

Photo copyrights are as indicated on the photos.
All photos edited by Al Lutz.
All photo captions by Al Lutz.