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ABC's "Modern Family" adds some star power to Disneyland's Leap Day celebration

ABC's "Modern Family" adds some star power to Disneyland's Leap Day celebration

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Like many people, I visited Disneyland for their One More Disney Day Leap Day promotion.  I wasn't going to attempt going 24 hours, or anything close to that, but I was drawn by the rare opportunity to see Disneyland at sunrise.  I was expecting a special day.  What I wasn't expecting was to find the ABC series Modern Family shooting an episode in the park, adding an extra kind of insanity to the day.

Rico Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Eric Stonestreet and Ed O'Neil from ABC's Emmy Award-
winning "Modern Family" shoot a scene in front of the MIckey floral planter at
Disneyland Park. Photo by Richard Murphy

I'm an annual passholder.  Disneyland is a half-hour drive from my home.  I arrived at the main parking structure at 5:30 a.m. and found a tram leaving right away.  When we arrived at the Downtown Disney tram plaza,  shortly before 6 a.m., the line of people waiting to pass through security was 200 yards long.  When I got into line, I soon saw why:  they hadn't yet opened up the security stations.  I couldn't figure out why security hadn't opened up yet for a park that was opening in five minutes.  But we soon learned that the plaza inside was already filled with people.  I discovered later that they had starting arriving the previous evening.  We couldn't see those already inside, but we could sure hear them cheer when the turnstiles opened at 6:00.  Once they had cleared the plaza, security opened and worked efficiently to get us through.  I entered the park at 6:15.

Crowds gather outside the entrance of Disneyland Park as they wait for the "One More
Disney Day" Leap Day celebration to begin. Photo by Richard Murphy

First stop:  Star Tours FastPass.  Then I went over to Big Thunder.  I had ridden it at sunrise when Disneyland did a 24-hour event for Captain EO's opening and it was great.  Unfortunately, they had not yet opened Big Thunder Mountain.  So I walked along the riverfront toward New Orleans Square.  That's where I saw a huge swath of the New Orleans riverfront roped off.  I wondered if there was going to be some special entertainment offering for leap day.  Then I saw a sign:  Modern Family would be filming.  I could see a few people beginning to roll out equipment.

A directors chair from this Emmy Award-winning series
would have been a cool Leap Day souvenir, don't you
think? Photo by Richard Murphy

I continued to tour the park.  As it turned out, expeditious use of the FastPass system allowed me to ride Big Thunder twice.  My early morning ride was a brisk experience in the cold air.  The horizontal sunlight enhanced the rocky spires of the mountain.

The "Modern Family" camera crew gets ready to shoot along the edge of the Rivers of
America. Photo by Richard Murphy

Just before noon, I took a cruise on the Columbia sailing ship, a favorite of mine.  When we returned to the dock I was heading over to the Golden Horseshoe for the Laughing Stock show and saw that the Modern Family crew was now set up in the center of the Frontierland village, between the Horseshoe and the Rancho del Zocalo restaurant.  I saw the show in the Horseshoe, and when I came out, the area was mobbed.  The actors had arrived.  Eric Stonestreet (Cam) was the easiest to spot.  But soon the crowd found Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitch) and Aubrey Anderson-Emmons (their daughter Lily).  Park guests stood four or five deep around the area.  The scene was about Cam and Mitch trying to decide if it was better to protect Lily by having her on a child leash while in the crowded park, or let her run free. 

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Aubrey Anderson-Emmons on location in
front of the Golden Horseshoe. Photo by Richard Murphy

I watched for about half an hour.  Working where they were created a significant obstruction for guests in the park, though cast members kept a path open along the Golden Horseshoe.  It made me wonder why someone scheduled a shoot for one of Television's most popular shows on a day when attendance would be driven by one of Disney's more aggressive promotions.

The Pritchett family waits for its queue before then beginning their stroll through the
Park. Photo by Richard Murphy

It was very interesting to see Eric, Tyler, and Aubrey interact between takes.  They happily gathered together, and it was obvious that their affection for each other was genuine.  They really did seem like a family.

Aubrey, Eric & Jesse share a laugh before shooting resumes in Frontierland.
Photo by Richard Murphy

By mid-afternoon I had been in the park for 8 hours and was ready to head over to California Adventure to check out construction progress before heading home.  After my usual stop at the Disneyana store on Main Street, I approached the right exit tunnel below the railroad tracks.  A line of Disney cast members stopped me and directed me to the left tunnel.  Modern Family had struck again.

Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell go over their blocking with the crew. Photo by Richard Murphy

Two thirds of the plaza inside the entry turnstiles was roped off.  They were shooting a scene that involved every member of the cast directly in front of the floral Mickey.  People entering and exiting the park were told to keep moving.  Only the east turnstiles were open.  Outside the turnstiles were a mob of people pressed against the park gates trying to see the cast and take pictures.  For the actors inside, they must have felt like they were the animals at a zoo.  But it also must have given them a direct taste of their popularity.  As popular as the show is, however, few people seemed to know the actors actual names.  And poor Ed O'Neil was referenced by most people as either "the old guy" or "Ed Bundy"-a character he hasn't played for 15 years.

Ed O'Neil gets ready to perform in front of the Mickey floral
planter at the front of Disneyland Park. Photo by
Richard Murphy

I have no idea how long they continued to shoot in the park after I left.  But people who were fans of the show (I am definitely one of them) had an unexpected treat.  I don't know when the episode might air, but I'm sure to watch.  IMDb.com identifies a future episode called "The Last Walt".

Richard Murphy is a former Imagineer and a freelance technical writer. He lives in Whittier, CA.

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  • Actually... a smart strategy.  They were able to film scenes inside the park during an "off day"... but it'll appear like any summer day!  I'd have to guess they wrapped before sunset.. when things were really going to get crazy there.

  • "And poor Ed O'Neil was referenced by most people as either "the old guy" or "Ed Bundy"-a character he hasn't played for 15 years."

    I don't think O'Neil minds; he can take solace that his Al Bundy has become an American cultural icon.

  • Nothing like some good old fashioned corporate synergy! Though i have to agree with Richard in that why would they decide to shoot an episode there on such a busy day.

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