Maddux Report
The Business of Tampa Bay

Is This Totally Fun, Or What?

It's not a toy company. Really, It's not.

Just because there's a "Power Punch Batman" boxing ring covering the coffee table in the lobby is no reason to think the Totally Fun Company is for kids.

Well, that's not right, either. It is for kids. Big kids, little kids, all kinds of kids. Totally Fun designs the biggest toys in the world, the one-of-a-kind wonders found in theme parks such as Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, Great Adventure, AstroWorld, Magic Mountain, Great America and Six Flags.

From the fourth floor of the Barnett Bank Building in downtown Clearwater, full-grown men and women daydream about blowing things up, pushing innocents against the edge of vertigo and bringing American heroes within an inch of their life. All in the name of fun, of course.

"We're the high-tech end of the show business", says company president Peter Alexander.

Alexander's credits prior to the founding of the Totally Fun Company vary from co-creator, executive producer and writer on Universal / Florida rides such as King Kong, Back to the Future, E.T., Hanna-Barbara, Earthquake, Alfred Hitchcock, Murder She Wrote and the original Jaws attraction; and Universal / Hollywood's Conan, King Kong and Earthquake.

A one-time staff engineer at Huges Aircraft Co., Alexander started his entertainment career as a direction and project manager for Disney's planning and development department and development department in Anaheim, acting as liaison between management and creative talent during the early days of Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland. "At Disney they had a problem getting their administrative people talking to their creative people", he says. "My job was to brief the executive committee on the progress of the Epcot project, I spoke their language."

At night and on weekends, Alexander wrote scripts, hoping to become one of the creative people himself.

"Walt's "Grand Old Men" were still there", he says, "They exposed me to the way Disney did things. When I left, I realized I had gained all this knowledge."

His next job was as director of shows and special effects for Universal Studios / Hollywood. That meant producing new attractions and his first was a doozy, "Adventures of Conan", on the heels of Arnold Schwarzennegger films. "Sid Sheinberg said he wanted an "E" ticket", Alexander recalls, "so we did Conan and put every piece of known technology in one place. We had lasers, flames, rock climbing and effects exploding all over the place. It was very cool." The Show's star was a full-motion, 18-foot, fire-breathing, three-headed dragon. The motion is still in his office today.

But Alexander's greatest creation to date is no doubt the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios / Florida.

"Back to the Future started when I was working on King Kong in Los Angeles", the designer says. "Steven Spielberg came by in his golf cart, he said, "Go on Star Tours at MGM / Disney and see what your can come up with for Back to the Future. I did, and said, "Wow, I could never beat this.""

But he did, earlier talk focused on a rollercoaster, but that was deemed primitive for such a high concept, high tech film. "One day, I was sitting in a conference room with a bunch of execs and I got this picture in my mind: DeLoreans (the gull-winged automobile feature in the film series), in a steep domed IMAX theater." Adding wind, fog, dinosaurs, space and time travel, Alexander's simulator was complete and he shared creative credit with Spielberg for the second time (the first was on Universal / Florida's E.T. ride.)

Alexander broke off from Universal Studios in 1991 and started the Totally Fun Company in Orlando. His first independent job was a Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, action show for Great Adventure in New Jersey. That was followed by its Batman Stunt Spectacular shows for fiver for five of the Six Flags Parks.

Totally Fun does more than create attractions in Clearwater. The 16 full-time staffers also manage and hire 350 seasonal entertainers for its shows, such as the new Police Academy high-dive show and Warner Rock Concert, which debuted this summer. And Alexander is testing new concepts at home - literally.

"My swimming pool was used to test the Police Academy all terrain vehicle", he says, "The trick was to make it float. I was the first to test pilot."

New projects on the drawing board include a proposal for the Orlando Science Center and concepts for interactive theaters, interactive rides and a virtual reality mass simulator.

The Totally Fun Company, based in Clearwater, did the Batman Stunt spectacular from the Six Flags amusement parks.