Employee Spotlight: Michelle Phung
Lucasfilm’s events specialist hits the ground running at Star Wars Celebration.
It was a spring morning in East London. From all directions, thousands of fans made their way to the ExCeL London convention center for another day of Star Wars Celebration 2023. Planes were zooming overhead on their approach to Gatwick Airport, while on the ground, Lucasfilm’s events specialist Michelle Phung took another phone call with a new question to answer or issue to resolve. It was one of hundreds she’d been taking the past week, as months of planning and effort culminated in the four-day convention.
Phung’s official responsibilities include managing credential distribution and sharing related information to Lucasfilm’s staff, VIPs, and business partners. As each day unfolded, that meant she juggled dozens of requests from across the network of divisions and partners all at the same time. “Our job is to understand what every line of business needs,” she explained calmly. A veteran of the Disneyland Resort events team before her current role at Lucasfilm, she added that “we sort of act as guest services for our partners at the show.”
Among her tasks that day was to escort the guests of a VIP to a panel on the Celebration Stage – the event’s largest such venue. Navigating the crowds down the main concourse with the guests in tow, she explained how her family had traveled from California to see her on the first day of Celebration, and were quickly overwhelmed by the size and scope of the operation. “People don’t know how big it is,” she remarked, while simultaneously answering phone messages, maneuvering the walkway, and keeping her guests informed. She did it all with deliberate focus and attention, and no sign of stress.
Phung’s journey to Lucasfilm’s events team began even before her adulthood, as she now tells Lucasfilm.com. “I used to plan our family vacation to Disneyland,” she says. “I’d make a whole schedule, like we have to be awake at this time to go get Fastpasses, then we have to go here to watch the parade.” A Bay Area native, she attended San Francisco State University to study Business Management with a minor in Hospitality. She admits that she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do when starting college, but ultimately got her professional start working small-scale events like weddings and mini-conferences, what she calls “intimate settings.”
After college, Phung went south to Disneyland where she broke into the media events team. The occasions were bigger than what she’d experienced before, and her role “more nuanced,” as she explains. “What I did was very specialized. Media would be invited to cover events at the park, basically like a premiere where they’d broadcast live while experiencing a new thing. I would manage the spokespeople and the interviews between them and the media.” She particularly enjoyed collaborating with internal creatives like Imagineers, even theme park chefs, whom she would prepare for interviews.
The desire to return to the Bay Area led Phung to the fashion marketplace Poshmark where she helped organize small events, including pop-up parties in cities across the United States as well as a small convention. “At their core, events are so similar,” she notes. “The meat of it is to stay organized and know what you’re tasked to do. It’s project management. Each time for me it just got bigger and bigger, and when I came to Lucasfilm, it was a whole different beast.”
Arriving in January of 2020, much of Phung’s new Lucasfilm role would be centered around the planning and execution of Star Wars Celebration. Though upwards of five times the size of the earlier Poshmark convention, Phung was eager to become involved in a major event on an international scale. “I really enjoy the balance of working towards something huge,” she explains. “You get to see pay-off with a really big event, and it’s also not too crazy most of the year. Also, I strive in chaos [laughs]. I enjoy being a calm person in chaotic scenarios. I think it’s really fun. It’s a cool thing that we get to do. We’re not saving lives or doing rocket science, but we do something that creates millions of impressions. It’s very rewarding to see all of the fans and what the community of Star Wars means to them and the joy they find in the experience.”
Phung puts more value on her working relationships than almost anything else. “I have to trust people and let them do things, because I can’t do everything,” she says. “We’ve worked with so many people where we brief them on the information, We set them up for success.” An event on the scale of Celebration is entirely dependent on the connections between collaborative teams, not least of all Lucasfilm and ReedPOP, the event’s on-the-ground producer. Phung admits that “on event days, it’s whatever goes. Whatever comes up, that’s what I get called for.
“Events people understand what it’s like to live this kind of life,” Phung continues. “I’m not an anxious person. I feel lucky that I don’t get anxiety talking to other people. I know how to compartmentalize and prioritize in my brain without getting anxious.” Even in the midst of a frenzied day on the Celebration floor, she can still take time to enjoy the moment. “I walked by the online stage when Hayden Christensen came out,” she recalls. “Hearing the fans go crazy and be so supportive was really cool. It speaks to the community that we have at Celebration. Everyone feels the love and support and it makes me feel great that we help create that community. I feel that’s what Celebration is known for. It’s a warm and welcoming place for fans.”
Looking ahead, Phung is especially excited to help take Celebration to another part of the world in 2025. “It’s a great opportunity to go to Japan,” she says, “where we do have a strong connection with fans, but there’s also room to grow and become as big as Europe and the U.S. I’m Asian and I love Asian culture and Japan. We’ll get to dive into the authentic Japanese experience. With the time we have, we want to lean into the culture and what they do with Star Wars. It’s a different take and it’s unique. Celebration Japan should be authentic.”
Reflecting on her journey so far, Phung understands the importance of “being kind and paying it forward” in terms of her relationships. “You never know when you’ll work with people again in the future, especially at Disney. When I was at Disneyland and we opened Galaxy’s Edge, I worked with Tracy Cannobbio, one of the publicity directors here at Lucasfilm. Never did I think I’d be in a role where I’m on the same team as her. Then at Celebration Anaheim I was back working with people I knew from Disneyland. The Disney company can be really small, and you’re working with the same people all the time. So be nice to people and do your best.”
For those looking to enter the high-energy world of event production, Phung emphasizes that “there’s no task that’s above you, no matter what level you get to.” Jumping in and lending a hand can go a long way. “Don’t be afraid to jump in,” she concludes. “People remember the times you were there for them, and they think of you for other opportunities.”
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