View Full Version : Need input / inspiration for small haunt, clock is running

05-08-2011, 03:36 PM
Ok, so we lost our two year, all indoor, location last January and now my haunt lives as a giant tightly packed cube. Sale attempts have met with limited success but truth be known, they were half hearted attempts at best. So I have enough stuff to put together a decent 5000-6000 sf show. I have a two year track record tied to the name with repeat customers. I have a connection and support in the community and a good relation with the building and fire departments. I have a crew of anxious volunteers hoping the show will go on.

I have had a few outdoor location options. They are all temporary and have all the headaches that go with that kind of set up. Quite frankly, the thought of the set up, run show, tear down is more than I can deal with. We were heavily themed and detailed and even if much of that is lost on many, it is a source of pleasure and pride for me.

So now I find myself with an oportunity for a location that will allow a 2500-3000 show (thats themed show space). It will allow for long term occupancy. As, always there are a few city issues to get past, but nothing overwhelming. The parking will be an issue, but the visiblity is great.

So my question is what does a small successful haunt look like. How do you optimize for highest net. Previously we were $13 and entertained for 25-30 minutes. Do you just run the same program, just smaller and halve the price. Do you focus on more detailed and complex, but slower. If people will pay $5 to lay in a coffin and get bounced around for 3 minutes, then there must be some form that can take advantage of the small full sensory experience.

Any thoughts, ideas or references to other small scale successful operations would be appriciated.

05-08-2011, 05:07 PM
How many people did you get with 5-6k sqft for $13

Greg Chrise
05-08-2011, 07:27 PM
Cheaper ticket prices do not make more people come. They give off the impression that it must not be very much or the owners think it sucks so it much suck and it isn't worth the gas money to go there or worth the extra burst of energy required to go and do something.

2500 to 3,000 SF can be very nice, you simply install smaller more detailed rooms, with as many as 20 little things going on and attempt to have something or an actor every 12 linear foot or so. No long hallways headed to somewhere where nothing is happening. As many as 45 actors or one guy with 45 different masks. It can still be considered to be quite something. I wouldn't go below $10 a person. It simply takes people so long to react to so many well developed things that it might take half an hour to get through and you have not stopped the groups to give a little skit or anything like that. If you actually walk through at a normal pace with no interaction might only take 2.5 minutes.

You are saying parking is an issue? That will prove to be the limitation of how many you can have show up. You have to have people there so long and have enough parking for them to do the thing and be able to leave. I have driven back out of places and never got out of the car if I see cars 3 deep like you will come out and be blocked in until midnight or if there is a line that goes with that confusion.

A small haunt does not support other things outdoors well. People believe they have come and done what they came to do and want to leave.

05-08-2011, 08:04 PM
Greg - good insight as always. The one guy who told me what to expect the first year based on the circumstances and you were right on. The price drop was simply a thought based on an expected drop in entertainment time. One room at this show for much additional outside stuff. This is going to take some thought on how to squeeze everything out of the space.

Parking will have to be negotiated eill owner of one of the adjacent lots, There are a lot of options, just something that is not a done deal. I had to provide additional parking last year for the last weekend as the lines got over an hour.

Greg Chrise
05-08-2011, 09:56 PM
You also mentioned detail. That is the answer as well. No matter how physically fast people go through or how you time them by a stop watch, there is a certain totally satisfying amount of stuff scanned by the eye and brain that is tough to detect but, if it is there all customers will be satisfied. As an over view you are comparing it to something but, I pretty much have 6,000 Sf worth of content jammed into 3,000 SF but I started out that way as my own judgement with haunts I had seen.

On tours and as a customer you go though and inventory what is there, getting interupted by the characters and each interaction takes away a bit of energy. At some point it gets to be too much to absorb and becomes abuse to the customer. At that point you are beyond the level of being entertaining and satisfying. A smaller haunt actually does just that. You end up retaining a much higher percentage of year to year customers. The customers aren't torn down and they don't tear down the actors as much, the actors come back more years. The build up and tear down is still lots of work but manageable and detailing is actually something possible to achieve to a higher standard. So everyone is happy.

I used triangular grids but they are a pain to get inspected and approved in lots of locations. The general sizing though can carry through where no room is larger than 8 foot by 12 foot, Hallways may wrap around but they are planned scare zones and equally detailed. Another thing that would make it better is not having any guides, where people can determine their own pace to see the detail or go as quick as they want. Each group of actors instead is guiding the momentum. The group I worked with couldn't lose the power trip of guiding groups. That seriously slows a normal flow of customers as the same people have walked the thing so many times that they are delerious. I just thought if they wanted to beat themselves up like that so what.

With detail groups may actually pass other groups as some really view everything at the pace of a museum and others have a mind to inventory super quick like walking the length of a Walmart and spotting inventory for future reference. In either case you have hooked people to see changes from year to year like it is their job to come do that and give you $10.

Throw in a couple rooms that are 12 by 12 by 12 triangles that warp the perception of where you might be in the building or have a wrap around and a sense of security and not knowing how much longer it is going to be inside arises.

I have been through too many 6,000 SF haunts and my complaint was rooms that were 12 by 18 with one thin or one person in there. Hallways going to the next one thing that seemed to be 30 feet long with nothing. It does take more to design but the overhead and the customer satisfaction is higher. The spread out ones seemed to me like we have an old kmart building and we have to fill it with something. It somehow misses the point of being too much like a tour of boring hotel rooms or something. Oh, this is the one where the cleaning people keep all their crap. Or oh, what a collection of plywood they have, I could see that at Lowes for free. In that case lower price is maybe satisfying.

Or there is the reverse where for $20 you get to see 100,000 worth of plywood haunt. For $20 I should have a piece of plywood roped to the roof of the car to take home.

Super detail, tight design, lots of actors, something happening everywhere is where it is at.

Greg Chrise
05-08-2011, 09:59 PM
I usually do have a large scene about 24 by 16 in the middle which super reinforces once again how tight the second half of the haunt is. It doubles as a central corridor that is detailed instead of some hallway no one but actors and construction workers go.

05-08-2011, 10:25 PM
Parking will have to be negotiated eill owner of one of the adjacent lots, There are a lot of options, just something that is not a done deal.

buy his spots for $5 each, he's probably not making anything on it at night.

Try having some side attractions too. Someone stated on a thread they offer the last ride for $5 a person.

Allen H
05-08-2011, 10:29 PM
So my question is what does a small successful haunt look like.
Iconic characters, detailed sets, great back story. The experience for the guest should feel more personal and more time should be spent on them by the actors. You need to make fudge. Big haunts are like Cake- people love cake they want a big slice of cake and a cold glasss of milk. You dont have room to be a big peice of cake so you need to switch gears to a small but satisfying piece of fudge. The difference is richness- Richness in a haunt setting is detail and violence. No one wants a cake sized piece of fudge, its to rich to eat it all it will make you sick. To much violence and detail and the audience goes numb...but in a smaller space pack it in because their exposure is time based- there is a limit to how long they must endure the rich enviornment.

How do you optimize for highest net.
The answer for this is faster throughput, I have worked very small haunts that used "story" rooms. Group A goes into the haunt and group B goes in 1 min after. A gets ushered into a story room where an actor adds detail to the enviornment and that lasts two minutes, meanwhile group B was ushered into an Identical room and the same story gets told to them. The rooms are staggered and lets guests get a longer show with out the groups being on top of each other. Universal did a similar thing where they had two paths through the same show. That was also for speed and efficiency.
Allen H

Greg Chrise
05-08-2011, 10:36 PM
Some times you want both and you go for Zingers.

05-10-2011, 05:49 PM
I am a little confused on triangular grids. Are you talking about using that angle maze pattern for the entire event? So no two walls are actually straight? Someone had a nice little app to help you lay those mazes out. But that makes for a very cool idea that could lead to some interesting things. You could really scare the hell out of people by giving them a lit straight hall and then startling the carp out of them. Since you would own their spatial comfort.

Allen H
05-10-2011, 06:12 PM
I use the triangular grid on my largest show at SCREAMS its very disorienting. straight walls are still straight, jut the turns are different, 60 or 120 degree angles. There is a program to help lay them out but I normally just use graph paper.


I really like the way the grid lays out, nice cubbys for sound and pop ups as well as great actor hides. It works really well and helps to make that show stand out from the others.
Allen H

Greg Chrise
05-10-2011, 09:56 PM
That's what I'm talkin about.

Recently I came up with a weird idea where every wall section is 8 foot by 8 foot and there are a lot more props, the hallways are then somewhere between 7 and 8 foot wide to allow passing by actors and patrons that go at different speeds. Allthough the walls are heavy the actual set up time would be half, the amount of hardware would be half the cost and even the amount of lumber required is slightly less. Perhaps triangular grid 2.0 ? More set dressing and design.

Just a note, there are straight passages in a triangular grid but if you segment the layout sideways into smaller modules it is not obvious to customers or even those helping set up or act what the pattern is. Most large lay outs assume the longest lines are the straight paths and the boo pack layout suggests that. Instead you make a bunch of smaller haunts in one 3,000 SF space and the straight lines go sideways.

The central corridor(s) also go sideways and you go from one end of the haunt to the other side and back into the wrong side of the next module of about 1,000 Sf per module. By screwing around with the pattern even people that have the thing right in front of them can not draw it or comprehend how it is laid out. So of course customers have no idea.

The bigger triangular grid layouts get to be a bit much to absorb and enjoy once they exceed about 3,000 SF. Even 3800 Sf patterns are a bit much. Just an observation from working on so many of them.

Screwing with the customers spacial security was a bonus after 20 minutes of twisting and turning then one side indoors was 80 feet long and of course this was the chainsaw run that at that point seemed like an insurmountable task with strobes things coming down out of the overhead and sometimes multiple chainsaws and the exit was also a turn, not seen as light at the end of the tunnel. Then outside it was a moment of relief then another outdoor run of chainsaws for another 80 feet.

A certain level of exersion has already been done by the customers and you can actually get more linear feet out of a triangular grid that is in a 3,000 SF space as would be in a 6,000 SF square design. The power of diagonals.

Boo Pack rules and then you cheat and lift and reverse things with tracing paper and even turn things sideways. Once you have an overall design you can flip it literally over end or from this side to that side of a transparency and get years of use from the designs.

This way you can focus more on what happens here, here and here in 100 different spots.

Greg Chrise
05-10-2011, 10:12 PM
Another thing you do in a smaller space is what I call crazy panels. Actor in a central corridor or even the chainsaw runs have many passageways and windows that allow them to scare into the haunt. Every next room is just like having some kind of scare box with 3 portals and ways to go or directions of attack. Panels that are actually available as exits become ways for actors to pass through to the next sections. Again they are themed and serve both as a scene and as a way to get somewhere. There is no reason for a few actors to stay in one spot and be bored or wait for this group to get to them to spring into action.

Think open back jail cells, holes in walls, willy wonka doors, moving book cases, secret ninja escape paths. Part of what you are providing is a playground for the actors and a learning curve of where they can get to and this ramps up over time to the crazy final weekends. Keeping the actors engaged and curious might help the perception of the show as well. The show is never the same for repeat visits yet is has an achievable duration that customers would actualy want to do it again. Two factors that mean more income. Longer shows might get lower repeats per season. They did it but it was enough for a while which turns out to be like 3 years or never again.

Imagine having a high year to year patronage and actors completely engaged and willing to return the following year for more, not just for money or pizza.

Greg Chrise
05-10-2011, 10:21 PM
lemme no wen u are inspired......

Allen H
05-10-2011, 10:36 PM
Greg- Sometimes you wierd me out, sometimes i think your my brother from another mother. Your "crazy panels" are completely my style I do that alot. You should come see a few of my layouts sometime.
Allen H

05-11-2011, 07:10 AM
I don't think the size is the issue, if your haunt is good , it's good. I would take your haunt and break it down two the best parts and rework them back together into your new smaller haunt, also add alot of effects you need to dazzle them. I would add a ton of video effects and animatronics thru out your haunt, little things like shadow people and nick nacks moving across tables and book selfs. You want to keep there eyes moving around the room this will make there brain work hard to take it all in and make your haunt feel bigger. And good actors.

Lots of eye candy, I feel dirty just saying that.


Greg Chrise
05-11-2011, 03:45 PM
Allen I should come visit at some point. I haven't been out there for a few years and I have lost track of time. Are the haunts up and hidden or are they torn down?

RJ Productions
05-11-2011, 04:02 PM
Think of it this way, Trailer Haunts are getting more and more discussion. A basic 6 trailer haunt is the same sq footage that you are considering! You just have to design with a different mindset. You have to design to use EVERY square inch!! Where possible you design the actor spots for multiple scares and like was stated, it really helps brings your actors back when you keep them busy!!

It can definately be more difficult to design in the smaller venue, but once you learn the "tricks" of the trade it can be very rewarding!!

Good luck!


05-12-2011, 09:08 PM
can someone please post a pic of their triangular grid layout. I just cannot visualize it.