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Winning at the Haunted Attraction Game requires knowing the Rules
By Cydney Neil/Owner-Producer/Rocky Point Haunted House
Even though business is somewhat of a game, it is not a guessing game. There are rules to winning the game of successful business and the clearer we understand those rules and the more closely we follow them, the more chance we have to succeed. These are the Rules of the Game of Haunting, as I see them and have learned about them over the sixteen years of being in this business. If you follow them closely, you can’t help but win!
To create a successful haunted attraction that fulfills your personal, professional, creative, and financial needs. To contribute quality, themed entertainment to your community. To create a positive work environment and experience for those who work for you and with you.
Requirements for Winning
This is not a game of chance or luck. Winning in the haunted attraction business game requires skills in many different areas, from design to construction to public relations and accounting. It requires a love of Halloween and everything scary. Winning also requires dedication, perseverance, stamina, patience, a positive attitude, and the ability to lead a team towards a common goal.
Every participant must understand that they are individuals who will play by the same rules, but with their own game plan and strategy. Producing and operating haunted attractions is a business, and needs to be handled as such. But it’s a creative business, and we are creative people, each with our own unique imaginations and ideas about how we want to entertain people, or at times, have them entertain us!
How to Play
Once you have made the decision to get in the haunted attraction game, your success will depend on your ability to follow through with a number of specific steps.
1. Make a Plan and Set Your Goals
• Be clear about what you want to accomplish and the actions you will take to reach your goals.
• Understand your motivation and give yourself a time limit.
• Review your progress and reassess your goals as often as necessary.
2. Find a Location
Important factors to consider:
• Is it centrally located with a large population nearby?
• Is it accessible from highways, freeways, or main roads?
• Is it a safe area where parents would feel comfortable about dropping off their children?
• Is it zoned for commercial use and specifically for use as a temporary amusement event?
• Does it have plenty of well-lit parking?
• Does it have room for expansion?
• Is it suitable for a haunted attraction?
• Is it available and affordable?
3. Obtain All Necessary Permits and Clearances from Local Officials
• Research all fire, building, and other local requirements and identify all officials who will need to give you clearance.
• Schedule an appointment with each official individually to walk through your building and go over your plans.
• Ask for their advice and make lists of what they ask you to do.
• If possible, do all the things they ask. If a particular request seems too difficult or too costly, try to negotiate an alternative.
• Involve them every step of the way.
4. Decide on a Theme or Overall Idea
• Decide on one overall theme or break up your attraction into several areas, each with its own theme.
• Make your theme catchy, creative, and memorable.
• Use your theme as a marketing tool and to attract repeat customers.
5. Design a Layout
• Put all your ideas on paper.
• Walk your building to see where your ideas will fit in your space. Example: We have an area with large heating and air conditioning units and very tall ceilings. This makes the perfect spot for Frankenstein’s laboratory.
• Get a blueprint of your building, or make one, with exact measurements and square footage.
• If possible, design using a grid system based on 4x8 plywood panels.
• Lay out your entire attraction, room by room, allowing for scare spots, emergency exits, and actor and security access.
• Go over your design with the building and fire inspectors.
6. Create a Budget
• Get a complete list of expense categories. The best places to get this information are from other haunters or a qualified consultant.
• Research, don’t guess, the estimated costs of all necessary products and services.
• Set realistic goals for expected income based on figures from other similar events in area or from previous year’s figures.
• Adjust your budget as necessary to create a profitable outcome.
• Break annual budget figures down into monthly expenses and income.
7. Assess and, if Necessary, Raise Sufficient Capital
• Use your own money if possible. This lowers your exposure to risk and leaves you with control.
• If you don’t have sufficient capital, decide which is the best option for you: taking out a loan from a bank, family member, or friend, or taking on a partner or partners. There are risks, disadvantages, and advantages to each option. Weigh them carefully before deciding.
8. Hire a Crew
• Make a list of every person you will need to help build and run your attraction.
• Create specific job descriptions for each position.
• List the qualities and skills you would like the person to have and feel are most important in the individual positions.
• Look for people who have the same passion you do and who want to be involved long-term.
• Hire the most qualified people you can afford.
• Treat your crew with respect. Show appreciation for their efforts. Pay them on time and give them a bonus if you have a successful year as a result of their contributions.
9. Recruit Cast Members
• Based on your design, determine exactly how many cast members you need to run your show. Identify the minimum number necessary to operate, and what their positions are, and the maximum number of cast you want and can afford to have.
• Create a professional poster to post in schools, costume shops, and any other place you may find suitable cast members.
• If possible, hang a banner with a phone number on your building asking for cast members.
• Set an age limit of 16 and older to eliminate problems that younger cast members can create.
• Allow younger kids to work only with a parent in the same room (we have recruited many a parent this way. They come with their kids and get hooked themselves!).
• Know from your budget what you can afford to pay cast members or if you will work on a volunteer basis
• Develop a program with daily, weekly, and annual incentives as well as strict rules and consequences for breaking those rules. Consistently follow through on both.
• Hold auditions and cast main parts whenever possible. Always have an understudy or second for main parts.
• Hold regular actor training and orientation sessions with a professional actor or director as the coach if possible.
• Establish a professional, clean, organized, and comfortable cast area with specific areas where the cast can check in, take breaks, and hold meetings. The homeier you make this the better.
• Install a water facility for unlimited use and have soda pop or other beverages available for limited consumption.
• Do everything you can to make the cast experience fun, positive, and worthwhile. Show them respect and appreciation. They are a big part of whether your show is successful or not.
10. Advertise and Attract Publicity
• Based on your advertising budget, as early as possible, schedule all media advertising and promos.
• If you are not an expert in this area, it is best to have someone assist you who is.
• Get as much of this sponsored as possible.
• Decide on your theme and design all advertising around that theme.
• Target your customer market only.
• Pre-plan weekly publicity ideas, with publicity beginning at least one month before you open.
• Get as much positive publicity as early as possible, but continue it through your closing night.
11. Manage Your Show Efficiently
• Assess the needs of every department at the end of the night.
• Have everything repaired, running, and ready to go every day before the show opens.
• Know who is going to do what, when, and how.
• Pre-schedule cast so you know the day before if you have a full cast.
• Prepare for any and all possible emergencies.
• Be on headset with all main employees and be in the show or available for them as needed.
• Have a quiet, professional area where you can deal with customer issues as they come up.
12. Maintain Safety, Security, and Insurance
• Safety is critical for a long-term, successful attraction! Make sure you have all your permits and licenses and keep up with all safety issues throughout the run of your show. Deal with any and all safety issues immediately.
• Hire a professional security team with specific posts and duties. Have a head security person who handles all security issues as they come up and keeps you informed or gets you involved in all major security issues.
• Design your ticket booth away from the front door if possible and station a security guard by it at all times.
• When you take money out of the ticket booth, make sure you are accompanied by a security guard to your office or safe area. Keep cash in a locked safe in a locked room. When transporting large amounts of cash, have armed security guard accompany you whenever possible.
• You must have sufficient liability insurance to obtain permits and licenses. In addition to liability insurance, I recommend adding a policy for theft of property and cash, fire, or other damages, and a medical policy for minor injuries of customers. You can also add a loss of income policy in case your show is shut down early. These do not cost much and will pay off if you ever have to use them.
13. Take Control of Finances
• Pay close attention to your established budget and make an effort to work within it.
• Assess your financial position on a daily basis.
• Create weekly budget progress reports to compare budgeted vs. actual spending and income.
• Keep track of all expenses and record them daily or weekly.
• Create profit/loss reports at end of season and comparison reports.
• Pay all bills and accounts payable before taking out your profits.
14. Wrap up, Follow up and Prepare for Next Year’s Start up
• Celebrate your season with your cast and crew, regardless of its financial success.
• Follow up with thank you notes and/or gift baskets for all who contributed. Make these creative, following your original theme if possible.
• Secure all props and materials. Clean and sort all costumes before storing them. Keep costumes that need repairs separate so they can be repaired before the next season.
• Take some time off to relax and catch up on sleep.
• Start preparing for the next season as early as possible. Make your plan, decide on your theme, establish your budget, and secure your sponsorships before you begin the season
Retailer's urged to find ways to stand out.
By Dennis W. Gorg
Integrated Marketing Solutions, Inc
In an ever competing environment of big retailers threatening the existence of the "little" retailer, owners are encouraged to find ways to offer more unique services and goods to customers. Since the Greatland Target Stores and The Super Wal-Mart's, the share of business for smaller retailers has declined and continues to do so. In a weaker economy and post 911, retailers were hit even harder with consumers who decreased their spending for fear of job loss and instability.
Now is the time to take stock and add personal services and unique specialties designed to drive customers to your store, no one else's and create continued loyalty. Many of these opportunities simply are not feasible to the larger stores.
1. First and foremost, remember customer service. Everyone wants to go to a place that they feel welcome. Encourage your employees to try hard to learn regular customer's names. Remember to welcome back returning customers. Always offer a helping hand and a cheerful smile. Customers who are comfortable in your store environment will shop longer, spend more and come back again.
2. Offer as much of a variety of goods as possible. What's more don't allow your shop to be outdated. We all know it's long hours but, surprisingly, an hour a night on the internet searching and reading about latest trends and new products may just well be the trick to make sure you are on the cutting edge of what the consumer is looking for.
3. The large stores don't have that personal contact, use it to your advantage. Get email addresses from your customers, create an email list and once a month email a special customer appreciation coupon or news about new items. Generally, keep in touch with your customers! You might be surprised by the results.
4. Work your store. When you work side by side with your employees it reminds them of the habits that they need and gets you in touch with your customer! I know we all put in hours and there's tons of paperwork, so when I say work the store, that's what I mean -- be at the counter and on the floor waiting on customers! And remember, all those employee policies and rules must apply to you. Lead by example! Truly working side by side with your store staff will help in attitude and, for the larger stores out there, put you in touch with your customer.
5. Don't be afraid to offer additional services and that special touch. That's right, free coffee, maybe even use of the copier and fax machine if they want. The small local store in my neighborhood thrives by offering such things and has seen their customer loyalty jump in addition to sales. Be creative. I've even heard of a store that allows their regulars "borrow" use of the internet on their computer. Most important, think ahead and think of new and unique ways to help and offer service to your customers.
6. Promotion is important. Everyone appreciates a good sale, but they won;t come if they don;t know about it. Again use that email list, promote an upcoming sale IN ADVANCE. Don;t wait till the week before to tell people you have a big sale coming, let them know when and get them to come back. Now Im not talking about those store wide sales, I'm talking about special items or theme sales that will bring retuning customers. Again, promotion is important. Remember the signs! And hey, change your window signs often. The traffic that drives by every day gets use to what's in the window, change it and catch their eye. And don't forget window displays - use lights, bring colors and unique visuals to grab people.
It doesn't take much to grab your customer's attention. Do it smarter and wiser then the next guy and in a down turn economic condition you won't feel the pinch!
By Dennis Gorg
1. Mail letter to event planners in your area promoting summer theme supplies (4th of July, BBQs, Hawaiian, Casino, picnics).
2. Call schools - Offer free decorations for main hall of school for graduation if they give our your business card or include you in school news. Prom and graduation decoration sales are big!
3. Speaking of Prom, all those Prom Committees could sure use some help! Offer your services to help design their theme and get their supplies. An expert like you could really save them some money and get you the business!
4. Think summer events and summer sales. Beach balls and so much more.
5. Create a customer flyer of party ideas and things they might want to purchase to make their event better and bigger.
Recruiting Your Crew… And Cast Too!
Nicole Leipski, Rainbow Springs Haunted Hotel
Lets face it, haunting is an unusual industry, and finding the right people to staff your haunt can seem down right frightening! Where can you find people as crazy as you, that love scaring people or putting in long hours constructing sets? Recruiting your crew and cast too - is not as scary as you think, if you know where to look!
Recruiting Your Crew…
A haunt requires many talented people behind the scenes. Low-cost skilled labor is hard to find, but it's out there.
- Looking for a team of carpenters?
Talk to your local high-school woodworking/shop teachers. Building rooms, making doors, and creating stairs are projects that most high-school shop teachers would jump at the chance to work on as class projects. You provide the materials, a sponsor credit, and/or free complimentary tickets - they provide the work.
If you are a non-profit haunt, contact your local electricians' union and ask them to volunteer. Return the favor with complimentary tickets for volunteers and their families, and give them credit on a sponsor board, banner at your haunt and/or website link off your website.
- Need prop masters, set designers, costumers, and makeup artists?
Look to your local high school, college, and/or university theatre departments. Again, students and instructors are looking for projects and internships! Contact the Theatre Departments to discuss various internships in these areas. It's a win-win situation - students get work experience and school credits, while you get the free work.
… and Cast too!
Who on earth will give up most of their weekends to work long hours in cold, dimly lit areas, scaring people for little or no money? High school kids of course! Know that there are several pros and cons to take into consideration when hiring this age group.
Hiring "Young Blood:"
The opportunity to act in a haunted house attracts many high-school aged kids who fall into the 16-18-age category. We find ourselves challenged with kids who cannot work full nights, as most haunts are open past local curfews. We are also reminded that those under 18 are limited to work hours due to labor laws. On top of all this, today's high school students are busy with sports, clubs, and homecoming dances, not to mention their regular jobs therefore, many cannot make all of the nights we wish they could. Why do haunts always end up hiring high school students? When push comes to shove and you need to fill your attraction with a large stock of creatures, you find that your staffing needs outweigh the challenges. If you hire high school students it's important to follow a few simple guidelines.
- Audition, audition, audition and cast them into the appropriate parts!
Too many times, I have seen little pretty high school girls trying to be zombies and it's more humorous than scary. Cast your kids appropriately.
- Make sure they have transportation!
Many kids may not show up on work nights because they do not own a car, or they cannot find someone to drop them off. To avoid this problem, get your local high school actors organized into carpool.
- Orientation and Training is Crucial!
Many kids think that their time acting in a haunted house is time to socialize with friends or to flirt with the opposite sex. Nothing is worse than your customers stumbling into a room where Freddy Krueger is talking to Mike Meyers about the cute vampire girl down the hall. In your orientation/training, make it clear that while this is fun, it is a job.
- A happy ghoul is a scary ghoul - keep your kids interested and motivated.
High school kids get bored easily, and doing the same scare 3,000 times a night for 10+ nights can get old, quick. Have them interchange between 2 or three other characters/room so that group can rotate scares from night to night. Keep the morale up by giving out "bonuses" such as free movie tickets or gift certificates to kids that have perfect attendance or give an extra-special scary performance.
Do not limit yourself to a cast of only high school kids. Older, more mature cast members can be more reliable and can deliver a consistent, strong scare. Where in the world can you find adults who will jump to the chance to do this type of work? The answer is everywhere! You just have to look to the right places.
Hiring "The Older" Kids…
Hiring adults brings a more mature, proactive and responsible actor to your haunt. Most adults who act in haunts do it year in and year out because they love it and are big kids at heart. Adult haunt actors are a rare breed, but not an endangered species… you just need to know where to find them.
Again, your local College/University offers a great resource of kids looking for a fun, and quick buck. Students in the theatre departments and drama clubs are great pools of actors. These students usually have cars or carpool, tend to be more reliable, mature, and are quicker to take ownership of their roles. To get started, contact the student activities office to get the contact for the drama club, and attend their meeting to pitch them the idea. Also contact the Chair of the Drama/Theatre Arts department to develop potential internship opportunities for actors. Be sure to post "actors wanted" flyers on campuses (with your contact phone number and/or email tear-offs). For posters, be sure to get permission through student activities or the student career centers first!
I didn't know what a L.A.R.P'er was until I went to college - and my introduction to them was quite unusual! A few years ago, on a cold, February night, my boyfriend was walking me home, and we ran into a pack of "vampires" running through the stairwells of the dorm. Being very confused we asked, "who are you guys and why are you dressed up as vampires in February?" They proceeded to explain (in-character) that they were participants in a strategy game where they "become" the characters through role-playing and costumes. After my encounter I thought I would never see them again, but it wasn't until a couple of years later, when I assisted in staffing for our haunted house, did I think to approach this group - and I am glad I did. These guys (and gals) are excellent to hire - and they really get into "being" the character. How do you find these groups? Many colleges/universities have a club of kids who do this and are usually called war-gamers, role-playing, and/or cosplay clubs. Again, contact the student activities office to get a contact, and attend a meeting to pitch your haunt-acting opportunities. Also, get online and do a search for your local LARP group, attend one of their meetings to make your hiring pitch. Hire them and you will be pleasantly surprised!
Look to your local actors! Local homegrown small theatre companies or acting troupes are a great source of adults who love to perform, whatever the venue. For the past 10 years our haunt has been lucky enough to have an outstanding local actor who has done everything from major roles at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, to playing Santa Claus at the mall! These actors really know their craft and will not disappoint.
Believe it or not, people that really love haunted houses have seen our industry message-boards and know the websites that promote the industry nationally, and even down to their state. For example, in Illinois and Wisconsin there is www.hauntedwisconsin.com and www.hauntedillinois.com, both of which promote the industry in their respective states and have various message boards including an "actors wanted" area where you can recruit actors. See if you state has such a website and post there!
- While in college in the late 1990's, Nicole interned for Six Flags Great America's Fright Fest and as President of her University's Student Activities Board, she assisted in producing haunted houses at her University. Now, Nicole is an Admissions Counselor for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and is also a recruiter and creative designer for Rainbow Springs Haunted Hotel in Mukwonago, WI. (www.uwp.edu/clubs/wipz/hh), for questions/comments she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Haunter’s Confusion over “Code-fusion”
If you’ve spent any appreciable amount of time within the last few years perusing our industry websites, chances are you’ve no doubt witnessed at least a few “discussions” over the topic of “codes”. With subjects ranging from fire codes, fire inspectors, BOCA, IAHA (to name just a few), there have been countless debates over what we “should” or “shouldn’t” do as an industry. As well intentioned as these friendly exchanges may have been, for the most part, the content of these discussions have often been lacking in any real factual information.
So what’s really the situation and why all the fuss? Hopefully this article will attempt to answer at least some of the questions. For the purpose of brevity, I am going to simplify things quite a bit. There is far more involved, but it is the intention here to at least cover the basic background.
For starters, one needs to understand that jurisdictions vary. What city, county, township, or even state you are located in, will play a role in what you have to contend with as far as codes are concerned. In some unincorporated areas (and again, depending on the county and state) there may be no inspections.
Before a code becomes law in any jurisdiction it has to be adopted as such. What is ultimately adopted can come from any sources. It could be a recommendation from a local, county, or state official etc., or in may cases, come from guidelines set by model code agencies. “Model Codes” are a published set of recommended guidelines that are endorsed by the organizations that created them for adoption into law.
This is where organizations such as BOCA come into play and where most of the confusion starts…..BOCA stands for the Building Officials Code Association and was one of the organizations responsible for creating model codes, namely, the National Building Codes. BOCA does not create laws, only recommendations. It is a non-profit organization made up of members from the construction trade and building inspectors.
BOCA is however, only one of three major model building code agencies. In fact, before the internet “debates”, if you had never heard of BOCA, it’s not surprising. BOCA for the most part, only really had influence on the northern states east of the Mississippi.
The Southern Building Code Conference International (SBBCI), which published the Standard Building Codes, affected most of the southern states, and the Uniform Building Code created by International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) primarily influenced the West.
But that was then……in the late 1990’s the three organizations came to an agreement to merge, forming the International Code Council (ICC). This was an attempt to make model codes more standardized throughout the country. While the offices of BOCA, ICBO, and SBBCI still exist, they no longer publish any new updates to their respective model codes, but now only develop the International Building Codes.
Once again, these are only recommendations and do not in themselves constitute laws. A local municipality may choose to adopt a particular recommendation outright – or it can omit, change, or add, to certain areas, as it deems necessary. A local government can also create their own entirely. Some states in fact, have developed model codes that are independent of the code organizations. Another important point is that the code manuals are continually being refined, and updated versions are published every few years. So it is entirely possible to have a local code that was adopted from a publication that is 10 or more years old.
Regional governments vary on how codes are adopted and enforced. Some State governments play a much larger role than others. California for example, is notorious for having some of the strictest compliance rules in the country. The same goes for counties and townships. Some rural areas may have to contend with township, county, or state inspectors, while in other areas, there are none. It is entirely dependant on the regional government.
Now to really muddy the waters…even though the ICC develops and publishes fire codes (International Fire Code), their primary influence is predominantly with building or construction codes. In the haunt industry, building codes will generally only apply to an attraction that is constructed as a permanent structure (which eliminates 99% of us). On the other hand, every attraction is going to have to deal with fire safety, and the most influential organization in developing model fire codes is the NFPA, or National Fire Protection Association. Most States (34 at present) have adopted the NFPA as their endorsed model fire codes.
So what we really have are two competing entities, the ICC, and the NFPA, that develop model codes and can therefore play a role in influencing what is ultimately adopted into local law. By and large though, the NFPA tends to have more clout in the area of fire codes. State fire marshals tend to side with their own, and often push to have the NFPA’s standards endorsed.
The only area that is not overlapped between the ICC and the NFPA is electrical codes. The NFPA produces the National Electric Code (NEC), which is recognized as the national standard model code. At one point, the ICC attempted to develop their own model electrical codes, but after legal action on the part of the NFPA, they have since dropped their efforts.
So how will this article help you build your attraction in the next coming months? Truth
be told, it won’t. But hopefully this will help put to rest some of the rumors that inevitably arise every so often about “new rules coming down the pipeline” that we need
to act on. One of the biggest misconceptions in our industry is that codes are standardized throughout the country. They’re not, and probably never will be. The specific NFPA guidelines, as well as BOCA (and others) relating to Haunted Attractions, were developed as a result of the 1984 “Haunted Castle” fire at the “Great Adventure” theme park in New Jersey. The NFPA has not added any significant changes in nearly 20 years. BOCA only merged with the SBBCI and ICBO to create the International Building and Fire Codes. That’s a process that was signed, sealed, and delivered two years ago… but they did not alter any of the previous guidelines relating to Haunted Attractions. So the next time someone tries to tell you that codes are changing, and we need to get involved to prevent it, ask for some specific references before getting too worked up over it.
John Dolan is a co-owner and producer of Creatures Crypt in Bloomington Il.
Illusion Gags: Creating Memorable Scares!
When designing haunts each year, the Oak Island Team is always looking to out-do our scares from the year before (aren’t we all!). We know we are trying to create great memories for our guests, so when we sit down to the design table, we ask ourselves “What were our most memorable scares from last year?” Hands down, the greatest memories we have from our haunts are the properly executed illusion based gags.
“Illusion Gags” are performer operated scares that appear from furniture, pictures, clever camouflage or other static objects that suddenly come to life when a guest least expects it. In essence, it’s a magic trick that reveals a performer at an opportune moment. The key to a great illusion gag is that it is positioned so that a guest has suspended his/her fears- meaning, it sets the illusion that there could not possibly be a threatening performer in a certain location at that moment. Once an illusion gag is executed, it is a great opportunity to create apprehension through the rest of your attraction because subconsciously guests will not feel that there are any safe zones in the haunt. When the overwhelming experience of the seemingly “impossible” scare happens once, your “battle” to scare the wits out of your customers throughout your entire haunt is half won!
At Oak Island Productions, we design illusion gags in two main categories: Camouflage and Moving Door.
Camouflage gags are based upon a chameleon’s principles of blending in to local surroundings. For example, if you have red curtains in your haunt, dress a performer entirely in the same red curtains and have them stand among them- great scare! If you have an outdoor haunt, buy some camouflage netting and dress a performer as a bush or plant. You may be amazed at how well this technique works!
You can also get very creative with the idea of camouflage illusion gags. In a funeral home, your performer can be dressed entirely in “mourning flowers,” or on a hay ride, your performer can be dressed as cornstalks or a pile of hay. Another great example of this design technique is the “Polka Dot Room” so many of us are familiar with. All of these are very effective scares!
Moving Door Gags
The second type of gags, Moving Door Gags, are gags we will explore much further in this article. These illusion gags consist of the art of hiding performers in static objects, then utilizing a moving door or “gag door” to make the performer suddenly appear. These doors can either be drop doors or slide doors. The number of elements these gags can be implemented into is only limited by one’s imagination!
The main difference between a drop door and a slide door is that drop doors fall vertically and slide doors move horizontally. The falling of a drop door creates a loud “bang” which adds an additional scare to the illusion. To allow a “fall” distance, drop doors work best when you want your performer to appear three foot or higher off the ground (such as appearing from a portrait or mirror hanging from a wall). There are several ways to build a drop door, but most of them have inherent durability problems. The real challenge in building a drop door is when you want to build one that can withstand thousands of repetitions.
In several years of development the Oak Island Team tried many different drop door designs, to include using screen door trolleys, ball bearings, welded steel frames etc. We now use a relatively simple design that is able to withstand long-term use proven through several years of field testing. The required latches and specialty pieces are machined in our studios in Tampa, Florida. Please note image 1 for the specifics of this design.
Here we see a standard Oak Island gag crate implemented with a drop door. Crates are wonderful opportunities to create illusion gags because of their theming versatility. When a guest nears these crates, they do not expect that there would or could be a performer in them. The illusion stands in the fact that the gag appears to be three crates standing on top of one another. By stacking the crates crooked, the illusion is further enhanced.
Here we see a common drop door design. The mirror is inset into the wall and the frame of the mirror hides the offset. Décor placed around the illusion helps divert attention from the specific performer placement point. The mirror on the wall quickly drops to reveal a performer. A similar illusion can be done with framed pictures, or anything else you can imagine that would not look out of place positioned on or near a wall.
Slide doors move horizontally and are advantageous when you want your performer to appear from large pieces of furniture, doors or low positions. Slide doors will not have a loud bang when a performer uses them (unless you have a very zealous performer!), but they offer more flexibility and a vast amount of speed in performer appearance. For example, a great way to use a slide door is to make a “hall of bedroom doors”. Line a whole hall in your haunt with doors on both sides. Put large, obvious gate hinges on all of the doors so that it sets the illusion that the doors open normal (in or out). The doors actually slide, like a pocket door, enabling a performer to appear from behind them at a high rate of speed and differently than the subconscious mind expects- a great scare! The Oak Island Team builds slide doors out of custom machined latches and fasteners, unistrut trolleys and unistrut. Please note image 4 for the specifics of this design.
These images show an example of a location where a slide door would be applicable over a drop door. The three drawers on the left of the desk are actually an illusion- they are one gag door on a slide. A performer can quickly slide this door and get a great scare! Note that the slide door slides into a maintenance area to inhibit the door opening into potential guest flow.
In this example, we see how a slide can be used to move entire pieces of furniture quickly- for an impactful performer appearance. This gag illusion is made from a standard bookshelf. As a guest approaches, the bookshelf suddenly slides away to reveal a villain. Note that the entire piece of furniture slides into a maintenance area.
Illusion Gag Placement in Your Haunt
When entering a room in a haunt, most customers immediately scan the area and assess where possible threats may come from. This is what we want as designers. This assessment of the room gives the “all clear” to the mind and sets the guest up for the illusion gag.
One of the best ways to design a room around an illusion gag is to use an animation as a diversion. For example: walking into a room, a hangman hangs from the rafters jerking violently. On the other side of the hall, there are several pictures, candelabras on small tables, and a china hutch. As a guest, I have assessed this environment and have decided to focus my attention on the hangman- because that is where the scare will come from. In actuality, the performer hides in the china cabinet as a gag illusion and appears at the most opportune moment- the moment when the guest gets close to the hangman and their attention is the most diverted.
If you have a high throughput, don’t forget to place your gag around 90 degree corners as much as possible to prevent guests farther back in the haunt from getting tipped off to the upcoming gag.
Challenge Yourself and Your Gag Operators!
How many cool ways can you think of to make an illusion gag? Can your performer appear out of a television set or the body of a corpse? What about a small trash can or the backside of a farm animal? Be creative- the more outrageous the more startling!
Just because your performer is operating a very cool gag does not mean they also cannot have several other opportunities to scare. As a matter of fact, I would highly recommend this. Often we find a performer gets bored and is physically challenged when operating the same gag all the time. You should be able to get two or three strong scares out of one performer. For example, if a performer is operating a drop door with his/her right hand, put a small inconspicuous hole in the wall for his/her left hand to also get a quick “reach out” scare. In addition, give this performer a hand trigger for an air cannon placed cleverly right after his/her scare. You have created three scares with one performer, a primary, secondary and third. This will keep your performers and guests thrilled!
In closing, when designing or upgrading your next attraction, challenge yourself to find a unique way to present each of your performers to your guests via illusion gags. This format will give your guests the scares and memories that will set your haunt above the competition!
John Hawkins is President of Oak Island Productions, a haunted attraction design, fabrication and scare products company servicing nationwide clientele based in Tampa, Florida. He can be reached at email@example.com or 813-242-8485.
Haunt Safety Tips For New Haunters…
When building or designing a haunt, there are many safety considerations that are absolutely vital to a safe, fun and “up to code” operation. For example, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems and pneumatic placements are just a few of the many required considerations. Here are some other target areas Oak Island Productions always considers when designing and building haunts:
1. Flame Retardant
All haunters know flame retardant is a must. However, you might be surprised to learn that there are many different types available- many that are specifically formulated for different types of materials and application styles. Remember to always contact your local fire authorities and talk to them about your plans for flame retarding. Here are a few examples of flame retardants we like to use:
Latex Paint Additive FR
This additive pours directly into latex paint, making many materials it is painted onto flame resistant. Once in paint, it can be rolled, brushed or sprayed on. This is a very safe and cost effective way to flame retard objects (such as wood), especially considering your cost of application labor will be greatly reduced since you are only applying product once rather than twice (there is no need to paint and flame retard separately).
Raw Wood FR
This flame retardant is great for treating raw wood. It can be sprayed, brushed or rolled and it can only be used on wood when the wood has not been treated or surfaced by another chemical. An interesting note: many companies use raw wood FR as extra protection by treating wood with this flame retardant first and then painting it with FR paint additive.
This flame retardant can be used to treat carpets, drapes, artificial flowers, wall coverings, mattresses, rope, upholstery, banners, leathers and many other materials. It forms an invisible barrier that inhibits ignition and flame spread and reduces smoke and after-glow. It can be sprayed on, however the best form of application is submersing your material in it.
This type of flame retardant can be used to make dry grass, brush, fence post and trees flame resistant. It is normally sprayed on, and can surprisingly last outdoors for ample amounts of time (long term saturation level depends on outdoor conditions).
2. Floor Surface Safety (Especially Around Water!)
Make sure your walking surfaces are even, and that your inclines are ADA compliant (1” of incline is equal to 1’ of linear ramp). This is extremely important in an environment where guests will constantly be looking everywhere but where they are going!
When working with water effects, there are several products on the market that can help you keep your guests on their feet. Slip-resistant rubber matting is very effective in keeping guests out of contact with wet floors- just make sure you use a threshold or something similar so that you don’t create a trip hazard where the floor meets the mat. Tack tape is another option; this is simply applied to the ground in your trouble spot while it is dry, adding a very impressive grip which will decrease slippage.
3. Know Your Props!
Make sure you know where your props and scenic materials came from. For example, are you using 55 gallon metal drums or whiskey barrels? If so, make sure nothing flammable was ever in them (empty or not!) before you set them inside your haunt. Vapors can be some of the most deadly ignition sources!
Do you have an old vehicle in a scene? If it is in an interior scene, you must make sure the gas tank is removed. Is that old prop painted with lead paint? Make sure you know where all of your haunt elements came from so that there are no ignition source or other hazard surprises!
4. Hanging Debris
Hanging items for guests to wade through in haunts is a must! Erosion cloth, dead bodies, slabs of beef, plastic sheeting and other materials are all very effective! This brings the haunt to the guests by separating their “comfort zone” and offers wonderful sensory perception experiences. However, did you know, hanging items in haunts are a major cause of guest injury in haunts? Here are a few “hanging” rules to follow:
1. Make sure you rig your hanging items (such as dead bodies and sides of beef) so that guests cannot travel with them. This is accomplished by minimizing the swinging action of the cabling the item is hung from. If guests can travel with items, they will! They will then let them go and the item will hit the person behind them!
2. Any item hanging in your hallways should not hang closer to the ground than 18”. When items fall below 18” from the ground, they can be stepped on (creating a trip hazard) or they can be tangled in wheelchairs.
3. All hanging items should be soft, but be capable of withstanding a vast amount of abuse. If you are hanging bodies, make sure they are made of soft foam on the outside but are lined with a rigid core inside (such as threaded rod) for durability.
We all know that performers are the real main attraction in a haunt- they are the ones getting the scares- and they are our friends, loved ones and sometimes family! So, keeping performers comfortable should always be our top priority!
There are several key factors to consider when dealing with performer safety. We recommend always maintaining a barrier between performers and guests. These barriers can be clever gags, counters, or anything else that creates separation. Oak Island always recommends that each performer has a maintenance area which they can easily retreat to in case of emergency.
Finally, creating an “ergonomic friendly” scare is an absolute necessity. For example, if a performer is scaring from their knees they should be provided with knee pads and a smooth rubber matt to kneel on. If you have a drop door / picture, the performer assigned to this scare should be able to easily operate the mechanism without straining themselves.
When you have performers who feel safe and comfortable your performer based scares will be more impactful, making your whole event more memorable!
6. Emergency Lighting / Exit Signs
Lighting emergency exits properly is an absolute necessity in the haunt industry. What type of fixtures can be used? What are alternatives as pertaining to power requirements and existing infrastructure? Here are some emergency exit lighting options (remember, talk to your local fire authorities before making any final decisions):
There are several different types of emergency exit lights that require no batteries, electricity or bulbs- and yes they stay “lit”! Some use hermetically-sealed glass tubes internally coated with phosphor and are tritium gas filled. Others use no chemical content, drawing their power from absorbing ambient fluorescent, metal halide and mercury vapor lights. Many of these exit signs stay lit for up to twenty years. They are a bit pricey but perfect for a haunt that changes location year after year!
Electric with Battery Back Up
If you choose to install electrically operated exit signs, you will definitely want to install “emergency” signs which house a rechargeable battery back-up in the event of loss of power. Most of these back-up batteries last at least an hour, giving your guests plenty of time to evacuate!
Electric with Battery Back Up and Emergency Flood Lighting
This sign is the safest and one of the best solutions for haunters. In the event of power loss, these exit signs stay illuminated and the attached emergency lights turn on to provide area lighting. They are electrically driven, with self-recharging emergency back-up battery systems.
7. Flame Retardant Materials
There are many flame treated materials to choose from on the market that come complete with flame retardant certifications. While sometimes a little more expensive, these materials will save you countless hours of frustration! You can buy hay mats, cemetery grass, black-out material, camo netting, plastic sheeting, foliage and many other items that you will not have to concern yourself with flame retarding- the work has already been done! These materials make life easier for the haunt builder by giving them piece of mind that the materials are safe, while offering great entertainment impact! Make sure they come with MSDS certifications!
Consider these safety tips when building your next haunt and you will be well on your way to creating a safe, efficient and “up to code” haunting environment that your guests and your local code authorities will love!
Written By: The Oak Island Team
Oak Island Productions is one of the world’s leading designers and producers of haunted attractions and haunt products based in Tampa, Florida. Please visit us at: www.oakislandproductions.com
Ensuring the Safety of
Safety / Fire Codes / Security!
When addressing the issue of safety, enough cannot be said about the importance of this topic. Accidents can and may happen; however, you can do much to decrease the odds of such occurrences. To express our concern for safety, we provided documentation to the Fire Department, the Building Inspector and the Carroll County Fairgrounds Board members including a safety Emergency Action Plan (EAP), our standard operating procedure (SOP) for a safety inspection, a worker’s release of liability and damage waiver that is required to be read and signed by all crew members, as well as the house rules which are clearly displayed for patrons visiting the attraction. We included all of this information in our Fright Team Handbook which we distributed to each of our staff members. I am providing this information so that you can review it and it is my hope and desire that you would implement these safety practices as well. This is information that puts a smile on the face of your insurance agent’s face as well.
Raycliff Manor Victorian Haunt
EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN
INTRODUCTION & PURPOSE:
This plan sets forth the policy and procedures to be followed in various types of emergencies. The plan purpose is to prevent and minimize loss of life, injury, and property damage, which may result from emergency situations.
Box Office Manager
For each public performance, a Eureka Screams! Employee or Adult Volunteer shall be designated to serve as Box Office Manager. Box Office Manager shall be provided with a two-way radio. In the event of a fire or other emergency requiring outside assistance, the House Manager or Safety/Security Staff will notify (in person or by radio) the Box Office Manager, who will then call for such assistance.
For each public performance, Eureka Screams! Employees and Adult Volunteers shall be designated as Safety/Security Staff. Safety/Security Staff shall conduct frequent safety inspections of the public and non-public areas of the facility. Unsafe conditions (fire hazards, electrical hazards, tripping hazards, etc.) shall be corrected immediately, if possible, or reported to the House Manager. Safety/Security Staff members will each be equipped with two-way radios. At least one uniformed police officer will also serve as a Safety/Security Staff member. He/She will also be equipped with a Eureka Screams! two-way radio and will call for any outside assistance, or notify the Box Office Manager to do the same.
At all times when the Haunted House is open to the public, the following Staff shall remain in contact via two-way radios:
-Box Office Manager
-Safety/Security Staff, including any uniformed police officers
Emergency instructions and announcements shall be made by word of mouth or PA system.
For each public performance, a Eureka Screams! Employee shall be designated to serve as the Lighting/Sound Technician. In the event of an emergency requiring an evacuation and as directed by the House Manager or Safety/Security Staff, the Lighting/Sound Technician shall:
-Turn ON house lights
-Turn OFF all house music and sound effects
-Turn OFF all scene lighting and power
-Make Announcements over PA system
Staff and Volunteers
All Haunted House Staff shall take responsibility for their own safety and for the safety of those in their immediate vicinity. Observations of unsafe conditions shall be immediately brought to the attention of the Safety/Security Staff or other responsible persons. Staff shall familiarize themselves with the Haunted House layout, exits and emergency corridors, and the path to primary and alternate exits from the particular location in which they are working.
Portable Fire Extinguishers
The House shall be equipped with at least one multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher per emergency exit. House Staff shall be instructed that the portable fire extinguishers have been placed for use by trained individuals and for FD use. Staff shall not be permitted to use the portable fire extinguishers unless they have been trained to do so.
Emergency Exits & Means of Egress
The building has 6 exits located on all sides, and will have 4 main exits in the immediate area of the Haunted House. The Haunted House set (walls, scenes, mazes, etc.) shall be designed and constructed in such a way to ensure that each point along the public pathway through the House has an accessible route to the primary exits. Each point along the public pathway shall also access at least one other alternate exit.
Emergency Lighting System
The building has a back-up battery-powered emergency lighting system, which will activate in the event of a total power failure. Proper functioning of the system shall be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the FD prior to first opening of the House to the public.
FIRE PREVENTION PLAN:
Emergency Exits & Means of Egress, cont.
The building emergency exit signage shall be supplemented with Glow in the dark exit and directional signage to clearly identify corridor access to the emergency exits. At no time shall access to the building exits be obstructed by construction, props, or stored materials. Pathways to the exits shall be unobstructed and free from tripping hazards.
All electrical equipment, lighting fixtures, extension cords, outlet strips, motors, display devices, and accessories, operating at 120 VAC or greater, shall be UL approved and inspected prior to use. Electrical cords and extension cords which are worn or frayed, have cut or pinched insulation, or exposed conductors, or which have three-pronged plugs with removed or faulty ground prongs, shall not be used. All electrical equipment and cords shall be inspected by qualified person prior to use, and shall be re-inspected periodically. Damaged or otherwise unsafe electrical equipment shall be tagged and removed from service to be repaired or discarded. Temporary power for lighting and powering displays and accessories shall be supplied as follows:
•Power will be supplied to corridors and scene rooms by means of “spines” made up of ISO grounded extension cords with molded plugs and fused outlet strips with three-prong grounded receptacles. The spines shall be connected to existing building electrical panels. Care shall be taken to distribute the load to several building circuits.
•The spines shall be routed along the top of the eight-foot high House partitions and shall be secured by non-conductive means.
•Connections to a spine outlet or outlet strip may be by means of the electrical devices cord or by an extension cord (2 or 3 wire, as appropriate).
The electrical system and lighting shall be designed in such a way so as to minimize the device-to-spine distance (preferably less than 6 feet).
•At no time shall any 120 VAC or greater electrical cord by run behind or under any rugs, fabric, decorations or other highly combustible materials in such a manner that the cord may be damaged, pinched, or abraded by contact with persons or objects.
Combustible waste materials shall not be allowed to accumulate in the building. During construction and operation, trash shall be removed and placed in the dumpster daily. As feasible, combustible scenery, props, and decorations shall be appropriately treated with fire retardant materials and maintained out-of-reach of visitors as they pass through the House. Combustibility shall be a consideration of the selection of props and decorating materials. All wall partitions, wood, and fabric shall be treated with an appropriate fire retardant. All foam sculptures shall be either treated or covered with a non-flammable seal coat (i.e.., hydrocal).
Smoking shall be prohibited inside the House at all times. All visitors will be prohibited from bringing smoking paraphernalia into the building.
Material Safety Data Sheets will be kept in the Manager’s Office.
FIRE EMERGENCY PLAN:
In the event of a fire:
•Staff members discovering a fire or smoke shall immediately activate the nearest alarm pull box or notify Safety/Security Staff.
•Upon sound of the fire alarm, or as instructed by the House Manager, the Lighting & Sound techs shall turn on the house lights, turn off scene and lighting power, turn off music and sound effects, and make announcements over the public address system as instructed.
•All Staff and Visitors shall evacuate the building via primary exit for their location.
•If the primary exit is blocked or unsafe, proceed to the nearest alternate exit.
•If smoke makes it difficult to breathe or see, get on your hands and knees and crawl to the nearest exit.
•Once out of the building, proceed to the nearest designated assembly area (whichever exit you go out of) and await further instructions.
•Staff and Visitor shall not re-enter the building until the “all clear” is given by the FD.
If possible to do so safely, the House Manager or Safety/Security Staff shall retrieve the cast assignment board shall be taken to each assembly area and used to account for each staff member present in the building. The House Manager shall inform the FD of any Staff or Visitors not accounted for.
The “RACE” method of fire response shall be followed in this order:
Rescue those in immediate danger.
Notify others by word of mouth or by activating pull box.
If the fire is in an enclosed office or room, confine it by closing doors upon exiting.
—Attempt to extinguish the fire only if it is safe to do so.
—Use the portable fire extinguishers only if you have been trained in their use.
—Extinguishers are located near the exits. This permits you to proceed towards the exit, and return
with an extinguisher when it is safe to do so.
—ALWAYS keep a clear path to the exit behind you.
—NEVER allow the fire to come between you and the exit.
P.A.S.S. is an acronym for remembering the procedure for using a portable fire extinguisher.
P= pull the pin and completely remove it from the extinguisher handle.
A=aim the extinguisher nozzle towards the base of the flame.
S=squeeze the handle to discharge extinguisher material.
S=sweep the spray of extinguisher material back and forth across the base of the flames.
WEATHER EMERGENCY PLAN:
In the event of a tornado warning, or if a tornado is sighted:
—The House Manager shall order an evacuation to the designated places of refuge.
—All building occupants shall remain in the designated place of refuge until the “all clear” is given by the House Manager.
MEDICAL EMERGENCY PLAN:
In the event of a medical emergency:
—Staff discovering a medical emergency shall immediately notify the House Manager or Safety/Security Staff.
—House Manager shall instruct the Police Officer or Box Office Manager to call for assistance.
—Persons unconscious or seriously injured should not be removed or repositioned.
—Injured or ill persons who are ambulatory should be assisted to the front door to wait for outside assistance.
POWER FAILURE EMERGENCY PLAN:
In the event of a power failure:
—The emergency lighting system will activate in the event of a total power failure.
—The House Manager and Safety/Security Staff shall circulate through the House and ensure the visitors to be calm.
BOMB THREAT EMERGENCY PLAN:
In the event that a bomb threat is received:
—Any Staff member receiving a bomb threat shall immediately notify the House Manager. Staff members shall not exercise judgments regarding the validity of any such threat.
—Upon notification of a bomb threat, the House Manager shall instruct the Box Office Manager to inform the FD and PD, and immediately initiate an evacuation of the building.
—Clearance to reoccupy the building shall be obtained from the FD and/or PD only.
All Haunted House Staff shall be trained on the contents of this Emergency Action Plan. Prior to each performance, just before admitting the public, the House Manager and Safety/Security Staff shall circulate through the House and ensure that staff is familiar with the means of egress from the particular location in which they are working. Each Staff member will receive a copy of the Emergency Action Plan and will have to sign a statement confirming that they personally received a copy of it.