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Oct. 30, 2022

BONUS: Halloween Special from Green Tagged

BONUS: Halloween Special from Green Tagged

Scott and Philip discuss the 2022 Halloween Season

Scott and Philip discuss the 2022 Halloween Season


Philip: From our studios in Orlando and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, Halloween Special! 

Scott: ~Growling~

Philip: Happy Halloween Scott.

Scott: Are we done now?

Philip: Yeah, we're done? 

Scott: Yeah!

Philip: Yeah! Well, I just realized for the audio listeners you have no idea what just happened, but Scott came in with a mask on.

Scott: I was growling. I was trying to give you something from an audio standpoint.

Philip: Perfect.

Scott: It's a Halloween special.

Philip: It's a Halloween special. I have my spooky Halloween pail.

Scott: Yes, it's like a real ghost, because in a white room we can barely see it, so that's perfect.

Philip: I put it over my face, there's a happy ghost and sad ghost. It's more like a constipated ghost.

Scott: It is, like the got to poop ghost.

Philip: Mm-hmm yeah, which is really what you have to do after eating these McDonald's meals, but anyway.

Scott: It's Halloween, so we're crazy and wacky. Look another episode where we're not. Really following our own format.

Philip: I know, I was going to say so before I have to poop let's get to this episode. I don't know. 

Scott: Wow.

Philip: I don't know, it's Halloween.

Scott: Well, Philip has clearly had way too much trick or treat candy, he's gone off the deep end, he's crazy.

Philip: What are we talking about today? I forgot. It's Halloween!

Scott: So, you've been doing Halloween from one end, and I've been doing Halloween from the other end. You've been reporting on everything, and I've just been opening a bunch of stuff. So, you've got a bunch of takeaways from so many of the haunted attractions that you've covered.

Philip: It's a Halloween sandwich. Something's getting sandwiched. 

Scott: Is it pumpkin spice?

Philip: I don't know. A pumpkin spice candle.

Scott: Not my favorite. 

Philip: Look at these props.

Scott: Oh no, we haven't even started with props. There are so many props, you have no idea what you're about to see.

Philip: So, we're talking about Halloween takeaways, right? Because you've opened a bunch of events. So, Scott, talk to us about the events. Give us your takeaways.

Scott: Well, so generally speaking, for me, from my limited perspective, and I will say that I call it a limited perspective simply because I've been involved in seven different Halloween events this season. Some of them I've been on property with, some of them I've trained, some of them I continue to go back and check in on, and some of them I'm there every night. So, I have a different level of connection with these many Halloween experiences. That said, I don't have the time to go out and experience other Halloween as much as I would certainly like to, because I love Halloween events, and so I don't get the chance to go out and see other people work as much as I should, to be completely honest. But it's just with seven different balls in the air, it's a little tricky to make that all happen. 

So, my perspective of the haunt season this year is, first and foremost, from what I'm seeing, Halloween is back. People are coming out to do stuff, I am seeing it from the standpoint of guests are diving into family-friendly experiences, guests are diving into unique experiences that they may have heard about before but never really done, and I'm seeing a lot of return visitation. So, my takeaway from that would be to make certain that you are continuing to change things and, make things evolve so that you can keep that return visitation coming in. Now, not necessarily evolving throughout the course of the season, but definitely evolving year to year to year. We can't continue to just redo what we were planning on doing pre-COVID, that ship has sailed, but I think it's clear that the audience is there, they're willing to come out, and they're and they're willing to pay. So, we have to be prepared for that to make certain that we are giving them something worthwhile that they're going to be willing to come see.

Philip: I actually don't know about that. I have heard mixed reports, and actually, in some of the events I visited and some of the reporting we've done, I've heard mixed reports. You know Halloween, we've been talking about that kind of time creep where it's been starting a little bit earlier. I've heard kind of mixed reports about September. October, I think everybody is at least at their 2019 numbers, most people I've talked to they're doing pretty good. But in September we kind of had a mixed bag where if you had a larger brand or, I don't know a nice way to put this, but basically if you are targeting people who are more impacted by inflation like the lower socioeconomic level, then your numbers in September were not as good. Basically, if you're in an area that's impacted higher. I think the straight line is right across for that. But if you were a big brand, like obviously, Disney was doing fine because they sold out their Halloween parties on both coasts and that started in August. Universal is sold out opening weekend in September, September 2nd. So, obviously the big brands, but a lot of the smaller attractions and the budget attractions really, I've heard, didn't do nearly as well as they thought in September. Then even the first week or two in October were kind of slow going. But then there's also staff problems, and there's really a mixed bag of issues. 

Scott: Yeah, we don't even get into the staffing yet. That's a whole other takeaway. Well, like I said, that's why I gave the caveat at the very beginning, from my limited perspective. Although my limited perspective does cover 4 different states. But they also are either incredibly family-friendly events, or unique and terrifying. So, that does not fall into the category that you just mentioned of the...

Philip: And you have premium. I mean you have either family, or you have premium experiences.

Scott: I mean pretty much, yeah, pretty much you. 

Philip: You're not seeing anything like budget, budget. When I say budget, I mean like $15 or less, I mean a smaller haunt that is just the haunt, small, single attraction type of thing. Their sales are down.

Scott: Home haunts trying to monetize. 

Philip: Yeah, their numbers have been down.

Scott: Well, and I think that makes sense simply because, from my perspective, those are the "what are we going to do for Halloween?" The family or the premium events are, "what are we going to do? Oh, it's time to go back to such and such again this year. Let's go early, so we don't have to fight the crowds."

Philip: Yeah, and I also think that perceived value, too, is a big piece of it right. Again, an elegant evening of fear, it's a whole evening, right? Versus a single linear attraction that takes 30 minutes, but it costs $30.00, that dollar or minute ratio I'm not sure is really doing well this year.

Scott: The family-friendly things like Zoo Boo at Indianapolis Zoo, or Creatures of the Night at Zoo Tampa, they are, again, full afternoons into evenings.

Philip: It's a long time, yeah, it's a long event.

Scott: Yeah, it's a big event and both of them have significantly more engagement touchpoints than they've ever had before because we were anticipating that there were going to be more crowds. We really focused on giving those crowds things to do versus things to look at. So, to your point, although it's not a budget it is a value-style event, and even The Vault of Souls, an evening elegant fear, is not budget by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a high-end event, it's the only haunt I've ever worked in that has hand passed hors-d'œuvre. So, there is something to be said for that, and valet parking. So there is something to be said for that. That is something that targets a specific demographic, and those numbers have not been hurting at all. The business model for that one is a very limited number of guests, it sells out very quickly because there is a limited number of guests per hour. The zoo is doing well, like we said, because it's the perception of value is that they have a full day with the family.

Philip: Well, while we're discussing a little bit about The Vault of Souls, I do want to talk about some takeaways from a similar event. I feel like it's like Scott's evil twin brother over on the opposite end of the country in San Francisco. There's an event called Terror Vault, which is an immersive experience at a historic bank vault.

Scott: What year did they open Philip? Did they beat us or did we beat them? Kidding, I'm kidding.

Philip: I'm actually, not sure. I think you beat them, but nobody quote me on that. Anyway, it is a different style. I mean, it's the same concept in that it's at a historic bank vault and they do utilize the vault, and there are multiple levels to this situation. But there you start off in a cocktail lounge as well, then you go under for a show into the vault, but their show is a linear, kind of immersive, there's no choose your own aspect to it, right? There's no freeform component, it is a linear story, like beat experience. There's like DMX show beats, so it's kind of on a schedule like that. So, it's a linear show like that. Some of the interesting takeaways I got from them is that they, being in San Francisco this year, they took a hard left turn with the content, kind of making it not very political, but it definitely has political moments to it. They say that's played very well, but again, San Francisco, right? It's kind of like they're playing into that. It's also it's a very queer show, one of the producers is a pretty infamous drag queen, so they kind of lean into that, and just kind of really lean into that content to just make it very campy, queer, and musical. There are some jump scares, but it's very... We talked about that too, we talked about making kind of statements and the line of too far and where it is and whatnot. So, that was an interesting takeaway that they found success with it in that market. 

Also, this year they added Party Vaults as a velvet rope, which I thought was a fantastic concept, because if something Scott mentioned. I don't remember the context but remember when you said you never run out of tours because you'll just take an actor and put them on a tour, because it's worth it, it's worth their time. That's what they did with the Party Vaults, you could buy out a full vault and have it be your dedicated vault, but it comes with an actor concierge who entertains you and takes care of you the whole night, and is a like a vampire that's in character. I'm like, that is perfect. That's a great way to upsell an event to make sure the guests are happy and having fun, taking pictures, doing a bunch of improv all night, and that's a great thing.

Scott: And to add something that is a new appeal to a higher demographic, a higher financial demographic. So, yeah, I think that's great. It's the studio 54/Las Vegas concept. Studio 54 took their grungy, seedy basement and turned it into the hot spot where only the ultimate VIPs can get into, and you know Las Vegas always has another velvet rope that you can cross. No matter how much of a High Roller you are, there's always going to be a place you can't go until you hit that next level. I swear to God, they just keep trying to find what is that next level. Quite often I will hear pushback to this particular suggestion, this this velvet rope suggestion. My response to them, because they'll say, "well, not everybody can experience it," is, "well, that's the point."

Philip: That's the point. Yeah.

Scott: There's an aspirational quality to...

Philip: That's literally all of Apple's business model.

Scott: Right? Right? So, there's aspirational quality to, not everybody can do this, but boy, I wish we could. Let's talk to somebody who did it and live vicariously.

Philip: There's also, the last thing I thought was really interesting they did, is because they have taken the show, it's very adult. This year they've extended their operating hours to offer matinees where they have gone in and basically made a PG13 version of the show for the matinee. They have their R-rated, as usual in the evenings, but certain days are PG13. That kind of dovetails with some of the other things I'm seeing with other people, which dovetails also with the family-friendly thing. We see Shaqtoberfest, their whole model is built in, where during the day all of the "haunts" are trick-or-treat trails and all the actors are in friendly versions of their nighttime costumes. So, you're seeing that built into the business model from the get-go on there. But you're also seeing stuff like Erebus, who is doing no scare like evenings, or no scare tour experiences. I think you're just seeing this a lot more, and it dovetails with what Scott was saying about family-friendly.

Scott: I just want to say that for years and years, those of you who've been listening to either this show or A Scott in the Dark, my Halloween Podcast, or even read some of my books, you've heard me say don't try to be both. In the past, you've heard me say don't try to be both family-friendly and non-family-friendly, because in that market back when I said that originally, it was too difficult to communicate that and it created a whole marketing challenge. 

Now, I think, because people are constantly connected and constantly able to get new information, I think that the stumble into a non-scary, if you're expecting something scary, is significantly less likely to happen. I mean, even with things as basic as ticketing on your phone, which again, very commonplace now, you can blast messages across the world, "this is the PG-rated, for the R-rated come back here," or "this is the family friendly trick or treat walk through." So, I think the challenge in doing it in the past was always communication so that you didn't accidentally walk your children into something that was going to put them in therapy, and you didn't accidentally walk the drunk people on their first date who wanted to be scared poopless into a trick or treat trail. So, I think that was always the challenge before, the communication of what is the brand. I'm going to ask you, Philip, because I know you experienced it with Shaqtoberfest, was there brand confusion because they did it that way?

Philip: I actually don't know, because we were there on the VP night, right? So, you're always kind of taking that with a grain of salt. I didn't think so. The families that we saw, it was pretty clear. Basically, once it got dark... Basically, the premise was, during the day you got given trick-or-treat bags and you could go and trick-or-treat through the little the mini haunts during the day, and all the actors were friendly. But then when it gets dark, there's a big opening scaremoney thing on the stage where Shaq comes out in projection and kind of opens the Witching Hour and that's when things... It's pretty different, and you know because there's actors right at the front. As in, there are people right at the front that will let you know that it's the scarier version, right? 

There were some families that I saw where they did tell the parents to make sure, they're like, "well, you know it's like scary in there now." So, I think they were trying to warn people as well when they thought it was appropriate, like they didn't tell us because we were adults, we were media, but they did tell regular families with younger kids that it was a scarier version. I didn't see anybody that was confused. I mean, also it's pretty clear because the show lighting comes, so it looks different, the actors are dressed differently, the whole vibe is different. There's no candy, and it's very different.

Scott: Yeah, I get the guest experience switch over, I'm just curious about the brand communication, so whether new people think that because it's a family-friendly thing during the day it clearly won't be scary enough at night, or because it's a scary thing at night it's not going to be nearly family-friendly enough during the day. Is there any sort of brand crossover confusion there?

Philip: Again, I don't think so, but I don't think based on the marketing and on the brand that you're expecting it to be the level of Universal.

Scott: OK.

Philip: I think you're expecting it to be like Disney adjacent.

Scott: So, they've found that sweet spot, again.

Philip: Yeah, because it's very campy in all the marketing and all the things, it's very campy. He's like, "my minions are coming out!" He's still a human. It's not the same target as one that's going completely, you know, extreme, right?

Scott: Yeah, I mean I know that many of the Cedar Fair Parks will do that sort of kick-off to the night. They'll do a kickoff show that has lots of fire and usually an appearance by one of the previous icons, and then one of the newer icons or whatever, so you know this is where it starts to get scary. I know SeaWorld San Antonio used to do it that way too, now they've shifted to doing the Howl-O-Scream model. I was just curious, especially for a new event to see if their brand which was, "we're everything to everyone." Which to me, is risky. I'm not going to say impossible, but I'm going to say risky, because for example, if Disney World were all of a sudden to come out with something that was terrifying, wretched, and blood-filled there would be a huge pushback and brand dissonance there.

Philip: Well, we know they tried that in Hong Kong and it didn't work.

Scott: Right.

Philip: So, we know it didn't. I will say that's another thing I wanted to mention is a takeaway specifically of Shaqtoberfest. I think part of what helped with that whole arrangement is that it's not a licensing deal, and I didn't realize this until I interviewed Chris over there at the team, because I thought, just looking at, that it was like Shaq was licensing his name to a Halloween event that the producers were producing. It's not that at all, it's a true partnership. It's Shaq's event. He wanted to do a Halloween event, and then he got producers to help him produce the event. So, it's not a licensing deal. So, because of that his team was involved directly in the branding. They were involved in like every step of the creative, every step of the branding, even down to not releasing video of the event until he was there to approve the commercials. His team wanted to approve everything and want to make sure that that vibe, the feeling of it being a family event that was a little bit trickster but not too over the top, like that feeling was intact through all the marketing. I think that's what made it possible, to your point, is the keeping of that.

Scott: Yes, you can go from family-friendly to something really scary without any problems at all. Got it, Just wanted to make sure. For those who were just listening, go back and watch the video, you'll see that I used a visual aid to help explain my concept. 

So, good, I'm glad to hear that they were able to. I love the fact that you know when you mention partnership. Anytime you're working with an IP brand, and let's face it, Shaq is an IP brand. Anytime you're working with an IP brand, it's essential to make certain that you are, throughout the process, working with them, not just taking liberties and licenses wherever you want. I remember back in the day when Universal Orlando did American Werewolf in London, they did a haunt based on that, and the final approval came from John Landis. So, John Landis actually walked through, approved the puppets, approved the story that they were trying to tell, and everything. It was probably one of my favorite haunted attractions that Universal has ever done. So, it is essential to make certain that the IP is not just slapped up there, but that it's actually represented at the core level. I know you're going to say, "Oh Scott, you're being way too creatively protective." But the truth of the matter is, guests who are going to embrace the IP will see all the cracks if it's not right. So, that kind of partnership, I think, is great and it leads to a more successful overall product. So, I'm glad to hear that because I was hoping that was the case.

Philip: Yeah, also, in talking to Chris about it as well, it was never intended to be a scary event because he said it was designed for a whole family. He's like, in a regular family you're going to get the husband or wife, or one of the kids, or somebody is not going to want to go through Horror Nights, you know, you can't take a full family to some of the events because they are too scary and then they don't have anything to do. So, from its inception, it was designed to provide something for everyone to do. Also, the kids that wanted to go through scare mazes can go through the scare mazes, and then the parents can hang out at the food carts, can watch the entertainment, or watch the shows. It's meant to have that whole thing to be able to provide that entertainment for the full family unit.

Scott: A lot of people will think that if they do something family-friendly, they're doing that. But then you run into the opposite problem, not the things that are too scary, but you have the eye-rolling 12-year-olds who are like, "this is lame. This stupid, let's go do something else." It sounds like they're getting closer and closer to that sweet spot because it's a hard thing to find, and if they've been able to tap into that, that's great.

Philip: Yes. Let's see, other takeaways I had while we're on 13th Floor, I guess, is over at Delusion, which 13th Floor also bought a few years ago. In our interview with Delusion we talked a little bit about that, but he talked about the concept of extending that into film, which I think is, again, interesting. We always talk about how you're writing your stories and you want to create that story world. Basically, he says, well, we spent all this effort writing a script and doing all this work, we might as well make a film version of it. Last week we talked about the whole concept of the POVs, the walkthrough, and kind of making it an entertaining experience. This kind of seems to me like the natural extension. Like if you've already written the script, you already have the set, you've already this, why not turn it into a TV episode that is made for TV? Redo it so that's scripted for TV. That is, apparently, what they're looking at for the future of creating IP, where you can go and watch the episodes... Just the Disney model, they're basically trying to recreate more of the Disney model.

Scott: Right, I think that makes total sense. That's been discussed, even back in the Busch Gardens days, a very early haunt with Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa was a haunt that was called After Hours, and it was all about a Goth club and where the Goth club would entice people into their VIP section and then kill them and utilize their body parts to create artwork. There were several people who came to us and said, "hey, could this be a film?" I was like, "yeah, I guess it could be." Nobody ever really got behind it or got excited about it enough to actually produce it. But I think the idea of, if you've got a strong concept, and I mean you all know how important story is to me in a haunt anyway. So, if you've got a full show bible, and you've got a full history or mythology behind your haunt, absolutely find ways to get it out there in different mediums. I think that's great. I wish I had the bandwidth to do it with some of the projects that I work on, because I would love to see film versions of some of the stories that I've created, that we could actually live through. The nice thing is, you know to your point, in many cases the haunt scenic that has been built is all high enough quality to make it a film piece. Not that you would necessarily make the film about walking through the haunt, but you could use the individual scenes to create individual locations throughout the film. So yeah, I think it's a great idea.

Philip: Yeah, and kind of on that note too, I have noticed a definite uptick in the number of haunts this season that are offering tours. Which, I think again, once you reach that point where your scenic is good, you know it's at that professional level where you're completely immersed in the environment, then I think a tour is a good idea to show it off. I think it's a great way to engage your super fans and it adds a velvet rope. Again, you're always going to sell the tour because it's worth that person's time if they're taking a group of people through, and just talk about the haunt in the story. We've seen quite a few haunts pick that up this year, in addition to Knott's Scary Farm, which they haven't done one previously, but they did do one this year. Of course, Universal has had them forever and, of course, they sell out every year at Universal

Scott: Well, again, there's always that angst that certain creators have of, "I don't want them to walk through the haunt with the lights on." But instead of doing a lights-on tour, I always suggest doing a lights-up tour, where you can basically take your lighting, depending on what the control mechanism is, bump it up a couple of ticks so that it's exactly the same lighting, only brighter. So, you can do it as a walk-through experience, you can talk about all the stuff, and then you can even demonstrate the importance of lighting to a good, haunted attraction. The people who take these behind-the-scenes sorts of "lights on" tours are looking for those kinds of geeky little fun stuff, you know? It's like, "this room looks like this when it's not lit and it looks like this when it is," so that they can see how things must be painted. It's sort of like when people first learned that in Psycho the blood in the bathtub was chocolate syrup. Everybody was tickled by that. It's the same way of looking at a haunt room or a haunt scene and saying... I'll give you a makeup example. This prosthetic makeup looks like there are brains oozing out of his head, which is actually done with a combination of latex and macaroni, so you know, it's that kind of cool insight that, when you see it, you can see it lit in a certain way so it looks like brains, and then you put it under plain white light and you recognize, "Yep, that's macaroni. I get it."

Philip: Well, the last takeaway to close it out here was just seeing the amount of people that are doing a great job of utilizing their assets. I think we're going to see more and more of the concept of Halloween shift. We're already talking about the family-friendly and the pendulum coming back to that, and basically, we've tried to get too extreme and now we're bringing it back, so there's all this happening. But I see people like the Tampa Theatre, which is really doing a tremendous job taking their theater, and taking what they have, and utilizing those assets, not just for the regular what you would expect like Rocky Horror, but also for murder mysteries, for ghost tours, for all sorts of interactive experiences there. We see it even with USJ where they're taking their 4D theater and turning it into kind of escape puzzles and whatnot. I think even with Elgin, we did a story with the Elgin city and they're taking their Main Street and turning it into a street festival with the twist that it is the zombie defense agency, and its basically turning their street into looking like The Walking Dead and they're having zombies that come and kind of gather around the edges of the safe zone, which is the block party, so we have zombies on the edges. So, just really cool events like that I think are going to shift Halloween and kind of shift what we have known of it previously as a traditional, linear walk-through haunt is not going to be the only game in town.

Scott: Yeah, and I think, as so many times, Halloween is going to be the gateway to that for entertainment in general. You know, I've often said that Halloween haunted attractions are the gateway, I use the term gateway drug for immersive theater. I think that as the seasonal events go, so go more and more events that may take place. You know, who knows, you may go into a village square to watch a piece of theater in the not-too-distant future. So, be prepped for it, because it could be really fun. 

All right! Well, those are our takeaways, this is our Halloween special. Boo! Happy Halloween, Philip! 

Philip: Happy Halloween! 

Scott: On behalf of Philip Hernandez and myself, Scott Swenson, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. Happy Halloween and don't get too scared! See you next week.

Philip: I got to go poop. I'm just kidding.

Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.