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March 9, 2023

Haunt Consultants: What to Look For & What to Avoid

Haunt Consultants: What to Look For & What to Avoid

Should you hire a consultant for your haunt, and how do you begin? Today, explains what makes a great consultant, things to avoid when hiring the right one, and why you might not even need one. If you want to join the...

Should you hire a consultant for your haunt, and how do you begin? Today, Scott Swenson explains what makes a great consultant, things to avoid when hiring the right one, and why you might not even need one. If you want to join the conversation for the next masterclass, join Haunter’s Toolbox. Support for this episode comes from Gantom Lighting and Controls. See what you’re missing with a free demo. Subscribe to everything from the Haunted Attraction Network here.


Scott Swenson: When it comes to theme parks, this part of the world is really probably the new hub, and in fact, they announced at IAAPA last year that their goal for Abu Dhabi was to shift a great deal of their economy away from oil and into tourism, specifically where I'm staying right now, which is Yas Island. So, my hotel, if I look out in one direction, I'm looking at Warner Brothers World, which is the indoor Warner Brothers theme park, which just recently announced they're doing a huge expansion that will be Harry Potter themed. Then if I look out in the other direction, I see Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld, which is a water park, and of course the first park here in Abu Dhabi, which was the indoor park based on the Ferrari intellectual property. So, there's a lot. Then, when the project that I'm working on opens, that will be another major attraction here in Abu Dhabi to bring people over. So, they're kind of doing what they said they were going to do.

Brian Foreman: That's good to see. 

Darryl Plunkie: Well, it's good when you come in as a consultant though. You kind of want to see things like that happen.

Scott Swenson: Oh, absolutely, and the nice thing in working as a consultant is, I was actually subcontracted to work on this project. So, I have a layer of protection and a layer of support, but I still get to do the fun work. So, that's a cool thing.

Darryl Plunkie: Now, generally as a consultant, not necessarily for this project, but what is the role of a consultant in, let's say, a haunt world?

Scott Swenson: Well, it's interesting because the way I look at it is, the role of a consultant is basically to provide what any individual needs. So, to try to force fit a consultant's work into someone's project, specifically a haunt, I mean, let's be haunt specific here. If you've got everything you need to know about the creative development of your haunt and how it's going to grow over the next few years, if you know exactly where your marketing is, if you know what your five-year plan looks like from a financial standpoint, you may not need a consultant. But what consultants can do, and what good consultants will do, is they will work with the client to say, "OK, here's what you need," and then they will provide you with either a takeout menu style quote to say, "if I do this, it will cost you this much. If I do this, it will cost you this much." So, you can meet the needs of the client. Any consultant who comes in and says, "I know everything there is to know about everything," is probably lying and I would not recommend them. I mean, if I ever said that to any of my clients, the thing that would I would follow up by saying is, "don't hire me," because that complete malarkey. 

Scott Swenson: In my particular case, different clients look for different things from me. Sometimes, for example, a top-line consulting will be, they'll say, "give us three to five different top-line concepts, because we want to change up our storyline." So, they will pay for just that, and I will do you know what I call one-sheets, which are really about 5-6 sheets of just basic storylines and some samples of what that may include as far as operational and installation. If that's all they need, great, they can run with it. For some of my clients, I will then take that and develop that into a full full-fledged venue flow. I can then develop that into casting and training for them, and creative direction and working with their designers to make certain that we keep the same concept and idea from beginning to end, no matter what happens with budget and changes in schedule etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. 

Scott Swenson: So, like I said, I don't want anybody who's watching or listening to think of that when you say a consultant, consultants are all the same. We're not, and anybody who says, "I'm a consultant, here's what I'm going to do for you," is approaching it wrong. They need to say, "I'm a consultant, what do you need?" Because as a consultant, if I'm not meeting my client's needs, if I'm not making them look good, I'm not a really good consultant in my opinion.

Darryl Plunkie: So, from the client's point of view, let's say I wanted to hire you as a consultant, what information should I have ready or should I have knowledge of other than, "I'm told I need a consultant. What are you going to do?"

Scott Swenson: So, if you were to come at me and ask those questions, say that, I would say, "OK, well, first off, why did they say you needed a consultant? Do you need someone to help you with your business plan? Do you need someone to help you with your creative development? Have you been doing, basically, the same show for five years and you need to shake it up, you need somebody who can come in with a fresh eye? Someone who might look at what look at the assets that you already have and help you build upon what already exists in your haunt?" 

Scott Swenson: So, I kind of come back, and I know people think that I'm being cagey when I say things like this, but if you don't know what you want, I don't know how to give it to you. Again, I'm more than willing to sit, and I've done it many times, and talk through things with clients. There have been occasions where we come to the conclusion, "you don't need a consultant. You've got everything you need already, you just needed somebody to point you in the right direction." There are other times where people will say, "I don't know what I need," and then I'll start asking questions like, "do you have a space yet? If so, what size is it? If you're still looking for a space, what's your budget going to look like?" We start to break it down into finding out what they need, and then I can put together a list of what I can then in turn offer, and what it will cost them. 

Scott Swenson: Every client, for me at least, and I'm not sure all consultants work this way, is a little bit different. I mean, right now, I'm working on this gigantic theme park attraction. Which, my role is very specific, they needed a job done and I'm here to do it. With a haunted attraction who just wants somebody to review what they've done, that may be a one or two-day project which doesn't cost that much. I like to work with my clients to make certain that I'm giving them what they need, and not giving them what I have to peddle. 

Scott Swenson: I don't have a product, per se, I don't come in and say, "I'm going to give you this, this, and this." Some people think that that's suspicious, they don't necessarily trust that, because they're like, "well, you're just going to blow smoke until I pay you." But that's not it at all. My approach is, I don't want to give you something you already got. I often say I work with companies that provide talent, and what they'll do is they'll do all the casting, and they'll hold the contracts on all the performers, and they will cover all the insurance for the performers, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But if you've already got that, you don't need them. The same is true with me, if you've got creatives that can write stuff for you, find new visions, and new pathways that you can take, then use your internal people. It sounds like I'm trying to talk you out of using consultants, I'm not. If you need them, we are here, but a good consultant will find out what you need and try to fill that void. 

Scott Swenson: Not all consultants are one-size-fits-all. If you're looking for somebody who can help you with financial amortization over five years, I may not be the best person. You probably need more of an accountant. But if you're looking for somebody who has an understanding of how to make your story grow over five years, I've had a lot of experience with that working in theme park. We would take haunts, and they would last three to five years before we would change them out for Howl-O-Scream. So, we tried to serialize the story, like the old horror films. So, here's the sequel, here's the prequel, and here's the... Because that way we could cross-utilize the assets that we already had, So, we wouldn't have this huge capital investment every single year and we could have a smaller capital investment, move things around, shift something as basic as reversing the flow of a haunt, which creates a whole new story. 

Scott Swenson: With me, at least, what you're really investing in, first and foremost, is my experience and the things that I have done. I can create, ideate, and even help brainstorm very efficiently, because I've done it for [mumbles] years. So, it's sort of like that joke, the guy comes and says, "I want you to build me a table." The guy gives him price to build the table and he says, "well, that's way too much. It's just a table. It's going to take you half a day to build this table. You're charging me way too much. I'm going to do it on my own." OK, you do it on your own. So, then he says, "well, wait, I don't have any tools." 

So, the guy says, "OK, well, I'll rent you my tools for X amount of dollars." 

OK, "oh wait, I don't have any plans to build a table." 

Well, "OK, I can draw you some plans, let me draw them out for you and I will sell them to you for X amount of dollars." 

"Oh, I don't know how your tools work."

"Great, I will give you classes and how my tools work." 

After all of this, you end up spending more doing it yourself. Because what you're really paying for is the expertise of your consultant or your table builder. But again, don't hire someone to build a table and chairs if all you need is a footstool.

Scott Swenson: So, I know that sounds vague, and I think that's why people are often hesitant to bring on consultants because they're like, "why do I need you? What can you do that I can't do?" I have one client that I said to them last season, "look, you can do everything I'm doing for you," and he said, "yes. But I don't have the time to, nor do I want to."

Darryl Plunkie: It's a big consideration exactly. Time is money, and sometimes it's easier to spend money than it is to spend time, because you have those 2000 other projects that you're working on.

Scott Swenson: When your responsibility is to actually run the event, to work on the creative development of that event, you may simply just not have the time, and you might as well hire somebody that you trust, that you know you can work with, who will do all of that for you. Keep in mind that when you hire a consultant you can always say, "no, fix that." The consultants don't take away any owner or operator's power, they're not trying to usurp the owner/operator. Well, good consultants aren't trying to usurp the owner/operator, and in many cases, consultants are never even recognized for the work that they do. The owner/operator gets all the credit, and really makes all the profit. The individual consultant is compensated, yes, absolutely, but a good consultant will make their client look better, that's all.

Brian Foreman: And like you said, I think a lot of hunters are scared. You say the word consultant and they're like, "what, consulting? We don't need one of those guys in here." So, it's like, OK. I tell people, don't be scared of consultants, like you were saying, there's different types of consultants. There might be a set design consultant or build consultant. With your experience, you have a little bit of everything. So, I'm sure if you come across something that is not covered, or you don't know the knowledge on, you'll find a solution to that problem, or reach out to somebody that you know and say, "well, we can bring this person in." 

Scott Swenson: I mean, I'll give you a perfect example. There is someone that I used to work with as part of the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment team, and they have now moved on to a different theme park chain, and they work in the corporate office. She called me and said, "Scott, I have no work for you right now. But I need this, this, and this. Who can I call?" I was more than happy to say, "call So, and So, for this, calls such and such for this, call So, and So, for that."  She did, she said, "thank you very much," and you know how much money I made out of that transaction? $0.00. But she then just recently called me and said, "hey, Scott, next year we've got this huge plan, this huge project, and I want you to help spearhead it." So, I know what I know, and I know what I don't know. The cool thing is, having been in this industry for quite some time, I've worked with a lot of people who know stuff that I don't know, and I'm more than happy to throw work their way, because they do the same thing for me.

Brian Foreman: Yep, do the same thing here.

Darryl Plunkie: Well, based on that, what is some of the things that you have done that you are very proficient at? Give us a little bit about Scott's history in the consulting world.

Scott Swenson: Well, you know, I often said that I could not be a consultant had it not been for my 20-plus years at Busch Gardens in Tampa. What that did for me is, as the Director of Creative Services for the Entertainment Department there, I acted as a producer, director, writer, casting director, and actor trainer. I got to do all those things on a very large scale. In the last 10 years I've been able to do things like, well, let me just tell you the ones I can talk about, because that's the other challenge with being a consultant is, not only the project that I'm working on now, but I have passed projects that did not come to fruition or have not come to fruition yet, that I still can't talk about. Some that I can talk about is having been brought on, for example, by The Vault of Souls. I don't own the Vault of Souls in Tampa, I am an outside consultant, they bring me on to write, direct the experience. They told me, "here's the loose concept," I go in and I pitch to them, and they say yeah or nay. They usually say, yeah, it's a great client. Then I go in and I do the casting for them, I do the training for them. I've written everything for them, I work with the scenic designers, and sometimes they even go in and do like last-minute art direction; I'll go in and do the last layer of fine finishing on things. So, I have a lot of boxes that I checked for that one. 

Scott Swenson: One of my clients in Houston, TX, not a haunt client, is Space Center Houston. They bring me in, usually twice a year, just to do actor training sessions, or presenter training sessions for their educators So, that they polish the skills that they have in communication. Other times they'll have me write a script, and I've written scripts, pass them off, and let them work on them. There are some theme parks this past year that I did nothing but right the venue flow for haunts for them. I had nothing to do with the installation. 

Scott Swenson: Interestingly enough, last year the same client has now come back this year and said, "now we not only want you to write it, but we also want you to work as Creative Director." So, in other words, I'm going back and working with the scenic designer, the lighting designer, and the audio designer, to make certain that everything is still in line and stays true to the approved concept. So, basically, the guest experience advocate. Let's face it, we've all done haunts where we start off with this great idea, and then as it goes, you get what I call content creep. It's like playing telephone, you end up with something that you weren't even close to when you started, and as a creative director, I think that's the role, to find creative solutions to the challenges that don't diminish the quality or the content that everybody put hand to Bible on and said, "hey, let's do this." 

Scott Swenson: So, yeah, I've a lot of work. I know you asked for specifics, sorry. There's The Vault of Souls, Zoo Tampa I am the creative director for both their Halloween and Christmas events, Indy Zoo in Indianapolis I've done the same kind of work for them, writer and director for a lot of their spring, fall, and winter events. I've done some stuff for, I can't tell you what, but I've done some stuff for Cedar Fair Corporate, specifically about Halloween. I've got a new project that's coming up for another new client in the Midwest where I will be the writer and creative director for a new haunt there. 

Scott Swenson: So, a lot of what I've been doing recently, as far as consulting, is working as a writer and then helping people work through how do we budget this? They can tell me, "based on our budgetary numbers, we need to have a throughput of X amount," and I can certainly work with them in the design process to make certain that they can reach those numbers, and if they can't, try to come up with other ways to generate revenue that may involve culinary, merchandise, VIP experiences, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, I have one client who hires me by the hour and will say, "I want you to brainstorm for an hour, and here's the basic dossier of the project we're working on. Brainstorm for an hour, send me all of your raw data, and that's all I want from you." Because they just want somebody who's an idea person who can just fire ideas at them, and then they can take them.

Scott Swenson: So, that's what I mean when I say, I've got Vault of Souls, which I pretty much do everything an owner/operator would do, except pay for it, or worry about the profit/loss. Good gig if you can get it. Then the opposite end of that spectrum is, "Scott, I want you to brainstorm on this event, this topic, this party idea, grand opening, whatever. I want you to brainstorm for an hour and send me just your raw ideas, and then we'll take it from there." It's right-sizing what the client needs with what the consultant provides.

Brian Foreman: I know you've written a couple of books, Follow The Story, is that the one?

Scott Swenson: Yes, Follow The Story and The 13 Commandments of Haunting. Both of those were published by Philip Hernandez with the Haunted Attraction Network and Gantom Lighting. Follow The Story is a short, easy read, but it's all about the importance of storytelling and how you can utilize that to forward your product, and how you can use it to create something that is unique to you. The 13 Commandments of Haunting were thirteen of my most popular episodes of A Scott in the Dark Periodic Podcast for Haunters, my other podcast. Basically, what Philip did was he had them transcribed and then put them out as blog posts. Then we took the 13 most popular and put them almost in an encyclopedia format. So, that one's not the kind of book that you sit down and read from cover to cover, because if you do it's a little disjointed and kind of hard. But he's done a great thing in putting together an incredible index, So, if you want to know my opinions on audio design, my opinions on finding cast members, or I did one whole thing on floor texture. Those are all easily mapped out in the table of contents. So, Philip refers to it as Scott on a Shelf. It's kind of like having a consultant between covers.

Darryl Plunkie: So, is that something that you definitely recommend people starting off with? Taking a look at those books following some of that stuff, and then if they still have questions, plans, or realize that maybe this is too much for them, come back to you and discuss being a consultant?

Scott Swenson: Absolutely, yes. What I have done and what I can do, the books are a great place to start. My podcast is a great place to start. My website is a great place to start, if you just go to and see the clients that I've worked with, I've got the things that I can publish up there. The one thing that is difficult, and I think consultants need to recognize this, is you have to be willing as a consultant to say, "I will never get credit for this. Somebody else will always get credit for it." Now, always is not always true is not really true, but it is very possible that you will have to sign a contract that says, "I can never reveal that I worked on this project." It happens, and especially with some of my largest projects. So, I just get paid and go "OK!"

Darryl Plunkie: But you're not one of those people that brags about it and needs to put it on their resume, because we've seen some of the work that you've done, and some of the work that you've possibly have done, but we can't confirm.

Scott Swenson: I can neither confirm nor deny, yes.

Darryl Plunkie: It's really cool, the breadth of knowledge that you have. How does that influence then, you've been working on some really big projects, how does that influence what you would do for a small, a home haunt, or a charity haunt?

Scott Swenson: Well, one of my clients last year and I have their permission to use their name, was Undead in the Water, which is the American Victory Ship in Tampa. Undead in the Water is a charity haunt, it is a 501c3 haunt, it's their largest fundraiser of the year, and the team there is phenomenal. I help them out in any way that I can, simply because I enjoy it. So, what I do is I go in and I say, "OK, we've got this incredible location, we have this World War Two ship, floating museum, that we can use. I mean, there's scenic there that I could never afford to rebuild, you know, it's really cool stuff. I help them craft a story that works with, or it doesn't work against the story they're trying to tell as a museum. So, you know, we're not going to go into this is the haunt about the ghosts of Navy battles. That's the antithesis of what they're trying to say. They want to make sure that at American Victory they recognize American Victory as a floating lady who is still working. So, now what she's doing is she's working to help people understand and remember what she did when she was working in the military. So, I helped them craft stories, I helped them cast, and I helped train their actors. With that project, you know, my fee becomes right sized, although different clients handle things differently. 

Scott Swenson: I don't change my prices based on my client. However, I do if it's a nonprofit that I believe in, I will give back some of my services as an in-kind donation. With, even some of my larger clients, if you book me to do five or six different things, or it's a longer project, I will give you a volume discount. But the prices for each individual thing that I do, don't fluctuate a whole lot. They are based on scope, obviously. Writing a 5-room venue flow versus a 25-room venue flow, obviously, has a sliding scale. But when I do write, everything I write in for attractions is considered work for hire. So, once I've written it, whoever has purchased it owns it, and they can do with it what they will. 

Scott Swenson: In fact, I even put on there, with things that I write, in most cases because there are, as we've talked about, times that I can't do this, but I retain the right with the majority of my mid-range to smaller clients, the right to claim it as a piece of work that I wrote, and I also ask that if writing credit is given, it is given to me. If it's not given, that's fine, doesn't have to be there, but you can't buy a script from me and then say, "I wrote it. Somebody else wrote it." Somebody else can't take credit for it. Sometimes that's a sticker shock, too by the way. Because people don't recognize when you're when you're buying something that you can use forever, you can continue to make money off it year after year after year and I will never see another dime. So, you want me to lease it to you? I can lease you the intellectual property. That's that'll earn me more money in the long run. So, anyway, sorry I started rambling.

Darryl Plunkie: One of the things that I'm kind of gathering is having a consultant is an investment, not an expense, correct?

Scott Swenson: Well, the way I like to consult, I often refer to myself as "teach someone to fish." I would much rather come in and show you how to make your haunt or your business better, and whether that's as a writer or as a creative director, or even just, evaluating your current processes and procedures. I would much rather you finish a contract with me and go, "you know what, I think our team's better because of working with Scott," than "Oh gosh, we can only do this with Scott." I've discovered, for me, that creates a better long-range relationship. So, I would like my clients to feel as though using me as a consultant is more of an investment that keeps giving as opposed to an expense, or even a capital thing. It's an investment in the way they do things and how they do things.

Brian Foreman: Yeah, cause there'll always be bigger fish and newer obstacles and things. They say, new level, new devil.

Scott Swenson: Exactly, and if they are satisfied with me as a consultant, then they will come back to me to dump the bucket.

Brian Foreman: Right, So, we had Vic on, and before we got on here, we were talking about him incorporating his back story into his design, we can get him on in a little bit and talk about it. But what's your biggest thing, as a consultant, seeing people trying to incorporate their back story into their design because it's So, hard to do? To get the customers aware of it, your actors involved in it, do you have any tips and tricks on how to do that?

Scott Swenson: Well, yes, I've got a book full. It's called Follow the Story, but to be completely honest, if I'm going to try to narrow it down, I've had a lot of people say, "I don't have the time to invest in creating a good story." And my response is, "you don't have the time not to invest in a good story." A good story helps guide you. A really good story shouldn't make things more difficult, it should actually make them easier. Your decisions are made for you, because you know, "well this fits in the story and this contributes to the story." Then when you get your actors trained, if they know the story then your training of them gets much simpler, because they know where they fit in the overarching scheme of things. Your guest experience goes through the roof, because instead of it just being what I call, "walking the trade show floor," style haunt you actually have something bigger, you have something more impactful that they will remember for a longer period of time.

Darryl Plunkie: Now is it important for those customers to explicitly know that story, or can you get away with all of your team developing that story without explaining it to the customers?

Scott Swenson: I think that if you have a strong story your customers will know that you have a strong story. They may not have all the details that your actors have, but I think a story provides the structure. The analogy I've used in the past is on Christmas morning, people will come downstairs and go, "look, isn't that a beautiful Christmas tree?" But if you don't have a good sturdy structure inside to hold all those ornaments, it's just boxes of ornaments. So, you have to have the structure to create and hang all the cool stuff, hang your special effects, hang your makeup design, hang your lighting, and hang your scenic. If it all is cohesively put together in a structure, then the guests will recognize it is a strong structure. They may not know every detail of the story, just like you don't know every single branch of the Christmas tree, but without the tree you have no structure. Does that make any sense at all?

Darryl Plunkie: Oh, it very much does. It's just, I don't know, because we're talking about Christmas trees, if we're going to have to censor this for a Halloween podcast, but the theory is perfect.

Scott Swenson: Valid.

Brian Foreman: Vic, you can come on anytime you want if you wanted to ask Scott specific questions about your back story as well. Running the Dead Factory for seven years, we tried to incorporate Dr. Phobia into the story as much as possible. There were those certain customers that had Dr. Phobia picked out, who he was, and what he did. I'm not sure a lot of people knew that he was a neurosurgeon who took the patients, did experiments on these patients, their phobias came to life, and they all took over the haunted house, but our actors knew that. I would give them room to play, and I would say, "this is who you are, this is what I would like to see out of you," but I'd never hold them to it like a standard to say, "this is what you have to say." So, it was always in motion it was always developing into something else. Maybe in that season that really might have been completely something different, because I realized my actor was better at something else, So, then we would switch it up a little bit. But the overall arching theme of the story was a doctor who did all his crazy experiments, and there are different phobias throughout the house.

Scott Swenson: Well, and the nice thing about having a strong story too, when it comes to the actor side... Again, that's where my career started. I started as an actor and director, that's where I thought I was going to go many, many, many years ago. So, I think having a strong story automatically puts up those basic guardrails and provides structure for your actors. If they know the story and they know the relationships between the different characters in the haunt, and they can be real simple relationships like, "oh, you representing their phobia, or you represent their phobia" or they're real complex relationships like, "oh, wait, we're cousins, but we're only cousins because off some horrible, inappropriate thing that happened between me and a werewolf." I don't know. But those kinds of connections really help an actor, and it gives them something to play off of So, that they're not just dropping a door and shouting," get out." Which, by the way, I fire people for, because that's my biggest pet peeve. So, it's one of those situations where it gives them variety, it gives them different ways to do startle scares because they know the story and they know where they fit in that story. The story only reinforces everything else you do.

Brian Foreman: Right like an outline to follow.

Scott Swenson: Absolutely, the story acts as the jungle gym that the actors and designers can play on, it gives it structure.

Brian Foreman: I'm liking all your analogies.

Scott Swenson: Well, that was better than the Christmas tree one, I think, because you know...

Brian Foreman: He's coming from Transworld though, that's appropriate.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, yeah, this is the first year I didn't go to Transworld in 20 some years.

Brian Foreman: I know, we missed you.

Scott Swenson: I know I miss being there. I miss being there. It was one heck of a flight though, I couldn't quite have made it. 

Brian Foreman: An expensive flight too.

Scott Swenson: Oh yeah. I've discovered that with layovers it's about 20 hours door to door from here to Tampa.

Darryl Plunkie: Well, it took me 26 hours, this year, from Canada, because my flight was delayed and my connection got canceled, and there was only one flight from Toronto to Saint Louis on my airline. And they lost my luggage, yeah, it got left in Toronto.

Brian Foreman: It was waiting for you when you got back on the plane.

Darryl Plunkie: When I got to the airport on Monday morning, leaving Saint Louis, my luggage had finally made it.

Scott Swenson: So, you can take it home with you. That's nice.

Darryl Plunkie: Yeah, and it did make it home, So, I'm thankful for that. At least I didn't have to spend another day on the way home, but I can't imagine coming from overseas.

Brian Foreman: Travel tip he used an Apple Airtag and put it on his luggage, So, he tracked it.

Darryl Plunkie: So, I looked at my phone as we were pulling out, taxing away, and it's like, "excuse me, my luggage is still back there." 

Brian Foreman: And Victor said, you didn't have to do laundry. 

Darryl Plunkie: Well, I was smart enough, when I found out my outbound flight was going to be delayed, it's like if it's delayed, they're going to lose my luggage. I know this is a problem, grabbed an extra carry-on and filled it full of socks, T-shirts, and underwear, just So, I had enough to last the week. So, I have a carry-on that was just things that help me not stink. Then when I get there, you can you can't take all your fluids and stuff, So, I had to buy a pit stick and extra toothpaste, because I had a full brand new tube in my luggage but no, you can't take that.

Scott Swenson: Right.

Darryl Plunkie: Learn to live a little different, learn to travel with as much carry-on as possible.

Scott Swenson: Well, it's funny because one of the suggestions for international travel, especially if you're coming to a place like Abu Dhabi, which is like a shopper's Mecca, I probably shouldn't use that analogy. It's like a shopper's paradise, they say to pack light and buy everything here, including a suitcase to take stuff home. Now, I didn't quite do that, but I totally understand why they say that, because there is nothing that I could ever possibly need that I couldn't pick up here for the same price, or less, than I could get it back home. So, I get it, I totally get it. Even my travel internationally, in my carry-on I have three extra pairs of underwear, I have two extra pairs of socks, and a change of shirt, just in case, you never know.

Darryl Plunkie: Well, I took a week's worth because I new crap was going to happen. But Airtags are a wonderful thing, even though I think there are some airports that have told you you're not allowed to have them.

Scott Swenson: That way you can catch them doing things wrong.

Brian Foreman: So, say we got a new haunt, or a home haunt, or something that's scared of consultants. They hear that word, "consultant", and they're scared. What advice do you give them? Just to start off small project, test the waters?

Scott Swenson: Talk to a consultant and don't ask a consultant, "well, what can you do for me?" Ask them, "hey, can you do this? Hey, I've got this challenge, is there anything you could do that would make this easier?" Several years ago, I actually had a booth at Transworld and I did have somebody come up and say, "consultant, huh? So, what can you do for me? Tell me?" I said, "what do you need?" He said, "ah, don't give me that you just are going to tell me what you want to hear." I said, "no, if you don't need anything, if your haunt is running exactly the way you want it, you see no room for improvement, you don't need a consultant. Don't hire me." 

Scott Swenson: So, keep in mind, I think the most important thing to remember is, especially if you are a small haunt, or really any size haunt, you're still in control, you're never going to have a consultant who's going to come in and take over your business. You can always say, "no, I don't need that." Or, "nope, I don't want that." A good consultant will write out a contract that will have a clear scope of work explaining, here's what you're going to get, here are the deliverables you're going to get, and here's how you're going to get them. If you're looking to be a consultant, you should also include things like pay scale as to when you're going to get paid, how you're going to get paid, clearly what your deliverables are, and what that timeline looks like. So, everything is pretty straightforward and laid out there when you're working with a reputable company. I think that's true with pretty much anything, whether you're selling ScareIt Badges, which you guys do very well, or whether you're selling ideas and concepts. You have to have it spelled out, and you have to make it So, that everybody feels comfortable with the deal.

Scott Swenson: If you're an independent hunt and you can find a consultant... to be completely honest, I cannot take another client for the '23 season, and I'm starting to book up for '24 already as well. But, if you can find a consultant who is willing to do a small job and maybe you say, "here's my haunt. Here's my final room, but I don't like it. What would it cost me to have you give me 3 ideas for changing that final room to make it impactful?" You know, maybe that's a good dip your toe in the water with the consultant. Maybe you want to first work with a marketing consultant, maybe you first want to work with an outside actor trainer, all of these are considered consultants. But ultimately, if you can't identify what you need, a consultant won't help you. You are still, as the owner/operator, in charge. You are still in control. 

Scott Swenson: Now, once you hire a consultant I always recommend, take what they have to offer, listen to it, process it, and then you can choose whether you want to implement it or not. I'll be completely honest, there are consultants out there, from what my clients have told me, that are not very good, don't give them what they need, or give them what they want to give them as opposed to what they need. So, I think it's important to recognize, have those discussions early, clearly identify your needs, get in writing what the consultant can do for you, how much it's going to cost you, and what deliverables you will get in the end, and who owns that information. Those are the important things to kind of keep in mind.

Darryl Plunkie: Now, one of the things you've touched on is scope. So, both from the client and the consultant side, how do we avoid scope creep?

Scott Swenson: Well, I think one of the ways that I will do it is, I will clearly spell out in my agreement with my clients, if I'm writing something new, I will say, "this includes up to three drafts of this script." So, we know that the first time I write it, the client reads it and they go, "OK we like this. We don't like this. We like this. We don't like this." I reinforce the things that they like in the second draft, and I get rid of the things or replace the things that they don't like. So, that's the second draft. The third draft is usually there just in case all of a sudden, "oh you know that 5000 square foot clear span building that we thought we had, we now have a 2500 square foot building that has columns and posts in the middle." All right, So, now the third draft is based on practicality, how do we just distill this down, make it all fit, keep the same concept, keep the same story, but tell it in a much smaller space? That's the third draft. After that, you go into renegotiations. 

Scott Swenson: Now, sometimes there are clients who say, "can you give me 5 drafts?" Yes, but, obviously, that takes more time, that takes more creative thinking, and that's an additional fee whether you use them or not. I have to commit my time to my clients as I sign the contracts. So, hopefully, if I do my job well I have extra time, and if I don't do my job well then I fill up every second of that time. So, it's one of those challenges. 

Scott Swenson: I think the important thing with scope and scope creep is making certain that how that scope creep happens is on writing before you ever start. That just protects both sides. People often say, "don't ever do business with friends." It's fine to do business with friends, just make sure that you have on paper what those expectations are So, that your business life does not negatively impact your friendship.

Brian Foreman: Yeah, found that out.

Scott Swenson: I think we all have. I think we all have, and it's and it's unfortunate, because there are some great friends out there who you think, "oh, we'll do this on a handshake and a discussion over beer," but then talk about scope creep. That's scope non-existence because nobody understands exactly what you're doing.

Brian Foreman: It's true. Well, I appreciate your holistic view and how you do everything. It's kind of you're asking more questions, and I think that's how consultants should be. I understand some consultants have more experience, and you have a lot of different experiences and a lot of different things, So, it's good just to tap your brain, because you know a lot of things.

Scott Swenson: Well, and again, I think what I bring to the table as a consultant is the fact that I do have a unique perspective. I have the perspective of my years in theme park, although I wasn't specifically an owner/operator, I had to be responsible for the same things owners/operators are responsible for. I had to make sure that things were successful, on time, and on budget, I get that side of it. Then, over the last 10, 9 1/2 years, I've been on the other side, I've been on the consultant. So, I've been able to come in, refine, and learn a little bit from that end as well. So, I've got kind of an almost multiple personality point of view. I can look at it and say, "well, this is what's going to make sense from a business standpoint, and this is what's going to make sense from a creative standpoint, and then trying to find a way to communicate and translate those two sides.

Brian Foreman: Darryl, do you have more questions for Scott? 

Darryl Plunkie: I think I've got most of the questions, if not all of the questions I can't think of anything else at the moment. Victor, do you have anything that you'd like to ask that we haven't asked yet? Haven't covered?

Victor: Mine will be more towards the way decor of Vault of Souls. My home haunt is based on say, the 1910s to 1930s, World War One prohibition era.

Scott Swenson: Oh, cool.

Victor: That's what I'm trying, and finding the core from that time, and information, it seems like it's the forgotten error to me.

Scott Swenson: It is. You're absolutely right. Anytime anybody takes on the challenge of doing a historic haunt, the first thing that comes to my mind, the first challenge that comes to my mind, is costumes and props. If you're going to try to remain as true as possible, you either have to spend a bunch on antiques or have a really clever hand in prop building or costume alteration. Because what really sells, in my opinion, that time period is, well, there's a couple things. The cheap one is music. Make sure that all of your soundtrack, your audio tracks, have the vibe of the era that you're trying to recreate, because that's the cheap one. You can always find that on iTunes, you can always find music of the era on iTunes, and you can find some that's pretty creepy. With something as simple as, there's a program called Audacity which I like to use, only because I'm not very smart and I can do a lot of things with it, but you can do audio editing and you can slow stuff down and speed stuff up, add extra static, and kind of muck it up to make it sound old and wretched. Then you can take existing, especially if you're doing something historic, public domain music, put it into Audacity, adjust it to where you want it, and then that helps you set the time period.

Scott Swenson: Another thing that I think helps set a time period is making certain your actors understand the language of the time period. If you're doing something that's happening in 1910 and somebody says, "hey, that's cool." Chances are good they've just taken you out of the realm, you're no longer in that era. So, those are the two cheap things that I think help you with establishing a period. Then costumes and props I think would be the second most important.

Scott Swenson:  Scenic, depending on what your storyline is, and I don't know Vic So, I'm sorry, but if you're doing a bombed-out church, a bombed-out church is going to look the same in 1910 as it did in1970 as it does today. It may just have a few more walls that have crumbled and some extra vines. So, depending on the story, scenic may not be as essential to maintaining that time period. Now, there are those people who say it's not important to maintain the time period, but I will say, it does help with the startle factor. Because, if you can take people out of the world, or the time period that they're in now, it gives them another distraction, and it's sort of the, "hey, look over here So, I can scare you from here," you know? Yeah, that is a challenge my friend, and I commend you for taking it. 

Scott Swenson: With Vault of Souls, when we decided to do the 1920s, the whole reason we decided to do 1920s is because that's when the building that it is set in was built. So, we actually took some of the urban legend and stories of the area, and of the building, downtown Tampa in the 20s, and incorporated it into our storyline when I wrote it. But then I had a phenomenal costumer, which helped significantly, and we were able to make things look very period, very 1920s.One of the characters, one of the challenges that I wrote for them is, one of the characters In the Vault of Souls is a dominatrix, because Tampa in the 20s was considered sort of the wild frontier. It was the end of the train line, that's as far as you could go on the train when you were headed South in the US. So, there were a lot of gangsters who would bring money to Tampa and then send it off to Cuba, or other places outside the US, to, in essence, launder the money. So, there was a lot of gambling, there was a lot of prostitution going on in Tampa in the 20s, and of course, bootleg gin and the Speakeasy was in its heyday, and Tampa was no exception. So, it was a great way to create this unique environment where we could create startles and scares.

Brian Foreman: Is that still in operation? Are they still doing that?

Scott Swenson: So, we took two years off over COVID, and we did an alteration of it called the Garden of Souls. We did it all up in the outdoor courtyard and in the vault itself, and then the past two years it's been in full operation. Before I came here to Abu Dhabi, I signed the agreement for next for the '23 as well, So, it will be there in the '23 season as well. The nice thing with them is, I actually do three different events for them. I do a summer event that we just started this past year called the Vault of Dreams, and it's a performance based cocktail party that's all based on Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, but it's my twisted version of it. So, that's really fun. Then Vault of Souls, and then I do a New Year's Eve party for them as well.

Brian Foreman: One show to catch definitely.

Scott Swenson: I'm very proud. I am very proud of it. What's really interesting, and what's made it So, easy for me to continue to do, is I keep bringing the same cast members back in the same roles. It's nine years since we started, So, it's interesting, because they're bringing new levels. They've actually tweaked the stories a little bit, built some new relationships, and then I always try to add a new character each year, a new character to each year, to play around in the nonlinear. Because it's a non-linear experience, So, I have rooms, but they don't always go in the same order for the guests. So, everybody has to understand the story So, they're all contributing to the same end result.

Brian Foreman: Yeah, story is very important in this.

Scott Swenson: For that one, yeah, especially for that one.

Brian Foreman: So, tell everybody where they can find you if they want to follow you, stalk you, listen to you, hire you.

Darryl Plunkie: And read your books.

Scott Swenson: Well, the books, So, I've got the two books on haunted attractions, and then I've got four books of dark poetry and prose. So, if you just want to see what kind of twisted stories I like to tell, all of these are available on Amazon. Let me just do the names, there is:

Follow the Story, 13 Commandments of Haunting, and then my most recent book of dark poetry and prose is called Awake in the Dark, and if you just search these on Amazon you'll find them. Amazon's probably the best. Then I do have two different podcasts that I do on a semi-regular basis. I've got Green Tagged Theme Park and 30, which I co-host with Philip Hernandez, and that comes out weekly, and then I've got my own podcast called A Scott in the Dark Periodic Podcast for Haunters, and that comes out whenever I get around to it. The format for those are, basically, when I have a topic that I want to cover, my last episode, for example, was on how to pitch new ideas. I got a lot of responses from that one, So, I'm very happy with that.

Brian Foreman: I liked it.

Scott Swenson: Then, if all else fails, you can just go to my website and you can see my clients, I've got some photos of some stuff that I've done, and how to reach me, you can just click on contact me and that kind of thing. So, that's pretty much it. I'm easy to find.

Brian Foreman: Victor wants to know if you're coming to Midsummer Scream this year.

Scott Swenson: OH, I hope so. I love, I love Midsummer Scream. It's So, much fun. It is So, much fun. I wasn't able to go last year, and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to go this year, but I'm certainly going to try.

Brian Foreman: I'm sure Vic will be there.

Scott Swenson: That is by far one of my favorite shows, just because it's the right blend of trade show and fan show.

Darryl Plunkie: So, we were discussing earlier with Victor, how is it different from Midwest, Transworld, and the show in Oregon?

Scott Swenson: I've always said that people who work in the haunted industry are actually fanboys, fangirls, fanpeople. So, I think Midsummer captured that and recognize how to create this amalgam of things that are just plain fun to do for people who love haunt, while also integrating the trade show side. Transworld is still the granddaddy of trade shows. I know there have been others out there, but they are the granddaddy of all trade shows, and it brings together people from all different areas of the haunt world, and now the Christmas world, and the escape room world. Midwest is significantly more, from my experience, education based. I think Midwest is a great place for, I always say, the home to independent haunters. You'll see fewer and fewer of the big theme park haunts at Midwest, but you will see them at Transworld. Then other shows, you know, I've been to pretty much all of them, everything from SEHEC, is that still happening

Brian Foreman: I think that's coming out this year.

Scott Swenson: OK, good. I won't be there, but I'm glad it's happening. I do the smaller trade shows as well, I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a trade show snob. I don't say, "well, I'll go to this one, but I won't go to that one." I'll go to any of them, I'm cheap and easy, I'll go to any of them. I think they're fun.

Brian Foreman: Yeah, they all have a purpose, too. 

Scott Swenson: Absolutely.

Brian Foreman: Well, thank you for your time. I know it's probably getting late over there and not.

Scott Swenson: What time is it here? Yeah. It's quarter 8:45, quarter to 9:00 PM here. Victor, thank you. Thank you for listening. I hope this was helpful for you, Victor.

Brian Foreman: Well, thanks everybody for asking questions. Thanks, Scott, for your time and Victor for your questions. I'm sure we'll catch you around the interwebs or trade show, Scott, somewhere when you get back into the states.

Scott Swenson: I'm like a bad penny, I turn up everywhere.

Brian Foreman: Yeah, the first time I met you was at HAuNTcon. I think it was either Alabama, did you go to Alabama HAuNTcon?

Scott Swenson: I did.

Brian Foreman: Yep, the first time I'd seen you. I met you there. So, that was a good time. Good time there too.

Scott Swenson: Oh, that particular show was a great show, that was a lot of fun.

Brian Foreman: Yeah, a heck of a party. Alright, guys, I'm signing off. Appreciate you. We'll see you next time.

Darryl Plunkie: Thanks a lot, everybody. 

Brian Foreman: Bye.

Darryl Plunkie: Did you learn anything new from Scott there, Brian?

Brian Foreman: Yes, I learned consultants aren't scary. I'm the type of person that, not that I know at all, but it's hard for me to ask for help, you know? But, I met Scott at HAuNTcon several years ago, and I've never, ever had that impression with him that I was wasting his time, you know? Or that I should be scared of him, because it's not about that. It's about helping everybody in the industry. Whether you're a consultant, you're a designer, you're an actor, or you're an owner, we'll always be learning from each other and doing something together, making it better.

Darryl Plunkie: Exactly. That's the way it should be. That's what we try to do with our webinars, podcasts, and shows, we try to make them better for everyone.

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.

Brian ForemanProfile Photo

Brian Foreman

Founder of Haunter's Toolbox

Owner and/or co-owner of HaunTopic Radio Podcast, ScareIt Badges, Dead Factory Haunted House, Haunter's Toolbox, and Scary Visions, Brian wears many hats and excels at all of them.