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March 31, 2023

SPECIAL: You'll Float too at EscapeIT

SPECIAL: You'll Float too at EscapeIT

We hear about making 'EscapeIT,' the only officially licensed 'IT' experience in the world from creator Jason Egan.

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The only officially licensed 'IT' experience in the world, EscapeIT is an escape room on steroids. Guests arrive in Derry and embark on a mission with Derry Public Works to find the missing children. The nearly 90-minute experience spans 16 rooms and brings you face-to-face with full-scale scenes from the movie based on the novels by Stephen King. After three years of planning, EscapeIT Chapter 1 has officially opened in Las Vegas. I went on-location to speak with creator Jason Egan about the experience, his journey working with large IPs, and the future of year-round horror experiences.

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Jason Egan: So, I'm Jason Egan and I build some of the scariest and best horror attractions in the world. So, we're at the brand new EscapeIT, and this is EscapeIT: Chapter One. We're actually in the retail right now, our museum, and we are right now in front of the real three doors from the movie. When guests pull up, they're not in Las Vegas anymore, They're in the town of Derry, and you're on a mission to find missing children that Pennywise has taken. This is unlike any attraction in the world: over an hour and 10 minutes to get through this thing, 16 rooms of sheer terror, sets feel like you're truly in the movie, this is the only licensed IT experience in the world right now. The Neibolt house is 21 feet tall, and I can't wait for you to see the finale as well too; you got the Tower of Toys, and I don't want to give too much away, but it is amazing. 

Now, your typical escape room is 2 to 3 rooms and you sit in there for 60 minutes, and that's not what I wanted. We had already had the Saw experience, the only license Saw experience in the United States, and then we had Blair Witch. That model actually worked really, really well where we're actually progressing through the whole movie in multiple rooms, versus 2-3 rooms. Because how do you cover an entire movie like IT in just two or three rooms? You can't, there's so much content, and that's especially why we did Chapter One and Chapter Two. 

So, this experience took fourteen months to build. We actually raised the roof on this building in certain sections from 14 feet to 21 feet to accommodate scenes like the Neibolt house. We have this amazing finale with the Tower of Toys that we had to raise the roof as well too. Then Chapter 2, we also got the roof raised for the finale as well, because you don't want to go in a squatty scene and try to cheat the Neibolt house. I mean, it's such an iconic piece in the movie. 

When you enter these things, my main thing is I want it to be a speakeasy feel, we are coming to Derry. So, we've got out in front of this building Derry Public Works, the Capitol Theatre, Jade of the Orient, and that's what I like. I like people when they pull up to this place being like, "am I in the right spot? Oh yeah, Derry, I am in the right spot!" 

So, you are on a search and rescue mission to help the Derry Public Works employees find the missing children. You check in at Derry Public Works and then you start your journey. There are multiple actors in here, there are nearly 30 different puzzles you complete to make it to the next room, and as I said, you could see all the iconic scenes like the three doors, you can see the Neibolt house, the sewers, the clown funeral room is in there, the alleyway, Quality Meats, so many fun iconic scenes. 

IT: Chapter One was the highest-grossing horror movie of all time at over $700 million at the box office. That's insane. All these studios have really built these amazing franchises, and for them to entrust me with their amazing franchise is really cool. So, in tune, the public trust us when they come through this escape experience and they know it's going to be a good one. If Warner Bros trusted us, if Pennywise is there, they know it's going to be good, and if we're a part of it, it's going to be great.

Philip Hernandez: How did you go from, we're designing high throughput capacity linear attractions to an immersive, slow, time locked, IP experience?

Jason Egan: So, 2009 to 2018, I was still doing high throughput capacity experiences, because those were all haunted houses. So, we had worked with brands like Saw, My Bloody Valentine, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Five Nights at Freddy's, the late Georgia Merrill, I mean, and The Collector, The Collection, we worked with so many fun ones. So, when it changed over to these year-round experiences--and why I like the year-round is because I don't have to tear it down, but then also, IP's are also going to do better. We're going to do 10 times the revenue with something based on Saw, because these studios have spent hundreds of millions of dollars, in some cases, on building this brand.

Philip Hernandez: I think part of it might be the challenge of actually doing the licensing process. Why do you think they chose you to partner with to make these IPs happen?

Jason Egan: Well, you're exactly right. It's a huge challenge.

Philip Hernandez: It's a huge, enormous challenge.

Jason Egan: Just getting a studio on the phone is a massive challenge and they're very protective of their brands because they know they can't go out and get bad press that someone opened up some war attraction and it's just absolutely terrible. It has to be good. We could hurt their next game release, or whatever that might be, so there has to be a huge trust factor there too. Our relationship right now with Lionsgate is absolutely amazing, Warner Brothers is absolutely amazing. We are so picky on these attractions, and I'm so picky that I want to make sure everything is perfect. 

So, when I'm presenting something to a studio, I'm not going to go to them with a Word document like, "here's my Word document." I give them the best possible presentation I possibly could. So, then I know if they say no in the end, that I'm like I've done everything I possibly could to get that job. That's what we did back in 2009 with Saw. We got lucky with the introduction to Lionsgate back then, that was actually a radio station that was doing some promotion back and forth with Lionsgate through an ad agency, and somehow we were able to get a meeting with Lionsgate, and then they like me because they can see the passion. That is the thing, putting your best foot forward. 

Now I've got such a killer creative team, I've got people that are former Disney Imagineers, I've got the former art director from Magic Kingdom in Florida, I've got one of Lionsgate's former team members on my team as well, and we've got amazing Creative Directors. So, I have really focused a lot on putting amazing creatives in place, so now we can put these presentations together and we can put these designs together in 3D renderings that blow people's minds.

Philip Hernandez: So, if I were to summarize, do you think it would be fair to say that there was a little bit of luck that allowed you to make the introduction, but then you followed it up with your portfolio, and then also your passion and the presentation part? So, there's these three components: you have to make them see the vision, you have to prove that you've been able to do it, you have the right team, and then sometimes you need a little bit of luck to find the right person.

Jason Egan: Luck is a lot of it. I look back to the little things that happen over the years. So, in 2002, long story short, I had my haunted house, it was called Tomb of Darkness, it was an old, abandoned ballroom, and one day the Marketing Director of Circus, Circus, her name was Pam Torres, she came with the business card. My mom was working the ticketing booth, and I'm thankful that my mom was working the booth, because she handed that business card to my mom. Now, what if that would have been just someone working that ticket booth? What if it wouldn't have gotten to me? There would have been some crazy guy running... we won't mention names. It would have lasted a year, it wouldn't have lasted 15. I'm a firm believer of fate, and being in the right place at the right time. 

Philip Hernandez: Tell us about the throughput. Playing devil's advocate, isn't that like a concern where you have this very long experience?

Jason Egan: Would it be a concern whether they have to go to the restroom in the middle of the attraction, or more of a monetary concern? Or both? Because we are right at the restroom threshold. Anything longer, you have to go to the restroom. So, we are right at the sweet spot. That is definitely a concern. Monetarily, no, we're fine. We've crunched the numbers in advance to make sure. Right now we load up to 10 people every 20 minutes, so we can do it per side. So, eventually, this guy will be able to do 60 people an hour.

Philip Hernandez: Is there only one group going through at a time?

Jason Egan: No, you could have five, basically. You could have one in the lobby, you could have three in the attraction, and one in retail. So, you could have 50 people at a time in here. We've had to price it accordingly to make sure that we can break even, make money with it, and everything else, and make the rent. But that's something we spend tons of hours on, crunching numbers to make sure that this will be profitable. The type of experience that we designed is a very specific type and that's why the price has to be where it's at. It's not a $19.00 attraction. It starts at $54.99.

Philip Hernandez: Tell me, in your words, how you think this is different from other escape rooms. In my brain this isn't an escape room. You have a DMX control you guys are working, there are show control effects, there's a narrative shell, there's puzzles, and there's actors. When you compare that to like, then a single or two-room escape room, in your words, how do you do that? And do you think that labeling yourselves an escape room is detrimental?

Jason Egan: I think you bring up an excellent point and it's something we think about all the time. 

Philip Hernandez: Like what are you?

Jason Egan: I call this an escape room on steroids, is what I do. The problem is all the search terms, everything is escape room, escape room, escape room.

Philip Hernandez: People are searching for it.

Jason Egan: So, I don't want to be the guy to try to come up with and a term and spend all that money trying to force that down people's throats. And you can't scare yourself a haunted attraction because, you're in this business too, year-round haunted attractions don't work either. So, I would love to just call myself an immersive experience, but...

Philip Hernandez: Like, immersive horror experience.

Jason Egan: Yeah, but people wouldn't know what that is. So, it's the thing we argue with all the time, and I always say we are so much more than an escape room. Your average escape room is no bigger than this room that we're in right now, so that is the constant problem. So, we just tried to do it in our marketing and our advertising, and we try to show what this is, how long this is, how amazing this is, and how big this is.

Philip Hernandez: Why are you choosing to say, "We're going to tell the whole story of chapter one, and it's going to be this 16-room hour-long escapade." Versus you could take the same space and you could have 5 escape rooms and you could fit them all in, then you could double your throughput. I mean, why does it have to be this long experience with the actors and the puzzles?

Jason Egan: I wouldn't be proud of breaking this up and charging a customer $45, $55 and just having a two-room experience. That wouldn't be satisfying to me, and I don't feel it would be satisfying to my customers either. So, I'm interested in wowing the hell out of people and then seeing people come out of this thing like, "Oh my gosh. That... What the hell?" When you go to the Neibolt house, you're just shocked, it really feels like you're in the movie. In some cases, it might even be better because we have 360 degrees around you. 

You can cheat that with the camera, you can't cheat that in the scape room, So, we had to build the ceilings, we had to build this, the floors, things. We were looking at images of the Capitol Theatre the other day and it's like, you could shoot a lot on film, you can't cheat it here. Then there are things we have to make up too, because maybe we didn't see that side of the room. Maybe that side of the room wasn't built, so we have to make that up as well too.

Philip Hernandez: Let's zoom out and kind of look at the macro trends. Tell me where you think we're going with year-round horror experiences.

Jason Egan: So, I do like the fact that Universal is coming into town. I think Universal is an amazing company. They do an amazing job with their Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, I go there every year. I'm sure there's been a ton of marketing too, which only helps me. They could be the anchor, and little Jason Egan could just... I guess I only needed like 60 people an hour here. I'm happy, I don't need to do the 500 people an hour. But I think in certain markets it would definitely not work. 

Vegas is an anomaly. Vegas, this year, they're slated to have over 50 million tourists. It sounds like we're going to get the Oakland Athletics, we got the Raiders now, we got the Golden Knights. This town is on fire. But you couldn't say Universal is going to set up shop in Minneapolis, nor could Universal say, "We're going to set up this horror thing in Frisco, TX." I love Frisco. It's an amazing market, but you know, Texans are going to go to a haunted house year-round, or whatever this thing is. You need the 50 million tourists. Right now we're talking with another company that is doing something in Puerto Rico, first thing I look at, how many tourists are there. OK, 3 million, that's not 50 million. So, we look and crunch all those numbers.

Philip Hernandez: So, basically, you are looking at how much density is there, and then we're assuming that because horror is a subculture, that X percent of the tourist population would be interested in horror. 

Jason Egan: It's a combination of density and it's a combination of lack of things to do here.

Philip Hernandez: So, like underdeveloped markets? So, Orlando has plenty of theme parks and attractions, even though they have a lot of tourists, so it's kind of overdeveloped.

Jason Egan: It's also, a lot of these shows, and I love the shows, but a lot of these shows price themselves out, in my opinion. $750 for a ticket, that's too much, it really is. If you're doing a Bachelor or Bachelorette party in a nightclub, you're spending thousands to sit down with a bottle. Just to sit down, it starts at like, $2500 at times, and it's like, that's too much. So, to know that you can have a great experience at Saw, Blair Witch, or here for $45 to $55 a person, I mean, that's a great thing. That's what we're going to continue to do, we're going to continue to do attractions in an affordable range for people to go through and we're going to make an absolutely. 

We've got live shows in the works right now, we've got more immersive attractions, and we've got things that aren't horror related in the works. Last year I did a Christmas experience as well, a Winter Wonderland experience as well. So, we've got so many fun things, we are literally backed up for the next four years, and that is something I never thought I would say, I literally know what I'm going to be doing for the next four years and building these things. I want to continue to build these things to entertain all these amazing people that come through every night. I've got to meet so many amazing people that get to come through every night. You'll see all the pictures of me taking pictures of the three doors and thanking them, because I genuinely am appreciative that they've come down to visit me, pay me, to do what I love.

Jason EganProfile Photo

Jason Egan

Founder, Egan Escape Productions

Never one to take no for an answer, Jason Egan has excelled over the years by making the impossible achievable for events, venues, businesses, entertainers, and more. Determination and a talent for developing, launching, sustaining, and repairing businesses have made Egan a rare commodity. As one of the leading creators of interactive haunted attractions, immersive escape experiences, and live events, Egan is responsible for millions of scares throughout his horror career. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Egan relocated to Southern Nevada in 2001.

At 23, Egan negotiated a deal with MGM Resorts to launch his haunted attraction – Fright Dome, at Circus Circus inside the 250,000-square-foot indoor theme park. He grew Fright Dome into one of the top Halloween attractions in the world–ranked the top 5 haunted attraction in the nation by USA Today and #2 haunted attraction in the nation by Travel Channel. Fright Dome ran for 15 years; in 2014, he brought Fright Dome to Hong Kong.

Much of Egan’s achievements over the years derive from partnerships with the best in each industry. A key ingredient to his success is identifying like minds that share his aspirations, goals, and business morale. Partnerships for his events have garnered close ties with industry giants, including Lionsgate, Twisted Pictures, Compass Films, Fortress Features, Warner Bros, and more. He was the Executive Producer of the feature films, “Bloodsucking Bastards” starring Pedro Pascal, and “The Neighbor” starring Josh Stewart and Bill Engvall. He has also partnered with “Halloween,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Collector,” “Friday the 13th,” “My Bloody Valentine,” and many more to create attractions based on their movies. In 2012, Egan partnered with the late George A. Romero to build “Ward of the Dead”, the only haunted attraction that Romero ever worked on.

In 2016, Egan teamed up with the video game mastermind behind “Five Nights At Freddy’s” to create the world’s first interactive theme park attraction based on the game.

In 2017, he partnered with global content leader and Hollywood studio Lionsgate to bring to life the world’s first immersive escape experience themed after the blockbuster SAW films, one of the highest grossing horror franchises of all time. The Official SAW Escape in Las Vegas is one of the largest and most immersive escape experiences in the world, ranking #1 escape room in the nation by USA Today. In 2020, he opened Fright Ride, the first ever socially distanced haunted attraction where guests rode on electric carts through a 75,000 square foot venue. In 2021, he launched Escape Blair Witch, based on another Lionsgate favorite, The Blair Witch Project.

Most recently, Egan joined forces with Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment to bring fans the newest immersive escape experience, Escape IT, inspired by one of the most horrifying film franchises of all time, “IT,” launching in Las Vegas early 2023.