Haunting Events Halloween Special (Podcast)
In this Halloween themed episode we talk to haunters Sue Rose and Rick Williams, who have run haunted trail events in California and Georgia. Their current attraction, Nightmare Forest Web of Fears, is a haunted walk through Georgia’s historic countryside.
Ranked by Style Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Spots to Celebrate Halloween”. This is a well developed and executed event that attendees rave about.
Sue and Rick share how they were underwhelmed by other haunted events that were overpriced and lacking in creativity and production. With a love of halloween, historical stories and urban legends, they decided to create their own haunting experience.
Sue and Rick share what goes into planning this experience, from inspiration, to practical execution and logistics. Creating a theme, storyline and characters, as well as preparing the property and designing scenes. Auditioning and working with actors to bring their spooky story to life and create a memorable experience for attendees.
Available on iTunes or Spotify
- Creating an immersive story
- Developing characters and managing talent
- Event safety and insurance
- Being prepared and adaptable
- Common challenges
- Team communication
- Attendee communication
- Ticketing, attendee information, event data and reporting
- Event promotion: including showcasing the experience and production value, making people more comfortable with pre-purchasing tickets.
Sue Rose & Rick Williams
Two former correctional officers who fell in love, discovered they had a mutual love of Halloween and decided to celebrate with a Halloween-themed wedding. After receiving hugely positive feedback from family, friends and neighbors, they decided to turn professional, opening an event to the public the following year. After creating a popular haunted trail attraction in California, Sue and Rick moved to Georgia in 2019 and relaunched their Halloween event there. Rick is a retired Correctional Officer who worked death row at San Quentin with Charles Manson. He is the former owner/manager of a semi-pro football team in California and former commissioner for two semi-pro football leagues. Sue, also a former Correctional Officer. She currently works as a Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and owner of Lady Rose Fitness. Former staffer/event coordinator for a California Governor, and retired in 2017 from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lisa Carson: Welcome to Ticketbud Tidbits! We’re here to share tips, advice and insights from event organizers, for event organizers. I’m your host, Lisa Carson.
If you’re new to this podcast, welcome! If you’re a returning listener, welcome back!
In this Halloween-themed episode, we talk to haunters Sue Rose and Rick Williams, who share with us their Halloween-themed event, the Nightmare Forest Web of Fears, a haunted forest trail walk through the historic Georgia countryside.
This lovely couple are experienced haunters, and really take pride in ensuring visitors are impressed by the experience, entertained, and scared out of their wits. After previously running a successful haunted trail in California, they had to reestablish themselves in a new location across the country. That meant both physically preparing the property, but also getting word out to the community that there were new haunters in town.
This is no ordinary haunt! Sue and Rick go all out. They want visitors to get their money’s worth. It is a passion project that they take very seriously. It’s obvious when you talk to them, that they want this to be a great experience for attendees, and to leave people talking about it, while they wait for their heart rate to come down a bit.
This year’s theme is Twisted Wizards Nightmare in Oz. Pure terror, beginning with your arrival at Crystal Lake parking lot, to your entrance into the pitch black Maze of Night, to fending off the hundreds of creatures that lurk within Nightmare Forest, along with the blood-stained Yellow Brick Road. You’ll be lucky to make it out with your sanity!
I’m told that they greet people in the car park with a headless horseman. That’s terrifying, and I would leave at that point, but I’m sure other people who are braver than me would continue on!
This is a serious production that’s been well thought out and executed. Sue and Rick work with the actors, to bring their spooky story to life, and strive to create a completely immersive experience for attendees.
You’re given a flashlight and directed into the park, where various scenes will unfold, as you make your journey through the forest.
Ranked by Star Magazine as one of the top ten spots to celebrate Halloween, attendees rave about the experience, including the attention to detail, historical artifacts, spooky themes and creative artistry that takes it to the next level.
Sue and Rick share what goes into creating such an experience, from inspiration to practical execution and logistics, creating a story, sharing your vision, managing talent, creating a spooky but safe environment, being prepared and adaptable, handling challenges including intoxicated attendees or people who aren’t wearing the right footwear that’s safe for an experience where you’re being chased by zombies.
They highlight the importance of clear communication and repetition of that communication, especially with behavior expectations for staff and attendees. They talk about all of the different promotional efforts that went into reestablishing themselves in a new place, as well as the value of their website and social media, to more effectively showcase the experience and production value, making people more comfortable with pre-purchasing tickets, once they can see what they’re really getting.
I hope you enjoy listening to my chat with Sue and Rick. Here it is!
Lisa Carson: Welcome to the podcast, Sue and Rick! You’re joining me today from Jesup, in Georgia, where you’ve been hosting an immersive, spooky adventure each Saturday during October, in the lead up to Halloween.
Your event page for the Nightmare Forest Web of Fears describes the experience as “meandering through the dark bone chilling maze of the Forest of Fright and the Barn of No Return, where evil beings lurk behind every shadow, waiting to drag you to your doom. Spiders, snakes, creepy clowns, demented dolls, blood-thirsty zombies and cannibals, and much, much more lie in wait for you, in the dark.”
As I said to you before, I’m freaked out by clowns, so you’ve got me there! Thank you so much for joining the podcast.
Rick: You’re welcome very much.
Sue: Thank you! We’re happy to be here.
Lisa Carson: This isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve previously held an event like this, in California. Can you tell me about where all of this started, and what you got into hosting these sorts of events?
Rick: Well, we both are former correctional officers, so I think working with creepy scary people for decades may have had something to do with it.
Lisa Carson: You’ve got a lot of material to work with.
Rick: Exactly. We met in the 80s, me and Susan here. It was a long courtship, over two or three decades. We finally were married a few years back. We love Halloween, so we decided to have a haunted wedding on Halloween night. It was a costume wedding.
We thought “Well, heck. We have 16 acres here. Why don’t we make a forest for all of the guests?” That’s what we did. All of our family and friends enjoyed it so much that we then opened it up to the neighbors, and it sort of evolved out of that.
Lisa Carson: Nice! I love it! I’m a big fan of Halloween. We don’t really celebrate it much in Australia, so I had to move here.
Sue: I’m surprised to hear that.
Lisa Carson: It’s starting to take off now. It’s becoming more popular. But it’s been not for a long time. I was one of the few people having Halloween parties.
Sue: Good for you!
Rick: A trailblazer.
Lisa Carson: An exclusive dress-up.
Sue: You know, Halloween is actually, what is it? Like the third fastest growing industry in the whole world, as we understand. It’s getting huge.
Lisa Carson: Probably because it’s been so big in the U.S. for ages, but it’s starting to take off in other places.
Sue: We’re glad to hear that!
Lisa Carson: Especially with the internet and Instagram, people are seeing things. It’s like “Oh, that looks like fun! We want to get involved.” Where do you draw on your inspiration for all of this, other than past life experience? You’ve obviously been to other events and things, where you go “That creeps me out. I want to incorporate that.”
Rick: We did. And a segue on that is that part of the reason that we did this ourselves, because we found events that we paid an enormous amount of money to go to, really were quite – they weren’t fulfilling.
Lisa Carson: Too tame?
Rick: It felt like they were just taking your money, and you walk through some cardboard walls, and you’re done.
Sue: Yeah, we got robbed! They charged a fortune for the tickets, and you’d walk through a dark room with heavy metal music blasting, so you couldn’t hear anything. Every one in a while, a ten-year-old kid would jump out in front of you, to try and scare you.
So, we were like “We can do this! We want to create something that we would like to go to.” That was kind of the genesis of that, sort of.
Rick: And us living out in the woods, so to speak, we already have the atmosphere. I mean, walking out into the creepy forest in the dark usually has people frightened before they even get out of their car.
Lisa Carson: Like a barn and I’m scared already.
Rick: Exactly. We had people last year, I know, that pulled into the parking lot and just said they couldn’t do it, and they drove away.
Lisa Carson: I think that might be me. I feel like one of these people that pull up in the parking lot like “Yeah, I can do this!” Then, I’ll be like “Nope, I’m out!”
Sue: Back to your question regarding where we draw inspiration, Rick and I, we both grew up – I’m 58. What are you now? 56. So, Rick and I grew up in an era of horror movies, classic horror movies. In California, we watched this fellow called Bob Wilkins. He had a program out of Sacramento, where he would play these B-roll, cheesy horror flicks.
He injected a lot of humor into his program, and we loved watching him every Saturday night. We grew up with that, and we grew up with the horror comic books. So, it was kind of in our bones.
And we’ve always loved Halloween, but we’re also huge history buffs. We love urban legends. We love going to cemeteries wherever we live, researching the local history, and we like to incorporate a lot of that into our attraction, and make it sort of educational, so to speak, with a twist.
Lisa Carson: I’ve done some ghost tours and things like that. I think I might have done one in Savannah. It’s a little bit more creepy when people are bringing in real stories to some, or urban legends.
Sue: It is. It absolutely is. Something else I wanted to add, too, is this industry being so huge, there’s actually quite a network of haunters, at least throughout the United States. And there’s all sorts of social networking that goes on, conventions for haunters. You can really get a lot of great ideas, and draw a lot of inspiration from what other people do.
It’s really, really fun.
Lisa Carson: I might grab some information about that from you, so I can share it on the website afterwards. Other people might be interested to go into those things.
Lisa Carson: What do you think really appeals to people about having a really immersive experience?
Rick: I think adrenaline. Fear tends to bring on adrenaline. Once that starts pumping through your body, you feel alive. And knowing that you’re probably going to be okay, so you’re able to enjoy it a little more than a really scary real event. So, I really think that’s what it is. It’s the feeling of being alive, and having fun with it.
Sue: People like an interactive experience, too, sort of like a live video game. They like to be engaged in that manner.
Unfortunately – I’ll say unfortunately for Rick and I, because it’s not a direction that we would like to go – but a lot of, I would say the direction that a portion of the industry is going now, is toward very extreme haunts, where people are signing waivers, and they’re simulating abductions and rape. They’re touching the guests. A lot of people sign on to them. A lot of guests enjoy that.
I’d like to emphasize that will never be part of what we do.
Lisa Carson: It might be taking it a bit far.
Lisa Carson: I wouldn’t be signing that waiver.
Sue: Nor us!
Lisa Carson: No, thank you. I’ve seen funny things on YouTube, where they try to scare people with clowns or something like that. The thing that I find most entertaining is where some girl’s boyfriend throws her in front of the clown and runs! Have you ever seen anything like that going on?
Sue: Yep, and we get to see that live and up close!
Rick: You never quite know how people will react in a crucial moment in life.
Sue: And usually, they don’t, either.
Lisa Carson: I’m like “We’re done, fella!”
Lisa Carson: If you’re not sure about him, take him through this and test him out!
Rick: Yeah. We’ll figure him out here for you. That should be on the website.
Lisa Carson: This is your second year doing presold tickets with Ticketbud. How did you manage ticketing previously? Was it at the door?
Rick: We both have been to other things other than the haunt, before. I even managed adult football leagues before, and we’d usually do onsite ticket sales, is how I pretty much did those in the past.
Lisa Carson: How has Ticketbud helped manage the ticketing process, and what sort of offering or service has made things easier?
Sue: A whole host of ways. I would say foremost, we’re able to, when people purchase tickets online in advance, we’re able to get kind of an idea of what our revenue is going to be up front, so we can adjust our budget accordingly, throughout the season.
Especially us being new here in Georgia, and having to reestablish, we weren’t quite sure what the ticket sales were going to be, what the reception was going to be like. So, having that information up front is very helpful. However, I will say that with regard to our current region, we find a lot of people prefer to pay cash here.
Lisa Carson: And pay at the door. So, you’re recording that online with Ticketbud, so you can see how many you’re doing online and how many – you can still track it.
Sue: Absolutely. That’s what I was going to add. I can go back online afterwards, and I can input all of the cash sales. Also, we’re able to take credit cards and debit cards at the gate, which is wonderful, a wonderful benefit.
But then, at the end of the day, we have reports that we can rely on. Those reports give us so much information, like contact info for our guests, so we can do follow-up. It allows us to find out when people are buying tickets, seeing the trend. What period during the Halloween season are they purchasing the most tickets? So, we can adjust our advertising accordingly.
I would say probably, finally, that when people purchase online, it expedites the flow at the gate, when I’m working ticketing. It’s so easy to just scan the tickets on a mobile device. It’s so quick and efficient.
Lisa Carson: A lot of organizers tend to have separate lines, so if you’ve pre-bought them, you can sort of skip the queue. It tends to, when people have done it once, and they see people passing them, they’re like “Next year, I’m buying online.”
Rick: And with how Ticketbud tracks the ticket sales, it’s pretty evident that a lot of people wait until the weekend, a Friday and a Saturday, to actually purchase what they’re going to do. That gives us the opportunity to do some spot advertising, like some billboards that maybe we only rent for the Friday or the Saturday night. Or the newspaper ads that we take out just specific days, based on ticket sales. So, it’s very helpful in that regard.
Lisa Carson: Last year, I think you sold tickets at the specific time slots, and you haven’t done that this time. You’ve gone with more of a general admission. What was the reasoning behind that?
Rick: Last year, we lived really remote, in the mountains of northern California, and our parking was pretty limited. So, we really needed to control the flow of traffic more, there. Here in Georgia, we have an enormous amount of parking, so it’s not an issue anymore. So, we don’t really have to manage exactly when they’re going to be here.
Lisa Carson: Then, you have a cast of 25, I think, that are helping you bring this whole adventure to life. Those will be the Twisted Wizard and the Imperiled City, the Glinda Gone Bad Witch, and the Ghoulish Flying Monkey Horde. That was the thing that creeped me out about the Wizard of Oz.
Sue: Me, too!
Rick: That’s why they’re here.
Lisa Carson: I’ve had many nightmares about them.
Rick: We may have them be deep in the woods, when the guests get the furthest from the parking lot.
Lisa Carson: Wow! What was the process for finding these people, to become these creepy characters?
Sue: Social media, mostly. We found that’s been the most effective. Different Facebook groups, different help wanted Facebook groups in the area, local event groups. We’ve used Craigslist. We’ve posted flyers at different places of business. We’ve used the actors that we’ve already hired, as word of mouth.
In fact, some of the actors that we’re utilizing now worked at another seasonal attraction that has since cancelled. So, they know a lot of folks, and were able to bring them on board.
Lisa Carson: That’s great. What goes into the character creation? Do you provide the costumes and makeup, or do they bring some things?
Sue: We do. We provide all of the costumes, because we kind of want to maintain control of our own vision. We determine their roles. We allow them to ad lib, too. We want to give them some latitude to do that, but we basically want to create the role, the position, the costume.
Last year, we did not have anyone doing makeup. This year, we brought on a local gal to do makeup, and she’s just fantastic. So, we’re able to do a lot of additional advertising for her, as well, on social media, by featuring different characters on our Facebook page, on our website.
Lisa Carson: I’ll have to grab some pictures of the characters in the makeup, that we can put on the website.
Rick: We find that we, based on – we keep an eye on what’s going on with our guests and our actors, and our characters evolve weekly. For example, at first we plan to have our scarecrow as being evil, walking around. Somewhere along the way, we decided to have him being consumed by zombies, eating his poor newly-found brain.
It’s important to always be conscious of your region, and what folks might take offense to. We did a lot of asking of the neighbors and town folks that we came across. We were surprised back here in the south, being in the Bible Belt, that they’re more lenient, I think, toward horror ideas, than it seemed like they were in California. That was a little bit surprising to us.
Sue: Yeah. We actually toned it down a bit, coming here. Now they’re all saying “No! We want the worst! Bring your worst!”
Lisa Carson: When I traveled around the U.S., the south seemed to have more haunted, spooky type things and tours, definitely. They embrace it.
Sue: We’re in the heart of it, for sure.
Rick: We had a Charles Manson crypt last year, in California. I was a correctional officer. I worked with him in the 80s. We left that behind, in California.
Lisa Carson: What sort of briefing do you give to performers? Is it written on paper, or do you just talk to them about what their role is, and what they can and can’t do? I saw on your website that they’re not allowed to physically touch guests. How does the briefing happen?
Rick: A week before the event, we had a full team orientation out here, where they all got a copy of the rules and regulations, and our expectations. We walked them through the trail. We showed them their areas, where we thought we designed the best scares for them.
As far as all of the safety precautions, we have radios here for everyone. Every actor has a radio, a two-way radio with me, in case of an issue.
Sue: I would also add that we don’t only communicate rules and expectations to our actors, but we do that for our guests, as well. We have trail rules. We have a sign at our gate that explains what our liability insurance will require. They’ve got to wear appropriate footwear. They cannot touch the actors, just like the actors cannot touch them.
So, we communicate that in writing. We communicate verbally with our actors, throughout the event, because I don’t care how clear you are, how much you repeat a message, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t hear it or refuses to listen or follow the instructions.
That’s kind of a constant, throughout the event.
Rick: We have actors who sometimes during an event, they get caught up in the heat of the moment, and they think that they can change, maybe the course itself, so they can get a better scare or something to that effect. But there is a reason we have the course, to set up other people down the road, for a scare.
Most of them, you just explain clearly what you’re trying to create for the guests, the effect, and then they get it. We’ve been pretty blessed with real good staff.
Sue: I would say, too, that the way that we work with the actors, the way we recruit them, the way we communicate with them, it’s always evolving, obviously, based on what’s gone wrong, what has worked well.
A prime example is in years prior, we interviewed actors solely via phone. That didn’t work out too well for us. Maybe, when they showed up, based on a phone interview, we might have put them in a certain role, but their personality didn’t fit it. Their body type might not have fit it. Or they might not have shown up at all, or they weren’t really interested in doing the event.
So this year, we met everyone in person, beforehand.
Lisa Carson: You’ve talked about you’ve got a very clear design for the whole experience. How do you go about doing that, what the path is going to be, what they’ll encounter along the way, the props you need? What’s that plan? Do you map it all out?
Rick: Absolutely, and it’s a lot of visual. There’s a lot of times we’re sitting on the couch, trying to watch TV, and something will come in our head, and we write it down. And then, a lot of walking up the path. The terrain itself, on our trail, will kind of set the areas where you need to put your giant spiders or your snakes, or your bats. The terrain itself will kind of let you know what needs to go there.
But all in all, coming here to Georgia, we didn’t have a path at all, three months ago. So, it started with hiring a gentleman with a giant tractor, plowing through the forest. Then, it took days with me with a pickaxe and an axe and pruning shears, to make it safe for the guests. A lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into that.
Then, just what scares you? What scares me and Sue, when we walk? What would get us? And what kind of segues, from one scene to the next?
We would like our scenes to kind of blend into each other. For instance, we have the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown scene, where poor Charlie Brown doesn’t do well.
Lisa Carson: I’m seeing a theme here, where a lot of characters don’t do well.
Rick: Yeah, yeah. And that blends right into our Sleepy Hollow scene, with the headless horseman. We try to make all of our scenes kind of blend into one another. By the way, we do have an actual headless horseman riding in the parking lot. We do.
Lisa Carson: Oh, my goodness! That would definitely keep me in the car!
Rick: We’ll send you some pictures of her.
Lisa Carson: I’m a very easy scare. How do you keep the whole experience fresh from year to year? Do you try new things? Obviously, you’ve got a different theme each year.
Rick: Yeah. People, I believe, like standard characters, like your Jason, your Michael Myers. They like traditional, but they also like it to be fresh. So, we just try to come up with ideas in our little demented minds, about what would take people to an experience that they would enjoy, that their adrenaline would pump and they would feel alive.
We guarantee you, you come out here at Blood Moon Acres, you will leave here feeling alive!
Lisa Carson: You might have nightmares for the next month, but feel alive.
Sue: Our trail is never the same, from year to year. We may have the same types of scenes, like our spiders. Did we mention we have a nine-foot spider?
Lisa Carson: No, you did not!
Sue: Yes. A human-eating spider, I might add. So, we’re going to have a spider scene every year, because most people hate spiders. But we change it up. It grows, it gets bigger.
So, we’ll have those same typical scenes. We always add to them, change them up. And our theme is different every year.
Rick: And we really try to figure out any phobia that we can think of, that we can bring to life for people, we’ll do it. You walk through our spiders, you’re going to get webs in your face. There’s going to be spiders all over you. It’s amazing.
We have a 50-year-old gentleman, he’s a fireman. Even going through the daylight hours at our spider grove, he ran! He’s deathly afraid of spiders. And this man’s a fireman, out fighting wildfires. But he cannot stand spiders.
Lisa Carson: When you’ve got someone with their phobias, it doesn’t matter.
Rick: We figured one clown, if somebody had a phobia, it would be scary. But I decided “Why don’t we just do eight of them, in the barn?” It starts with Pennywise, and then you’ve got all kinds of crazy clowns with mallets and chainsaws and pickaxes.
Lisa Carson: Oh, my gosh! I want to see video footage of this! What are some of the unique challenges in organizing an event like this, and what have you learned along the way?
Sue: Wow! How much time do we have? There have been tons of challenges along the way, but those are the best teachers, right? The best opportunities for learning.
I would say one of the issues that we’ve had, a haunted trail is obviously very different than a haunted house. You’re having to deal with the elements; the weather, the wind. Poor Rick, last Saturday night, for our opening night, spent hours erecting all of these blackout walls for some of our scenes, and the wind blew them all over.
And then, we had a downpour at the end of the night. So, we’re having to deal with the elements. But also, I mentioned that we did guest flashlights. We want to maximize their experience. Obviously, that means walking through the dark forest. A dark forest alone, without any spooky creatures, is pretty scary. It’s scary enough.
So, we tell folks “Don’t use a lot of light.” But a lot of them will bring their own flashlights, they’ll use their cell phones, and that takes away from the experience. That’s been a challenge for us. We haven’t quite figured that one out yet, how to get them to not use the light as much.
We also like to stagger our groups, because that’s another way to kind of amplify the fear quotient, smaller groups. They’re going to be more scared. So, we try and stagger the groups, but they’ll wait for their friends. Then, they’ll all kind of bunch up. So, that’s kind of been a challenge for us as well, a big one.
Everyone listening can really benefit from this, is our advertising. People want to be spoon-fed information, and it drives us crazy. I’ll give you a good example.
You’ve seen our website. We have a lot of information on the website. They won’t read it. They’ll go to the website, find our email address, send us an email, and ask us “When does this start? Where can I buy tickets? How much does it cost?”
We’ve learned, if we’re going to do any sort of advertising, we’ve got to just bullet point, for example, our flyers. Give them the information. How much it costs, what time does it start, where is it? That’s what they want to know.
Billboard, for example, same thing. Knowing that about the public was kind of a surprise, and has impacted the way that we do our advertising.
Lisa Carson: It’s very common that you’ve sort of got to give them the headlines, the key information, the frequently asked questions, and then go into the details, where it’s not how you would traditionally think of promoting something.
Sue: Exactly. It’s been a little bit discouraging, ,because we want to get them to the website. We want them to see the information there. We want them to read our back story.
Rick: One of our biggest challenges, also, is actors. Even after they commit, sometimes, they just don’t show up. The pay is not that great. I think, following other haunts throughout America, it’s probably the number one issue, the number one problem that we all have. It’s rough, because you design all of these scenes, and then all of a sudden, you’ve got three or four actors not show up on a given night, and that area is kind of dead.
What we have done, in regard to that, is we have filled our entire trail full of giant animatronics. Let’s just say one actor doesn’t show up. Well, we’re still going to have a giant clown animatronic, or a giant werewolf. Something is going to be there. They’re not going to be bored.
That’s why we took the time this year, we traveled probably 60 miles to and from here, to interview people. We wanted to really get a feel of them, and it’s worked out better.
Lisa Carson: Then, you’ve got that in person commitment, and hopefully people feel a little bit more guilty about cancelling at the last minute.
Rick: Exactly. Put kind of a face to the voice.
Lisa Carson: Have you had to have sort of backups for something, if it was a really key role?
Rick: We have. One of the backups is me. There was one instance last year, where I had to play a clown. We built a mine shaft down a hill, last year. I would wait down at the end of the hill and take the zombie role, because somebody didn’t show up that night. Then, as people went through, I’d run up the hill, put on the clown mask, and play that role, too.
So, I was running up and down the hill. You do what you have to do.
Lisa Carson: So the experience happens.
Rick: Yes, it’s important. It’s very important to us, because we know peoples’ hard-earned dollars can go other places. We want them to have a good time. We really, really do. That’s what makes us happy. When people leave out of here, and they’re laughing or smiling, that makes us happy.
Sue: You know, I would like to say too, with regard to the actors, it’s so hard to get people to share your vision of what you’re creating. That’s your baby. That’s our baby out there. They want to come and just have fun scaring people.
To get them to really buy into what we’re doing is a challenge, but I’m sure every manager across America could say the same thing about their staff. How do you get your people to buy in, as a team, to what you’re doing? That’s a challenge.
Lisa Carson: The best staff are usually people who do buy into what you’re trying to do.
Lisa Carson: If you’re in forums where people are passionate about scaring people and doing these sorts of things, they’d be the best people to use.
Sue: Exactly, and that’s kind of what we strive to do, to build a core group and a family of haunters that we can bring back every year. And you do. You do pick out a core group out of all of them.
Lisa Carson: This is a family friendly event, with no smoking, and it’s an alcohol-free policy. Have you had any issues with people turning up to the event intoxicated, and how do you manage that?
Rick: We have, and I guarantee every haunt across America or wherever, has. It’s a common thing that’s going to happen.
Lisa Carson: That leap of courage they’ve had, before they come.
Rick: Exactly, and it’s not always the fellows. Sometimes, it’s the ladies. It’s one of those deals where if they look so impaired that they’re going to fall down and hurt themselves, we won’t let them through. It’s really a hard call on that.
A lot of the issues I’ve noticed is if they are intoxicated, it’s a good chance they’re going to do something silly on the trail. So, once they come in and we determine that they look like they’ve had one too many, we do monitor them pretty closely, throughout the trail. That’s what we attempt to do.
Sue: And if we have issues, Rick is one of our security personnel.
Lisa Carson: He’s a bouncer?
Rick: I’m a clown, I’m a zombie, I’m a lot of things.
Sue: He wears a lot of hats on the trail. You can’t have too many first responders out on the trail.
Rick: But we haven’t had real serious issues. We’ll have an issue where a guy will grab an actor or something, just goofing around. More times than not, you talk to them about it. They know they’re wrong.
Sue: Along those same lines, another issue that we’ve had are women coming out to the trail wearing high heeled shoes, and it’s not appropriate. Some of them absolutely refuse to wear appropriate footwear. That can be a bit of a challenge, as well.
Just throwing that out, because if somebody out there is thinking about starting a trail, that’s definitely a consideration, especially for liability.
Lisa Carson: Yes, just need to communicate that. There are so many other activities you participate in, where you have to wear certain footwear.
Rick: That’s correct.
Lisa Carson: I understand that people sometimes don’t get that.
Sue: We’ve had them showing up impaired and wearing high heeled shoes. Not a good combination!
Rick: Then, you throw in eight clowns chasing you in high heeled shoes. It’s not good.
Lisa Carson: That’s a horror movie, there.
Lisa Carson: The event page says children under 13 need to be accompanied by an adult, through the trail, and they have a reduced price ticket. How did you decide on what age to set it?
Rick: Having raised two boys, my sons are 27 and 26 now, I kind of had a gauge on when I thought my boys could handle something like this. So, I kind of used past experience of being a dad, and we passed that along to even people who showed up last week, with younger children. We don’t them “Hey, we’re not responsible for your child being in your bed for the next two weeks,” kind of as a joke.
We also tell our actors. If we see a little one going through, we’ll call on the radio and say “Hey, back off a bit.”
Lisa Carson: Go a little easy.
Rick: We do. We had a little girl last year, that came out. She looked eight or nine. It was her birthday. So, we made a call and tried to take it easy on her and make sure that she had the best time that she could.
Sue: Parents know what their kids can handle, whether they can handle scary movies or not. That’s why we just say parental discretion advised. We have a lot of very young children come through, that handle it better than their parents do.
Lisa Carson: That’s probably true. I watched lots of horror movies when I was young, including Stephen King’s It. I couldn’t watch it now, but I did when I was younger!
Sue: You’re still traumatized!
Lisa Carson: That’s it. It did the damage. You also have some gifts to sell at the event. I know you do photo opportunities with the monsters. What sort of things are you doing there?
Sue: We’ve found, through experience, that our guests kind of like to be part of the experience. A lot of them show up in costume. For those that don’t, we like to have things for sale, like masks or goofy hats, and they sell. People love them. Our silly sunglasses, weird little flashlights, people love that kind of stuff.
Photo ops, this year the plan was to have a photo op with our headless horseman. We haven’t got that together quite yet, but that’s kind of the ultimate goal. I do a lot of crafts, that I sell. I love to get old porcelain dolls, like at the thrift stores, and I destroy them. I make them really creepy, and I call them my Hateful Dead Dolls. I have those for sale, as well.
The possibilities are endless.
Rick: This year, we added – one of our actors, she came on board and she let us know that they had a food truck. it’s called FrankenDiner.
Lisa Carson: Perfect!
Rick: We’ll have to send you a picture of it. It has pictures of monsters all over the food truck.
Sue: Classic horror movie monsters.
Rick: And all of their food is green. They serve green corndogs, green everything. They serve something called a crackin.
Sue: It’s a funnel cake.
Rick: It went real well, last week.
Sue: Food is a really big draw. It’s nice to have all of these extra little things for sale, because it occupies people, when they’re standing in line.
Rick: What we’ve done is, after Halloween, we go out and hit all of the after Halloween sales. We get stuff 75% off, and we pass it on to the people here, for that same price. The stuff that they’re going to spend $20 for at your local store, they’re going to get it for $5 here. We have lots of merchandise that’s brand new.
Lisa Carson: That’s great! You spoke a bit before about promoting the event, and different things. What channels have you used?
Sue: Oh, my goodness! What haven’t we used? Again, how much time do we have?
Lisa Carson: What’s seemed the most successful?
Sue: Social media, of course. I will share, too, that Rick and I being older, we weren’t raised with computers. We didn’t grow up with Facebook and social media. I had to get out of my personal comfort zone with that. I’m not a real big social media person. I’m very private. I don’t like to post all the time, about my personal life.
But you have to. It is a necessity, if you want to be successful. You have to utilize social media. So, I had to get out of my comfort zone a little bit, to learn to do that. So Facebook, Google, Yelp, YouTube. Any way that we can advertise on the internet, we have done so. We’ve used yard signs. We’ve had them made up. We’ve sent flyers to local businesses. We hand them out wherever we go.
Word of mouth – we talk about the event everywhere. We go out to eat at a restaurant, we’re telling all of the waitresses about it. Radio ads and remote live broadcasts, we’ve got a billboard. Rick’s big leather-faced clown face is going to be on a digital billboard this week.
I would say what’s been real effective, though, as well – we always give discounts for specific groups. Right now, it’s law enforcement; peace officers, firefighters, active duty military. We really try and engage with those groups.
And working with the non-profits. When you work with a non-profit, a lot of times you can get free advertising.
Rick: It’s important to us that we always, at the end and the beginning, we ask our guests where they heard about us from. So, we can kind of pinpoint what works best for our advertising dollar.
What we tend to have found out is everything we do pays off, whether it be just a flyer we posted on a supermarket billboard, or whether it’s a billboard itself, or the radio broadcast, or word of mouth. Everything works.
Lisa Carson: Because it’s repetition.
Rick: Right. Nothing is a waste of time. We just bombard the town with pictures of clowns.
Lisa Carson: That gets their attention!
Sue: I’d like to add too, Lisa, that we worked really, really hard, both in California and here in Georgia, to advertise and promote our event. When we were in California, we were in a very remote location. Everyone said “Nobody is going to come,” so we wanted to prove them wrong. We worked really hard, and we did. We proved them wrong.
Coming here to Georgia, we had to reestablish, and get ourselves known. So, we had to kind of repeat that process all over again, and we worked really, really hard getting the word out in every way possible. And like Rick said, nothing was for naught. Everything we did worked.
Lisa Carson: Are you encouraging people to take pictures and share hashtags at the event?
Sue: Oh, absolutely. Check-ins through Facebook, Yelp. The best form of advertising, I feel. Then I will, of course, the night after an event, post guest pictures back to our website and our Facebook page, as well. We’ve also started featuring different characters through social media. I think I mentioned that earlier.
Lisa Carson: To give people a preview of what’s coming.
Rick: Or a nightmare of what’s coming!
Lisa Carson: At least they know what they’re getting!
Sue: You know what that serves to do, too? Not only does it help the public to get excited, it keeps our actors excited, too. They’re getting a little bit of promotion. We’re boosting them, and thanking them for their efforts.
Lisa Carson: It also helps people see the level of production involved, and how detailed. It’s not just someone with a sheet over their head.
Lisa Carson: I think that’s really helpful, especially if people have got to drive out. They want to know what they’re getting.
A portion of the proceeds from this event are being donated to the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire, which benefits families of fallen and disabled law enforcement officers and firefighters. Why was this important to you?
Rick: I think dual reasons. Number one, me and Sue both were peace officers in California, for 50-something years together. But the main reason was my nephew followed me into law enforcement, and he was killed in the line of duty in 2007, John Miller. John’s fun spirit – he loved Halloween. He was always a goofball.
So really, this to me is my kind of paying respect to my nephew and his fun spirit, at a time of year that he loved the most.
Lisa Carson: I love that. I think it’s great for events, as well. You’re creating a fun and community type event, and I like that there’s a way of giving back to the community. I think people enjoy that.
Sue: We always have donated to different non-profits, and we always will. Last year, we were able to give a substantial donation to a local cat sanctuary and rescue. So, we do stuff for the animals, as well.
Lisa Carson: Do you have any tips or advice for other event organizers, that you can share? You’ve shared a lot, but just curious if there’s anything specific.
Sue: Oh, yes. We could go on and on. I would say first and foremost, and Rick and I would both agree on this, don’t listen to the naysayers. If you want to do something like this, follow your heart. Follow your passion. You know what is best for you.
We have found that family are the worst critics. They kind of project their own fears on you. For example, when we wanted to move to Georgia and move our haunt here, people didn’t want us to go. So, they kept telling us how awful it was going to be here. We wouldn’t be successful. We were going to hate it. We were going to end up coming back, things like that. Don’t listen to the criticism.
Every home haunter will tell you “Plan, plan, plan, and plan again.” You can’t plan enough. Rick works out a schedule weeks in advance, prior to our setup. We usually start setting up in August, and that’s really not enough time, even for us. We’re old now.
Give yourself enough time in advance, for your setup. Have a plan B. If something can go wrong, it’s going to go wrong.
Stick to a budget. Every haunter is going to tell you that, as well. There are so many cool gadgets out there. There are so many cool animatronics, and you just want to buy everything. It’s so hard to stick to a budget, but you have to.
It’s not common in this industry, for haunted attractions to be successful, or to generate a decent profit. You have to be business-minded. You have to stick to a budget.
Lisa Carson: It’s about getting a clear plan.
Sue: Of course. Another thing that I wanted to say is it’s really good to follow the trends in the industry. You can listen to different podcasts on haunting. You can go to different conventions. You can watch things on YouTube. You can go to social media.
They’re all going to give you advice, and they’re all going to tell you what the latest trends are, in the industry. Take it with a grain of salt. Use what works for you, and throw the rest out. Don’t take it too serious.
A good example is escape rooms. Escape rooms are really popular right now. They’re not really something that Rick and I are hip to. It just doesn’t ring our bell. We don’t “Oh, we’d like to incorporate an escape room.” But we did incorporate an element of that.
We have a fork in the road on our trail, and you have to choose which way to go, and you’d better choose wisely, because one is a dead end with a lot of nasty creatures at one end.
So, be yourself, and do what works for you. I know Rick has something to say, but I do want to add one more thing. Don’t forget the legalities, your liability insurance. Check with your local county or city, regarding permits; fire permits, what sort of regulations they have regarding signage and advertising. That’s all very, very important.
Lisa Carson: I think that’s a big deal. You have to have insurance for the event?
Sue: Not required, but I certainly would never go without it.
Rick: Quickly, I would just like to add that in the haunting industry itself, there’s a lot of status quos. For instance, a lot of people tell you don’t mix different themes. If you have zombies, you kind of do a whole running zombie theme, and don’t mix in your other stuff. We’re blowing that out of the lake.
We figure we’re going to hit every single fear and phobia that we can possibly think of. So, I guess that we’re just telling people out there to be original, be themselves. Don’t do what everybody else does. If you want everybody to drive for a distance to your haunt, why are they going to do that? What makes you different from a haunt in their local town?
Be flexible on what they’re doing, and just realize that usually on the night of the event, what can go wrong will go wrong. But be flexible, and just adapt and overcome. As long as their mindset is making this experience as fun for their guests as they can be, they’ll do just great.
Lisa Carson: I have one more question to ask you. Because we talk about events, I’m curious about a great event that you guys have attended, and what you loved about it.
Sue: We both went to an Alice Cooper concert that we just loved, because he was very theatrical. He used a lot of props and music, and lighting. He was real interactive with the audience. That’s something we like to do on our trail.
Lisa Carson: Where was the concert?
Rick: Jackson, California, last summer. I enjoyed it.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra puts on their little holiday show here in the Christmas season, every year. I went to an indoor arena one year, and they were doing a song about Christmas, and the whole arena started snowing on the inside. It was so impressive, how they utilized the snow, to bring the feeling of the moment there.
Lisa Carson: That’s gorgeous!
Rick: Yeah, it is.
Lisa Carson: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, on the podcast. It’s great to have you both join us for the Halloween episode.
Sue: Absolutely! Thank you!
Lisa Carson: Anyone looking for a fun Halloween adventure, check out Web of Fears Haunted Trail. It’s open every Saturday night from 7:00 to 10:00 PM, during October. Located in Jesup, Georgia, about an hour from Savannah, and not too far from Florida and South Carolina.
Check out WebOfFears.com. You can get tickets online now, through Ticketbud.
Thanks for joining us on this episode! Until next time, this was Ticketbud Tidbits!
Lisa Carson: I’m going to leave you with a little piece extra, for this podcast. While this event is always going to play on peoples’ fears and phobias – that’s what they do – the theme is different every year. Sue goes into a little bit more detail about this year’s theme, and describes the event experience, as you go through. I thought I would leave you with that.
Sue: This year, our theme is a twist on the Wizard of Oz, Twisted Wizard’s Nightmare in Oz. We’ve created a lot of real intricate scenes around the Wizard of Oz. I’ll add that the characters don’t have a real happy ending, on our trail!
Lisa Carson: Spoiler alert!
Sue: Our guests arrive. They’re given a very tiny flashlight for their group. We don’t want them to be too comfortable out there, because the dark of the forest kind of adds to the experience.
So, they start out on the trail, going through Dorothy’s house, which has of course, been hit by a tornado. As they leave the house, they follow – not the yellow brick road, but the bloodstained brick road, as they journey through the Deadwood Forest, through Nightmare Forest, and meet all sorts of night creatures on their way to Oz.
When they get to Oz, we have a climactic scene at the end, which is our version of the Emerald City. We call it the Imperiled City, and it is a barn full of demented killer creepy clowns, a whole bunch of them. Our wizard, in fact, is a creepy clown. He’s Pennywise, from It, everybody’s favorite.
Dorothy has actually been turned into a zombie. She’s devouring Toto in the event. Our Tin Man gets killed by zombie munchkins in the Zombie Munchkin Nursery. Our scarecrow meets with a bad ending, at the hands of zombies who devour his brain, poor soul. He finally gets his brain, and then he loses it!
We have a lot of classic characters on the trail, like our Jason, our Michael Myers, our Ring girl. The flying monkeys are there, as well. Our guests meet all of them, as they journey along the trail, ending with the creepy clowns.
Anything you’d like to add?
Rick: The cowardly lion is also on the trail. You will find him in the butcher’s shop. Different cowardly lion body parts are for sale.
Sue: He’s our fresh meat.
Lisa Carson: Oh, wow! You’ve done it, there!
To collaborate on a podcast please get in touch.