I forget how I started following Leonard Pickel, but I want to say Chad Savage of Sinister Visions was to blame. (I think I found Leonard via Chad’s Sinister Circuit somehow. Can’t quite remember.)
At any rate, Leonard Pickel instantly piqued my interest. Why? If you’re a haunted attraction professional or enthusiast, his reputation as Editor in Chief for Haunted Attraction Magazine, as the owner of D.O.A Haunt Design & Consulting Firm, and as the director of HAuNTcon precedes him.
If you’re not, but like haunted houses of the Halloween variety, you might get a kick out of the Q&A session Mr. Pickel indulged me with.
How did you get started in the haunted attraction industry?
That is a long story! The short version is that I did a haunt in my college dorm while I was studying architecture. Once I graduated I volunteered with the March of Dimes in Dallas. I chaired the event for 4 years and then did my own Haunt in 1987, but had so many people asking me to design Haunts for them, I started a company to do that.
I imagine you’ve seen a lot of advances over your years in the industry. I know the haunted houses today are light years more advanced than the ones from my youth. What do you think the neatest “thing” to come on the scene has been the last couple of years? Are there any upcoming new techniques/ideas you’re excited about?
The biggest advancement in the last decade has been affordable animatronics. The ability to have a rubber creature jump out at people when they walk buy. The spinning tunnel was the next big advancement followed by 3D Chromadepth technology and the Closterphoia, inflatable bags that patrons have to squeeze through. LED Lighting has been around for a while, but I just tried it this last October and it is amazing.
Manufacturers are always working on new gadgets and props, and they hold their ideas very close until they are ready to launch the product.
I guess that’s understandable competition being what it is. Now something I was surprised about after reading your site was that not more haunted attractions are profitable. Or, as you put it, allowing people to “get rich quick” doing them. What does it take to make a haunted attraction profitable?
Location location location, advertise advertise advertise! Haunting is a business! You have to create a business plan that is profitable. Set a budget and stick to that budget!! There is money to be made, but you have to treat Haunting like a business! If you don’t make any money, you don’t get to play any more!
I think that’s some excellent advice that could be applied to most any business, but isn’t always. (Kind of like dieting: eat less, move more. All of it’s easier said than done!) Okay, so the profitable aspect aside, in your opinion what makes for an awesome haunted attraction? Are there any you consistently recommend people visit?
Great actors, great sets, creative concepts and awesome design! Not as easy as it sounds!
Top on the list of my faves is Netherworld in Atlanta, all of the above and more. 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, House of Shock in New Orleans, Erebus near Detroit, Bates Hotel near Philly, and everyone else who is now mad at me for leaving them off this list!!
Uh oh. Bad question on my part. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble! Nice list though. Here’s a more harmless question: speaking of those of us who like to trek to haunted attractions…Any tips for how we can make the most of our haunted attraction experiences?
Go early in the month! Lines are shorter and the haunts don’t have to push you through as fast as they do later in the month. Take friends, so you can talk in line and laugh at each other afterward. Don’t over look Home Haunts either! There are some amazing things going on with the “minor league” Haunters!
You’re also behind HAuNTcon. I went to visit the updated site and was excited to see it’s yet another stellar example of Chad at Sinister Visions awesome handiwork. Looks great! What kind of events do you have scheduled this year?
We are still trying to lock down all the tours, but we know we will be touring two haunts at Busch Gardens on Friday Night. There will also be some kind of a tour at Universal and we are working on Disney now.
Like every year, there will be lots of education, tradeshow floor, hearse rally and the infamous Haunted Attraction Magazine Costume Ball.
Is HAuNTcon just for those in the haunted attraction industry, or does the event offer things that would appeal to haunted attraction enthusiasts also?
HAuNTcon is open to the general public and we have something for everyone; owner to Halloween fan! We encourage anyone who loves Haunts or Halloween to join us April 28-May 4, 2010 in Orlando, Florida. Details at hauntcon.com.
Great! My kind of convention. I’m always looking for an excuse to get back to Florida. I might just have to work it to stay the week and come on over to check it out. (I’ll be down the weekend before for a volleyball tournament in Destin.)
Now, you spoke of home haunters before. I know the Frog Queen over at Frog on the Pumpkin qualifies as one of those whose Haunts should not be overlooked. And she likes to attend your event, but this year it’s scheduled the same weekend as the National Haunters Convention and that’s got her concerned. What would you say to people wary of coming to HAuNTcon for fear they should maybe pick the other convention instead?
There are several Haunt-ish conventions each year, and each one has the personality of the people who put them on. I realize people cannot go to all of the shows, so I recommend that they talk to people who have been to each of the conventions before and ask them their opinion. What did they get from each and are they going back?
That was a very classy, diplomatic answer. Love it! Leonard, it has been an absolute pleasure having you answer all these questions. Thanks so much for taking the time!
Thanks for the opportunity to speak with your readers, Courtney. Here’s wishing everyone a great Halloween!