A discussion with scare actor, graphic designer, and scare consultant extraordinaire
Hi, it’s Mikey, and this blog is based on episode 130 of our Scaretrack podcast, in which I interviewed Mark Lofthouse. We were counting the days until October, which means the scares were on the way, and that was why we wanted to speak with Mark. I’ve known Mark since 2012, but I didn’t know how he got into the haunt industry, so I asked him about that.
A Quick Decision to Get into Scare Acting
“I started in 2008, as a scare actor originally,” he said. “I’d always been obsessed with scare attractions, Halloween, and theme parks. I noticed Atmosphere Scare Entertainment—which was Atmosphere Scare Attractions at the time—was producing a show at Croxteth Hall, which is this big, stately hall not too far from my house. I initially got in touch with them about graphic design-related things, but my services weren’t needed in that respect. Still, they asked me to pop down and see them. I did, and they asked me if I wanted to be part of the show. I made an impulse decision to do it, and it’s all just snowballed from there. At the time, I thought it was sort of terrifying, because it was completely out of the ordinary of what I’d done before, but I thought, why not just go for it? I was 17 at the time. I was hooked after the first night. I performed there for two years, and then Scare Kingdom appeared,” he explained.
I asked him what got him into scare acting. I wondered if he was a fan of scary films or horror in general, and, if so, how that got him into the acting world.
“I’ve always been a massive, massive fan of theme parks and scare attraction zones, and I’ve been a horror fan since I was really young. One holiday, we went to Florida when Skull Kingdom was still there. They wouldn’t let me go in because of my age—I was only five or six—so I just stood outside annoying one of the actors by asking loads of questions. He was confused at why this six-year-old wasn’t terrified of him. So, I suppose it was always in my blood to want to get involved.”
Mark has definitely managed to scare me a number of times throughout the years. I asked him, “When it came to scare acting, did you have a favorite event or maze or character that you worked on?”
“The second year at Croxteth Hall, which would have been in 2009, there was a show that Atmosphere produced called The Vampire Vault. The whole hall was covered in vampires, and the guests joined a vampire hunter who took them around the hall on this long journey. I was playing one of the vampires in there, and I was with this huge puppet character. There was an automated, voice-over system in the room. I had to interact with this character, and I think that was probably one of my favorites. The second one was playing Instestigo in Horror Camp Live. That event catered to people over 18, and you could get away with a lot. The whole thing was basically ad-libbed, so it was four to five hours of complete ad-libbing, which really suited me. I’m more comfortable just thinking off the cuff about what to say as opposed to remembering lines.”
From Terrifying Adults to Making Kids Happy
I asked him what he was up to these days within the whole entertainment industry as well as the scares.
“I’ve got a completely different job than what you’d expect. It’s a family-orientated job as an event manager at a safari park in the north of England. So, I’ve gone from terrifying adults to making children really happy during Christmastime, which is quite a nice change after so many years of being in the scare industry. I’ve been doing this for nearly two years now. My primary job is to entice more guests into the park. We do large Christmas events, and we’ve got a big summer event coming along at the moment. We might potentially have plans for Halloween in the future, but I can’t say too much about that at the moment,” he said.
“So, that’s what I do as my day job. On the side, I’m still a consultant for scare attractions. So, I’ve worked with a couple of scare providers including in mainland Europe. People contact me and ask me my opinion on certain subjects, which can be anything from a brief conversation to full planning of scare attractions to theme parks. As we speak, I’m working on a huge, new, multi-room escape experience that’s opening soon. At the same time, I’ve been brought on as a consultant for this new, full-scare scream park that’s opening. It’s quite nice to be able to do the family-orientated thing at work and also have this sort of nasty aside.”
I asked him how he managed to include sleep in his busy schedule.
“I work my day job, come home, and work until 10 or 11 at night on the other bits. I also have a graphic design job, so I’m working on three things at the moment. It’s been really busy lately, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Graphic Design Projects
I asked Mark to give us a few examples of graphic design work he’s provided to the scare community.
“I used to work with Atmosphere Entertainment, and we provided graphics for Screamland. I was part of the first official Screamland graphics like Dead and Breakfast, and then the Final Court—all of those branding ones. I did the new ScareCon logo and association branding package. When you go to ScareCon and see the new bat logo and things, that was all designed by me. It was really good fun to do that. I’ve worked with a couple haunted houses in America, for which I signed an NDA, so I can’t say anything about those, unfortunately. At the moment, I’m working with Chris Collins of Secrets Beneath.”
I made the point that we forget sometimes that lots of people create an attraction. It’s not just the owners, the creative, or the designers. Events need a cool logo and a cool poster.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. I did a logo for a company called Vampire Vape a few years ago, and they really started to build momentum. One day, I was walking through a town near me and there were posters and bottles everywhere with my logo on them. It was a humbling moment to walk in and see your graphic design displayed like that. A lot of times, you just take the graphic design for granted, which I did. It’s humbling to think about how many people see your designs and your work.”
Mark continued, “Brand and logo identity is something that isn’t really spoken about, and people sort of take it for granted, but it’s probably one of the most important parts of your business. It’s your true identity as to what you are as a business, what you’re trying to portray, and what types of guests you’re trying to get in. A lot of people might look at a logo and think, “I like that font” without considering whether it hits the demographic you’re aiming for. Is it the right color scheme for the demographic? There’s so much that goes into it, and that’s why I’m always keen on trying to explain the whole process to people so they can understand why you hire the services of a graphic designer as opposed to just somebody that can use Photoshop, if that makes any sense.”
Sean, one of our ScareTrack hosts, created our logo, and it took a few iterations to get what we wanted—a pumpkin wearing headphones, so you can tell it’s a podcast—with a particular color scheme that doesn’t look too similar to any other scare podcast or scare attraction here in the UK. In the scare industry and the entertainment industry and leisure industry overall, it can take draft after draft after draft to get a logo you feel is true to your brand.
“One of my favorite things is dealing with clients. You, as a designer, get a feeling if what you’re designing is what they’re looking for and fits their brand. What’s really funny is sometimes you do all these iterations of the logo design, and then they’ll say, ‘I like the first one that you did?’ That happens so often it’s unreal.”
“Never Fall in Love with Any of Your Ideas”
I mentioned to Mark the phrase Nick Hudson uses about his music: “You’ve got to not be scared to kill your babies.” You could probably create 10 logos for a company, and they only like one of them, so you have to bin the other nine.
“One thing I got told a while ago from somebody at Merlin Magic Making was, ‘Never fall in love with any of your ideas.’ That really stuck with me, not just relating to graphic design but to scare attractions, too. What you feel in your heart and what you love as a design doesn’t mean it’s right and doesn’t mean it’s going to work. As creatives, we’re all guilty of falling in love with our ideas and thinking, ‘This is the best idea ever.’ I’ve started taking a step back and listening to other people’s advice. What they say is really key. As a creative, you’ve got to remember, at the end of the day, that you work for clients. To an extent, you’re hired for your sound advice, because people believe in you and understand what you do, but it’s not your product. Usually, you haven’t put your own money into the project. Client liaison and interpersonal skills are key. You’ve got to make sure you get along with your client really well.”
I asked Mark if he was currently working on any artwork that he was allowed to tell us about.
“I’m currently working on the attraction posters and logos for the Scream Park, which I mentioned before. The client tells me that will be launching in February or March, so everybody should keep their eyes open for that. As I mentioned before, I’m working with Chris from Secrets Beneath on his two new escape rooms in Jersey, and I’m doing the logos for him as well. I also work for a guy in Florida who has a home haunt and owns a charity. He generates money from his home haunt for his charity, so I’ve done a lot of work for him for free. His event is called A Haunt for a Cure,” said Mark.
“Then there’s the new multi-room escape experience I talked about. So, I’m doing all the branding elements and social side of that as well as being involved with the actual design. I get to see all parts of the business coming together, which is great.”
What Mark Is Up to Now
I asked Mark if he’s creating attractions from a design point of view—creating scenes, sets, or ideas—or basically just consulting for other people.
“I’m doing more consultant work at the moment than anything, but I also have a couple of projects where I’ll be getting my hands dirty and be involved all the way. After two or three years being out of the game, it’s exciting to get back in. I’ll be doing the attraction designs for the Scream Park as well as designing separate scare attractions and all the graphics, too. Like I mentioned, at my day job, we’re potentially looking at a Halloween event for next year, which is a really big project, and that’s why it’s going to take another year and a half to produce.
I asked Mark if he visited many attractions this year or the previous year, to talk about any highlights, and what he particularly enjoyed.
“I finally managed to get to Tully’s this year. It took me ten years to get there. That’s shameful to admit, isn’t it? I was so, so impressed with what Stu and his team have managed to do there. It’s incredible. I also went to Dr. Frights, York Maze, Howl-O-Scream, Yorkshire Scare Grounds, Farmageddon, and Scare Kingdom. I managed to finally get to Fear as well. It had become like a running joke every year. They’d say, ‘You’re not going to visit again this year, are you? You’re just going to ignore our event again.’ I finally went, and it was brilliant,” he said.
“It’s great to see how popular these events are now. When we started way back in 2008, there wasn’t half the number of people that go to these events now. It’s just incredible to see how busy some of the events are and how much demand there is for them. It’s really heartwarming to see how the industry you’ve been a part of from when it was quite young in the UK has grown to the extent it has now. You can see it at ScareCon as well.”
I mentioned that I started visiting attractions in 2012 and went to ScareCon. There were about 60 people in Blackpool, and now there are very few locations in the UK that are able to hold all the delegates. Mark mentioned going to Fear. I went to Fear on a Sunday night—not a peak night like Friday or Saturday—and the place was absolutely heaving. That could have been a problem, but because they run their attractions so well, half of them are free-flow. A few of these attractions are such well-oiled machines that they’re mini theme parks, and Tully’s is a full-on operation from start to finish. It’s commendable how the industry has grown over the last 10 to 12 years.
“Tully’s and Fear are probably the two I was most impressed with logistics-wise and operationally. It’s absolutely gobsmacking and unreal how many people work there. I saw more employees than were at Towers most of the season. Even at some of the smaller events I went to this year, it seems like everybody’s really wise to how to operate events successfully now. Some of these new events coming along now just do everything right the first year, and that’s really impressive to see.”
I asked Mark if he’d be at ScareCon this year.
“It’s like a second home, isn’t it? And the parties are just legendary. Last year’s party was something else.”
I want to wrap up by saying Mark is a fantastic graphic designer. I’ve seen the work he did for Faceless Venture’s show Cruelty, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to get him to highlight some of his current work.
If you’re an operator, a fan who knows operators, or you’re looking for a graphic designers or scare consultancy, Mark is definitely your guy. If you want to get in contact with him, just post a message on the Scaretrack Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, or anywhere you follow us on social media and ask for Mark’s details. We’ll be able to pass you directly to him, and he’ll be able to help you with any of the following: events management, scare consultancy, or graphic design.
We want to thank Mark Lofthouse for joining us on the Scaretrack podcast. Until next time.