All the Reasons to Support Fellow Haunts and Haunters - Especially in Online Public Forums.
Welcome, once again, to A Scott In the Dark. We’re getting into haunt season, and attractions have started to open—here in Florida especially. I think Disney started in August. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not complaining, but they start a lot earlier down here in Florida.
The Real Danger of Trash Talk
Since haunt season has been launched for this year, I wanted to reevaluate an episode we did a while back that was basically, well, about trash talk. I’ve seen a lot of trash talk happen online about different haunted attractions and people associated with those haunted attractions. I want to talk about why it’s important not to do that.
The name of this episode is, “When the Tide Comes in, All Ships Rise.” In other words, it’s all about what’s good for the industry as a whole and not just each of us as individuals. Let’s face it, there’s enough ugliness in the world right now, and we don’t need to be throwing shade at other haunters or people we’ve worked with before. This might be something of a preachy blog, so I’m just going to warn you a little beforehand that I’m going to be getting up on my soapbox. So, sit down, relax, let me get this out of my system, and then we’ll move on.
There’s a reason why there’s so much trash talk in the haunt industry and why there are so many people out there saying, “My haunt is better than your haunt,” or, “You don’t do crap.” Whether it’s creative differences, business differences, or competitive differences doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t be saying negative things publicly about one another.
But we do, and here’s why I think it happens. We’re all so passionate about what we do in the haunt industry that we want to share our beliefs and our passion. That why I do a podcast and publish this blog—because I want to share my passion about the haunt industry. With that passion comes a certain amount of territorialism, which expresses itself as “my haunt is better than your haunt.” Due to our nature, we form a competition so one of us can win, and we feel the only way for one of us to win is for somebody to lose. However, there’s not a finite amount of winning available in this world.
13th Floor – Phoenix AZ, Denver CO, Jacksonville FL, Chicago IL, Columbus OH, San Antonio TX
In that light, think about it before you get online and post, “XYZ haunt sucks because of this, this, and this,” or, “XYZ haunter did this or did that.” This hurts all of us, as an industry, and I know I sound like a hippie sitting here singing “Kumbaya,” but it’s true—it hurts us all as an industry. When our industry doesn’t show a united front and demonstrate that we support one another, we’re making ourselves look bad and stupid. We’re making us all look like amateurs, and we’re not. We’re professional haunters, and haunting is a profession, so treat it as such.
Whenever you say something about somebody else’s haunt, make sure it’s true—which a lot of the stuff I’ve been seeing recently online is not. It’s either completely false or an extremely biased perspective, let’s put it that way. Some of it is true, but let’s not air it publicly, you know? If you have a problem with someone, contact them directly so you can work it out. When you put it out there in a public forum, it’s not just hurting the industry as a whole, it’s hurting you as an individual.
Not Only Does Your Reputation Suffer, So Does the Industry
I was told a long time ago to never date someone who’s cheating on their current lover to be with you, because they’ll cheat on you to be with somebody else. People think about that in the business world as well. If a potential employer sees somebody online who’s pissing and moaning about their previous employer, previous haunt, or previous circumstance, that employer is going to look at them more closely. They’re going to look at them very carefully and say, “You know what? If they did this in the past, they might do it to me if I hire them.” It hurts your reputation when you’re negative in a public forum. People don’t want to work with you.
So, You Want to Be a Full-Time Haunter…
I get a lot of emails from people who say, “I want to be a full-time haunter.” Let’s face it, there are zero people I know who are full-time haunters, who do haunt as their only job. They do a lot of other things as well. No, that’s not true. There are full-time haunters, but they’re few and far between. We all recognize that. I’m not a full-time haunter. My heart is in haunt, but I do a lot of different things as an entertainment consultant. This time of year, the majority of those things have to do with haunted attractions, but the rest of the year I’m working on everything from Christmas to summer events to theater productions to whatever interesting project comes my way that I can say yes to. I’m all about that.
New Orleans Nightmare – New Orleans, LA
So, when people contact me and say they want to be a full-time haunter, after I stop laughing, my answer is usually very simple—“Well then, haunt.” But I should probably change that to, “Well then, haunt—because the only way you’re going to get to do it is to say you’re going to get to do it, and, hopefully, eventually, someone will pay you for it or you’ll make money with it. If not, you’re still doing it.” And I should probably add to the end of that, “Haunt, and don’t piss people off.”
No matter how good a haunter you are or how brilliant your product is, ultimately, it comes down to whether somebody wants to work with you or not. I hate to admit it, but there are a lot of people out there who have the same skill level and experience as the rest of us. None of us are extraordinarily unique in our experience or in our talent. We may be very good at what we do, we may have strengths other people don’t have, but, there’s a level where it’s not about—or not as much about—what you know and what your experience is as it is about how much people want to work with you.
Let me be transparent. I’m longer at Busch Gardens because I wasn’t brave enough to leave on my own, so I have to thank the company over and over for doing their restructuring. Ever since I left, the only thing that continues to get me work is my integrity. That’s really the only thing you take with you throughout your entire career. It’s not about your resumé, it’s not about your skill set, it’s about your integrity.
If You’re Looking for Work, Be Someone Who Fits with the Culture
I was in an event last night here in Tampa, and I was sitting next to a woman who’s a human resources representative. She knows nothing about the haunted attraction industry, and we were talking about hiring practices and hiring people. She commented, “You want to hire the right person for the culture, someone who’s going to fit in, someone who’s not going to tick people off, and someone who’ll work well with the rest of the team.” I can promise you, if you’re that guy or gal out there griping about, “I was cheated by so-and-so,” or “such-and-such haunts suck,” or “I worked with so-and-so, and they were a complete jerk,” you’re not going to be viewed as a person who’ll work within the culture. I’d assume this is true if you’re applying for a job outside the haunt industry as well.
Netherworld – Atlanta, GA
Whether we like to admit it or not, social media is being used by human-resources departments to check up on people. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than doing a background check, and you can find an awful lot about people online. I know my life is pretty much out there—and not just the good stuff. There are stupid things I’ve done that still pop up online. That’s why it’s so very important for us, as a community, to say, “We’re not going to diss each other. We’re not going to do it.”
I want to start some sort of clever and creative hashtag like #playnice or #haunterssupporthaunters, but I’m not sure that’s going to make a difference. If you want to use one of these, great.
Don’t Participate in Trash Talk
I’ve been involved with a lot of different presentations and events—Robbiween and stuff like that—where haunters come together to help other haunters. It’s important to not just do that at the big festivals but in our everyday lives. Even if you’re not the person starting some sort of comment chain about who did what to whom, don’t chime in. Just like with other forms of inappropriate behavior, sometimes you have to step up and say, “That’s not right. Stop doing that.” Again, it’s going to help us all as individuals, and it’s also going to help that person in the long run if they don’t air some sort of stupid dirty laundry that keeps them from getting hired in the future.
I say this with a certain amount of humility and, even more, from the voice of experience, which I don’t like to admit. I’ve made people angry in the industry. Because of my passion and enthusiasm, I either said things or dug in my heels on projects that hurt people’s feelings. It’s not the right thing to do, and it has come back to bite me in the tuchus. (I grew up in Chicago, most of my friends were Jewish, so that’s why I use the word tuchus.) If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I’d say, “You thought you were being righteous and fighting the indignation that’s out there, but you really weren’t. You were being bullheaded and stubborn.” I didn’t think so at the time, and it wasn’t with malicious intent, but I did it, and, to this day, it still comes back. People will look at me and go, “Oh, yeah, Scott, he’s that guy.”
I’ve tried hard to overcome that, and I’ve tried hard to change my behavior and make certain I’m not contributing to the negativity that’s out there. I’m not the one trashing a former employer. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that every time I talk about Busch Gardens, I say there are absolutely no hurt feelings. The same is true with “Vault of Souls.” I love that team. The same is true with pretty much every one of my clients, because that’s what being a freelancer is all about. You have clients for a while, you have a great time with them, and, when their needs are met, you move on to something else. There’s no animosity, and there’s no, “This is over, and they screwed me because they didn’t give me a permanent job.” Well, it was never meant to be a permanent job. My job is a bunch of temporary gigs, and, quite honestly, I love that.
That’s why this issue is so important to me and why it’s so important to me to say this in a blog. It’s important to put the word out there and encourage haunters to respect other haunters and treat other people’s products with respect—in preparation of, throughout, and after the haunt season—especially in a public forum.
If You Have a Complaint, Discuss it with the Person Directly and Privately
If you have something negative to say about somebody or you feel they’ve wronged you in some way—that’s probably the most important thing—contact them directly. You may not have the full story, and they may not have the full story. There are a thousand and one different scenarios that this could apply to, but play nice. Certainly, in public, if you’re upset with someone, give them the opportunity to share their side of the story—and, by all means, don’t publicly trash someone else’s haunt. Maybe you think their haunt sucks. In all my years in this business, I’ve done some things I don’t think were particularly good. There were a variety of reasons for that, but they just weren’t good. In some cases, I just didn’t do a good job. What helped me were the people who really cared.
I’ll give you a perfect example. When Vault of Souls first opened three years ago, there were some things that weren’t well thought out. It was a new project, and it had some things that weren’t as complete as they should have been. A dear friend of mine came to experience the event, and, of course, I badly wanted this person to come up and say, “I just loved it! I loved every minute of it, and thought it was brilliant and wonderful!” They didn’t say that, but, because, they were such a trusted friend, they were able to sit down with me and say, “Here’s what was missing for me.” It’s that kind of constructive criticism that helped me make it better and helped me make future projects better. They didn’t go into the social forum and rip the event to shreds. On social media, they were quite complimentary and talked about the things they liked. They didn’t lie, but they talked about the things they liked, and then they came to me privately and said, “I really think this and this and this could have been more.” And they were right.
I’m not saying we should blindly love everything, put on our rose-colored glasses, and toss flowers at people—dead roses with eyeballs in the center. I’m not saying we should just do that. I’m saying, let’s use the things we recognize in other people’s work as ways to make their work—and the industry—better. Don’t use social media as a whipping post for anyone, about anything. If you have legitimate suggestions, concerns, or even things that plain ol’ didn’t work, it’s okay to go to that person and say, “I saw this, I didn’t see this, and I wish I’d seen that.” There may be a reason why you didn’t see it. In the best-case scenario, they’ll look at you and go, “Oh my god! I never thought of that. That’s brilliant. That’s absolutely brilliant. I’ll do that next weekend,” or, “I’ll do that in my next haunt,” or, “I’ll do that next year when we remount this.”
So, there’s very much a time and place for criticism and critique. There’s very much a time and place to share your thoughts on people’s work. A public forum—and just to be snarky—is not that place.
Everyone and their dog is going to email me with things they didn’t like about my past work. You know what? I’m gonna be completely open to it, because I’ve had so many people come up to me and praise stuff I’ve done, so I’m proud of it. I know it’s not perfect. I never believe my own press, and I know it’s not perfect. I’m going to keep trying. I think everybody wants to do the best work they possibly can, and I don’t think anybody—no matter how strong or weak the end product is—deserves to be ripped to shreds, or even suffer the occasional snarky comment, in a public forum. That’s not good for any of us.
Think About Multi-Event Tickets
For this haunt season, I’m going to ask that every haunter out there, first of all, go out and support your “competition.” I say competition, in quotes, because there isn’t really competition in the haunt industry. If people get scared once and have a good time, they’ll find another haunt to scare them again. The best thing for any haunted attraction is to have two or three really good haunted attractions in their area. If those haunted attractions are smart, they’ll reach out to one another and advertise for each other in their queue lines. If they’re REALLY smart, they’ll create a multi-event ticket and a punch card. Because it’s three separate entities, three separate businesses, maybe it’s best to have a fourth, non-biased party handle the money for them and distribute it evenly so there’s no question of, “so-and-so tried to screw me out of this and blah, blah, blah, blah.” Advertise to your audience that you’ll give them three haunts for the price of two, pool that money, and split it. I promise you’ll come out ahead. I promise you’ll get extra money out of that arrangement. I know there are those people who want to stick with full price and don’t want to discount. My feeling is, it’s better to have a night where you’ve got 600 guests and 200 of them are paying a third less than have a night of 400 guests paying full price. Did I do the math right? I think so.
Basically, what I’m saying is, it’s better to have more people even if some of them are paying less. This is the mentality of Groupon folks, so why not do it amongst yourselves? Why not take it upon yourselves to band together with this haunt, this haunt, and this haunt? For years, I tried to do this within the theme-park industry, but it was so complex that we couldn’t quite make it happen. If anyone from Busch Gardens, Universal, Knott’s, or anybody else is listening, take the idea and run with it. It’s free! Create a multi-haunt ticket. I think it would be beneficial for the parks and certainly great for haunt fans. As I said in one of my earlier blogs, all haunters are fanboys (and fangirls) to begin with, and then they become haunters.
Use Positivity to Elevate the Industry
Use positivity to elevate this industry. Use positivity so we’re not a bunch of people out there fighting against one another. We’re professionals who look at each other’s work. We enjoy each other’s work, for the most part, and those things we don’t enjoy, we don’t air publicly. I’ve put together a ton of teams, and if I know somebody or do research on somebody and find they’ve been badmouthing anybody online, chances are good I won’t hire them. I’ve talked to a couple of other major players in the industry—people who hire a lot more people than I do—and they’ve said exactly the same thing.
This is a warning, not a threat. Don’t think of it as a threat. You can do whatever you want. If you want to be out there trash talking everybody, you go right ahead. But then, don’t continue to trash talk when nobody wants to hire you, all right? If you’re saying something constructive, that’s great, but say it to the individual, say it to the haunt owner or the haunt actor privately. Oh, and by the way, don’t do that social media thing of, “I have some things to say about so-and-so, but I’m not going to say it here.” What sort of catty stupidity is that? Let that go. There are organizations I want to work with as much as I possibly can, and there are other organizations I don’t choose or want to work with again, but I will. There are some that are significantly more fun than others, but you’ll never hear me trash talk any of them. If I did that in the past, hopefully you’ll forgive me, because I had a moment of weakness. So, in this haunt season, be a haunter who supports haunters. Go out and see each other’s product.
Before I wrap up, I want to tell you a story of a visit to a Transworld show many, many years ago. This was back in the heyday of the Florida theme-park haunts. Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream were both going great guns at the time. There were people at Transworld representing both of these organizations—Michael Roddy, TJ, Kim Grommel, myself, and Robbi Lepre. We were all attending the same event, we all knew each other, and we’d been friends for years. In fact, when we were all working for our respective Florida haunts, we’d invite the other team to come over and escort them around the haunt, show them everything, and take them backstage. I’ve seen more of Universal Halloween Horror Nights than most fans have, and that’s because we were respectful of one another.
So, here we were at Transworld, and the two teams from Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream were walking down the same aisle from opposite ends of the tradeshow floor. However, at the time, I didn’t realize it was the Universal group coming toward us. Now, if you’ve ever been to Transworld, it’s a phenomenally huge show. It’s a great show, but it’s gigantic. We’re walking down from either end of the same aisle on the tradeshow floor, and I see people coming toward us who have this look of, “Uh oh, something’s going to happen.” We’re coming closer and closer and closer, and I’m watching people. It was weird. It was like they were about to see a gunfight or something. When we finally came together, we all like threw our arms around each other and said, “Good to see you! How are you doing?” We ended up having drinks that night in the lounge across the street. This was when Transworld was in Chicago, so those of you who remember back that far know exactly what I’m talking about when I say, “We were at the lounge across the street.” At that time, it was a Holiday Inn, and it later became known as the Crown Plaza.
There’s no animosity amongst professionals in the haunt industry. People who don’t perform or don’t act in a professional manner are clearly not professionals, and they don’t deserve to be in this industry. That’s the bottom line.
This haunt season, go out and support your “competition,” support your fellow haunters, go see their product, have a good night out, and learn stuff from them. If they want your opinion, have the courtesy to share it in a professional manner but not publicly. If somebody else goes to see a haunt and posts a snarky or negative remark on social media, don’t add any fuel to that fire. Let it burn out on its own, okay? Let’s make this a season of haunters supporting haunters.
One of the organizations I’m proud to continue to be a member of is the Haunted Attraction Association. They’re an organized way of doing exactly what I’m talking about—elevating the haunt industry in such a way that the people within it treat each other as professionals. If you’re a joiner and want to get involved, this is a great organization to get involved with.
I’m now going to step down off of my soapbox. If you’d like to comment on this show or make suggestions please, please do. Check out our Facebook group, go to AScottInTheDark.com or my website, or email me at [email protected]. Until next time, rest in peace.