Haunt Tips - West Coast Halloween Convention

Haunt Tips from the West Coast Halloween Convention

by Joe Tracy, editor of Theme Park Magazine

Launching on Friday the 13th, the 2022 West Coast Halloween Convention in Portland, Oregon, brought together Halloween haunt enthusiasts for a weekend of scary entertainment and education. Formerly known as the West Coaster Haunters Convention, the West Coast Halloween Convention offered haunt classes, entertainment, vendors, and after-hour experiences.

Aimed at people who do professional, amateur, and home haunts, there were many experts to help people take their haunts to the next level.

West Coast Halloween Convention

Ed Roberts, the brains behind Nightmare Factory in Salem, Oregon, launched the weekend of festivities with a keynote address about the industry. Nightmare Factory, a fundraising haunt for the Oregon School for the Deaf, is the longest-running haunted house in the Pacific Northwest. Nightmare Factory received a major makeover by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in 2010, with horror legend Rob Zombie being a key part of the enhancements.

There were over 40 classes to select from at the West Coast Halloween Convention. The classes Theme Park Magazine attended included:

  • Putting Together Your Haunt Character by Ed Roberts
  • Effective Haunting on a Budget by Roger Hayes
  • Advanced Haunted House Design by Leonard Pickel
  • Fundraising – It’s not just for breakfast anymore! by Kristy Alberty
  • How To: Media Kits & Media Nights by Philip Hernandez (see Editor’s Note at the end of this article.)

Professional Haunted House and Home Haunt Tips

Here are a few tips and highlights from each class attended by Theme Park Magazine. These are only a small sampling of each class out of respect for ongoing classes/books/consulting being offered by these experts:

Putting Together Your Haunt Character (Ed Roberts)

  • It’s vital that each character in your haunt has a backstory. A strong backstory helps the character pick up on cues from people and respond in character. It also helps guests suspend reality for the story being told.
  • If you have a recurring character each year, make sure its story progresses year-to-year. What has this character done in the past year? How is that incorporated into the haunt?
  • Character development is vital in all aspects, e.g., demographics, religion, psychology, strengths, flaws, politics, allergies, superstitions, occupation, salary, financial status, etc. Characters are more convincing when the actor is completely in tune with that character’s traits, history, lifestyle, etc.
  • Your character should have props that relate to who/what they are.
  • If you use animatronics in your haunt, only use them as a distraction to allow your actors to give a good scare.

Effective Haunting on a Budget (Roger Hayes)

  • Update or upgrade older props instead of buying new ones.
  • Make an agreement with a local food establishment to feed your actors in exchange for handing out coupons or other promotional material to people who go through your haunt.
  • Plan your haunt before you buy props. It will save you money from wasted purchases.
  • Good “budget scares” include peanut shells on the ground, strings hanging down into the face of guests, strobes with fog, and water or rice “dripping” from above.
  • Watch free sections of websites, social media sites, and Craigslist for props.
  • Put your best and newest props upfront and well-lit, and use your older props to fill in the background.

Advanced Haunted House Design (Leonard Pickel)

  • Highly detailed haunts (set design, lighting, scares) are most successful.
  • Think of a haunted house like a horror movie where the guest walks from scene to scene.
  • You may not scare all guests, but you can entertain all of them.
  • Use props to define paths instead of always using walls.
  • If your queue line is within view of the exit, then guests can see the reactions of people leaving, building anticipation.
  • Actors should be able to see and track visitors walking through the haunt.

Fundraising – It’s not just for breakfast anymore! (Kristy Alberty)

  • Read old issues of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal by Kim Klein.
  • People give with their hearts. What is your message to reach the heart?
  • When asking for money, your message must move people.
  • If you are raising money for your haunt and can find someone who already has an established relationship with a potential donor, then have them make the ask. You will get more money from people you have relationships with.
  • It’s better to ask for more and get less. Many people will make a counter-offer to what you ask for.

How To: Media Kits & Media Nights by Philip Hernandez

  • When you invite media to your event, you will get a better response if you send out attention-grabbing invitations by regular mail. Make it special by including a box of goodies related to you event.
  • Treat media like VIPs. Make sure they get quick access to your haunt and to people for interviews.
  • Identify the type of media you are dealing with, as each will have different requirements. The needs of a blog or newspaper reporter differ from that of a social media influencer. Ask what they will need to be most effective.
  • Don’t hold your media event before you open your haunted attraction. Wait one week, then hold it. Not only will you have a week to work out kinks, but media coverage after the first week will help boost ongoing sales.
  • A mid-week evening works better for a media night. Weekends have more competing events vying for coverage.

About the West Coast Halloween Convention

The West Coast Halloween Convention is an annual gathering of Halloween enthusiasts, professional haunters, and home haunters. Created by Ed Roberts, the convention’s first year was 2010 at the Oregon School for the Deaf and Nightmare Factory in Salem, Oregon. In 2013, the convention became non-profit and offered haunt grants to people who worked with autistic and deaf children in the industry. It is the only Halloween convention to benefit a charity. The annual convention takes place at the Double-Tree hotel in Portland, Oregon, where guests staying at the hotel occupy the 13th floor.

Explore More (Videos)

West Coast Halloween Convention This Weekend!

Explore More (Resources)

Editor’s Note: While everyone did a great job, the Media Kits & Media Nights presentation by Philip Hernandez really blew us away. Hernandez is the brains behind the Haunted Attraction Network, which puts out a daily podcast for haunters and Halloween enthusiasts. He is also a contributing writer for InPark Magazine. Hernandez had a strong presentation and didn’t hold back on his tips and advice. Despite decades in the online and print publication industry, I learned several new methods to promote haunt coverage.

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