This year, ScareCON took place at Dreamland in Margate, taking advantage of the location to host private walkthroughs of two of Screamland’s (Dreamland’s Halloween event) mazes.
The seminars were split into four different ‘zones’ which were as follows:
Running a Year Round Attraction – Leigh Bufton, Terror 13 – Leigh talked about his lifelong passion for horror and the highs and lows on his path to setting up Terror 13, a year-round attraction.
Creating a Multi-Themed Scare Event – Lisa and Bob Calvert, Cursed – Bob ran through all the key elements in setting up a scare attraction and explained his decision in making Cursed a linear event.
Designing Screamland – Jason Karl, Creative Director, Screamland and Eddie Kemsley – CEO Dreamland Margate – Eddie talked about the history leading up to the decision to host a Halloween event at Dreamland where Jason spoke more of the creative decisions behind Screamland and offered a full preview of their 2016 event, we were impressed with their ambition here.
Zombies in a Real Prison! – Joel Campbell, Immersive Events – This talk really made us want to attend one of their events – Joel spent a lot of time talking about how they refined the event, even making massive changes on their second night of operation because they reviewed what happened in the first night and saw flaws that they wanted to address.
Creating an Event in Just Weeks – Hide and Shriek Productions – The two guys from Hide and Shriek basically just presented the history of their first attraction, I’scream Factory. The key thing that we took away from their talk was that persistence is key. It was interesting to see that they carried on moving forwards even when, two weeks before the attraction was supposed to open, they still didn’t have permission from the venue.
Ticketing Options for Your Event – Hannah Morris, Ticketscript – Out of all the seminars, this was the one that felt most like a sales pitch. However, it was also one of the few talks that provided useful information. It was during this talk when we first suspected that the culture of ScareCON was centered more around the social aspect as pretty much the entire room cleared for this one.
Being a Newcomer as a Scare Actor – Gareth Jones – Gareth’s talk was interesting for providing a different perspective of scare attractions (that of the actor, obviously!) and whilst it was nice to hear about his experiences and history, there wasn’t much that we could take away from it.
Getting the Most from your Actors – David Bramwell Norris – We found that this seminar gave us the most useful, practical information. David started simply by saying if you have two zombies in an attraction, you’d want them to behave differently to make the experience less predictable and therefore, scarier. He then explained how you would go about getting the actors to perform in different ways by using a number of key terms that are playable.
Choosing actors to Really Shock! – Roy Fitter, Zombie Boot Camp – Roy’s section addressed making creative decisions to shock audiences. We’ll go into this a bit more below but a key element of his presentation was using amputees to sell the effect of zombie prosthetics for maximum impact.
Creating Scarefest at Alton Towers – Pete Cliff – Pete mainly talked about how Nemesis: The End Games evolved into the final product, covering ideas that they had to eventually drop, how the story came together and the way in which they managed to make a non-linear maze linear if they felt that people were getting lost. This was quite practical, with Pete discussing how they overcame hurdles and what didn’t work rather than just an overview of what they did.
Scoring Scarefest’s Music – Nick Hutson and Pete Cliff – Much like the other talk centred on the evolution of Nemesis: The End Games, this presentation looked at the development of the musical themes for the Nemesis maze and The Haunting of Molly Crowe at Alton Towers.
The day ended with a walkthrough of two of Screamland’s mazes from last year, Final Cut and Dead and Breakfast.
We started with Final Cut where you enter a cinema and go through the screen ‘into’ the film that’s playing. What was novel about this maze was that the film was in black and white and consequently, so was the maze. The set dressing was also reminiscent of black and white movies as were the classic horror characters that we encountered. This was quite a refreshing approach to a maze although, ultimately, we didn’t find it particularly scary. Whilst we can only speculate, one reason we believe why this may have been the case was due to the fact that the maze was actually closed down when we arrived – five minutes before our booked time. Not quite sure why they decided to close early when we had booked a time that hadn’t passed yet and we were given the impression that we had put them out slightly by turning up after the actors had been told the evening had ended…
The second maze, Dead and Breakfast, was the stronger attraction. The premise here was that we were visiting a B&B that had been bombed out during the Blitz and, typically, the place was now haunted. There were lots of cool innovations here; ranging from a fake elevator to a section that was in total darkness and the characters were more interactive here. And the bunker finale, using blackouts to make ghosts appear out of thin air, was incredibly effective.
We’re very interested in returning to Screamland this year to see the evolutions of these two mazes which we were told are returning in a revised format.
Across all the presentations, there was a lot of information offered and the variety of the seminars meant that the spectrum covered was very wide from those focused on creative decisions to more business-oriented ones.
Key thing here was the organisation of the event. For being in its ninth year, it seemed very amateurish. There was only one person on the registration desk which slowed things down to a crawl to the point that the event kicked off near half an hour late. From there, there were numerous videos that presenters brought that suddenly didn’t work and, very awkwardly, on more than one occasion, the speakers asked if the organiser was present in the room to assist only to be met with dead air. We understand that the organiser could potentially be juggling many balls but they should have arranged to always have someone in the room to provide help. It was unfair on those talking and seemed unprofessional to the audience. We don’t think it’s unfair to say this; a valid suggestion is that the show is more widely staffed.
The most glaring thing was that the day just ended. Once the final presentation had wrapped up there was no concluding speech or wrap up, we sat around for a few minutes before realising that was actually the end of the day. This was punctuated by the fact that there were two events promised that didn’t materialise. At no point during the day were we told that these were cancelled so there was a legitimate expectation that there was more to come. We’ve asked them twice on Twitter what happened but haven’t received a response yet which backs up everything we’ve said above.
The other specific thing was the Zombie Bootcamp presentation. I personally felt uncomfortable throughout this presentation for several reasons. Genuine amputees were paraded around the room to show off how their disabilities can be utilised, we were asked to tell the difference between a genuine war photo of a dead body and an actor in makeup and then the suggestion that their target audience also enjoy porn so nudity should be thrown into these events. It just felt very exploitative and whilst there’s nothing wrong with trying to make events more extreme, putting the focus on these elements just made it feel like they were going for shock value rather than trying to craft a well-rounded experience.
We’re not sure what this event is trying to do. It feels like there’s much more of an interest in the social aspect of it than genuinely trying to inform and educate, the seminars very much felt like an afterthought to the ScareBall. Maybe a better way to run this event would be purely as the evening event and ditch the presentations as they also weren’t very helpful overall with more than a couple just feeling like adverts/sales pitches.
Would we recommend it? Given that it’s the only event of its type at the moment, with pretty much everyone else in the UK scare industry attending, it’s a networking event that those in the industry probably should attend. It does feel though like being the only event of its type has made the organisers complacent and if you intend on getting more out of the day than drinking and chatting with industry peers, you’ll probably feel short-changed.
Ticket Price: £55
Address: Marine Terrace, Margate, Kent CT9 1XJ