How to Start a Farm Haunt on a Budget


Today we are publishing our first guest blog post. Earlier in the year we had Farm Haunts of America on our podcast (Click Here to Listen) and we here at Agritourism Ideas think they are an outstanding resource for any venue looking to start or improve a Farm Haunt. I reached out to them a few weeks ago and asked if they would be willing to write a guest post and I think you will really benefit from the information they share. Enjoy!

Authored by Benjamin Selecky & Alexis Abare of Haunted Farms of America

You have decided to add a Haunted Farm Attraction to your Farm’s Agritainment portfolio. Now what? What do you spend the most prep time on? Where do you allocate your hard earned funds year one? What does this new picture look like? It’s easy to get lost and frustrated navigating this rocky path, but with hard work, time, and effort you can begin to dip your boot into a fresh Haunted Farm Attraction for this season. Keep in mind though, that all of the information in this post barely scratches the surface...be sure to educate yourself about all aspects of Haunt production.

GENERAL PHILOSOPHIES

Existing Resources

If your Haunted Farm turns a huge profit after a few years, there are a plethora of amazing props, vendors, big budget items that will wow your guests. Until that time, you need to show your new patrons that you have what it takes to scare their socks off. It is time to get creative and use as many of your existing resources as possible in order to keep your costs low. The good news ­ you’re a farmer...improvising and getting creative is what you do best!

First things first...Know your patrons: Are your visitors coming from the city? Chances are that the sight of farm equipment, or the screaming sound of an old compressor will look incredible and give them a great jump respectively. Are your guests from your backyard? You can still give them a great startle scare with an old chainsaw you have in the barn (take the chain off, of course). With props you have around the farm like rusted tools passed down from your grandfather, and costumes like the dirty coveralls hanging next to your workbench, you can easily turn your cornfield, barn or wooded path into a great haunted attraction.

Remember first and foremost, safety is more important than a good scare ALWAYS, so keep that in mind when using old farm antiques. Vendors replicate a lot of farm tools, and they do it using lighter materials with softer textures, in order to help your actors use them, and to provide a safer experience for your guests. The real thing always looks best (as stationary props, and should never be used as handheld weapons for your actors). You should also be sure to secure any items that could be easily lifted and carried away...it would be a shame to have your favorite items grow legs.

Big Impact

Think about your farm. Identify your natural resources. Use your farm setting to your advantage. Think about the different looks that your farm has...cornfield, orchard, forest, pond, swamp…. Do these settings have a monster centerpiece anywhere...maybe a major rock formation...maybe a tree that just screams Haunted. Do you have any existing buildings that are along your path...a barn or shed? Build your set around these. Make them a focal point. Even if you do not allow guests to enter the building, use the outside as the anchor for a stunning set...just add some lighting, props, and a great scare. Farms are in a unique position when it comes to setting. Just the thought of being in a cornfield at night is enough to send most people running scared. Add some great actors and selected props, and you have yourself the start of something special.

The major takeaway here is to identify your resources...both natural and other...and leverage them in every way possible in order to create a ‘wow’ experience for your guests. Focus first on the projects with the biggest payoff from your efforts. List your resources. Rank your projects. Get to work. Check the items off as you go.

Huge budget vs scaling back

It’s easy to shop online or through catalogs for amazing products that are available to haunters. Let’s imagine you see something so incredible that you can’t WAIT to add it to your Haunted Farm. For the sake of discussion, let's imagine that prop is a giant saw blade that has pneumatics and animatronic moving parts. This this piece is GORGEOUS and you can hear the screams already...you can visualize your patrons running from the scene because they are so terrified. But the scary part is when your eyes glare down at the price. It’s just NOT feasible this year. You think of ways to shift your budget, you question whether your kids REALLY need those braces... until that inner common sense hits ­ it’s just not a good idea this year.

So do you scrap the whole beautiful vision? We hope not. Scale back your vision...how can you achieve the same effect with a minimal budget during these early years. What is it about that prop that made you excited? Was it the giant blade? The moving parts? Think about what made that prop knock your imagination’s socks off...maybe it was the moving parts. This is something you can work with ­ you are creative and a problem solver! The parts you can use are from objects around your property like pallets, an old cylinder or some leftover stain from the barn. So instead of high end animatronics this year, maybe you opt for training an amazing actor to push/pull a simple lever and pulley system...you get your moving parts, a BANG, and use your budget on the actor to work double duty. It’s like using your laying hens to eat the weeds while fertilizing your orchard ­ It’s a well made, symbiotic haunt machine. Make the parts you have available work together.

With any scene or scare you have in your Haunted Farm, the SCARE and the impact of that scare is where your focus should be...especially in your early years. A strong actor can carry a scene and make up for a subpar set...but the converse is not necessarily true. Focus on your actors and how they will interact with your guests. Focus on where they will scare from, how they should move, and what they should say or not say. You can have the most beautiful props and sets that money can buy, but if your scare is weak ­ so is the scene. Work on the scare….work on the scare.

When to pay attention to detail, when to look the other way

As creators, we are all guilty of getting caught up in making sure that every corner of every set is detailed to the hills. But in most cases, this isn’t necessary. Haunting is largely a game of smoke and mirrors on the farm. Show your guests what you WANT them to see. Use lighting (or lack there of) to your advantage. Don’t waste a lot of your time on a detail that your guest won’t even see...or see for only a split second. Also a largely overlooked method is to paint items in the lighting they will be seen in. You will be surprised what you DON’T see. Not only will you find out where the “black holes” are, but also what colors disappear in different colored lighting. Focus on the things that you will highlight as focal points and items that your guests will spend the most time around or come into close contact with.

When you are spending your time creating characters and costumes, focus on the characters that will entertain guests while they wait in line. In most cases, people will spend more time in line than they will in the haunt itself. Make sure that your Queue Line Actors have the best makeup, and the most detailed costumes of your staff.

Guests will be standing still and will have time to look at them in detail. Even if you don’t have any lines in your early stages, it is very likely that photos will end up on Social Media since the actors will be roaming the common areas. Be sure that these characters are putting a good public face on your Haunted Farm.

Safety

With all of these topics, we could go on for pages. There is one topic in particular that should be addressed as part of the show. Safety is THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE to your production. ……………..

DIGGING IN

Actors & Costumes

Get your actors involved in putting together their costumes. Encourage them to provide some items on their own if they are willing and able. Shop at thrift stores for universal items such as pants, shirts, and jumpsuits. Your general theme and cast of characters will dictate the items you need in order to complete the costume. Black robes can be the BASE of many different costumes, but not the main course. Please don’t ever just use a black robe and a mask because it will look like your neighbor’s son is trick or treating in your field...instead, build a detailed costume through layers (EASY AND MORE EFFECTIVE). If you are handy with a sewing machine, check out this video tutorial that will show you how to construct your own robes. Think of the character from top to bottom...don’t forget about addressing all exposed areas (including hands) and also ask yourself if that character would be wearing street shoes.

At all costs, avoid movie or “famous” characters. While these costumes are readily available at your local Halloween store, they will look store bought, unoriginal, and maybe more importantly...not legal. The creators of these characters hold a copyright, and the last thing you want to do is deal with a lawsuit over your Jason character. Use your creativity to create something custom and over the top memorable. The likelihood of a copyright claim against you is very low...but are you willing to accept the potential liability? Read more here about this topic.

Lighting

Lighting can get very expensive. Overall quality and setting controls are constantly improving. Built in technology lets you control your show lighting from your smartphone. However, all of this technology comes with a price. If you are just starting out, and have little or no money to spend, it is time to get creative. Does every part of your haunt need lighting? Home Depot also sells some relatively inexpensive flood lighting. You can use these in certain places to create some dramatic effects. Be conscious of any heat that certain types of these lights may generate. This goes without saying...BUT...heat and corn don’t mix.

How many guests are you expecting? Glow necklaces are another option. You could use them as an additional way to generate some ambient group lighting as your guests move through the path. These necklaces are inexpensive and could be worked into the ticket price. Battery powered tea light or mini tap lights are another option for lighting on the cheap. When used properly, they can add depth and realism to a scene. We found one that had been left outside during a Northeast winter...and STILL TURNED ON! Not bad for $1.

If you have a budget for lighting the first year and are looking for an affordable beginner package...or something to supplement your existing lighting, check out the lighting packages from Halloween FX Props here. Mini spotlights use minimal power, and are easy to install. Don’t forget to budget for any additional wiring or controllers that you might need.

CLOSING

A Haunted Farm Attraction is a great addition to any farm’s portfolio. The complexity and creative direction are completely up to you. Hopefully some tips that you have read here will help you get started as affordably as you can. You didn’t build any of your other enterprises overnight, and a Haunted Farm is no exception. It takes lots of hard work, and time in order to build a brand that your guests will embrace for years to come.

Identify your existing resources, both natural and other. Leverage them as much as possible. Spend your budget and time wisely. Focus on high impact wow factors to keep your guests talking you up and coming back for more...and look for ways to separate yourself from other haunts in your area. Be safe. Be original. Be a Haunted Farm.

I want to thank Benjamin and Alexis for that great article. For more information about the great services they provide, be sure to check out www.farmhaunts.com


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