Building Up A Scare: The Four Major Decisions (Part I: Time & Space)

A slight delay since the last post. It seems that like a Martian, I can be taken down by the tiniest and of creatures on this Earth. The common cold. That, and I forgot to put a future publication date on these posts. So goes the growing pains of learning to blog.

Back to the horror….

A home haunt is a project, and the foundation of any successful project is determining its scope. This is all the work that has to be done in order to call your project complete and ready for show.  A scope is always limited by the resources you have. You can easily determine the scope of your project by looking at your resources, figuring out which ones are limited. Those will be the most restrictive and immutable, and thus will define the framework of your haunt.

Since the project is a home haunt, we’ll look at the two most restrictive and immutable limitations first. Time and Space.

The Space You Have

The only space you have to work with is your own home. Unless you’re planning on invading your neighbors ad hoc and claiming their land in the name of Halloween Town, this resource is extremely fixed and limited. You have the space you have. You will not get more. You might actually end up with less for various reasons.  So take at look at your space, and determine now how much of it will be dedicated to haunting.

Where will you haunt? In the darkest part of your heart, in the depths of your victims psyche, in the twinge of fear in every shadow. Those are all marvelous choices, but we’re going to look at locations that are slightly less metaphysical.

Since this is a home haunt, chances are it’ll be at your home, or the home of someone kind enough to let you take over some of their space for a couple months.  (In our case, it’s my very accommodating / frazzled father-in-law’s house).  Most haunters use their front yard, their porch and/or their garage. You’ll want as much easy, uninterrupted and unobstructed access to it as you can get. For example, if you chose to use the garage, will you have to move a car? Can the car be parked in the driveway for extended periods of time?  If it’s the front porch, will there be lots of foot traffic going back and forth that you can’t block off?

The size of the space you chose will also help you determine if you’ll be doing a scene that people walk past, or a walk-through attraction.  More tips on doing that math later, but for now just keep in mind that you’ll need to give people at least a 3′ wide path to walk through.  If it’s any tighter, people can’t get through– or it’s so tight they risk damaging the scene.

THe Time That Remains

Halloween is on October 31st. Every year. Rain or shine or snow or plagues of locusts. The most amount of time you have is whatever time there is between when you start, and about 5pm on Oct 31st. It’s a hard, unbreakable deadline. Just like the space you have, this will not ever change.  You may end up with less time because of that pesky Real Life creeping in (such as, say, getting a cold…).

Now that you’ve picked you space, time to budget your time. Determine how much time you can realistically dedicate to building your haunt.  Keep in mind that you’ll end up with less, just because that’s how life works. Pick a project that fits into your time budget. If you only have a weekend, don’t expect to gut your garage and build an entire set. If you have a month’s worth of evenings, do more than a single tombstone.

If this is your first haunt, expect any project you take on to take you at least three times longer than you think it will. Guarantee there will be unforseen set-backs. The material you bought doesn’t work. The adhesive isn’t holding together as well as you thought. The skeleton bones aren’t co-operating.  Your scene is too dark and you have to get more lighting. You plugged too much lighting into a single circuit, and now need to run an extension cord to avoid tripping the circuit breaker.

Although the amount of hours between now and the big night are fixed, you need to be thinking about “manhours”. If you have ten hours of time dedicated on the weekend, but you have a helper, then you do up to 20 hours of work. I say “up to”, because as good as it looks on paper, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes both of you can do an hour project on your own. Other times you may work on putting up decorations for an hour while someone holds a ladder for you. And, most commonly, one person will be waiting to do Part 2 of a project while Person 1 works on the first part. You can’t do a serial project in parallel.  As the saying goes “I need a new vampire tomorrow night instead of in 3 nights. Go get me 3 Draculas”.

One of the most important time-crunches to budget for is “last looks”.  There’s going to be a lot of stuff you just won’t be able to do until Halloween itself. Chances are you won’t want lots of props left outdoors. You risk damage due to wind, weather, vandalism, theft, etc.  The same with lighting– you don’t want to run your spooky lighting day and night for too long.  You may have restrictions with your build-space. You can’t block access to the front door, cut off access to the gas meter, or maybe you can’t park your car on the street until the last minute.  Aim to have your build done BEFORE Halloween, and budget time the day/night of (or possibly before, depending on your circumstances) for the final set up.  A good rule of thumb is to assume treaters will be coming around by 5:30pm. It’s a drop-dead deadline.

Although the amount of time you have is fixed, you have to determine how many “manhours” you have available– that is, the number of people you have helping you

As a reference, here’s what the Houghton Haunt time budget tends to look like.  We tend to officially kick things off the last weekend in August, or the first weekend in September. Because the haunt isn’t at our home, we have to actually travel to build, and that leaves us with weekends only. That generally gives us 8 weekends.  At least two of those will be used for shopping for parts and materials. Another weekend tends to get lost to the cold/flu season.  It isn’t unheard of to budget some time to doing something Halloween-fun-related, like going to a professional haunt, seeing some horror movies, going to a party, etc. That’s 4-5 solid building weekends.  One allows us to clean out and organize the garage. Another is for putting up existing set pieces (front-porch enclosure, garage walls, side-yard tent). Another for decorations, lighting and prop-fixing.

That tends to leave us with 2-3 weekends for new builds. This year we’re expanding the front-yard fencing (the project will be documented in future posts).

Sequel Bait…

You’ve figure out the first two parts of your project’s scope. You’ve determined where it will be, and how much time you have to work on it. What comes next requires a deep and existential examination of your very soul and existence.

Nah, it’s looking at budget and talent.

See you next time on Building Up a Scare.

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