ScareLA was filled with an immense number of amazing exhibitors, from vendors, artists, haunts and more. But none of this would be possible without the man who I just had the chance to interview. Rick West is the founder of Theme Park Adventure, a notable and popular theme park and entertainment site, and creative programming producer for ScareLA. Rick was kind enough to answer some questions for FGN, and it’s a pleasure to share our chat with you today as part of the convention’s coverage!
FangirlNation: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Rick. Let’s give the readers some perspective: What is your background in Theme Parks/Haunts?
Rick West: My background in the themed entertainment industry spans more than 20 years. As a SoCal native, I grew up visiting each of the parks here multiple times each year. Right out of high school, I became a Cast Member working at Disneyland on such attractions as Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Country Bear Jamboree. I’ve also worked for Knott’s Berry Farm in its Operations department for a brief stint, and one year in the early ’90s during Halloween Haunt as a Line Control team member.
I founded Theme Park Adventure in 1994; TPA turns 20 next month, which is absolutely crazy to me – in the past two decades, I’ve covered a lot of events and have seen the industry evolve from a front-row seat, so to speak, especially here in Southern California. I also work in the themed entertainment industry as a creative director/show writer – however, that’s all top secret, so I’d have to kill you if I told you anything else!
FGN: When did you get the idea for ScareLA?
RW: David Markland and Lora Ivanova are the Executive Producers of ScareLA; they approached Johanna Atilano and me about helping them with ScareLA in late 2012. They wanted to have a large-scale Halloween-centric event here in Los Angeles celebrating the spirit of the holiday and everything that goes along with it, from pumpkin carving and costume making to home haunts and major theme park events.
That’s where TPA came in. David told me point-blank that they needed the contacts that TPA had deep, well-established ties with, and that we were the key to getting those groups involved in the convention. Basically, David and Lora felt that Theme Park Adventure’s far reach into the haunter community was key to making ScareLA as strong and successful as they envisioned. Johanna and I agreed, and the rest is history in the making – because we’re far from done!
FGN: Why did you create a convention like ScareLA?
RW: ScareLA was conceived by David and Lora because they felt there was a void – a big one – here in Southern California when it comes to haunt conventions or specifically, Halloween conventions. And we agreed with them. This is the home of entertainment – the birthplace of horror. And with Knott’s Berry Farm right down the freeway, this is ground zero for the industry as a whole. In 1973, when Knott’s began Halloween Haunt, it created the beginning of what is now a multi-billion dollar industry world-wide; certainly a huge evolution for theme parks and their own Halloween events.
TPA is obviously a huge supporter of haunts of all shapes and sizes, so we agreed that SoCal desperately needed a Halloween convention like ScareLA. It has horror cons, makeup and monster cons, but not a Halloween-centric convention; that’s what excited us and that is why Johanna and I joined David and Lora in this venture.
FGN: ScareLA invited exhibitors from around the country. How did you discover them?
RW: We’re really blessed to have vendors from around the country participate in ScareLA. Last year was a bit more challenging to get people to agree to do the show, because in all fairness, no one really knew how it would turn out, and ScareLA is kind of late in the season, with Halloween breathing down our necks by mid-August. However, almost 100% of our 2013 vendors returned for 2014 – and that number grew substantially to over 125 vendors.
I’m the Creative Programming Producer of the event, so getting vendors on board is a bit out of my realm. However, I can tell you that Johanna and the rest of the team really did a fantastic job of putting feelers out there in 2013 to search out the right mix of vendors that would give our guests the best selection of merchandise and services available. This year, Johanna, David and I were at TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show in St. Louis; it was the first time TPA had ever attended, and it was fantastic. However, it is imuch different than ScareLA, in that it’s a working trade show, as opposed to ours, which is a cash-and-carry, open to the public, bring-the-family type of experience. We met a lot of vendors and insanely talented people at TransWorld, and so many of those folks heard about ScareLA during our visit this year.
FGN: How has ScareLA grown and developed from its first year?
RW: ScareLA had a huge debut year in 2013. Honestly, most everyone – from vendors to guests – were stunned by how large it was for a first-year event. That is completely due to David’s expertise in events production and Lora’s strong background in marketing and shows as well. We knew that we were going to go much bigger this year, and we did. Last year, ScareLA took up about 80% of The Reef’s (formerly LA Mart) second floor, and we had a couple food trucks in the parking lot; Wicked Lit also did a performance on one of the upper levels of the facility as well, and that was it. This year, we took 100% of the show floor, most of the 7th floor for classes and a second stage, the 11th floor for Sinister Pointe’s Ghostly Gala party on Saturday night, the basement level for Alone, and we had a bunch of food trucks as well as Terror Trucks – mobile haunted houses – in the parking lot.
We listened to our guests, and added more than half a dozen walk-through experiences to the show floor, which were very popular. Our growth was explosive this year, and we looked to double capacity from 2013. We’re still crunching numbers at this point, but it appears we likely did just that. We couldn’t be more satisfied with ScareLA 2014’s expansion.
FGN: What would you like people to take from ScareLA?
RW: ScareLA is a celebration not only of all things Halloween – it’s a celebration of a community here in SoCal that really has become a united family. My specialty lies within the haunt community here in Southern California. Seeing these haunts and haunters come together under one roof and really support each other – that is the core spirit of ScareLA, and that is what I hope people of all walks took away from the show this year – that this is a special, really big community that we have and love here on the West Coast.
FGN: What are your hopes for ScareLA in the future?
RW: Believe it or not, we’re already talking about ScareLA 2015, although our core team won’t really hit the drawing boards until after this Halloween season passes; we usually begin serious discussion in November and then throw everything into high gear after the turn of the year. The way I see it, these past two years have given the show a tremendous base – vendors, guests, and participants such as the major theme parks and attractions. It’s a solid base to build on, and we intend to do just that – build the show slowly each year and let it evolve with the industry, you know? ScareLA is a living, organic thing that will grow as much as the fans and participants want it to. As far as I’m concerned, we’re in this for the long haul, and absolutely refuse to relax or rest on success. You’re only as good as your last show, so we are holding ourselves to some pretty high standards already for 2015.
FGN: What excites you most about the Haunt/Horror industry?
RW: The thing that excites me most about the haunt and horror industry are the people behind it. That’s pretty much the springboard that launched Theme Park Adventure in 1994. The theme parks, rides, and events like Halloween Haunt are great. However, I felt the true story – the real magic – was the people behind the scenes, under the masks and beyond the curtain, you know? The themed entertainment industry is home to the most creative people in the world, and being part of that truly excites me, whether as a fan or professional in the business. It’s an honor to be part of such a wealth of insane creativity.
I’ve been into horror and haunts since I was a small child growing up in the Inland Empire and then Orange County. I was never afraid and always wanted more. Thank God my grandpa was willing to drive me all over the place to take me to every haunted house he could find, and was willing to take me into the movie theaters to see flicks in the ’70s and ’80s that really turned me on to this genre, from Carpenter’s The Fog to A Nightmare on Elm Street and all of the Friday the 13th films! I loved it all ever since I can remember, and as a teen, created wallpaper for my entire bedroom from cut up issues of Fangoria. Christ… what that collection would be worth today had I kept it intact! Ack!
FGN: How is the Haunt/Horror community different from other genre fans?
RW: I don’t know that the haunt/horror genre fan community really is all that different from other groups. I mean, sports fanatics are just that – fanatical. Cosplay folks are hugely creative and 100% into what they do. Theme park fans are certifiable as well, and I love that – that’s why TPA exists. Sci-Fi fans are dedicated to the point of insanity to their loves. So, it’s all relative, you know? The haunt/horror community is kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys I suppose – you have goths and nerdy kids that never fit in anywhere butthis community; they were given shit all their lives for being dark and different in school growing up, and now they have successful outlets for their creative drive as haunters, artists and fans. I definitely fall into that category, so I think I click with this group perfectly, and I’d say Johanna falls into this category as well, which is why Theme Park Adventure dedicates so much time to haunts and Halloween events of all types.
FGN: What is your favorite horror movie and horror character/monster?
RW: My favorite horror movie is an easy one; John Carpenter’s Halloween. No question. I saw it for the first time as a kid – I’m pretty sure I saw it on HBO or something, and then when Halloween II came out in ’81, my grandpa took me to the theater to see it. John Carpenter made movie magic and without being overtly gory or graphic, scared the living shit out people with The Shape. Of course, Michael became way more than intended over the years, but that original film – classic. We end every Halloween night by putting that movie on at home and watching it into the wee hours of the morning; it’s tradition.
I have to give shout-outs to other horror films that really stood out in my life as well, because they shaped me and ultimately, really helped chart the course for what would eventually become Theme Park Adventure and now, ScareLA. An American Werewolf in London was a cornerstone of my childhood. Again, my grandpa took me to see it when I was 11 years old. Mind. Blown. An interesting aside – I spent about 30 minutes in the ScareLA green room with John Landis just prior to the Horror Nights presentation; we talked about everything but the movie! I didn’t even get a picture with him, because I didn’t want to be that guy, you know? I was wearing my “producer hat” and didn’t want to take advantage of the green room “safe” environment, you know? It was frustrating, and maybe I should have – but, I didn’t.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was another huge influence on me as a kid, as I fell in love with not only Freddy, but Wes Craven’s fantastic sense of “rubber reality”. As a teen, I ate that shit up and wanted more. As bad as the Nightmare films got – I loved it all. The Exorcist was also a huge influence; it’s one of the only films that’s ever made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Even to this day, I believe The Exorcist is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen, and I have huge respect for it. Years ago, I was signing a book I’d written about Pirates of the Caribbean. Linda Blair was across the way doing her thing, and she said she loved Pirates, so I signed a copy and gave it to her. As we took pictures and chatted, I told her, “You’re absolutely adorable – and you scared the ever-loving shit out of me as a kid!” She laughed and said, “Aw, thank you! And I’m sorry!”
I could go on and on about horror films that have influenced me – as well as monster movies. The original Blob was a favorite. War of the Gargantuas is another one – and I went totally fanboy this year when Monsterpalooza held its War of the Gargantuas panel! All of the Godzilla films (and yeah, I loved the recent reboot after the cluster fuck of the 1998 version which should be permanently erased from our minds), Poltergeist, the original Amityville Horror, and while not a horror film, Jaws scared the piss out of me because the shark was absolutely horrifying. Salem’s Lot hit television when I was 9 years old and spooked me really well; it’s the scariest short story by King that I’ve ever read. The list goes on and on, Stephanie – that’s a whole interview in itself, really!
FGN: Thank you again for being so generous with your time, and really giving us a glimpse into the mind of a haunter extraordinaire. It has truly been an honor, and ScareLA was a ton of fun that I can’t wait to attend again next year!
RW: Thank you and all of our guests for supporting ScareLA and being part of the best fan community in the world. It’s a lot of hard work to put on a show like this, but in the end when you see the countless smiles, hear the cheering for our sliders and witness people really having a great time – all of that hard work, frustration and stress melts away and you’re left with a really great sense of accomplishment and desire to do it all over again next year. See you in 2015, Los Angeles!
Please keep up-to-date on all things Halloween at www.scarela.com, and be sure to take a moment to check out ThemeParkAdventure.com. Keep it spooky, Rick!