Scare School 2014 at Knott’s Scary Farm

scare_school_2014_monstersEach year, hundreds of ghouls fill the twisted mazes of Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt event in Buena Park, lurking in the darkness, ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims. They leer, they hiss, they scream, and they lunge; however, many of these creatures of the dark are fresh out of Scare School – a night of training outside and inside of their mazes that will prepare them for the season of screams to come. While a large amount of maze talent does return to work Halloween Haunt each season, there’s always plenty… new blood in the mix. That’s where Scare School comes in – to help returning veterans get mentally and physically limbered up for the task at hand, and to prep and pump up new talent for the experience they’re about to embark on.

Scare School 2014 was a much larger behind-the-scenes event than it’s ever been. In past years, Theme Park Adventure has been among just a very few media outlets that has been allowed to take a peek behind the veil of secrecy and witness the Knott’s monsters-in-training. Past years, including 2013’s Scare School have been featured each season here on TPA. This time around, we were surprised to see a lot more media on hand than ever before. It was apparent that something drastic had changed in the way Scare School was to be presented; returning media was perplexed by the addition of other behind-the-scenes facets to the night’s roster as well, such as a tour of Warehouse P, and a Haunt history tour through Ghost Town.

Indeed, times have changed…

Dominion of the Damned and Pinocchio Unstrung Scare School

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Scare School 2014 video contains spoilers from Dominion of the Damned, as well as Pinocchio Unstrung. If you do not wish to see the interior of these mazes, we recommend returning to view the video after your trip to Knott’s Scary Farm this season.

In years past, one of the most interesting things about Scare School was watching the process of teaching new talent how to be effective Haunt monsters unfold before our eyes (and many times, on video). That didn’t happen this year. Rather, media was able to witness and shoot the Dominion of the Damned crew being coached by Brooke Walters and Daniel Miller outside of their maze in the backstage area of Knott’s Berry Farm, behind GhostRider. Brooke is the Design Supervisor at Knott’s, overseeing anything and everything that goes into Halloween Haunt design-wise. She is a fan favorite due to her fantastic skills as an artist and her keen attention to detail. Mazes she has been responsible for creating over the years at Knott’s Scary Farm include The Doll Factory, Trick-Or-Treat, Forevermore, and this year’s highly-anticipated Voodoo. Brooke usually takes the reigns of leading Scare School, as she started at Knott’s as a monster and has worked her way up the chain to become one of the event’s most beloved designers. Daniel Miller is the longest-running Design Specialist at Knott’s, with a career that started in 1998. Some of Daniel’s more recent Scary Farm designs include Slaughterhouse, Black Magic, Delirium, and new for 2014, The Tooth Fairy. In the past couple of years, Daniel has also brought his Haunt expertise to Scare School, helping student monsters find their way.

Perhaps due to the sheer number of invited media this year, or other internal reasoning, we were not allowed inside the mazes during Scare School to watch talent being placed in their spots and/or coached by Brooke or Daniel. This led to the discussion of “no ‘Scare School’ in ‘Scare School’ while we all waited for a long time outside the maze as screams and guttural growls came from within Dominion of the Damned. Honestly, at first, it was a tad disappointing; in the past, the whole point of Scare School media presence was to show how folks get trained in their mazes to become successful talent. On the flip side of that, I get and understand if Knott’s doesn’t want untrained or unpolished employees being in the spotlight that is then shown to the public. I’ve seen first-hand someone freeze up when put on the spot to perform, and burst into tears out of embarrassment. Obviously, Theme Park Adventure has never shown that footage and never would. However, there is something highly rewarding to seeing someone’s metamorphosis from brand-new seasonal employee to confident, terrifying monster. I missed not being allowed to witness that this time around, and couldn’t help but think of the fantastic learning moments taking place throughout the maze as we waited outside.

scare_school_2014The outside training that we were permitted to shoot was fun and insightful. As you watch the video, you’ll notice Brooke’s insistence on each monster remaining in character at all times when in the presence of Scary Farm guests; she reiterates this time and again, which is always great to hear during the teaching process. Knott’s understands the importance of good show during Haunt, and reinforces it throughout Scare School; kudos to Brooke and Knott’s for stressing that to the new crews. Other moments we did witness were people introducing themselves in character to one another, as well as getting their “monster walk” down to be used onstage in the maze as well as traveling through the Farm to and from their location. There were awkward laughs coming from nervous noobs, and seriously impressive displays of monster behavior from others!

Once everyone was comfortable and in character, the Dominion crew was taken inside the maze and placed in their spots. After further coaching, the media was allowed to walk through and shoot; the show lighting, animation, and soundtrack were all on, giving us all a really nice sneak peek at what to expect from this year’s incarnation of Dominion of the Damned. Later in the night, we were escorted to Pinocchio Unstrung, where the same type of training had already taken place. As you’ll see in the video, the crews of both mazes are fired up and ready to bring the fear this week as Knott’s Scary Farm 2014 gets underway!

Huge props to everyone – the temperature at Knott’s during Scare School this year was near 100 degrees. Inside the mazes, temperatures soared, making for less-than-favorable working conditions. Everyone was a sweaty mess, but it didn’t dampen enthusiasm or excitement – the entire Knott’s team deserves huge respect for working their butts off in the nasty SoCal heat.

Warehouse P Wardrobe and Makeup Department Tours

tim_barhamFollowing the maze portion of Scare School 2014, we were given a tour of Warehouse P, which many fans will know is the home to Knott’s Wardrobe and Makeup departments during Halloween Haunt. Each day during the Halloween season, Warehouse P is a flurry of activity – each and every Haunt monster comes in, checks out his or her costume, and then many of them report to a makeup chair, where a small army of talented artists create the world-famous Scary Farm creatures using a variety of techniques.

Area Manager of Wardrobe and Makeup Design Tim Barham explained the evolution of the department over the past several decades, from a haphazard mom and pop operation back in the day, to a well-oiled machine that other Cedar Fair properties learn from and emulate each season for their own Halloween events across the United States.

Tim Barham is now in his 20th year at Knott’s Scary Farm, and has been an integral part of the event’s growth during the past two decades, helping to create the look of each Halloween Haunt monster park-wide, as well as assisting the maze designers over the years in coming up with practical, amazing costumes that are both visually strong to help tell the story of each maze/character, as well as physically strong, to hold up to the demanding stress put on them by the talent each night. This past summer, Tim participated in the groundbreaking presentation Making Monsters at ScareLA, as he represented Knott’s Scary Farm on a panel of his industry peers from Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, and Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest. His explanation of how the Halloween Haunt Wardrobe operation functions was eye-opening and really neat; he’s obviously in love with his job, and is always great fun to listen to as he talks shop!

Bill Meier, who is the Supervisor of Wardrobe Services, was on hand to explain the massive makeup operation at Knott’s Scary Farm; a process that involves hundreds of talent and a huge stockpile of custom-made prosthetics, all created on-site at Knott’s in the months leading up to Halloween Haunt. During the tour, Bill showed off the prosthetic for one of this year’s new mazes, The Tooth Fairy, and explained how the artist created it by cutting up pieces of a purse bought at a thrift shop and attaching them to the sculpture. Metallic pieces were also attached, creating a truly disturbing character, unique to Knott’s Scary Farm. It was a fascinating discussion; one that we are thrilled to bring to TPAers everywhere.

We really enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at the Warehouse P operations; something that is rarely done, and a treat for Halloween Haunt fans everywhere – a chance to peek into the inner workings of Scary Farm!

Halloween Haunt History Tour

ted_dougherty_tourAnother very cool aspect of Scare School 2014 was a special walking history tour through Ghost Town, by author/historian Ted Dougherty. Ted is the owner of UltimateHaunt.com, and the author of Knott’s Halloween Haunt: A Picture History. A life-long fan-turned-monster-turned-author, Ted delivered what for me, was the highlight of the night.

Leading the media from location to location in Ghost Town, Ted shared nuggets of Halloween Haunt history that likely most in attendance had never heard before. Despite the horrible heat, Ted led the group and kept everyone completely spellbound as he pointed out key spots on the property, and how they related to the history of an industry. Even knowing the event’s history very well myself, I was absolutely entertained and captivated by Ted as he spoke of the first years of Haunt, the first roaming monsters, and some of the early mazes that were built at Knott’s. Ted pulled locations and names out of the air that I didn’t know off-hand, and relayed a great deal of information to everyone in a manner that was simple to understand and incredibly heart-felt. What I initially had pegged to be the most routine part of the event’s schedule (because of my existing knowledge of the subject matter), turned out to be my favorite part of the night! I loved it, and didn’t want the tour to end; I could have walked all over the Farm with Ted, listening to facts and figures all night! Perhaps this will evolve into something that Haunt guests can sign up for in years to come – something to do each evening before the event begins in lieu of attending Pre-Scare Dinner; I bet it would be a hit! Especially if it came with something – a special pin, or souvenir commemorating the tour. At least the Haunt geek in me thinks it would be an awesome addition to Knott’s Scary Farm’s offerings!

Scare School 2014 was definitely a long shoot, and something much different than I’ve been used to in previous years. While lamenting the apparent loss of actually watching talent get trained inside the Haunt mazes, it dawned on me that this new, much larger event truly was Scare School; the twist, is that the media – the public – were the students, and it was a night of behind-the-scenes learning for us as opposed to the new hires coming to get trained at Knott’s. That said, it was an incredibly rewarding evening, and Theme Park Adventure came away with much more Halloween Haunt material than we expected going in; that’s an obvious win-win for us as well as our TPAers!

Knott’s Scary Farm 2014 begins this week; if you haven’t purchased tickets yet, or wish to learn more about the event, check out Knotts.com for all the gory details. As usual, we know that Knott’s will have a tremendous run this year – and we wish all involved, on-stage and behind the scenes, a very successful Haunt! See you in the fog!

– Rick West

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