Jason Karl is an author, actor, TV producer and presenter who has also been Creative Director at AtmosFEAR! Scare entertainment since he founded the company in 2000. AtmosFEAR is the largest scare entertainment company in Europe, having produced over 300 award-winning attractions in its 20-year long history. Jason was kind enough to give us an insight into the world of scare attractions and the logistics of project managing fear…
So in your words, who are AtmosFEAR Scare Entertainment?
AtmosFEAR! Scare Entertainment design, create and manage scare attractions, usually ‘scare mazes’, but we also consult and create many forms of live scary experiences. Stage shows, promenade theatre shows, special events for film companies like premieres where they want a horror experience based on that film.
What made you decide to start AtmosFEAR?
We started AtmosFEAR in 2000. My business partner and I had seen the American Halloween attraction market, which had already been around for about two decades. It was a huge business over there that nobody had replicated in England. Because we worked together in a television company, we decided to see if we could do something similar. Our thoughts were, well, if these attractions are going to come to England, we might as well be the ones to do it! We both had a love of horror, and experience in filmmaking and came from theatre backgrounds, so it was something that we thought we could pull off. It started very slowly; the first six years was hard because nobody knew what scare attractions were. We would try to explain the experience and say the experience is like being in a horror movie with live actors and special effects. And clients would look at us like we were mad! It took quite a few years to get it to the level where it became successful, but since then, we have done over 333 different attractions worldwide.
What would you say you enjoy most about the job?
Creative freedom. I have worked in creative industries all my life. This role has allowed me creative freedom and scope because most clients give us free reign to create. We get to play with narratives, concepts, and themes usually with few limits. Yes, there are always financial parameters, but in terms of creating an experience, we get a blank piece of paper. It is always great to know it has been a good experience for the client because they have made a good financial return and presented a successful product. But what I enjoy most is turning that blank piece of paper into something tangible. Watching people come out of an attraction screaming and laughing and knowing that we are the reason they had that experience.
Do you often lead the creative process?
Yes, I lead the creative team from the top. We start with some blue-sky thinking, then gradually decide on a theme, and then the form of the attraction to be created. There is a research and development phase where we look at everything to do with that theme. We also look at trends in horror, what sort of movies are coming out, what television shows are popular. Then it goes through months of development, design, and research until you come out with a blueprint of the full attraction.
What would you say you find most challenging about the types of projects that you create?
Mostly logistical challenges. Trying to fit what a client wants you to do to an existing space. Sometimes we will be given an area in a building that might limit our vision with obstacles like staircases or difficult shaped areas. Also, trying to make the experience the duration that the client wants is often a challenge. For example, we might be presented with a relatively small footprint, and the client requires the experience to last 20 minutes. That is quite difficult to achieve. Trying to make your design into a reality can also be challenging. When we go into the construction phase, we collaborate with our client’s employees and with people from carpentry or construction backgrounds. Suddenly, they are building a scare maze! Trying to get people who are not used to building scare mazes to understand why we do things the way we do, is sometimes a challenge.
How do you approach project management?
Project management is relatively simple for us. But that is because the people that we use are experienced in those situations already. If you just gave me 10 people and said project manage them to make a scare maze, it would not work. Everyone must understand what we are trying to achieve and all the complexities that come with that.
How long does it take to create a project?
A minimum of six months. There are a lot of people involved. It is far more complex than people generally think. People often think that you can just make the room a bit dark and put some smoke effects in and go “rawr”, it is nothing like that in reality! You have the people who construct it physically, then the people who scene paint it, the propping people who make it feel authentic, the technical people who add the smoke and sound effects and lighting effects and smells. And then you have the performers, the costuming team, and the rehearsals, and then the operations people who run it. Then finally the attraction opens and hopefully, everything comes together in the way you intended. And after 20 years of designing and operating scare mazes, we know how to make it work.
Find out more at www.atmosfearuk.com