Guest Post: Islington, London: ScareCon 2013 – My Blog

Guest Post: Islington, London: ScareCon 2013

Guest post by RollerColster. All photos are copyright of Stephen Candy Photography.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post here on Onezumiverse, and haunted attractions here in the UK are going from strength to strength year on year with more popping up in every possible corner of the country. There’s still some way to go to catch you guys up in the States but there are some very exciting things happening this year with some of the larger scale attractions and quite a few innovative smaller attractions that I hope you’ll enjoy reading about over the coming weeks.

One of the biggest events of the year (apart from Halloween itself) is ScareCON – We attended back in June but I felt it was such an important part of the build up to Halloween that I just had to write a piece about it. Here you’ll find the absolute cream of the crop of attractions run over here in the UK as well as a quite a few familiar faces from across Europe and worldwide. The majority of the attendees are from the industry but the event is a must do for anyone who has a keen interest in the running of any of the attractions and also offers a few hints as to what’s new for the coming year.

We arrive bright an early to a bustling venue – The Islington Metalworks in London. In previous years the event has moved around but the location this year really added to the charm of the event. Rather than feeling like a big corporate event, the quirky atmosphere of a building steeped in so much history really brought something new this year.

We arrived just as Kernow Scare Attractions – one of the UK’s leading production companies began their talk. A small company that has grown from pretty much nothing in a small space of time. They are producing some impressive frights and are well known on the UK music festival circuit. They talked about producing haunts on a budget and all the pitfalls in setting up a brand new haunt – fascinating stuff!

Next up Katie Hastings talked about what its like to actually work as a scare actor inside the mazes. Katie is one of the most established scare actresses in the UK and is well respected throughout the country. Her current role is show captain for The Sanctuary at Alton Towers – one of the UK’s newest and most impressive mazes. Her show reel reads like an A-Z of the business. Her talk is engaging and honest, rather than glossing over everything, she tells us the real story of the scare maze, the exhaustion, the illness and not to mention how to cope with abusive guests.

Andrew Porter is at the forefront of maze design, having cut his teeth with some of major players in the US, he has brought his knowledge and experience over to UK soils. His talk is all about breaking boundaries of what can be done on a budget and the importance of attention to detail. It’s an enlightening talk and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Over in one of the workshop rooms, I took part in a prosthetics workshop conducted by Silicone Kitchen, it’s quite a large group but there’s lots of help and good advice given. My piece actually ended up looking pretty damned awesome with a little help from the experts but I’m left thinking that my clumsy fingers really aren’t cut out for the SFX make-up business!

Back in the Seminar hall, Lee Fields of Zed Events talks about one of the most exciting attractions we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing to date – Zombie Manor House (and also Zombie Mall), armed with an air-soft gun you’re given limited ammo and taught the basics of SWAT training, it’s one of the most immersive activities we’ve tried (its literally as close to real life Resident Evil as it gets) and a talk which we were desperate to catch. Lee focused on the health and safety aspects of creating such an experience and also about finding the right location, not only was the talk insightful but it also fueled our hunger to get back to the manor house for some more zombie killing action!

Over the past couple of years, there seems to have been a surge of city wide chase games where players pay to take part in an interactive story which has them running around a whole city chased by zombies or monsters. Scott Jenkins from More Is More (one of the companies at the helm of these kind of games) talks of the issues they faced when populating a city full of monsters. He also focused on the importance of creating something unique and innovative in order to get people talking.

Next up, Sean Boon, Hampshire magician gives a workshop on the essentials of social media and the importance in getting it right. Despite having used social media for years it was a great refresher course and although aimed at new users there was still loads of bad habits we had maybe fallen into over the years!

Pete Cliff creator of The Sanctuary at Alton Towers Scarefest talked about how they created such an immersive attraction. Its very clear how much passion and focus Pete has and how it all transferred into the maze. It’s arguably the biggest success story of 2012 for UK haunts.

Andrew Walker from Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights event took to the stage next and mainly gave an overview of the event talking about how they’ve created some of the most unique attractions and how some have worked and talked openly of why others didn’t. He hinted at big things to come for 2013, a big revamp of the event was in order and a teaser image left everyone in the room talking for the rest of the day.

Tom Swift creator of Hop Farm Freak Week talked about how he’s created one of the most successful events in recent years. Again offering innovative attractions he talked about the operational aspects of running a large scale haunt but dropped the bombshell that Freak Week wouldn’t be returning for 2013 and that he was going to focus on bringing one maze into the public eye – Pitch Black – arguably one of the event’s strongest and scariest mazes – we’re really looking forward to this one in 2013!

Of course, we couldn’t get around it all, in fact our biggest criticism of the event in 2013 was that there was just so much to see and so many people to speak to. Over in the trade show, the experts showed off their products including surprise guest Bobbie Weiner – legendary makeup artist with credits such as The Walking Dead and Titanic to her belt to name just a few. We felt like we could’ve talked to her for hours. A familiar face to the event, it was a pleasure to speak to Paul Davies of Tollbooth Music – one of our favourite speakers of ScareCON 2012. Another favourite at the trade show were the guys at Haunted Lantern – a clever product which we hope to be seeing more of. To mention everyone would take forever but with such a friendly atmosphere it’s easy to get lost amongst the stalls!

We took a short break ready to get ready for the evening, the Scareball is one of the highlights of the event, with the day drawing to a close the emphasis is on party with a capital P! Everyone makes an effort to get dressed in some unique and inventive costumes. The night is kicked off by an impressive demo from the Haunted Lantern crew, before the weird and wonderful “Gorelesue” show is brought to life on stage in front of our very eyes. A mixture of magic, comedy and dance plays out and is a fantastic way to end the day. The party continued with everyone dancing into the early hours.

But it didn’t end there for us! Whilst most of the guests heading back to their comfortable, cosy hotels we had signed up to take part in The Vigil – the newest part of the event. In previous years ScareCON has hosted ‘Scarerooms’ but this year took the rulebook and ripped it to shreds. With one massive building to explore, we were sent off in groups to contact the spirits that lay dormant in the shadows of the Ironworks. Throughout the night, bar staff had been briefed on stories from the building’s past which all helped to make for a completely convincing experience and even though I was in on one of the secrets of the evening, I felt terrified from start to finish. So many thing happened and to shorten it all into a paragraph really doesn’t do the experience justice but with the release of ‘Scare Room 5’ – you can see the whole thing here:

Please be aware due to the nature of the video it contains strong language.

ScareCON continues to grow from strength to strength and we can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.

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