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Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

tree frog

Due to the recent destruction of our donated parking lot, our Haunted House design this year is much narrower than in previous years.  We kicked out the façade a ways and are utilizing areas behind the church to give us the same square footage in the floorplan, but as a result, the layout is very different from previous years.  We wanted to build on the confining feeling created by a narrower house, and really work to emphasize the additional length of the layout.  So while a customer may walk the same number of steps as they would have in a previous house, the lack of front-to-back switch backs or the long hallways that reverse on themselves, combined with the emphasis on keeping the traffic always moving towards the front of the house really messes with your head and gives you the feeling that this one just goes on and on and on.

Haunted House floorplan layout

The first problem was how to create the boundary that was previously created naturally by the zombie cemetery and corner building.  Luckily, our experience in building long, narrow hallways provided us with a solution, so it was back to Home Depot for a couple dozen nine inch nails so we could build a bunch of wall anchors.

nine Inch Nails

Originally, we thought we could build out to the temporary construction fence, but the road graders and dump trucks drive through it quite often, so we decided to give it lots of room!  We placed the wall anchors about 30’ back from the fence.

long view

Although I always refer to this portion of the house as “the maze”, there’s never really been more than one path through it.  A couple of dead ends have allowed us to place characters or maze runners with chainsaws, but there was only one successful path through the house.  This year, we put in an actual maze, with four paths through the house as long as customers continue to move forward.  We’ll see how it all works out as customers now have the ability to double back into the house rather than move out which may create some traffic bottlenecks, but then, that’s why we have maze runners.

the Maze

Another area I’m excited about is The Dark Room.  Our house tends to be very noisy – strobe lights, stereos blasting loud music and sound effects, smoke machines, and black lights.  The Dark Room is a section of covered switchbacks with no interior lights and walls clad in sound proofed material.  Customers enter via a low entryway, and their ability to see ends after the first turn.  From there, they will need to feel their way through the room until they are led to the exit, all the while unable to see anyone that follows them through the room, or what else might be hiding in there with them.  The sound proofing should also induce a slightly claustrophobic feeling as the pressure in the room will feel different without the hard walls to bounce sound back to customers.

We moved the zombie cemetery to a space up a small hill behind the church.  While we just started building the “Psycho Path” that leads to it, we’re investigating what we can do with the overhead space now that we have trees and mount points above an area in the maze.  As in all things, time and money will determine what we finally do when we open.

psycho Path

It’s dumped rain on and off as we’ve been building, so it’s really starting to feel like Haunted House season!  I really like the completely different feel to the house this year, and while I’m sad at the prospect of this final year, I’m excited by the new design that resulted from the changes to our parking lot!  With the maze built, the focus now turns to running powerlines, dressing out rooms and scenes, and finishing up the house before opening night!

Probably the most pleasure I get is the designing phase.  I think that’s the fun part where you can see how you expect it’s going to work, and you can kind of have a giggle sometimes if it looks good.  And then you have that horrible phase where you have to make it.
~ Blair Somerville

You always have to keep pushing to innovate.
~ Steve Jobs

Haunted House Final Year

Monday, October 6th, 2014

The congregation and clergy of the church whose parking lot we have been using for our Haunted House for the past four years do not actually own the church, nor the parking lot.  So we were sad to receive notice last April that the owner of the building had sold off half the parking lot and thru-way rights to a development company who are building a housing complex behind the current location of the church.  The plan, we’ve been told, is to sell off the church and the remainder of the property next year to be developed into a second housing community depending on the success of the first one.  With that in mind, I am sad to say that this is most likely the last year of our Haunted House.

dismantling the Mausoleum Haunted House

We showed up at the church, soon after receiving notice, to dismantle the cemetery mausoleum.  We built it our first year in the church playground, which ran parallel to the parking lot and had long before been overrun by berry bushes.   After reclaiming much of the playground, we built the mausoleum and converted the playground into our zombie cemetery.  It’s been standing alongside the parking lot ever since, so the congregation was probably happy to see it go after all these years.

first Pass cleared

Two weeks later, the building we’d used for Zombie Saloon and Haunted Bayou was torn down along with the picket fence and what was left behind of the playground.  A storage building at the far end of the lot along with our shipping container storage bins were moved via bulldozer around the back of the church.  And before the month was over, what was once a major piece of our Haunted House was bulldozed and cleared.

tree Removal road

In late July, they started clearing trees, and by September, the new road had been cleared, graded, and compacted.  No evidence remained that the area had once been inhabited by spooks and zombies.

road View

The single advantage to this whole thing is that the Haunted House is visible from the main road for the first time ever.  We decided to capitalize on this, and build our façade 30 feet forward from where we have built it in the past.  This also allows us to use one of the few remaining trees as an anchor point for the opposite end of the façade since we no longer have the bayou building for this purpose.

Haunted House facade

Now we’ve got to figure out a decent design.  We’ve lost 20 feet of width along the length of the parking lot but gained an extra 30 feet up front, so the house this year is going to be longer and narrower than ever before.  We’re talking about using some of the space out behind the church, so we’ll have to see if that’s available or not, and if so, what we could do with it to affect the design.

Our fifth year of building the house may be our last, but it’s gotten bigger and better each year, and I expect the same this year!  We’ve acquired quite a lot of really cool stuff over the years, so I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it all after this year, and I’m not sure how this change to our Haunt Space will affect the layout and design of this year’s house.  But I do know that we’re not holding back, especially if this is to be our last year!

A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time… You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

~ James Clear

Z Nation – Tom Everett Scott

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Spoiler alert:  This post contains spoilers for the Z Nation Season 1 Episode 03, “Philly Feast”, which aired Friday, Sept 26th on the SyFy Channel.  No Liberty Bells were harmed in the making of this episode.

Philly Feast was filmed in downtown Spokane the week of June 6th.  After the Governor stopped by Spokane to visit the set, pose for photos with zombies, and talk to the cast and production crew, the media started publishing stories and photos online.  With such an accessible shoot site and publicity of the filming being what it was, plenty of tourists and locals flocked downtown to catch glimpses of filming from a distance or as close as they could get.

Governor Jay Inslee Z Nation

As for the episode itself, things start to turn a bit dark in episode 3 as we learn more about Cassandra’s past and her ties with “The Family”.

Call time for me is 2:30pm, but I get a call at 10am to ask if I can show up as early as possible – the production company has sections of 1st Ave blocked off to traffic, but their time is limited, so they’re shuffling shooting schedules to try and film as many downtown Philly scenes as they can before they have to open the road again.  I go straight to wardrobe after checking in with the zombie wrangler at base camp, and 10 minutes later I’m in makeup.

Directors and producers had reviewed footage from the first episode and wanted the zombie makeup to be more prominent and noticeable.  So this time I get several layers of green, brown, and yellow, applied with a large porous sponge, sealed, then another layer of green with blue accents, and more sealant.  Then the blood.  Lots and LOTS of blood this time!  More sealant.

zombie0301 zombie0302 zombie0303

new Zombie Makeup Z Nation

There’s a scene where our heroes find the Liberty Bell, sitting on a flatbed truck, and decide to liberate it from the zombie hordes, only to crash the truck and send the bell hurtling and clanging down the street where it smashes and destroys zombies in their tracks.  Zs are completely obliterated except for their legs below the knee as they walk down the road in one of the funniest, dark-humour scenes of the series so far, and others are smashed to a pulp as they munch on the slowly cooling corpse.  I reckon the zombies seen in closeup in this scene must’ve been absolutely stunned and excited to watch this episode as none of us had any idea at the time of filming that such a gruesome end was in store for them!  We tramp up and down the street for five or six takes, and some time after we have moved on to another location, the empty street is filmed with prop zombie legs, standing alone in the road, post CGI-bell destruction.  EPIC ZOMBIE DEATH ABOVE ANY OTHER ON THE SERIES SO FAR!

The Liberty Bell on set is a big, green garbage bin that we shuffle around, bang against, pound on, and generally ignore in multiple scene takes.  At one point, we’re told that 10K takes a shot at the bell, and the sound of it attracts us where we mindlessly attack the bell, allowing our heroes to escape.  When the zombies finally grow bored of trying to eat a large metal object and shuffle off, a woman climbs out from under it and runs away.  I didn’t see that scene in the episode, and given how the bell was finally used, it made sense to cut it completely – bummer for the extra playing the girl though.  You do see 10K take a final, parting shot at the Liberty Bell as they leave Philly at the end of episode, and the zombies shuffle towards it for a brief second before the scene cuts.

alley

Eventually, we complete shooting and meet up with the Second Unit at a previously scouted back alley for more filler footage.  Second Unit’s purpose is pretty much all the cut scenes you see of zombies running, shuffling, and stumbling around throughout the series.  If it doesn’t involve any of the main actors, it’s probably filmed by Second Unit, and I spend most of my time on the series with them.

The alley is your typical little-used, narrow road that runs along the back of the shops that face the railroad tracks and 2nd Ave.  Six of us shuffle up and down the alley, then reset, change clothes, sometimes adding a hat or cap or wig to change hair colour.  Makeup crew touches up blood and squirts thinner versions of blood into lower lips to colour teeth – still tastes like overly sweet rootbeer.  Swish and drool.  Reshoot the scene to create footage of “completely different” zombies to be used to digitally create zombie herds.  First Unit radios us on two occasions to tell us to halt filming and move out of a scene they’re shooting four blocks away in the same alley.

dead Alley graffiti zombies

At one point, one of the film crew attempts to move a shopping cart out of the scene only to find that the pile of blankets and clothes at the base are actually a guy that’s been sleeping there throughout the afternoon shoot.  He’s a bit freaked out to be woken, and moreso to have half a dozen zombies staring at him!  But once they explain what’s going on, he wraps himself up in his blankets again and goes back to sleep.  The shopping cart stays where it is, and the film crew works around it.

We’re told to meet up with the First Unit back at the primary shoot, so we walk the couple of blocks down to where they’re shooting – six zombies winding our way down back alleys, past the homeless kitchen, under the train tracks, and waiting to cross streets draw a lot stares and a small crowd of curious followers.  We meet up with another group of zombies that have been shooting with the First Unit, and we all follow the camera and lighting crews out to the new site.

First Unit Spokane downtown Z Nation

As I’m waiting to cross Madison St, one of the grips walks up next to me, a claw hammer hanging from his toolbelt, and gives me a quick one-over, checking out my zombie makeup and blood effects.  “You look amazing!” he tells me.  I glance to my left; give him an exaggerated coy look and tell him, “Well, I did this just for you ya’ know.  I don’t go through all this trouble for just anyone!”  He pretends to physically brush off my compliment and turns away.  “Oh stop!” he says.  We cross the street, chuckling and chatting, and then he goes off with the lighting and camera crew, and I follow the other zombies.

It’s not until later when he shoots me in the head that I realize he’s one of the actors, not a grip.  I realize, driving home, that I’ve seen him in That Thing You Do, and a week and a half later, SyFy releases the name of the major actors for Z Nation, confirming my “flirty” conversation with Tom Everett Scott.  Pretty cool.  Also slightly sad that his character, Garnett, doesn’t have more humour in Z Nation since he’s got such a good natural ability towards it.

pigeon Alley Z Nation

Pigeon Alley hides down a flight of stairs behind a green, iron door on Railroad Alley just off Madison.  It’s wedged between two 4 story buildings, and is filled with pigeon crap, rat droppings, and smells of sewage.   The camera and lighting crews all wear ninja masks.  The actors and extras don’t.  The director, Esther Dupree, verbally walks thru the scene with the actors and stunt team while we listen from the edges.  Alex calls us all down into Pigeon Alley and starts walking us thru his version of the shoot, placing zombies at various places and areas throughout the alley from the bottom of the stairs to the end and up the fire escape.

The scene calls for Cassandra to run down the alley, trying to escape our heroes, only to find it a literal dead end – two zombies are chewing on the remains of a corpse at the alley’s end.  As she turns to backtrack, zombies slowly emerge from the shadows and converge on her.  Just as all seems lost, our heroes appear at the top of the stairs and start sniping the zombies, and then grab Cassandra, demanding answers about “the family”.

It’s the first time some of us have seen any of those who will become the main cast, and one of the girl zombies recognizes Michael Welch from Twilight and fills in the rest of us in a quiet, animated whisper as to who he is and other movies in which he’s appeared.

Luis Prieto Z Nation

Luis Prieto (another Director) and Esther and the rest of the film and lighting crews come down into the alley to physically walk the various camera and actor paths with Alex, moving zombies about, staging various actions, and making suggestions with the lighting crew.  It gets pretty crowded.  The Fx team brings in two partially eaten bodies and starts throwing blood around – one team gets to eat the guy at the end of the alley, and another team gets to eat a guy lying on top of an air conditioner unit.  Pads and mats are brought in to keep us extras from getting hurt when we crash to the ground as our heroes open fire from the top of the stairs.

Once we’ve walked through it all slowly, with actors and camera crews, we run it once at full speed without film.  Then comes take after take after take – cameras follow Cassandra down the alley; cameras follow her back out the alley; cameras lead her down the alley; cameras filming from the whole scene from the top of the stairs and from the back of the alley; close ups on Cassandra, on zombies, on the various actors as they stand at the top of the stairs and as they charge down the stairs to grab Cassandra and push her up against the wall for her interrogation.  LOTS of filming and reviewing the filmed scene on camera and suggestions for lighting and angles, and more filming.  It’s a LONG process, but pretty fun to watch the directors and assistant directors talk through various scenes and options and then get input from the camera and lighting and stunt crews.  One big collaboration.  And through it all, we fall to the ground from head shots, again and again, and Cassandra gets grabbed, chased, tripped, thrown against walls, and pushes her way through zombies again and again and again.

Pisay Pao Cassandra Z Nation

We finally run out of “enough” natural light shining down the alley, and First Unit wraps the shoot.  Zombie girl introduces herself to Michael Welch who has a quick conversation with her before the zombie wrangler can pull her aside and tell her “don’t talk to the talent”.  She’s pretty happy, and Michael comes around later, looking for her so she can snap a photo with him which is a pretty cool thing to do.  Pisay Pao, who plays Cassandra, comes by the zombie camp to thank everyone for all their hard work throughout the day and to pose for photos with zombies.  Again – pretty cool thing for a lead to do, especially since she’s been on site for the day longer than any of us.

The chase scene in Philly Feast gets edited down to Cassandra running down the stairs into Pigeon Alley and immediately getting caught by our heroes – the entire zombie attack and sniping gets left on the editing floor.  As you watch the scene where she explains Tobias and The Family to Warren, I’m on the ground just behind and to the left of the camera.  Lying in a pool of blood on the floor of Pigeon Alley.

Z Nation – Fracking Zombies

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Spoiler alert:  This post contains spoilers for the Z Nation Season 1 Episode 02, “Fracking Zombies”, which aired Friday, Sept 19th on the SyFy Channel. It also feeds my deeply seated narcissistic personality.

The acting for the second episode of Z Nation, “Fracking Zombies” is better than the first episode as Kellita Smith and Tom Everett Scott get more comfortable with their characters and the cast.  There are moments in the middle of the episode where they seem to revert to the “stiff” acting from the first episode, but that’s because these scenes were shot first, with the opening episode scenes shot a bit later on.

Addy Doc Mack Z Nation

Russell Hodgkinson and Michael Welch continue to bring some quality acting, showing that their characterizations in episode 1 were not a fluke.

“if we film a credited actor in episode 1, and then reuse that footage in episode 2, we have to pay them twice.  But with extras, you signed away all your rights, so we can film you and then use you for commercials, opening or closing credits, digitally put you into a scene that needs more zombies, or whatever, and we only have to pay you one time!” –Juan Mas (2nd Unit Director)

I didn’t get a call for the second episode, much to my disappointment.  The call sheet specifically said “slow, skinny zombies” which fits in well with the whole idea in episode 2 of zombies who have been hanging around the oil refinery for years or trapped in the oil tank.  Having said that, the reality is three casting agencies trying to get hundreds of extras on set, and a production team trying to be diverse in their choices (so it’s not too obvious which zombies have been onscreen already), which means I’m not going to get a call back for every episode.  Honestly, getting ANY callback was awesome!  So it was cool to catch glimpses of me and the other Zs from episode 1 running up stairs and down halls, invading Mount Wilson on Citizen Z’s monitors.

Z Nation Oily Fracking Zombies

14 extras were used as zombies at the Jersey Devil Oil Refinery – 8 of them running around the tower and 6 of them slathered in oil.  Kevin was one of the Oily Zombies, and told me this story about episode 2:

Call time was 6:30 in the morning.  We did the usual wardrobe and full zombie makeup, and then they drove us on site where we were met by the fx team.  “The good news is that you’re all going to get some closeup time on camera!  The bad news is we’re going to cover you in this fake oil.”  {I never asked him what the oil was made of}  They then proceeded to smear big handfuls of the oil all over our costumes, hair, face, and hands.  It was pretty chilly.  Initially, we all dipped our hands into the buckets of ‘oil’ to apply it to our butt and groin area, but after the third re-shoot and touch-up, no one cared anymore who walked up and drenched you in oil or where they put it.

The ‘nice’ thing about it all was that the day ended up around 92 degrees by lunch when we finished shooting, but we were all pretty cool and insulated from the heat under all that oil.  The other 8 zombies that ran around the refinery’s metal platforms for the rest of the day had some pretty horrid temperatures to deal with!

The oil pit filled with zombies was CGI.  The zombie hound was played partially by a puppeteer dog and partially by a CGI altered actor dog.  Funny enough, the zombie shoved up in the tire well of the truck was an extra (not a puppet!) who was wedged up under there for almost an hour’s worth of shooting time!

wheel well Zombie incident Z Nation

One of my mates was annoyed with the way Travis (played by new comer Ryan Higgins) talked.  I thought his slow delivery and lilt did well to belie his quick violence and cast him in a character reminiscent of “Deliverance” or “Justified”.  He was annoyed that everyone in the Zombacalypse suddenly turned into swamp people once civilization evaporated.

Rating numbers from episode 2 were higher than those for episode 1 while piracy numbers for the series continue to climb.

Z Nation – Diary Of A Zombie Extra

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

It’s early April, and I’m talking to the Building Manager, Tony, about the 12th man prank and whether or not we want to build another Christmas Elevator this year.  We start discussing my plans for this year’s Haunted House when Tony asks, “Are you going to try out for the new zombie movie they’re filming in Spokane?”

“Wait… What zombie movie??!”

“It’s called ‘Z Nation’ or something.  Like ‘World War Z’ or ‘The Walking Dead’.  Google it – someone’ll have all the details on the web.”

Z Nation promo teaser poster

Sure enough, The Asylum, the film studio that produced such B-Grade movie classics as Mega Piranha, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, and Sharknado (surprisingly, NOT called Mega Shark Hurricane), is looking for extras to be zombies in their upcoming TV series, Z Nation for the SyFy Channel.

Awesome!

Multiple websites have published the same press release and links to Casting Agencies being used to supply extras for the series.  There are three of them that show up again and again.  I apply to all of them, and start texting and emailing local friends to see who’s interested in coming along.

 

It’s late April, and one of the casting agencies emails me about their upcoming “Zombie Camp”.  They have different sign-up times for fast and slow zombies, and to come out and meet with the series’ various directors, producers, and casting director.  There aren’t any other details than location, dates, and times.

I start checking to see who else has gotten a notice, and forwarding it to anyone that hasn’t.  Turns out that while many of my mates are interested in the idea, no one is really interested in making the trip to Spokane except Wren.  We book a fast zombie time slot in the afternoon.

Lincoln Center Spokane

 

It’s early May, and Zombie Camp actually turns out to be tryouts.  Every 45 minutes, from 8am until 5pm with a half hour break for lunch, the production team from The Asylum takes a group of approximately 70 zombie hopefuls and puts them through their zombie paces, looking for that undead “something” that catches the director’s eye and sky rockets the potential undead poster child into fame and stardom.

zombie extras wannabes hopefuls

Wren and I show up at The Lincoln Center in Spokane soon after lunch where we write down our contact details, receive a number, pose for a photo, and wait as other potential extras wander in.  You can hear muffled groans and noises coming from behind the closed double doors behind the sign-up table, and while no one explicitly says we aren’t allowed in to watch the other tryouts, no one attempts to open the doors and watch the competition.  Wren wanders through the building and finds a back stair case to an upper level that oversees the auditorium where the tryouts are being held, and we quietly find a place to sit and watch the other candidates.

Tryouts are “simple”:  After everyone files in and takes a seat, the first five applicants line up perpendicular to a table where the directors and production team sit.  30 feet in front of them stands a woman with a tambourine while a guy with a bodhrán stands immediately behind them.  The woman shakes the tambourine, and the zombie wannabes shuffle towards her in their best, slow zombie impersonation.  As the closest one gets near her, the guy with the bodhrán starts tapping out a beat.  Extras are to stop; look towards the new sound, and when the director shouts “NOW!”, ‘fast zombie’ towards the guy until he stops banging his drum.  The process repeats, and the next five applicants have their turn.

zombie tryouts for Z Nation SyFy channel

Here’s the problem – if you have a higher number, you’re able to sit and watch everyone else, gauge the responses of the production team, and get a better idea of what may work to get you in as a zombie for the Z Nation series.  Lower numbers don’t have that luxury, so they’ve got to go “all in” from the start and hope for the best.

zombie tryouts

My slow zombie sucks.

I’m kind of a moderate shamble (more like “Warm Bodies” than “Walking Dead”), and I reach the tambourine lady WAY before everyone else.

As the casting director shouts “NOW!” for fast zombie, I dead sprint at the drummer, screeching and passing everyone else which has him suddenly screaming, “DON’T TOUCH THE CAMERAMAN!!  DON’T TOUCH THE CAMERAMAN!!”  I reckon the poor guy got tackled by some overzealous zombie wannabe in at least one of the previous auditions.

And then that’s it.
3 minutes, and you’re done.
“Thanks for coming!  We’ll be in touch.”

No coaching or even suggestion of what they’re looking for in their zombies other than the reactions you can glean from the casting group if you happen to have a later number.  Hope you left your best on the floor.

We watch higher numbers shamble and screech and moan and run across the auditorium floor, and I think of so many things I could have done different… better…  I drive home in a mild state of depression.

So it’s surprising to receive a call-back on Monday.

The casting agency asks about “any skills you may have, any previous acting you may have done, your measurements (height, weight, shoe size, shirt size, etc)”, and whether or not I’m available in two weeks time to come back and “do your zombie” in wardrobe in front of the production team again.  Heck yeah!!

I send in my measurements.  Fill out some paperwork.  And the day before I’m to appear on set, I get a call from the agency.  “You’re really this tall?  These are your actual measurements?”  I’m not THAT tall, but it seems there aren’t a lot of extras over 6’ that tried out.  So when I confirm my measurements they simply ask, “Can you just show up on Monday instead for the first day of shooting for episode 1?”

And I have a slight break-down and go nuts!
AWESOME!!
I’M GONNA’ BE A ZOMBIE ON TV!!

And the reality is, the only people that pay attention to the extras in a film are the extras themselves, their friends and family, and the directors who don’t want them to screw up the actual talent being filmed.

(“See that arm hanging out from behind the tree that just flashed past?  THAT WAS MY ARM!!”)

But it’s cool!  And you can’t have a zombie apocalypse film without lots of zombies, so I’m more than happy to be one of them!  And this takes my desire to build and be a part of something big that entertains others to a whole new level and audience!

In 1996, I sat on the roof of the Regent Theatre during my lunch break, watching Jackie Chan film Mr. Nice Guy.  They reshot the same scene over and over and over, trying to get it just right; changing choreography and camera angles.  I thought then that the reality of filming was much more boring than I had imagined, and throughout the 2014 summer, I learn first hand that there is a LOT of standing around, doing nothing on the set of a TV series.

But it’s all worth it.

The first Z Nation TV commercial airs on July 30th during the premiere of Sharknado 2.  It’s the first glimpse I have of the finished production of the show, and it looks MUCH less campy or B-Grade than I had expected it to be – it actually looks GOOD!  A TV series that I’d like to watch!

I catch a flashing glimpse of ME on screen, and have to grab the remote to rewind it and watch it again… and then freak out a little bit when we confirm it is me.  On screen.  As a zombie!

Yes.  One of dozens of zombies that only flash across the screen in the time it takes you to blink.  But there I am!  And for one, brief moment, I think “life doesn’t get much better than THIS!”

 What we all want is to be valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission.
~ Graham Weston

Triumph Of The 12th Man

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

The Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos yesterday 43-8 to win Super Bowl XLVIII (48).  Both the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos had better odds to win the Super Bowl at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season than the Seahawks, but that didn’t stop Seattle from beating both teams on their way to claim their first franchise Super Bowl trophy as one of the youngest teams in the NFL both age and experience-wise – quarterback Russell Wilson has only been playing in the NFL since the 2012 season, and the average age of the players on the team is 26.5.

Since McCrevis’ Eagles won the NFC East but then lost to the Saints in the playoffs, and since my Buccaneers were never even in the running, we didn’t really have an iron in the fire but were happy to see the Seahawks beat the Broncos (actually, I have no idea if McCrevis was barracking for Denver or Seattle, but since Seattle won, I’m going to say he was on their team all along).  But for our mate Ty, it was a dream come true.

Ty - rabid Seattle Seahawks fan and proud 12th man

Being the only NFL team in the Pacific Northwest US, the Seahawks tend to attract a number of zealous fans, and Ty is no exception.  A proud 12th man since the team was formed in 1976, Ty approached us about a “publicly noticeable celebration idea” that we could help him setup at work “after the Hawks smash the Broncos!”

Despite the short notice, we thought we were up to the challenge.

Ty's office building prior to the Superbowl

 

interior

longShot

after

Ideas are cheap, it’s the passion to make ideas real that’s rare.
~ Scott Berkun

Why not us?
~ Russell Wilson 

The Grammys? Byrd Was Right

Monday, January 27th, 2014

“You can call me Queen B for being so right!” Byrd texts me last night, referring to her prediction in 2013 regarding Lorde’s upcoming greatness.  “Royals” by Lorde took the award for Song of the Year (Byrd: WHO WAS SO RIGHT ABOUT THAT SONG?!  Though I wouldn’t have predicted Song of the Year) and Best Pop Solo Performance at last night’s Grammy Awards, beating musical industry big names Pink, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Justin Timberlake.  Who’s a Royal now?

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” meanwhile, may have lost to Lorde in the Song of the Year category, but that didn’t stop the duo from claiming the awards for Best New Artist (Byrd: Surprising win over Ed Sheeran), Rap Performance, Rap Song, and Rap Album (Byrd: Of course The Heist!  Why do you ever doubt?!) over R&B cornerstone nominees Drake, Jay Z, and Kanye West.  After the success of 2013, I’m looking forward to what 2014 brings for this duo.

With Daft Punk winning Pop/Duo Group Performance, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year, the top awards for the Grammys this year went to foreign or independently produced performers!  As we previously stated here at bighairmonkey, we believe we’ll be seeing more of this trend as the internet allows influences outside the US to be more readily recognizable and makes the world a much smaller place.

Regardless, props to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis who were quick to point out the groundswell from their fans and the duo’s independent work which led to their radio/public “discovery”:

First and foremost, I wanna’ thank our fans, the people that got us on this stage.  Before there was any media, before there was any buzz about us, before there was a story, there was our fans, and it spread organically through them, so without them, there would be no “us”.  Shout out to everybody repping worldwide …and I wanna’ say, we made this album without a record label.  We made it independently, and we appreciate all the support!

That was to you, Byrd.

 

Weighted Companion Cube Christmas Lights Released!

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Valve software weighted companion cube

For those of you who emailed us, asking how you could purchase our Portal Companion Cube Christmas Tree lights, they are now available via the Valve Software online store!! (SO awesome, right??!)

1.5" portal weighted companion cube of clear plastic

After some minor changes to our original 3D printed model, these plastic lights are cast to be lighter-weight and cheaper to mass produce for retail sale.  And even as I type, they are on sale at a 20% discount for the upcoming Christmas holiday!  You still have time to have them delivered (in the US) prior to Christmas!

Portal weighted companion cube Christmas tree lights – for those Christmases when you want to remind yourself of that time you escaped the Aperture Science Enrichment Center after it was taken over by a narcissistic and passive-aggressive Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System that tried to kill you give you cake.

I don’t see there really being a big enough market for this particular product to justify mass production, but it was totally cool to build and print and watch it come together!
~bighairmonkey

We’re Awesome!

Monday, December 9th, 2013

awesome

Haters ignored.
Testing completed.
Requirements fulfilled.
Obstacles, doubts, and ridicule overcome.
Product shipped.
Customer happy!
We’re awesome!!

Spur-of-the-moment-type message outside the CEO’s window, and since I didn’t have my usual lawn sharpies, I had to spell it out in the frost on the lawn.

Not as long lasting, but it still makes the point, and opens up all sorts of possibilities for messages that you don’t want sticking around for more than a day or so.

Amazed me how many people took note and knew it was our team.
Some reputations are worth having!

It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to management than the creation of a new system.  For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.
~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Strike The Tent

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Haunted House sign

Dumping rain when we built the house.
60mph winds when we went to take it down.
Not a drop of rain or weather problem while the house was open other than a couple of near-freezing nights.

With all the rain we got when we put up the façade (and in previous years), we built some roof panels and placed them throughout the maze for protection from the elements for both our customers and our volunteers.  They doubled as structural support, adding strength and tying walls together in areas where we couldn’t use the anchors.  It’s always nice to be prepared for emergencies that don’t occur (rather than the opposite), but yesterday when we went to take it all down, a windstorm blew in – once the roof panels were off, the rest of maze was ready to take flight!  Luckily, the crew was able to work quickly and get it all down and packed away with minimal damage.

building a roof

roof panels

Maze runners our first year were zombies, rednecks, and ghouls – your basic group of scaries.  We only had ONE guy that could even be remotely compared to a clown, but found from customers that he was the one that freaked them out the most.

The next year, we built The Freak Show into the maze, locking customers into a strobe-lit shipping container with volunteers dressed in black body suits who would throw back their hoods to suddenly “appear” in front of customers and chase them around the dark confines.  Panicked as they were, it was nothing compared to the hysteria that kicked in when we introduced a few clowns into the mix.  Again, feedback from customers ranked this as one of our scariest “exhibits”.

And last year, we had clowns above the maze, throwing things down on people and chasing/taunting them throughout the maze.

But not until this year did we really build the maze around the circus theme.

Big Top Daytime view Big Top Nighttime

The Big Top is the final room in the maze before customers exit, so it’s also the first thing they see when they walk in to buy their tickets.  The sight of that circus Big Top, rising above the maze with the screaming laughter of clowns and chainsaws coming from within, was enough to make many a customer pause at the façade, debating whether or not they really wanted to come inside.

pole Dancing setting up the Big Top under the Big Top

Instead of lions or tigers or bears (“Oh my!”), clowns caged within two circus animal cars “greet” customers as they make their way into the Big Top.  Within seconds, the clowns fire up their chainsaws and “break out”, chasing customers out the exit.

maze runners

maze runners

We dressed all our maze runners as clowns this year, with full access to the thruways to get in front of and around crowds in the maze, and popping their heads through the various wall openings and doorways, so by the time you got to the final Big Top room, you knew there would be chainsaws somewhere nearby.  One of our clowns carried a simple bike horn which turned out to be one of the scariest sound effects in the maze.  He didn’t even run through the maze – just walked slowly around corners, occasionally sounding his bike horn and sending groups into running panic.

drop panel drop panel

drop panel drop panel

We created a number of “drop panels” throughout the house – openings in walls and panels that could be covered by lifting a sliding panel into place, only to drop it with a loud “BANG!”, exposing whatever was hiding behind it.  Lots of fun and very effective!

grim reaper camoflague clown camouflage clown

We continued last year’s idea of full head-to-toe costumes for some characters so customers didn’t know if they were real or not, mixing them among props that weren’t people.  Our grim reaper caught lots of people by surprise.

three heads

dead head

Three heads on a table, and one of them is real.  This only worked so well because the fake heads were REALLY high quality and lifelike.  I don’t believe the scare on this one would have been as effective if the other heads didn’t look so real.

packing up the haunted house

Overall, the house had a great “feel” to it this year, and I was really happy with the maze – lots of switchbacks creating blind corners and very few long views or open spaces.  Dressing our maze runners as clowns and building around the circus theme did a great job of freaking people out!  It seems a LOT of people don’t like clowns… who knew.  The train turned out as good as I had hoped and scared so many people (thank you Zookeeper!)!  I’d really like to figure out the webcam so we can catch photos of people when they’re scared that they can link to on social media or pass on to friends via the internet.  The plastic clad panels worked out much better than expected, so we will probably use that idea again.  We’ll have to see how well they store.  145 total panels for the maze this year: 33 of them clad in plastic and 10 completely rebuilt with the heavier ply since we still need some structural strength and support throughout.  That means we lost over 50 panels from last year to rot and deterioration.  Part of that is that we need to figure out a better way to store them, but from the start, we didn’t really build them to last, so the fact that we still have so many originals is surprising.  Final customer count surpassed every previous year, so we must be doing something right!

fluorescent walls skeleton cemetery zombie graveyard zombies

ghouls ghoul dance party witches clown Car

scared waiting Capt America greeters

American Beauty clowning around zombies scared

kid friendly night kid friendly night

Glad it’s over for another year.
I need some sleep…

Your idea is your currency; what you’re buying is a few seconds of the [customer's] time, in which you must gain their trust, entertain or inform them, convince them of your message, and possibly get them to act on it.  But it also has to be currency for the user; it has to be funny, informative, or somehow valuable for them to pass on to someone else.
~ Matt Mason