Q&A: Hauntoween LA’s Jasen Smith shares details on new Halloween event

Hauntoween LA is just days away from opening for its inaugural year, and they have lots of new entertainment in store for their guests keeping everyone COVID-safe. What began as an idea for Experiential Supply Company’s Chief Experience Officer Jasen Smith to make sure his children had a safe way to trick-or-treat has now blossomed into a full-blown event available to everyone in Southern California.

hauntoween la

Experiential Supply Co. typically works with third parties, having created numerous pop-up events for Warner Bros. Studios, including the “IT Chapter Two” immersive funhouse and experiences for “Ready Player One,” “The Lego Movie 2,” and “Smallfoot.” But this is the first time this company is stepping out on their own to raise funding, sell tickets and more with Hauntoween LA. This is a huge leap forward for Experiential Supply Co. and I’m excited to see what sort of event they produce.

I had the chance to chat with Smith about Hauntoween LA, and here’s what he had to say:

When it became clear that Halloween 2020 couldn’t be celebrated in the typical fashion, many people started brainstorming about ways to have events in a safe manner. Did you immediately think of going with a drive-thru concept?

Something that we’ve always tried to do as a company, creatively, was [to] not ever look and sound like everyone else. We want to focus on what’s going to make this special and different, which is daunting and a pain most of the time, having to constantly reinvent what you’re offering. So that’s sort of our ethos. The drive-thru got popular early on during this whole pandemic. I’m sort of turned off by things that everyone is gravitating towards right away, because how do you innovate when there are hundreds of companies all going for the same concept? But it was in the back of my mind and I saw a bunch come and go.

Selfishly, my oldest daughter is born on Halloween, so the initial thought was [that] Halloween might look a little different this year. What are we going to do for her? Maybe we build some little theatre flats in the front. I’ll get some actors and she can go trick-or-treating in the front yard. But then it started to snowball a little bit, like most things do, where I thought maybe there’s an opportunity here. Because the concept of trick-or-treating just in front of the house could translate into a drive-thru.

In addition to trick-or-treating, you also have another Halloween staple as part of your event, and that is pumpkin picking. What will that look like at Hauntoween LA?

With the pumpkin patch that we have, it’s going to be a super fun, themed environment. Each vehicle will get a pumpkin. They’ll be able to call it out from the many tower installations that we’re going to have set up throughout the space and we’re going to sanitize that pumpkin for them and put it in the back of their car. Then they’ll head into the trick-or-treat neighborhood.

hauntoween la pumpkin patch

What will that trick-or-treat experience be like from inside the vehicle?

What we’re doing is a two-street, twelve-house neighborhood that we’re going to build from the ground up in this parking lot. Each house is going to be decorated and themed with front lawns and fences. The vehicles are going to stop from house to house, where we’re going to have actors come out and deliver candy from one of three delivery methods.

The first one is sort of a basket and pole that the actor will hold and extend into the car so that we can keep that distance. The second one, which I think is the most fun, [is that] we’re going to have these big candy chutes that will dump the candy right into the vehicle. Then, for someone [who] isn’t comfortable with those two mechanisms, we’re going to just have a simple grab-and-go basket so that each family can still, in a way, get close to that trick-or-treating experience. We’re encouraging people to decorate their cars and dress up. The space is going to be heavily themed and I think it’s going to be received really well.

hauntoween la trick-or-treat

A lot of Halloween events are geared toward an older audience, but it seems as though you made a concerted effort to make this a family-friendly event. Why was that so important to you?

Knowing that Disneyland and their Halloween thing wasn’t going to be going on, my brain really started going toward “Well, what are families going to do?” Nobody’s thinking about how do you go straight for them and give them something to do of value? So that was sort of where this all started. Then it started to snowball and we just decided, “Okay, let’s go for this.”

It was also driven by the fact that the work-for-hire gigs are in a weird place. A lot of people in our industry have been affected by what’s going on. And frankly, it was let’s make an all-in bet, or we can just stay on this course of a slow death where we’re waiting for the work-for-hire to come around. Or we can go for something that we believe in and use the same mentality and production quality that we would on a work-for-hire for a Warner Bros., Disney, or Universal job and bring it to the public in a paid format.

It’s basically taking place in what’s normally an empty parking lot, right? So, everything is being built from the ground up?

We’re really good at coming into a blank canvas like a parking lot and making it a fully functional attraction. The power, the network, the signage – everything you need to sort of create that world.

How are the video and photo-ops going to work?

The first thing that the guests are going to go through is a 90-foot jack-o’-lantern tunnel with chaser lights and reflective finishing. It’s going to have almost an infinity tunnel effect. It’s going to be wild. Since the jack-o’-lantern tunnel is going to be such a visually epic moment, we’re going to put four cameras inside there, capture each vehicle coming through, overlay some music and give you a multi-angled output of your car sort of racing to Hauntoween.

Then the photo-op, once you leave the pumpkin patch and before you head into the trick-or-treat neighborhood, we’re going to have a printed backdrop. The vehicles [are] going to pull up to a practical Hauntoween logo, then LA on the backside, and then a nice backdrop to tie it all together. That’ll be a static output that we send to you.

hauntoween la

I also saw that you’re doing some sort of tunnel featuring the FX series “What We Do in the Shadows.” What will that be like?

We’re doing a sixty-foot black light tunnel for FX and “What We Do in the Shadows.” It’s a static print and the UV lights will activate certain parts of the artwork. It’s going to look incredible!

How long are you expecting this drive-thru experience to take?

We estimated between 25 to 35 minutes. There’s a lot of stops. With the ticket sales we’re seeing, we think this experience is more likely to be around 40 minutes for people. Which is good, I want people to spend more time in there. It’s such a massive space so we’re lucky that we can hold a lot of cars inside, and there’s a lot to see. Since people are paying, I don’t think it’s a situation where you just want to breeze right through it. We want them to take their time. So, 25 to 40 minutes depending on the time of day that you’re coming.

I noticed that you’re selling daytime tickets.

Yes, this goes back to being family accessible and all-ages friendly.  I know, having three girls of my own, it’s not easy going out sometimes after 7:00 p.m. My kids go to bed at 6:30 p.m. So we’re designing the space to be just as impactful during the day as it is at night. We thought those early hours were really important for the younger families.

I’m very curious to see if there’s a successful drive-thru, that maybe it returns next year not because we have to, but because it’s something different and new that people really enjoy. I’m curious, as you’re creating this, are you feeling like this might be a cool annual event?

My initial thought is, if Hauntoween can be that success, I want to keep our infrastructure in place and go right into the holidays – have something that fits in-between in November that’s more of a community give-back with food drives and clothing drives for the less fortunate. Then, maybe some video-ops as a placeholder for what I see as the finale, which is the holidays with Christmas tree farms and big, giant snow globe video-ops. But we have to successfully execute before we can really put those gears in motion.

I’d love to do this again next year, and hopefully everyone is on foot and it can be a little more immersive; what we’re used to. One of the trick-or-treat houses is going to be a Christmas house with a Halloween overlay, and that’s going to be sort of our tease to it all.

You can learn more about Hauntoween LA and book your tickets at HauntoweenLA.com.

Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He is the host and producer of “That Halloween Podcast,” a new show where you can hear Halloween-loving conversations with fantastic guests from the haunt, horror and entertainment industries every day this October. Listen and claim your FREE Halloween gifts at DePodcastNetwork.com


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One Comment

  1. Be ready to wait in line for almost 2 hours before you enter the location. Not fun with small kids locked up in a car.