By Punch Contributor Melinda ContrerasÂ
Prior to last month, the only haunt I’ve ever been to was Knott’s Scary Farm. That was back in high school, and I convinced myself that I shouldn’t have made so much effort to try to see who/what was hiding around each corner, as I likely would have been more scared if I had just walked at a normal pace, and all the fun is in actually getting scared and screaming, right? Fast forward ten years later, to a few weeks ago, when I was given the opportunity to visit Scream City, the new haunt put on by the creators of Field of Screams. I would like to be able to say that I walked through both the Exorcism Estate and Slaughter House attractions with more confidence then I had in high school, but the truth is, during the entire journey, I kept on thinking to myself, “Just look straight. Don’t turn your head.” I feared that by turning my head, I was setting myself up to see something I would rather not see once I turned my head back. Even with my cautious approach to the haunt, I was scared multiple times (no screams, but quite a few jumps), and even the “tough guy” behind me let out a “F@&%! You got me!” No one is safe…
Shortly before my journey to Scream City, which ends its month long stint in Lot 8 of RFK Stadium with haunts this Thursday-Sunday and next Tuesday-Sunday, I chatted with Michael Lado, Head of Productions for Field of Screams and Scream City, about everything from his inspirations, to his personal fears, to the amazing team that he gets to work with.
One of the great things about Field of Screams in Maryland is weâ€™re allowed to come to the table with pretty much any idea.
Pamela’s Punch: Tell us a brief educational/career background and how you got involved with Steelhead Productions, working on Field of Screams and now, Scream City.
Michael Lado: My background is in Fine Art and Menâ€™s Fashion. I studied at the Corcoran and I got a Graphic Design degree from Montgomery College. For a while I worked as a contractor at a Shock Trauma Board in Baltimore, doing the scenarios for a program about ATLS. Surgeons and training students would come in, and weâ€™d be in full makeup that resembles a real scenario. For instance, maybe a car crash, and Iâ€™d have a collapsed lung. We would do all the makeup and then act out the scenario. Itâ€™s interesting because itâ€™s a very real life version of things we are applying to these haunts. With the haunts, I started out doing community service work, making props and photos and things for their haunted house, then I found out they were looking for makeup artists. I offered because I had played with horror makeup and stuff, and I was always a huge fan of the genre. From that point on it was a really vigorous, personal study, because I just really love Field of Screams, and it is a really interesting thing to live so close to. My involvement with both Field of Screams and Scream City Â is now a little makeup, a little bit of decorating, a little bit of everything basically. Iâ€™m technically a contractor but I really assign myself specifically to Steelhead because I believe so much in the company and I’m pretty much just giving them my entire all. We have an amazing crew of guys who work so hard to get this thing up and running and to make it as fantastic and over the top as it is.
PP: Share a little bit about where you get inspiration for the haunts.
ML: We work together as a team, and pool together all of our interests and backgrounds. The one in Olney is really interesting because weâ€™ve seen it grow from a very small fundraiser to a huge fundraiser and thatâ€™s for the Boys and Girls Club of Olney. A lot of our inspiration just comes from an amalgamation of things. We like certain effects of a horror movie but we want to make them our own, and we like to take the old school classics, such as like a graveyard, and mix it with more modern stuff like lighting effects, and makeup effects, and things like that. As far Scream City, that was a very cohesive plot. What we really wanted was a backstory where people could come to us and become part of this movie we designed, if you will. There is kind of this Victorian side and thats about a family who went â€œmissing,â€ and youâ€™re introduced to this house of horrors and you’re kind of making your way through and just seeing graphic things and crazy things. Basically we were trying to tell a story through every element of the design. Then youâ€™ve got the other side, which is a slaughterhouse which is very gory and very over the top, a human meat packing district.
DC is a very special place for all of us because we live so close to it and we wanted to develop a real powerhouse of a haunt, and so we thought of things, on both scales, a classic horror, with the haunted house, and then we got the gore and the modern feel with the city, grungy, industrial half that is the slaughter house. From those ideas we starting developing it with research about how buildings decay and fall apart and how to do the span of a city in these 20,000 square feet.
PP: Why was it important to come inside the city, and how did you choose the location?
ML: Whatâ€™s great about the location in DC is it is so close to the metro and thatâ€™s a huge deal, because a lot of people in the city, itâ€™s kind of hard to get them to the Field of Screams in Olney. Once you get off the metro, you have to have a car, or pay for a cab to get further. We draw high attendance there, and we really wanted to pick a location where we could give something more to the city, and RFK is just a perfect location. Itâ€™s got ample parking, youâ€™ve got a metro around the corner, and itâ€™s accessible for most of the city. When the owners were looking for a new location, those were key factors, and RFK Stadium really hit a home run.
If youâ€™re an actor, youâ€™re not rehearsing so much, because itâ€™s very free form in the acting, and we want it to be really organic, but youâ€™re just anticipating these crowds coming in, and how can you can get each person and what scare you can do, how you can switch things up.
PP: Can you talk a little about why you chose to make Scream City an indoor attraction?
ML: We definitely wanted the new location to be indoors, for a number of reasons, but mainly, if you have an indoor haunt, weather doesnâ€™t affect it. If people are buying tickets in advance to see it and it rains, they can still come, and its unfortunate when you have an outdoor haunt, sometimes weather can be an issue. We don’t really like canceling haunts because we know people get really excited about them. When we were looking for places and designing the haunts, a huge thing was definitely, yes, this thing has to be covered and indoors.
PP: Describe a typical day on the job.
ML: For a typical worker, you show up, ready to go, setting up your makeup station, or if youâ€™re a technician, youâ€™re checking every switch and every plug to make sure everything is running. Ellen is our Account Director and she is very on point, making sure things run smoothly. The actors arrive in stages to begin their makeup. After the makeup, they are running around getting their costume on, getting in to their place, getting in the mind space of the haunt.Â If youâ€™re an actor, youâ€™re not rehearsing so much, because itâ€™s very free form in the acting, and we want it to be really organic, but you’re just anticipating these crowds coming in, and how can you can get each person and what scare you can do, how you can switch things up. Weâ€™ve got people with the mindset that Iâ€™m hiding in this little hidden corridor right now, and Iâ€™m going to jump out and lunge across the room, scare a bunch of people, pop into this other corridor, make my way through all these backstage accesses, and pop out 30 feet in the other direction, and get them again. A typical day is a lot of fun. They go pretty fast for us because they are ever-changing. In Olney alone, we see about 4-5,000 people a night some nights.Â
PP: What is the hardest part about the job?
ML: I do a lot of detailing work, so the hardest part is kind of balancing the schedule. I bounce between both sites, and its making sure that both of them get the attention that they need. Whatâ€™s really nice is weâ€™ve definitely got an excellent crew, so I donâ€™t have as many concerns, but youâ€™ve got to set a schedule and stick to it, because all the details are very time consuming.
PP: What do you enjoy most about the job?
ML: The creative freedom. Flat out. One of the great things about Field of Screams in Maryland is weâ€™re allowed to come to the table with pretty much any idea, and we work it out between the two sites. Scream City is definitely more intense, where as Olney, because we are associated with the Boys and Girls Club, we do tone it down, but the creative freedom is unbelievable, I mean Iâ€™ll come to the overheads, and say, â€œHey! I want to make this scene with these props,â€ and itâ€™s pretty much like, â€œOkay, cool.â€ Other days itâ€™s just like, â€œthis needs work, just go do it.â€ Iâ€™m kind of left on my own to make these decisions.
The doors that were open in the hallway slam shut. Weâ€™re going through this thing, like, oh, we build stuff like this, weâ€™re super in tune with it. NOPE.Â We bolted out of that building. Iâ€™m pretty sure we flew.
PP: What is your biggest fear?
ML: Change, because Iâ€™m such a stickler for scheduling.Â
If youâ€™re talking scared fear, things dealing with teeth. I donâ€™t mind the dentist, but the idea of losing teeth freaks me out. It just bothers me to no end.
PP: What is your favorite horror movie?
ML: Thatâ€™s a tough one, but I would probably say Silent Hill and that is mainly because that entire movie is this deep, brooding, poetic masterpiece. Itâ€™s scary, but itâ€™s also absolutely awe-inspiring. The scenery, the computer-generated graphics, all of it is just so intricate, itâ€™s just so beautiful.
PP: What Halloween costume are you most proud of?
ML: It turned in to a Halloween costume, but it was really for a steampunk wedding. Itâ€™s the character that I portray as the mayor of Scream City. I call him Vladimir Goodwill.
PP: What has been your most frightening or terrifying experience?
ML: I was inside an abandoned asylum, I wonâ€™t give the location for security reasons, but I was â€œurban exploringâ€ is what they call it. It was a little bit windy that night, so weâ€™re kind of slowly climbing up the stairs, We get to this one hallway, and I kid you not, the wind blew, and the doors that were open in the hallway slam shut. Weâ€™re going through this thing, like, oh, we build stuff like this, weâ€™re super in tune with it. NOPE.Â We bolted out of that building. Iâ€™m pretty sure we flew. We werenâ€™t processing the fact that it was windy outside. Weâ€™re just thinking, is there people in here? Whatâ€™s going on? Â It was pretty bad because it was pitch black, and it was a trip and a half to try to get in this building in the first place.