Haunted House Designer


Happy Halloween and welcome back to Gracie Meets… If you’re like me, you love all things horror. So I really wanted to get into the spooky spirit and interview someone who’s an eerie entrepreneur in the hunting business. Please give a warm yet chilling welcome to Mr. Leonard Pickle, a haunted house designer who’s pretty well known in the hunting business! Go ahead and take a listen!

Gracie Meets...
Gracie Meets...
Haunted House Designer

Show Music: 2019 07 25 cello pizz 01 and 250109 rhodes 02 by Morusque used under Creative Commons License CC BY.  No alterations were made to the original composition. 

Cover Art: Kyleigh Kinsey. Instagram: @ato._.noodle 


Gracie Solomon  00:11

Happy Halloween and welcome back to Gracie Meets… If you’re like me, you love all things horror. So I really wanted to get into the spooky spirit and interview someone who’s an eerie entrepreneur in the hunting business. Please give a warm yet chilling welcome to Mr. Leonard Pickle, a haunted house designer who’s pretty well known in the hunting business, tell the listeners a little bit about yourself.

Leonard Pickle  00:37

Well, I was born in New Mexico, raised in Texas and now I live in Orlando, I graduated Texas A&M University with a degree in architecture. I thought I was going to be a famous architect, but just kind of as a lark, the dorm, we did a haunted house as a, as a kind of a fundraiser to try to raise beer money and it was very successful, I really had a good time doing it. We did it every year that I was there in college. And then when I graduated, I kind of volunteered with the March of Dimes and did their haunted house, I was apprenticing to be an architect at the time, and I’ve designed everything from car dealerships to strip malls, hotels, to prisons. So I’ve got a pretty wide range of things that I’ve designed. But what’s interesting is, when I was designing as an architect, I’d be designing stuff that was all over the world really, and I never, half the buildings that I designed I never really had a chance to ever see. And one thing about the haunted houses that the architecture that goes, that’s involved in creating a scare experience really has more effect on a person you know experiencing that architecture than any other formal architecture does. Maybe a church you know, Gothic church might have the same effect but you know, nobody’s designing Gothic churches these days. So the opportunity to create something that not only can I see the people experiencing the attraction, but are experiencing the architecture, but being able to do it locally, where I can go and watch them do it was a big part of my, my design concepts affect people, you know, firsthand.

Gracie Solomon  02:23

So how would you explain your job as a themed attraction designer to a teenager?

Leonard Pickle  02:33

Well, my fun way to do that is that I scare people for a living.  I utilize some psychology in architecture school, they taught us how to make a space feel comfortable, to learn the things I do, I’m designing my attractions, I break all those rules, you know, a tall, narrow spaces feels uncomfortable to people a low, a low lying space, feels uncomfortable, so I kind of put this kind of, you know, architectural faux pas into the, into the design of the attraction and make people feel uncomfortable as they’re going through.  You know, my biggest thing is to convince people a lot of the people who get into the haunted house industry are artists, you know, they may know how to build a really cool prop or paint something to make it look old, or build some tombstones out of foam but they don’t understand the business side of haunting, and a haunted house is a business just like any other and if you don’t make any money, you don’t get to play anymore. So you have to really focus on the profitability of a business or really doesn’t make sense to be in business. And there are a lot of haunted houses in the United States that, that is a really put a pencil to it and looked at the time that they spend the money to actually make they’d probably be better getting a job at McDonald’s, but, but it’s because they love doing it and so The Hauntrepreneuers is a company, my company, that really helps people be profitable. You know, if people are struggling and trying to figure out how to make money, we help increase their capacity so that you put more people through per hour, you know, we help them increase the scare factor, so they can charge more, we’re big promoters of multi element, so instead of that one big haunted house, you break the haunted house in to multiple smaller pieces, so you can so you can charge more. So we can sell the people that are that are that are in the industry that are trying to figure out how to make money doing what they’re doing. And we also and we really just ourselves and get started. So we are the go to company and helping people start their first time haunted house. And we really, really emphasize treating it like a business. You know, business is a three to five-year payout, it’s not a get rich quick scheme. And we need to make sure that our clients know that fully before they open their haunted houses so that they’re not disappointed.

Gracie Solomon  04:46

So I really enjoy horror and being scared. So how do you come up with your ideas you mentioned like you go against everything that you kind of learned in learning architecture so how do you kind of think of your ideas?

Leonard Pickle  05:05

One of the things I prided myself on ever since I started doing haunted houses was I was I never was into the operations side. I was the designer, you know, I help build it, I loved building it and creating the experience but I wasn’t always big on operating.  I was not a big actor guys, I know I’m not that big getting into costume and makeup and stuff. So one of the things I started doing very early was going around and seeing as many hundred houses as I could, you know, I’ll typically see, you know, 200 hundred houses in October, I travel the countryside and sometimes the world to go see haunted houses that I’ve heard that I’ve heard are really good. And I don’t really go in with the idea of stealing room designs but I do love to take something that I’ve seen in one haunted house, and something I’ve seen in another haunted house, and putting them put them together for the first time though, they say that there are no new ideas there are just two old ideas together for the first time. I honestly think it’s a different style, it’s a different approach. And it just doesn’t necessarily fit. So you can’t really go around stealing ideas from people trying to do that. But you can go around and use experiences and one of the things that I have to do recently, I’m so tainted.  I’ve been through so many haunted houses that there’s not much that’s scares me. So what I like to do is get behind a group of young kids that are going through so I can watch their reactions as much as you know, watch what actually happens in our house. So I can tell what’s, what’s frightening, what’s not. I do get some ideas from movies. Even a TV commercial one of my best room designs came from a TV commercial one time.  But a but you really had to stay away from licensed characters we were we did it all Freddy haunted house one time and New Line Cinema that owns the Freddy character really got angry at us and was yelling, lawsuits and all kinds of stuff. We finally convinced them that we didn’t make enough money for them to worry about. But that was the last time I ever used a licensed character. But I do use you know, settings and you know, the concept of stuff from movies. So I get a little bit from movies, I tried books, I read a lot of Stephen King when I first started doing this, and I never really got much out of books, it’s more of a more of a visual thing. So some movies, you know, just come up with some cool ideas on my own. And we’ve seen stuff, you know, from everyday life.

Gracie Solomon  07:25

Does it take a certain type of person to like, do this kind of job? Or can just anybody do it?

Leonard Pickle  07:34

Um, you know, it’s one of my one of my things is “It’s just a haunted house, how hard can it be?”, the reality is, anybody can design a haunted house, but how effective will that haunted house be on the people going through and capacity is a big thing, a lot of houses run on a very low capacity. It’s much easier to scare one person going through a haunted house by themselves than it is, you know, that 500 – 3,000 people an hour some of these amusement parks have to operate on, 3000 people that are going through the haunted house, we have a crowd like that a conga line of people going through a room design, how you scare them frighten them and startle them, do something that they’re not expecting and still be effective? So anybody yes anybody can design a haunted house, but what is the level of effectiveness? How scary is that really going to be? But really what I boil a lot of house design down into how do I shorten my sightline? You know, make the pathway very, twisty and turny so that you can see what’s coming up ahead of you. You can’t see what’s happening to the group in front of you. And then how so how do I shorten my sideline and where do I hide the monster?  I always put the character, you know, in something behind something, you know, popping out low up and popping out high. You know, I scare from the front, from the back, from both sides, the top and the bottom. But I never stand on the front because I don’t want to slow them down I want to push forward. So there’s a lot of aspects that go into it. And its, but the skills involved are probably a lot of people kind of just from a theater standpoint, so they’re in theater, or they’re, or they’re artists and they know how to how to, you know, create stuff but my background is architectural, very, very few people in the industry that comes in from an architectural standpoint, but the majority of people that do this are just people that love Halloween and let’s go before they open a haunted house and then try to figure it out on the fly which, which I don’t recommend there’s a lot of potholes that a consultant can help you get around. without somebody it’ll save you from saving time and money in the long run. But a lot of people just do it. They just figure out a place, get money, sort of either on a shoestring and try to figure out how to make money with it.

Gracie Solomon  09:58

I’ve been to a couple of haunted house, and it really does seem like it takes a certain kind of person, like, a special mind to be able to create things like that.

Leonard Pickle  10:17

Yeah it does, it’s interesting because the people in the, the majority of the people in the haunted house industry are the best people on Earth.  They really are, you know, they’re sharing with their information. They, you know, they’re just nice people, and I think they get all their angst and anxiety out by scaring the crap out of people. So they don’t really necessarily show that they’re probably more well-rounded than the average person who doesn’t have that outlet that scaring people, you know, allows them but, but it’s some, you know, they’re definitely it’s definitely a breed of people, you know, one good thing about it, haunting is almost a disease.  Once you get the bug, once you’re infected there really is no turning back, there are hundred houses, haunted house people rarely ever, you know, decided to just stop doing it and go do something else. They even when they fail, even when their show, you know, loses money and they have to sell everything and quit. It’s not very long before they’re trying to do it again. So it’s, it’s a disease, and it’s terminal, there is no, there is no cure.

Gracie Solomon  11:20

So why would a teenager want to think about this stuff for their future?

Leonard Pickle  11:26

Well, I’m not sure there is a good reason for them to do that. Owning a haunted house, designing a haunted house, there are a lot easier ways to make a living. It really is. You know, it’s very seasonal. You know, you’re not really, you know, people, some people think I can make enough money in one month working one month, I don’t have to do, I don’t have to work the rest of the year, well, that’s not really true. Haunting is kind of a part time job year round, and then full time plus, in the month of October, and then it drops off again. So it’s very seasonal, it’s very cyclical.  Most haunted house people have big jobs, some other kind of income that they use to support their hunting habit. Because while it does make good money for a short, in short, short term, or it can make good money in the short term, doesn’t always make enough money for you to support yourself that way. But there are a lot easier ways to make a living, you know, I would probably would have been better off financially, if I had remained an architect and not gone into the haunted house industry. But I would have been an also ran I would have been, I wouldn’t know, no one would know my name.  I don’t know if I would’ve been a famous architect, but I’m pretty well known in our house industry. So even though it’s kind of a small pond, at least the size of my fish is bigger compared to the pond than it would have been if I’d stayed being an architect. Working for yourself is a lot of fun. You set your own hours, you know, you work when you want to, you don’t when you don’t.  So it’s so that that’s the biggest part for me is being able to, you know, to do what I love doing, and doing what I want to and not have to not having to listen to anybody. It makes it hard though being self-employed is difficult, because it’s like I said, it’s very seasonal. So by the middle of the, by early October, I’m done with all, my clients are up and operational. And then I’m going around seeing what everybody else is doing. But I’m also looking for work. So I’m also. So it’s a constant battle of finding clients, you know, getting to meeting deadlines and getting the stuff done on time. And then, you know, making sure that you’re not starving between the ebbs and flows of income.

Gracie Solomon  13:51

So you mentioned that this is like a disease like it’s terminal, and you can’t get rid of it. I liked that analogy. But if you could go back and change your job, would you?

Leonard Pickle  14:03

You know, that’s a really interesting question. I kind of pondered on that for quite a while. I don’t think I would, you know, I would love to go back knowing what I know now, and be able to fix those mistakes that I’ve made throughout my lifetime throughout my career. But I don’t think, I think that was still take the path. To me, your life is kind of like a like a card game. You have to play the hand that you’re dealt, and in many ways, you know, my if I look back on my career and follow what happened, everything seemed to be the logical step, from what I knew at the time, from what I had available at the time. So it all just kind of fell into place. I’m a true believer that things happen for a reason that they’re, I don’t know if there’s some kind of plan, but there are things that come up in life that just going to be obvious to you that this is the direction that I need to take. I was much more black and white when I was younger. I’m kind of more of a gray guy now but, but it was every decision that I made at the time seemed like, you know, there was no other way to do what I did. Again, I would go back and say, you know, this, this is a red flag. You shouldn’t have done that. But, but I think I would do it again. I think I mean; I love what I do. I’m certainly not rich by any stretch of the imagination imagination, but there’s a roof over my head and I get to work for myself and, and scare people all over the world.

Gracie Solomon  15:36

Well, thank you for letting me interview you. This is a really, like interesting one because I’m a big fan of horror and being scared. So I definitely learned a lot. Thank you.

Leonard Pickle  15:48

My pleasure. Let me know if I can help you with another interview.

Gracie Solomon  15:54

Who knew all the things that went into a haunted house? I think a haunted house is a great analogy for our lives as teenagers. We’re facing unknown scary things from left to right above and below. Like Mr. Leonard said, there will be reasons to not choose a job. But sometimes when you find something you’re passionate about, you’ve got to go for it. No ordinary person could step out on faith and go for something that may scare them to death. But then again, show me a normal teenager. Thanks for listening. Thanks for tuning in. If you like Gracie Meets… subscribe so you can listen every time a new episode is dropped. And follow Gracie Meets… on Instagram at Gracie dot Meets (@gracie.meets). Tune in next Saturday for a wild interview with a farrier.