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One of the most recognized names in the haunted attraction industry today is Leonard Pickel. You've probably heard about Haunted Attraction Magazine and you've probably heard of D.O.A., but how much do you really know about the man who has helped revolutionize this industry as we know it? In this issue, we talked with Leonard, 1-on-1, on a wide array of topics, ranging from his beginnings, to current issues and a few lucky readers got the chance to ask Mr. Pickel some questions. So kick back and enjoy, as you go "Behind The Haunt".



HauntSearch: Most people know you for what you've accomplished in recent years, but I'd like to ask about your early beginnings. Where did you grow up and how did you get your start in the haunting profession?

Leonard Pickel: I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but lived most of my young life in Dallas. Graduating from high school there and went to college at Texas A&M. Studied architecture there got a degree and stumbled into my first haunted house.

HS: Speaking of your first haunted house, what got you involved in these seasonal operations?
LP: I did my first Haunted House as a dorm fund raiser at Texas A&M. The attraction was open for 2 nights, cost 50 cents per person and we grossed $1,000. It opened my eyes to the money making potential Once I graduated I apprenticed Architecture in Dallas, and volunteered with the March of Dimes Haunted House in 1982. (I ended up) Chairing that event until 1986 and then did my own haunt in 1987. I built my first haunt on credit cards, pocket change and with stuff I have collected over the years. We grossed about $20,000 that first year, which was enough to pay back the credit cards and late fees. The next year, I thought if one haunt could bring in 20k then three haunts would make me rich!

HS: Were you right in making this assumption?

LP: (I ended up) doing one in downtown Dallas, one further north and one in the suburbs. (We were) way over stretched and running into problems with the downtown Dallas haunt, due to it being in an historic building, we lost our butts. Just barely even got the one show open before Halloween, and discovered even if there are people walking by the front door with cash in their pockets, Halloween is like a light switch. (One minute it's on, then the next, it's off) I carried that debt again on credit cards for years after that, and it humbled me greatly.

HS: What is the history behind "Haunterpreneurs"? How did this idea come about?

LP: My dad was the one who told me to stop doing my own haunts and start building them for other people. Less risk and more money, or at least it appeared that way. 1987 was when I coined the name Hauntrepreneurs and used it as part of the name of my first haunted House company,
"Elm Street Hauntrepreneurs". There was an article in around1989 about Joe Jensen, Drew Hunter, David Bertolino and myself in the wall street journal, It was titled "HAUNTREPRENEURS!" It was then I knew I need to trademark the name or everyone would be using it! I still have to ask people not to use it. What people do not understand is that if I do not protect the name, I take the chance of losing it. I am not trying to be mean, but the name is my "property" and I do not want to lose my rights in the name. It has pissed some people of though!

HS: Over the years, do you have an estimate on how many haunts you have created?

LP: I am in the 70 range. I personally did 6 last year through D.O.A., Hauntrepreneurs International, and for myself.

HS: What was the concept behind the first haunted house that Hauntrepreneurs created?

LP: My concept has always been that each actor placement should be fillable by any actor in any mask. After we had designed the haunt that year, I noticed that each of the rooms could have been from the Elm Street movies, and having the same character in all of the scares was the next step to any actor in any place. (I have used this single character haunt several times since). So. I decided to theme the show as all Freddy haunt. We had tall skinny Freddies, short fat Freddies, and Freddies that sounded like girls. But it was about 1988 and we had just lost our tails with the three haunts. One of the haunts was going to be up all year and we decided to open it in the spring. I invited a bunch of other haunters to come and act, Lance Pope brought several people out to and we had a great time. We didn't make any money, but we had a great time. The advertising I did for the haunt was made to look like a movie ad, and the sales rep suggested we use the PG rating on the ad. When that hit, we IMMEDIATLY got a call from the movie people (MPAA) telling us to cease and desist using their trademarked ratings. We apologized and said we would never do it again. They were happy, but they told New Line Cinema about the "Freddy's Home" name of the haunt on the ad. They were not as easily appeased, but in the end we were small potatoes to them and it would have cost them more to go after me then they would have ever gotten. That was the last time I ever used a licensed character in a haunt.

HS: What happened to Elm Street Hauntrepreneurs?

LP: At it's height, Elm Street Hauntrepreneurs was the largest manufacturer of haunts in the world. We were the first company to offer "kit haunts," a turn key approach to buying a haunted house. We built 13 kit haunted houses in 1996. These kit units were great for amusement parks, but the model was wrong for the average person wanting to get in the haunt business. We were no making any profit and kept having to raise the price of the kits to where the average person could not make money. That is when I decided we needed to change the concept. My partner at the time refused, so I sold the company to him. He still sells the same style kit haunts under the name Elm Street Haunted Construction.

HS: Ok, so after you sold your company, what was the next move for you?

LP: When I left Elm Street, I started Hauntrepreneurs International, which is a brokerage company for used attractions. I also focused on the magazine, which I had started with a different partner in 1994, I believe. There was a non-compete clause with the elm Street sale, so I could not design haunts for the next 2 years or so. I also took this time to get the Haunted Attraction Association off the ground.

HS: What sparked the motivation to create "Haunted Attraction Magazine"?

LP: After the article in the Wall Street Journal, all of the people mentioned in the article started talking to each other. Some of us were going to be at the Chicago convention that year, so we agreed to meet. People started coming by David's booth and mentioned the article so he invited them to the gathering. Before long we had about 20 people crammed into David's hotel room complaining about codes and fire marshals and stuff. At one point David stood up and said, "You know what we need, we need an association!" I remember thinking "That will never happen, haunters are too secretive." (It was not until I got on the Halloween L and discovered how sharing some haunters are and saw 300 people pay $300 each 3 years in a row to attend the TransWorld seminars, that I decided an association was possible, but I digress!) Although I did not think it was likely to happen, I said the way to start an association would be to start a newsletter. Something I had wanted to do for some time, but did not have the time to do it. I did have a mailing list of several hundred haunters that I had built through the Pickel Theory books I had been selling since 1987. (Some business seminar I went to said, if you want to become an expert in your field, write a I did!) I offered the data base to mail out the newsletter, but only if the rest of the people in the room would send me articles for it. I contacted each of the people in the room after the show and got one article back from Cydney Neil! So the news letter went on hold. Then I heard rumors that TransWorld was having a seminar called "Fun and profits in the Haunted House biz". Earlier that year TransWorld had purchased my mailing list, and had sent out invitations to the show. I called and offered my help to the speaker, but he said, no need. He figured there would be about 10 haunters there and we would just have a round table discussion. I explained that I already knew 20 people who would be there and that he better have a BIG ROOM! Over 200 people showed up, most of which I recognized were on my mailing list. The next year TransWorld started the Haunted Attraction Seminar series. At the end of the first seminar, TW announced that they were starting a newsletter. RATS!!! I had just tried to get Oliver Holler to help me start one of our own, and now TW was going to beat me to the punch. So we came home and gathered up all the articles I had been collecting and using the data base mailed out the first issue of Haunted Attraction, an 8 page newsletter, with a two color cover. Hoping that we would keep TW from coming out with theirs. Fright Line did come out, but it only lasted two issues or so. What started out as a newsletter has grown into the 48 page glossy color magazine that you see today.

HS: How long did it take before HAM gained a staff and became a prominent force in this industry?

LP: What staff? The magazine is my wife and I. We have a great graphics guy in California, a printer in Colorado and proof reader in Michigan. I edit, write and try to deal with ad sales, while Jeanne does the fulfillment. Just keeping track of who has how many issue left, inputting new subscribers, and mailing out back issues is a full time job.

HS: Speaking of your wife, if you don't mind, When did you meet Jeanne?

LP: I met Jeanne in 1980, we started dating in about 1984 and got married in 1990. She has a degree in Physical Education, but ironically no "business" education. But then if I had known I would some day own a magazine, I would have taken a journalism class at least once in my life as well! (smiles).

HS: May I ask, in your off-time, when you're not quite so busy, what do you like to do to relax and unwind?

LP: That is part of the problem, there is little time for vacations! I am a work-a-holic (diagnosed by Jeanne), and when I am not working, I cannot relax because of all the things I should be doing. One well kept secret is that I am a roller skater, but even that is not for leisure, I speed skated competitively for several years (roller skates, not roller blades). In fact I meet Jeanne in a roller rink, where I was DJ at the time. Seems like another life now. I have some skating claims to fame, but I was never fast enough to be really good. It was a lot of fun, and I still go skating every once and a while.

HS: It seems as though this has been a hot topic among haunters as of late, but where do you see a lot of haunts making mistakes, and what do you think, can be done in order to re-establish haunts as a "viable business"?

LP: Same thing I have been preaching for some time. You have to approach haunting as a business. How many haunters have a business plan?? Without a plan, how can you succeed? How do you know where you are going without goals and a plan?

HS: I know that some haunts have been raising their prices without actually raising the quality of their shows to match the price. How do you feel about this issue?

LP: I agree that haunts are over priced, but as long as people pay it, you will not get an owner to decrease (the price). The bigger question is "Have Haunts EVER been a viable business?" I know they are not a get rich quick scheme. I know some people have made some money doing haunts, but a whole lot more of them have lost their shirts.

HS: I think that there are some haunters who put on shows that are well worth the money. I think that haunts used to be worth the money, but as of late, with the increase in price and decrease in quality, we (the industry) have been losing credibility.

LP: Over the past 20 years, I have seen some haunts that were not worth the price that were FREE! If that did not hurt us then, then why now? The missing piece of the puzzle is an industry wide survey. Asking hard questions that most of us do not want to answer. But until we know those answers, and know where we came from as and industry, we will never know where we are going. People call me all the time asking who is the keeper of the numbers? "Where do I find out what kind of money can be made, what are the average start up costs, advertising costs" etc. But no one knows those numbers. One year a guy in Canada was doing some research for an FEC that was looking into doing a haunt. He called me and Haunted America and asked who had the numbers? Now he has a problem. Someone has paid him to come up with the (task) of doing a feasibility study for a haunt and there is no data for him to look at. So he says why not do a survey? Okay! I had done one back in 1998 or so and was interested seeing what had changed, so Haunted America and Haunted Attraction hosted the survey. You would have thought that I had enacted the greatest sin of mankind. A few haunters came down on me like there was no tomorrow. Accused me of wanting to take over the industry! That anyone stupid enough to fill out the survey would find me building a haunt right next door to them, the following year. The truth was that all of this info went directly to the guy in Canada, and all I was privy to was the results (which are posted on the Haunted Attraction Magazine web site to this day) So, the information that this guy got was tainted, and there has not been another one since. I have since tried to ask the IAHA to do one, but there is always some one who does not want to share, or will not let you in on his little gold mine, which kills the idea. Is the Haunt industry in a down cycle or is it dead? No one knows because we do not know what Haunts did 10 years ago. And 10 years from now, we will not know what they did today.

HS: Speaking of the IAHA, an association you helped get started, how did this come about?

LP: When I decided to sell my interest in Elm Street, I knew I would have some time on my hands. I had seen all those people pay big money to sit in a seminar at TransWorld and decided that an association might be able to work for the industry. I also looked around at the "big names" of the day and realized that I was the only one who did not have a Haunt. With Elm Street gone, no one could accuse me of starting an association to benefit just me, (or so I though). So I called a meeting at Chicago one year. About 300 people showed up and we talked about whether we needed an association or not. The consensus was yes and a board was formed. I had never wanted to run the association, just to start it. So I have been a loyal member, but never held office. The IAHA now has over 400 members.
HS: I have seemed to notice a lot of arguing and name calling in this industry. How do you feel about all this? Is it holding the industry back?

LP: This is a young industry, with big egos and thin skins. It does hold us back, makes us look worse to the entertainment industry and to outsiders, but people will be people. The best decision I ever made was to not let what people say about me
get to me and just do the best I can at what I do. I cannot control what people say, and arguing with them just keeps the mud splashing on you longer.

HS: How do you feel about many haunted attractions feeling the need to fill their halls and rooms with props, as opposed to using an all actor staff?

LP: I have never found props to be scary. Scaring people is just like telling them a joke, it is all in the timing. and I have seen very few props, animatronics or not that could tell a decent joke! (smiles) It is that live element that a haunt needs to be scary. You still need props and set dressing to make the space feel real, but it is the actor that scares you! Even the animations that I do use are set off by an actor to get the timing right!

HS: There has been a lot of speculation as it relates to your relationship with Larry Kirchner, of HauntWorld, would you like to elaborate, and perhaps set the record straight, putting an end to the rumors?

LP: Larry and I have agreed to bury the hatchet. Most of the problems we were having were simple misunderstandings. We even speak on the phone every once in a while now.

HS:Some of my readers have sent me questions they would like for me to ask you. Michael Maxim, of Maniacal Productions asks, "How does it feel being in one of the questions in a recent version of the Trivial Pursuit?"

LP: I was blown away. It's embarrassing more than anything. To this day I get embarrassing when people ask me for an autograph. I am very flattered, but I do not think of myself as any more than they are. I am just a haunter, doing what I love to do. I feel like asking for theirs in return.

HS: Michael Bruner, of The Monster Maze asks "What results have you seen personally since you've subscribed to the 'Share information philosophy?"

LP: Years ago, I decided that I can only go to a certain height by myself. At that time I made a conscious effort to share what I knew, the tricks I have developed (like the Triangular Grid System, and other aspects I have developed and I do seminars on), so that people can take what I have learned, and take it further. This allows me to learn from what others do with my ideas and to go further than I could with out the new input. This made DOA possible. If I had been secretive about what I did, than I could not collaborate with John Burton. I have learned a great deal from him in the short time we have been working together. I hope he would say the same about me.

HS: Speaking of DOA, Michael Maxim also wants to know, "There are quite a few haunters that are hyped about your new DOA project. We are all wondering when you are going to have the website up and will it contain more examples of your work?"

LP: We had a site up, but it disappeared! Still looking into that. People always ask me how I do everything I do; VERY SLOWLY I am afraid! We do have plans to upload more photos of our work, as soon as we can get to it!

HS: What I want to know is, what compelled you to form DOA, and what services does the company offer?

LP: John Burton and I stared talking a few years after I sold my interests in Elm Street, and he agreed to join forces and start D.O.A., a design, consulting, decoration company. John and I had known each other for some time, but never worked together. I needed someone to take some of the on-site work time off my hands and John needed someone in an office to help land the projects. At the time, we were two very similar companies doing the same thing at the same time. The difference now from when we were not working together is we collaborate on stuff. He has really cool ideas, in-depth knowledge of horror and film, and I help with architectural nuances and room design concepts. We are proving that two heads are better than one and you get both of us for the same price that you would get any one of our competitors.

HS: I understand that your partner, John was the first to create a 3D haunt. How did this idea come about and how do you feel about how widespread the 3D craze has swept haunts nationwide?

LP: I thought 3-D would have caught on much faster than it has. It is an easy less expensive way to do a haunt. John had considered doing a 3-D haunt back when Jason in 3D came out. He was trying to use the old red and blue glasses to make the images 3D, but had given up because the art was to hard to paint by hand. Then, years later, he was at the IAAPA show, and some guy in a booth handed him chromadepth glasses and said "Look at this isn't it cool?!" Immediately the wheels started spinning and he experimented with the art work at a haunt he was doing in Louisville, KY. The next year, he had a full 3D haunt at the same place.

HS:I know this must be a tough subject for all of those who knew him well, but how has Lance Pope's passing affected you personally, and how do you think it will/has affected the industry?

LP: Lance was a dear friend of mine. He had a rough life and I knew he would not live to be 100, but his death was a shock. I will miss him. I hope it will make haunters realize that life IS short and you can go at any time, so make the most of the time you have. AND USE A RESPIRATOR!!!

HS: Lastly, what advice would you give to somebody trying to break into this business, whether it be by starting up a haunt, building props, or any other avenue they may take?

LP: Do your homework! Buy every book, every video, every magazine, go to every seminar, and every gathering. From this knowledge, be realistic and develop a business plan. If the plan shows you will not make money, change the plan until it does. If you open a haunt without a plan you deserve to fail. If you open a haunt on a business plan that does not prove you will make as much money as you need to make, then you have only your self to blame when it does not. I would also recommend you hire a consultant to help you NOT make the same mistakes that others have made before you. A good consultant can save you 10 fold the money you will spend on his fees. Start small, take baby steps until you get your balance. You do not have to compete with SpookyWorld your first year!

Leonard Pickel is Editor-In-Chief of Haunted Attraction Magazine, as well as one of the founders of Elm Street Hauntrepreneurs, D.O.A., IAHA. If you would like more information on Haunted Attraction Magazine and Prion Inc, be sure to visit their website at

Hauntrepreneurs(TM) is a registered trademark of Leonard Pickel and is used with permission. All photos on this page are courtesy Leonard Pickel and may not be reproduced without permission.

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