Melissa Carbone is a Halloween superhero. Not only is she here to continue to change up the game in the LA Haunted Attraction scene, but she is here to bring out the entrepreneur in you. I had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa about this year’s LA Haunted Hayride theme Clown, and her new book, Ready, Aim, Fire: How I turned a Hobby Into an Empire. This self-starter exudes confidence, and pride with every answer and the highlight for me was learning about Ten Thirty-One’s contributions to the environment.
What is your favorite Halloween memory, and what inspired you to get into the live attraction industry?
MC: It’s funny, the Halloween moment that sticks out the second when somebody says that to me, was when I was a kid I grew up on a farm in Connecticut and my mom threw me a Halloween party a couple of times over the course of my childhood. I got to invite all of my friends. We got off the bus and my mom had decorated our barn. We went in and it was like bobbing for apples, and things you stuck your hand into, and pinatas. It was really fun, but the barn looked awesome. One year, one of my friends, while we were sitting around this bin bobbing for apples just fell in and started crying. I can remember looking at her wondering why she was crying, and seeing how terrified she was that she fell into a bin of apples. I was like, wow that’s a really interesting reaction, and I didn’t really understand why somebody would get so upset, but it stuck with me because she was so egregiously upset. That Halloween moment does stick with me and I think about it every time someone asks me that question. It has nothing to do with what threw me into horror attractions per se, but those experiences I think are what grew this love for being in these scary, fun, bloody environments. My mom used to create a great Halloween space in our barn, and in our house so I think being around that was so fun for me that it put such a nice fond memory in my mind about those types of experiences that I definitely think was the seed.
The theme of this year’s LA Haunted Hayride is ‘Clowns’. Was that inspired by the release of the remake of ‘IT’ or the recent clown sightings from earlier this year?
MC: No, neither. It’s funny because the LA Haunted Hayride has been doing clowns for nine years. It’s no new thing for us. So the LA Haunted Hayride in year one we had the finale of the trail be a clown tent. We would throw the lights out on people, we’d have it soundscaped, and all these clowns would come out and ruin you. People loved it so much it was all they were talking about so we brought it back in year two. Tried not to bring it back in year three, but then everyone was asking for it. So in year four, we brought it back again. We always vary it, try to change it up a bit, and we haven’t had the clown tent in a few years. In those years all we’ve been hearing, all we’ve been getting hit over the head by Hayride fans who have been coming forever, is that they want it back. As a creative team we don’t always want to keep doing the same type of thing so I was like we have to address this because everyone for years wants the clown tent back. So we had the idea of turning the entire thirty acre attraction into clowns. We wouldn’t just keep it to one tent, one attraction anymore, we would turn the entire thirty acre into an eviscerated, blood and guts, and tormenting and ruining, and annihilating legion of clowns. It’s going to be cool because we are doing it in a super unique way. It’s going to be an evolution of different types of clowns you can possibly imagine. The most disturbing, visual clowns that you can think of. So it’s not going to resemble ‘IT’ at all. This is going to be a trip back into the old days of the LA Haunted Hayride which I think people are really excited about.
Which has been your favorite attraction to execute and which has been more challenging?
MC: The Haunted Hayride is my baby. I don’t think that I’ll ever love an attraction more than the LA Haunted Hayride. It’s our flagship attraction, and it’s what started this whole crazy world for us. It’s huge now. To create a girth like that as a temporary event is super difficult. There is no event infrastructure in the woods of Griffith Park. It’s not like we’re on a concrete slab that has power and lighting. So we have to go in and erect a thirty acre theme back for thirty days, take it down and do it all over again next year. That’s tricky. In year number nine we’re starting to get the hang of it.
Ten Thirty One has taken part in many important social awareness campaigns, can you tell me a little bit more about those, and if any more are on the horizon?
MC: That’s always been a humongous part of the company, and that’s not going to change for as long as I own the company. Halloween is an environmental nightmare, and I think that’s where it all starts for me. I wanted to build this company, but I didn’t want it to be another giant scar on the face of the planet. In the early days we teamed up with the Environmental Media Association to learn how to do that, and now nine years later our environmental mission is insane. It’s very meticulous and committed. We don’t build anything from scratch. All of our sets are reused, recycled materials. We don’t just go and take pallets and pallets of fresh lumber from Home Depot. We take old sets and repurpose them from Nickelodeon, and other partnerships we have with film companies. Even our own sets from year to year we repurpose to build new ones. We have a really extensive recycling and composting program at the Hayride. We’re plastic free. We have a water bottle program where if you buy a LA Haunted Hayride water bottle you get free refills all night long. It’s a metal hiking bottle. Plastic free from a cast and crew standpoint to a customer standpoint. A lot of people don’t know that we’re plant based. Meat and dairy are the biggest degregators of the environment that there is. It would have been very hypocritical of us to say we care about the environment, but then sell meat and dairy. All of our production vehicles are hybrid or electric, and it goes on and on. Every year the money that we spend on permits and percentages of our ticketing will go back to preserving the LA Parks Foundation. We do that every single year. At this point we’ve donated almost a million dollars to LA Parks Foundation. We’ve done stuff with Linda Blair’s Dog Rescue, Scare for Kids. The list is giant.
You have a book coming out called Ready, Fire, Aim: How I Turned a Hobby Into An Empire, can you give us a brief rundown of the book?
MC: It’s like an entrepreneurial inspirational book that I wrote to kind of take all of the lessons that seems to keep presenting itself over the last twenty years of my career, and put them all in one place. With the purpose of trying to unlock the tenacity to jump for a lot of the magic makers out there who have ideas that they’re sitting on, but aren’t necessarily jumping into the pool of risk because it’s a scary thing. Over my twenty year career I became this corporate american business person, and that was what I learned and what I knew. It’s a very different life than being an entrepreneur so taking the bridge between those two worlds has been incredible for me because I learned how to run a corporation, and how to manage large amounts of money by working in corporate america. I was able to apply that into building my own adventure. Of course there was the fear of leaving the safety of a corporate environment where you’re making a ton of money and into jumping into the abyss and who knows what’s going to happen to you. So the book is my attempt to inspire people to take a lot of shots. If I had to pick one principal from the book to talk about it would be ‘activate’. To me, everyone has ideas, but having the ideas isn’t what makes you special, activating that idea is what makes you special. Every single person on the planet has ideas so to me the only difference unless you’re the heir to a fortune, or you won the lottery, the only difference between a millionaire who had an idea, and a non-millionaire who had an idea was that the millionaire activated.I feel like there’s a lot of people out there who have something that can lead them to a more extraordinary life. Ready, Fire, Aim proposes that they go for it, and to take a hundred shots before your opponent’s gun is even out of their holster. You might miss half of them. You might even miss more than half of them, but that means that you hit the other ones. Sometimes you only need to hit once. That’s my proposition, is that people should not be okay with such a small percentage of the world holding the prize.
The LA Haunted Hayride is open on select nights September 29th – October 31st, 2017. Tickets are now on sale here.
[Interview has been edited for content and length]