As Halloween season draws to a close, and many are getting in our last frights at haunts, Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights has some parting gifts to keep the spirit going all year. Discover Universal is launching its first narrative series, Halloween Horror Nights: Haunted Tales, a podcast of spooky and creepily atmospheric anthology expands on the backstories from this year’s houses and scare zones.
Here’s what Michelle Westfall (Sr. Content Strategist for Podcasts and Video at Universal Orlando Resort) and Charles Grey (Sr. Show Director, Entertainment Creative Development at Universal Orlando Resort) shared about the venture and much more. Considering NBC Universal having a number of franchises joining Meta including Horror Nights, it’s definitely looking good for haunt fans.
Sabina Graves, io9: I had the opportunity to go attend Halloween Horror Nights during opening. And before that, I was keeping track the sort of content that goes up on for the podcast on social media when I came across the Horror Nights anthology. I’m curious how that collaboration into expanding the theme park haunt universe into a narrative podcast came to be?
Michelle Westfall: Great question! The anthology series actually came from an idea I had like a while back where I was like, “It would be really cool to know a little more about the stories [behind the houses].” I had friends and family who had come to the houses with me and would be like, “That was a really cool house, but what was the story?” You know, maybe they didn’t do much research into it. So I thought, what if we kind of took that and told the story in audio with sound effects and music and really kind of put you in the mood of Halloween horror nights. So that’s kind of where that idea stemmed from. Charles actually helped me with a full reveal of Halloween Horror Nights [on the pod] and from there we thought, “Okay, what if we did a series where, you know, every week we have a new house that we reveal and we tell the stories [behind them]?”
So I reached out to Lora Sauls in entertainment. I was like, “Would you be interested in maybe doing something like this on the podcast and kind of tell the story, take it however way you want to take it?” And of course, she was like, “That sounds really great!” So we thought to test a couple houses this year to see how they perform on the podcast. Are people talking about them? So we chose four houses and one scare zone that their [Horror Nights] team kind of divided it up. And as you probably heard, everyone read a different house, we did “Dead Mans Pier: Winter’s Wake,” “Bugs Eaten Alive,” “Fiesta De Chupacabras” and “Spirits of the Coven” for the houses. And then we thought let’s do a scare zone [Sweet Revenge] as well, which is cool because it tied into the Tribute store’s story.
io9: Was it really easy to translate these house pitch mythologies into podcast form?
Charles Grey: For houses, we have to actually force ourselves to remove bits of the story, every experience including each scene of the house, the streets, has to be like a Polaroid picture. It’s got to be like you got to get it in one take. So for us creating it, we have a bit of a backstory but then we have to see what we’re going to reveal so we don’t confuse people. So this gave us a great opportunity to really say the things we wanted to say or just add those extra layers back in. And then I think for people who experience those stories, it really gives a fuller foundation and can add to kind of emotional collaboration. Coming together and joining us on the journey, having that ammunition at the very beginning and then seeing things revealed is more impactful—especially the characters or the reasons why people do the things they do. So, yeah, it’s a lot of fun. Rwo years ago, we wrote some stories too for a lot of the stuff and then so to be able to read them was like a campfire tale...you know, sitting around the campfire, telling your ghost stories.
Westfall: I was seeing on Twitter that some people were like, “I’m listening to it in my car on my way to Halloween Horror Nights.” And some people were like, “We’re sitting in stay and scream and listening to an episode before going to go do Dead Man’s Pier.” After listening to all the episodes, I walked through Dead Man’s Pier and I was like,” I don’t know that I would have really understood the violin had I not listened to that episode.”
io9: Right! I listened to that episode for work before going and explained it so much! Added a whole new layer to the experience for my favorite house of the year.
Westfall: Exactly and maybe you went through the house and then after you went through the house, you were like, “Oh, I want to learn more about it” so you can play that episode. That’s kind of what we were thinking too.
Grey: And it’s not really spoilers because a lot of the stuff we’re just going deeper in the character or what happened just before the inciting event, you know? You see an IP or a movie or television show that you’re familiar you have that [background] coming in. But I will say that we have especially in our original stories world building here for people who come year after year. We are creating these stories and layering them on. Sometimes things have connections to other zones or from past years we don’t repeat, but we do link a lot of times. And a lot of times it’s very subtle. Sometimes we’re like, we don’t care if people get it or not. If they do? Amazing. If not? Okay. So to have people see the opportunity to see those connections, links also within these stories is is a big boon.
io9: So I started going to Halloween Horror Nights East fairly recently, so I’ve never really experienced a lot of the icons like The Director and Jack the Clown. And my favorite maze last year was the The Icons Maze, because I got to finally get the cliff notes of these different characters that I had had huant friends fill me in on. With this sort of thing are you thinking to continue some of these stories with the HHN icons through this medium or will it continue as extended guides to the houses of the year? I loved that the Fiesta de Chupacabras story had both an English and Spanish version!
Grey: We have tended to have the icons in some shape or form only during anniversary years, a lot of times as a touchstone for people who visited before. Again, I’m not saying that’s going to happen in the future, but that’s been what’s happened in the past. And you get on social media, you get on the blog and we can actually see what people are very interested in, what they’re latching onto.
Westfall: That is something we started to plan for next year to see, okay, what does the year look like? These did pretty well [with these houses], I’ve seen a lot of people receive them really well, so I thought, is there another place we can do it? It fits Halloween very well. So that’s something that we’re hoping to do next year, I think there could be a place for storytelling in those forms .
Check out Discover Universal for travel guides and more Tales of Halloween on Youtube and wherever you get your podcasts.
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