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Years for Fears: Advance planning really pays off when it comes to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando

Years for Fears: Advance planning really pays off when it comes to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando

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For most of us, advance planning means that – a whole week ahead of time – you know what you’ll be doing over the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.

Universal Studio's Michael Roddy and shark friend
Michael Roddy (he's the one on the right), Director of Show Development
for the Universal Orlando Resort. Photo courtesy of Gregory Nicotero

Whereas Michael Roddy … Well, he’s kind of the King of Advance Planners. As Director of Show Development for Universal Orlando, Michael doesn’t think in simple seven day increments. He can’t. After all, this is the guy who has to look months & years down the line in order to properly pull off those seasonal events that have come to define this Central Florida Resort.

Of course, given the size & scale of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando (Which – this year – will run from September 25th through October 31st), it’s easy to understand why some advance planning might be in order. But few folks outside of Universal’s Show Development office really understand how far back Roddy & his team begin kicking around concepts for these seasonal events.

“So when did we first begin talking about what we wanted to do for the 2009 Halloween Horror Nights?,” Michael said. “That would probably have been the Summer of 2008. With that year’s event, we were going to be finishing up a three year arc of stories that started with our Sweet 16 event, continued with Carnival of Carnage and then finished up with our Blood Mary / Urban Legends event. And given that we had Halloween Horror Night’s 20th anniversary coming up, we knew that we wanted to build to something really big.”

Universal's Halloween Horror Nights - Ripped from the Silver Screen
Copyright 2009 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

Which is why Roddy and his creative crew decided that they’d launch a brand-new three year arc, which kicks off with 2009 “Ripped from the Silver Screen” theme. Where the spotlight this time around has been placed on the characters & settings from the “Chucky” & "Saw" films as well as Universal Pictures' upcoming reimaging of that Studio’s horror classic, “The Wolfman.”

And once that “Ripped from the Silver Screen” theme had been settled on … Well, that’s when the Halloween Horror Nights production machine really kicked into gear.

“Seamstresses here at the Studios have been working on costumes for this year’s Halloween Horror Night since January,” Michael explained. “Our prosthetics people have been making new make-up appliances since March. And we’ve been swinging hammers on our mazes since the first week of May. “

Me personally, that’s what I find really fascinating about Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. That all of this work can be going on in secret year-round behind-the-scenes, only to then be sprung on the public come September. Whereas Roddy takes a far more practical view of the whole process.

Universal Makeup Artist
Copyright 2008 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

“What I take great pride in is the fact that – every year – we’re able to build & then launch this huge seasonal show without disrupting the day-to-day operation at Universal Studios Florida or negatively impacting the Guest experience,” Michael continued. “Of course, part of the reason that we’re able to do that is that we can take advantage of Universal’s soundstages. But even then we have to work around whatever’s in production at that time.”

Mind you, Universal Orlando needs hundreds of performers in order to properly staff the haunted houses that will be presented at the 2009 edition of Halloween Horror Nights. Not to mention all of those ghouls who wander through the streets of the Studio, menacing Guests. So where does Roddy recruit these people from?

“We’ve actually got a pool of regulars that we draw from, people who come back year after year because they just love working Halloween Horror Nights,” Michael laughed. “We’ve just sent out reminder notices to those folks that we’ll be holding reunion auditions in July. And once we see who we’ve got coming back, then we’ll begin holding our regular Halloween Horror Night auditions.”

Audition notice for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights
Copyright 2009 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

So as you can now see, Halloween Horror Nights is a pretty big deal at Universal Studios. This seasonal event employs a mini-army of people – both in the Park and behind-the-scenes -- who then have to deal with the thousands of Guests who come in after-hours throughout September & October. All with the hope that this year’s edition of HHN will scare the pants off them.

And given that Roddy is the general in charge of this mini-army, does he feel stressed? Pressured? Hardly.

“I just love this part of my job,” Michael enthused. “That’s why I’m in the Park every night that we hold Halloween Horror Nights. So I can then make sure that all of those months of hard work & advance planning really pay off.”

If you’d like to get some sense of the effort that Roddy & his team have already put into the 2009 editon of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, why not head on over to the official website? Where you’ll find that tickets for this year’s event are already on sale.

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