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An Interview with Melissa Carbone, the Scariest Woman in Los Angeles (and, Soon, Your City)

Ten Thirty One Productions CEO Melissa Carbone

The creator behind L.A.'s iconic Haunted Hayride talks about her company's big plans for new attractions in 2016 and reveals the scariest place she's ever been.

For anyone who lives in Los Angeles, the Haunted Hayride has become the standard-bearer of Halloween events each year. It - as well, as a number of other thrilling, fear-based activities like the Great Horror Campout in late spring and the Great Horror Movie Night, taking place now - are produced by Ten Thirty One Productions, an entertainment company that specializes in scaring the bejeezus out of its very-willing customers. And, in an ironic twist for a horror-themed operation, they use their attractions to bring social awareness to issues like environmental conservation, animal and wildlife welfare and city park preservation.

We recently chatted with the CEO and co-founder of Ten Thirty Once Productions, Melissa Carbone, about the company’s recent expansion of its iconic Hayride and their even bigger plans for this year:

OT: How did the Haunted Hayride start?

Carbone: "So the hayride started very organically actually. I was working as an executive at Clear Channel Los Angeles and my partner at the time, Alyson Richards, she and I were together at this point for almost ten years. We had a house in Westwood, in this very suburban, soccer mom part of West L.A., and it was on this street that was just littered with trick-or-treaters. 

I’ve always been a massive Halloween fan. Growing up, every horror movie that would come out, I’d go see it; there wasn’t a haunted house or haunted attraction anywhere in my reach that I wouldn’t go to. I don’t think I recognized it as a thing until we got our first house and I became obsessive about making it haunted and creepy. So I started to really deck it out. I left no part of my house untouched by it.

I realized that I loved this feeling of fear. You know, I love invoking that feeling of fear in people and the way they would react and watching their reactions…"

OT: …I kind of picture you like Julie Bowen’s character from Modern Family….

Carbone (laughs): "Yeah. Maybe. That might not be a far stretch.

So we kind of became the house in the neighborhood that everyone loved. And, one day I noticed that there were literally hundreds of kids passing through our house and our yard on Halloween night. A lot of them coming through two or three times. Even their parents were coming through. And, I thought to myself: wow, there’s something to this holiday, people are really into it and if this were a business, we’d be rich!

I started researching the revenue behind Halloween and at the time it was a $6 billion dollar industry. And, for a market the size of L.A., I felt like we were pretty underserved. This was in 2009. And, at the time there were really only three major Halloween things to do. I think last season there were 26 attractions in L.A. so it has changed a lot.

I got completely hooked on the idea and activated on it immediately. I decided the Haunted Hayride would be the way to go because it was my favorite thing to do as a kid. No one had ever really even heard of them here in L.A. so Alyson and I quickly started looking for a location that had a big chunk woods - which are not easy to find as you can imagine - and produced our very first Hayride."

OT: Are there plans to expand?

Carbone: "We actually did expand. Last year we rolled out a New York Haunted Hayride. That one takes place for 21 nights. For the next markets, the plans are goingto be Dallas, we’re going to do Miami, and then we’ll probably go up to San Francisco."

OT: Are there regional differences as far as what you include for scares?

Carbone: "Yes, in New York we launched with the best of what we had done in L.A. for the past seven years. So we took all those best themes are created one big giant, beautiful Hayride. Meanwhile in L.A., we had a completely different program called Boogeyman. Everything was brand new. We change the theme there every single year."

A scene from a recent Haunted Hayride

OT: And, we’ve heard you’re launching an entirely new venture soon?

Carbone: "Yes! The new film division that we are working on is called ShadowHouse films. We are working on creating a new horror film franchise - and I mean, we’re really going to commit to this franchise - and the first film is slated to come out this October. The idea is that we are going to release the films every year with all of our attractions. So it will be this kind of synergistic ‘go see the movie, ride the ride’ type messaging. 

And, our attraction is kind of a character in the film. Its not a main theme but it is in the movie. Like how Camp Crystal Lake features in the Friday the 13th movies. So, yeah, Hayride is kind of a central theme in this first installment of the franchise.

But, its going to be cool because the way we’re messaging these two things is that you have this movie - that is based on some actual events - and this you have this Hayride, which is part of the movie. So now you can see the movie and then go experience this ride in any of our markets. And, so, they’ll be happening simultaneously, which is unique.

I have really high hopes for this film. Sonny Mallhi, who [was a producer on] The Strangers, was the writer/director/producer of our film. And, the film is so good and its so haunting."

OT: Switching gears a little bit, do you feel that being LGBTQ has contributed to your success or the success of your company?

Carbone: "I know that I have a much larger awareness for [social] issues, in general, than many other people might have. I’ve been pretty involved with Equality California for a pretty long time as well as other things: environmental issues; LGBTQ issues; animal rights issues; humanitarian issues. I’ve been so deep into those issues for so long, I’ve brought those ideals to the company. And, because of that, our company has been recognized as fairly unique in the entertainment industry. 

Having to pay attention to social issues - whether it was because I am gay or not, I don’t know - but, it has definitely created a consciousness raising in me that I’ve brought to the company. And, it’s been great for us. I think people receive us in a very warm way because we spend a lot of money to be on the right side of issues. You know, if we didn’t give a shit we could probably cut our bottom line. But, we are plastic free, we only use recycled and repurposed materials, we give tons and tons of tickets away to charity organizations. Being on the right side of history, I think, is always a good thing for your company."

OT: What is the scariest thing that has happened to you while traveling?

Carbone: "I was doing a cross-country road trip with my girlfriend at the time. And, we were in New Mexico and had to stop for gas. So we stopped at this gas station that was literally the only bit of light that you could see in the middle of nothingness. Well, it wasn’t just a gas station, but also a Taco Bell and a Subway. But, literally there are no houses visible or anything else visible for miles: this is all there was.

So we pulled up to the gas tank, and we’re like the only car there, and as I go into the place to pay, it is literally jam-packed with people. But, they are all sitting there in booths, completely quiet. I mean, with that many people, you’d expect there would be some kind of chatter going on. But, they were just silent. And, as I walked through to get to the counter to pay, I could feel them all lift their heads up to watch me go by. It was the most unnerving situation."

Tickets for the Great Horror Movie Night are currently on sale for its next two screenings, The Shining (April 1) and Friday the 13th (May 13).

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