The The $4 Fix is a concept I've been working on for some time.
Originally Posted by turkeycreaux
I got the idea from screenwriting expert and top-flight spec screenwriter, the late, great Blake Snyder. He talked about the concept in his interestingly (and curiously) titled book on screenwriting, Save the Cat! He explains the The $4 Fix, and his interesting choice of book title, in the Introduction to his book.
The following is taken from the middle of the Introduction after he had just been commenting on (and lamenting) the common Hollywood practice of rushing a movie thru production and then over-hyping it so that it makes it's budget back in the opening weekend, with no concern for the fact that it might drop some 70% to 80% in revenues the following weekend, and may not have legs after that.
Incidentally, Blake doesn't blame the money-men for this mentality, and understands the motivation behind it, but astutely points out that if you just follow the rules of good scriptwriting, then this approach is just not necessary.
He writes . . .
What bugs me about this trend is that for all the money they're spending on star salaries, special effects, advertising, and marketing - and don't forget all those film prints - it would be better spent, and the movies would be better too, if the filmmakers just paid $4 for some pencils and paper and followed the rules of how to write a good movie!
Take a hip, slick movie like Lara Croft 2 for example. They spent a fortune on that film. And everyone is still wondering what happened. They can't figure out why they didn't bring in the audience of targeted men. It's not surprising to me. What's wrong with this picture? Where did the filmmakers go awry? To me it's really very simple: I don't like the Lara Croft character. Why would I? She's cold and humorless. And while that's fine in the solitary world of video games and comics, it doesn't make me want to leave my home to go see the movie. The people who produced this film think they can get you to like her by making her "cool." This is what amounts to "character development" in au currant movies: "She drives a cool car." That's someone's idea of how to create a winning hero.
Well, folks, I don't care about how "cool" it is, this isn't going to work.
Because liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story.
Which brings us to the title of this book: Save the Cat!
Save the what?
I call it the "Save the Cat" scene. They don't put it into movies anymore. And it's basic. It's the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something - like saving a cat - that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.
In the thriller Sea of Love, Al Pacino is a cop. Scene One finds him in the middle of a sting operation. Parole violators have been lured by the promise of meeting the N.Y. Yankees, but when they arrive it's Al and his cop buddies waiting to bust them. So Al's "cool." (He's got a cool idea for a sting anyway.) But on his way out he also does something nice. Al spots another lawbreaker, who's brought his son, coming late to the sting. Seeing the Dad with his kid, Al flashes his badge at the man who nods in understanding and exits quick. Al lets this guy off the hook because he has his young son with him. And just so you know Al hasn't gone totally soft, he also gets to say a cool line to the crook: "Catch you later . . ." Well, I don't know about you, but I like Al. I'll go anywhere he takes me now and you know what else? I'll be rooting to see him win. All based on a two second interaction between Al and a Dad with his baseball-fan kid.
Can you imagine if the makers of Lara Croft 2 spent $4 on a good Save the Cat scene instead of the $2.5 million they spent developing that new latex body suit for Angeline Jolie? They might've done a whole lot better.
So, think about that. Just $4 worth of pencils and paper, and a bit of ingenuity, creativity, and scriptwriting know-how, and so many movies could be fixed that were meant to be major money makers that just ended up being major money pits.
For our purposes, that last line could be re-written or reconceptualized as follows: "Can you imagine if the makers of The Haunting of Hell House (or whatever) spent $4 on backstory development, character development, effective icon character development, incorporating pacing and anticipation in their scene layout, scene design and development with actor-focused integration in mind with regard to customer experience, and so on, instead of the $150K they spent on fancy animatronics? They might've done a whole lot better."
I see the same thing happening with Haunts all the time.
All these newbies who want to be "pro-haunters" run around like "home-haunters" with a bigger budget, a bigger space, and a bigger shopping list. They write "business plans" while not even knowing what they are talking about. They've never run a business before, or worse, they have, but no business in the world runs anything like a haunt, so having been a plumber or a restauranteur doesn't really get you much insight into running a haunt.
It's like this difference between home-haunters wanting to go pro, and "dream-haunters", who want to open "the haunt of their dreams!" These are like the yuppie retirees who think that owning their own cafe or B'n'B would be a wonderful, life-affirming endeavor . . . the same people who have never set foot in the kitchen of a professional restaurant, or have done any major amount of entertaining, or even cook much, or really have any passion or concern for the hospitality industry . . . but, they do have a lovely little place picked out and a "well written business plan!"
"Boy, we'll really impress the bank manager with our swell, well written business plan!"
And it's made all the worse by all of these commercials for financial services showing retirees leaving the rat-race behind to "chase the dream" by opening their own business, doing something frightfully rustic and romantic.
And then you have, as Greg put it, all of these kids who are, for whatever reason, unemployable, so they think that opening a pro-haunt will be their salvation. And, besides, "just how hard can it be?"
Yet, the common denominator between all these different newbie-dream-haunter factions, conspicuous by its absence, its silence almost deafening, is the fact that absolutely none of them have ever actually worked in a professional haunted attraction!! None of them!
They're all busy, feverishly working on their business plans, but none of them have ever made an animatronic, or a pop-up, or a latex mask, or airbrushed any makeup, or designed a full electrical system for a full haunt, or a sound system, or wired a controller, or any of the other stuff in Allen's videos, or even acted. And as far as the home-haunters go, many of them don't even have "actors." They have their sons and their sons' friends in dorky masks jumping around and spazzing out. That's fine and loads of fun for a home-haunt, but with a pro-haunt you are supposed to take it to the next level.
(The notable exceptions to this dynamic are those like Pickle, who has actually managed a haunt, and has spent 25 years as a General Contractor.)
Mind you, I love home-haunters, and I'm very impressed with what a lot of them do, and I've seen many of them give pro-haunters a run for their money as far as production value goes, but, seriously, there is just so much that home-haunters don't know about; stuff that they would never imagine putting into a business plan, or would know to.
And as Greg asks, "a business plan? Well, who would you show it to?"
That's why you see all the veterans on the boards laugh when someone says "oh, you need to work on your business plan" or "you need to have a good business plan", or some newbie says "I have never worked at a haunt and never done it and don't know the first thing about it, but I am really coming along on my business plan!"
So, this is all where The $4 Fix comes in. What it means in practical English is to make sure you work out every single aspect of your haunt on paper before you spend a single dime. And that doesn't mean do a "business plan". Quite the polar opposite, it means learn everything you can, get as much hands on experience as possible. Like Allen suggests, actually work in a pro haunt to learn the ropes first if you can manage. Or volunteer in one. Or help a friend with their home-haunt, making it more like a proper walk-thru, if you have to. Don't worry about knowing everything - cuz you won't - but definitely learn every question you need to know how to ask, and try to avoid going from "zero to haunt" within one season, if you can. That's usually where a lot of bad thinking crops up and comes into the picture. (Many guys here are the exception, as evidenced by their insightful posts. They don't know everything, and are definitely newbies, but they know how to ask the right questions.)
And then once you've done all that, once you know what questions to ask, get as many guys who know what they are doing to help you come up with practical and cost effective solutions on paper to the problems you have.
Iow, The $4 Fix means solve all of your design and business model issues early in the design stage - on paper, on purpose - before you start blowing big bucks. Then you know you're good.
Then after that, use another cost-effective Hollywood Secret, used by all the modern masters such as Spielberg and Lucas when it comes to epic productions: pre-viz everything for less than 0.1% of the total film's cost, and save yourself a ton of time and money. Make all of your key design decisions before you spend the big bucks.
Allen also talks about that concept as well on his Design DVD, demonstrating excellent tools and resources that allow you to do this cost-effectively. Completely design your haunt (after having sketched it out on paper), before you buy a single sheet of plywood or bucket of latex or jug of fog juice.
More in a bit, but that should give you the basic idea. Btw, I have some thoughts on your space layout.