THE AGE • THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2007
SOMETHING PERSONAL The road to being published is a rough ride, writes Elizabeth Quinn.
NTREPRENEUR Lynton V. Harris is not a big fan of spiders. And though he’s better with snakes these days, he has been known to threaten his staff with instant dismissal if they bring the reptiles too close to him. These are not such unusual phobias but that they exist for Harris is ironic. It is the job of the Australian chairman and CEO of New York-based The Sudden Impact! Entertainment Company, Harris’ job is to create “interactive scare attractions” — live theatrical shows often based on action blockbusters — for theme parks and other venues around the world. Scaring people witless is what he does best. “Sometimes we’ll get a 10-yearold who won’t bat an eyelid but you’ve absolutely scared the shit out of his parents,” Harris laughs. “Everybody is really different. But laughter is usually the biggest emotional response we get.” Growing up in Adelaide, Harris enjoyed a lively childhood, immersing himself in sports and school theatre. He admits to having an “outward personality” that lent itself early to producing and promoting. Did he scare easily as a child? “I don’t think anything more or less than any other kid. I wasn’t a real horror fan or anything,” he says. In his teenage years an entrepreneurial streak emerged when he started a DJ business, but he quickly moved into television, writing and producing a segment called Lynton’s Letterbox for children’s show C’mon Kids. Later, various marketing positions took Harris to Sydney — including stints at Australia’s Wonderland Theme Park, the Sydney Swans Football Club (during the Geoffrey Edelsten era) and radio — where he stayed for a decade. But it was on a trip to the USA in 1992, when he saw a Radio City Music Hall Christmas show, that a fork in the road emerged. “I said to my mate in New York, ‘Someone could do this with Halloween’,” says Harris. He returned to Australia and gave up his marketing career to concentrate on staging a 90-minute sit-down Halloween musical at the Sydney Entertainment Centre with his friend. “I filmed it and the following year I left for America with my tape, my suitcase and less than $1000 in my pocket,” he laughs. Two-and-a-half years later
Prince of darkness
Liz Cincotta meets an Australian who’s made it big by scaring people.
Harris opened his first show in New York’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. His Halloween show, Madison Scare Garden, went on to run for four seasons and sold more than a quarter of a million tickets. Harris’ company has since become recognised worldwide as the leading producer of live, scary, interactive entertainment and has produced spectaculars such as an “extreme scream park” in Washington
DANNY KATZ The show is the muse for a long line in blockbuster action sequels. APOCALYPSE Now, Paths of Glory, The Dirty Dozen: these are some of the greatest war movies ever made, offering a brutal insight into mankind’s eternal quest for senseless selfdestruction — and occasionally, a brutal insight into how intestines can hang out of a hole in someone’s neck. But there’s a new war movie being made as we speak, and it promises to be the greatest, most profound, most spectacular war movie
DC, a stadium-based interactive scream park show in Philadelphia and interactive adventures based on hit movies such as The Mummy LIVE!, Prison Break LIVE!, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider LIVE!. Each attraction employs performers who are paid to scare ticket holders. But their work is a little more involved than screaming “Boo!” Enter Scare School, a one-of-a-kind actor training program run by Harris. The 40-hour program trains actors and performers in the art of scare. “We teach the actors about themselves, the choreography, all the things necessary to be able to trick an audience,” says Harris. “Essentially we create this great illusion. The audience knows it’s makebelieve, yet by changing their environment . . . we’re actually able to change an audience’s emotional state. You can actually convince someone that they are scared.”
It involves precision training. Actors are taught how to get within an inch of someone in a low-lit environment. “Instead of being a presidium stage, where the audience is divorced from the actor, we’re putting them all in together in the same dark room where the audience
Bellis says. “We’ve been learning how to sneak up on people and really get in their face. The pay is a bonus because it is that much fun,” he laughs. As an actor, Bellis reckons you don’t need to yell at people to scare them. “Sometimes the most effective way of doing it
The audience knows it’s make-believe, yet by changing their environment . . . we’re able to change their emotional state. LYNTON V. HARRIS is walking, or in some cases they’re running and wetting their pants,” Harris laughs. “And that’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing.” Melbourne actor Dan Bellis, 23, spent a week this month training with Harris at Scare School in preparation for the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Anniversary LIVE! attraction, which opened at Luna Park in St Kilda on the weekend. “It was a terrific experience,”
is just by being really quiet and creepy,” he says. While there is no physical contact between actors and visitors, they do get close. Bellis reveals that visitors come through the attraction in groups of six with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. “You can sort of get up in between them and sneak through them — it’s really about using your body and learning how it works.”
The hardest part is learning what works for different people, says Bellis. “We’ve got people of different ages and sizes coming through so you really have to have the variety and learn how to modify what you’re doing in order to spook each person. Scaring a six-footeight footy player is going to be different to scaring a five-foottwo dancer.” Visitors to Lara Croft can expect to be met by an actress playing the video game heroine (later played by actress Angelina Jolie at the movies) before being sent into the Anubis Tomb of Terror, a disorientating maze about 297 square metres in size. It’s all in a day’s work for Harris, who has traded his New York apartment for a life on the road implementing his shows. “If you’re able to create entertainment, that’s one thing,” says Harris. “If you’re able to create entertainment that works — that’s a real privilege.”
Fright master Lynton V. Harris teachers scare tactics. PICTURE: SIMON SCHLUTER
I HAVE been writing stories for my daughter Eliza since she was four years old: shamelessly embellished tales drawn from her life, handwritten by her aunt with a calligraphy pen on quality paper and illustrated with photos by an artist friend. The pages were laminated and bound by yet another friend. Each book was a true labour of love. Four years ago, a friend with contacts in the publishing world offered to take one of the books to his publisher. The manuscript came back with suggestions on how I might make it more appealing: turn it into a short-chapter book, write it in the first person and, hardest of all, accept that the beautiful drawings would not be part of any published version. I had to start thinking like an author and let go of my sentimental attachment to the original story. Despite my misgivings, the rewriting process was pure enjoyment. Eliza’s voice came naturally to me, and I was encouraged by the laughter that I could hear from my little proofreader in the next room. The reworked manuscript was sent off to the publisher to good reviews. Over 18 months, it survived every stage until the last, when it was deemed “not suitable for their list at that time”, a phrase with which I am now familiar. By this time, I had started to think of myself as a writer. So I picked myself up and sent out the manuscript to a number of other companies. Within 48 hours I had received my first response, and by telephone. Here I learnt that some rejections would have little to do with my actual story. First I was chastised for leaving my phone number off the covering note — by someone who had gone to the trouble of looking me up in the telephone book at 6pm on a weeknight to tell me so. Worse, I had not included an SSAE (stamped self-addressed envelope, stupid) for return of the manuscript. I hadn’t expected to have it returned, but my interlocutor was past listening to excuses. I had also failed to list the reasons I so badly wanted her publishing house to have my story. (As far as I was concerned, a drover’s dog could have the manuscript if they were prepared to publish it.) To cap it all off, I had included a copy of my final letter from the initial publishing company: a rejection, but an encouraging one. The subject of the manuscript itself never came up. I have redrafted my manuscript a number of times in the last year. Looking back on my original, I wonder how it could have gone as far as it did. I was given some valuable advice recently by a celebrated Australian children’s author, who told me you need only two things in order to be published: determination and talent. The journey so far has proved I have the first. The second remains for others to decide. Elizabeth was recently awarded one of 20 mentorships by the Australian Society of Authors. She has selected Gary Crew as her mentor.
LINK 4www.suddenimpactentertainment.com 4www.lunapark.com.au
Operation showbag, it’s a war out there
ever made — and I’m not just saying that because I’ve written it, I’m directing it and I’ve already bought three tickets to see it, at a 6pm session on Tightarse Tuesday. This movie is about my own true-life war experiences, in the most harrowing, violent conflict of them all — it’s called The Dirty Showbag Pavilion Apocalypse of Glory, about an elite team of family members who must hunt down showbags at the Royal Melbourne Show, starring George Clooney as me, Matt Damon as my 10-year-old son, and Steve Buscemi as a sour Zombie fruit chew. SCENE 1: Huddled outside the Showbag Pavilion, looking battle-scarred and wasted, our platoon await their final onslaught — they’ve already
braved the crowds at Hamburger Hill (half-hour wait for a $9.50 burger) and fought gloriously at the Battle of the Bulge (moving 30 centimetres in 15 minutes through sideshow alley). But now it’s late afternoon, their tour of duty is almost done, with only the showbags left to go. Dad gazes proudly over his troops: his dim-witted, muscle-bound son with the heart of gold, his twitchy trigger-happy daughter with the chip on her shoulder — it got stuck to her jumper during the chainsaw-carving display at the Woodchop Pavilion. With tears welling in his eyes, he inspires them with noble words of courage: ‘‘Listen up, herd, we’re going in together . . . but we may not come back out together, so if I
lose you, we meet back here in 10 minutes, beside the Chewy Bang Pop Bubble Gum Stand.’’ SCENE 2: Deftly, heroically, they charge into the dark, dank pavilion, howling their bloodcurdling battle-cry, ‘‘TO THE WONKA STAND, SCUMBAGS!’’ The first thing that hits them is the stench — a combination of fake-cola lollies and babygoat poo still stuck to kids’ shoes from the Animal Nursery Discovery Farm. The second thing to hit them is the people: hundreds and hundreds of crazed-eyed, clench-toothed showbag-shoppers, clawing and fighting and biting their way up and down the aisles of war — marauding mothers swinging deadly licorice straps from the Darrell Lea pig-out bag. Old ninja-nannas brandishing plas-
tic shuriken-stars from the Ninja Warrior bag. Tiny toddlerterrorists ramming people’s legs in their heavily armoured prams, wielding inflatable baseball bats from the Garfield ‘‘Super Maxi’’ showbag. The daughter yells ‘‘INCOMING! RIGHT FLANK!’’ but too late! — dad gets an inflatable Chupa Chup mallet in the buttocks, and he’s wounded; he’s hit bad. His kids drag him to the only sanctuary in this godforsaken freakin’ hellhole — the completely empty and silent corner beside the Bega Dried Foods Fruit Lovers’ Selection Stand. SCENE 3: Pumped with rage, dad wants vengeance. He wants to kick some showbag ass. He screams ‘‘Saddle up! Lock ’n’ load!’’, then unclips the safety catch on his wallet, his trigger
finger dancing dangerously around the change zipper. In a strangely beautiful slow-motion ballet of death, with Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings playing in the background, the platoon make their final desperate assault. The daughter charges blindly towards the Cadbury Big Bite Stand, the son makes a deranged dash across no-man’s land to get a Giant Freddo and Friends bag. Dad chases along behind both of them, getting struck over and over again in the chest and shoulders: chocolate smears, bubble-gum blobs, fizzy drink spillages, splattering all over his full mottled jacket. The platoon grab a Wonka Showbag, an Allen’s Snakes Alive Bag. One more to go: the Jumbo Wicked Warheads Bag. But it’s a
showbag too far: the enemy has them pinned down in the putrid pink shadows of the Mega Fairy Stand. The daughter’s howling ‘‘We’ll never make it outta here!’’ and the son is flipping out, hunched up against a wall, giggling maniacally and snorting up lines of Wizz Fizz. SCENE 4: A final chance: the exit is only 20 metres away, so
they make a last-ditch sprint for freedom, rolling, diving, commandosomersaulting towards the glimmering sunlight. Fifteen metres to go . . . 10 metres . . . but the daughter has too many showbags on one arm, she’s unbalanced, she topples sideways, hits the ground hard. Dad turns around, screams ‘‘NO SHOWBAG GETS LEFT BEHIND! NOT ONE!’’, then runs back to her, grabs her showbags, and heads back for the exit, leaving the girl sprawled on the dirty greasy stinkin’ pavilion floor. Yes, the price of war can be high, very high: up to $25 for the Nestle BIG Family Deal Bag.
EVERYTHING’S ON TRACK AT CAULFIELD THIS SPRING.
26 September to 14 October melbournefringe.com.au
19 days, 263 events, 119 venues, 6,621 hours of excitement
SAT 13TH OCT
Melbourne Fringe gratefully acknowledges the support of Play safe. Use a condom. Arts Victoria City of Melbourne
THE AGE CAULFIELD GUINEAS DAY Three Group 1 races with prize money over $2 million WED 17TH OCT
SCHWEPPES THOUSAND GUINEAS DAY Featuring the Group 1 Schweppes Thousand Guineas with prize money totalling $503,000
BMW CAULFIELD CUP DAY Featuring the Group 1 $2.5 million BMW Caulfield Cup
Tic ke ts on sa le no w
DON’T MISS THE START!
SAT 20TH OCT
For more information go to caulfieldracing.com.au