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TV Feature Interview: Scare Tactics
Pranking People SCIFI Style
By Stephen Lackey
October 04, 2008
With the addition of Tracy Morgan as the host Scare Tactics has quickly become one of the SCIFI Channel’s most popular shows. It’s sort of like Punk’d crossed with Jackass for the sci-fi horror set. At the recent Digital Press Weekend we had an opportunity to sit down with producer Scott Halloc and actors Travis Draft and Gabriel Pimentel to talk about the seires.
Keeping the pranks going without people catching on:
Hallock: “I can’t go into the specifics of how we get people for the show, casting wise. It is a proprietary way that we do that. We know as much as we possibly can about the person before they show up. Everyone is set up by friends or family members that are there with us on the set. They are the ones that get them to the set for the night. 9 times out of 10, how we get people there is that they think they are showing up for temp work. In the case of “Satan’s Baby”, the girl was set up by her mom. She showed up thinking she was just going to answer phones at a urgent care clinic. She thought she would just be there for a few hours, answering phones and stuff and that would be it. Little did she know that she would be helping to deliver Satan’s baby. We have enough bits now with Gabriel attacking people that we could put a special together called “When Gabriel Attacks”.
“We rely heavily on the accomplices. They help us keep the ruse up and the prank going. They help us get the people there and not suspect that they are being pranked. The whole idea of the show is that it is fun. It is supposed to be a roller coaster ride and a thrill for people. The goal is, at the end, is for the people to say: that was fun and I want to do it again. So, we can’t really prank the person again, but, they can help set up another friend or family member for a prank. That is the source for a lot of our future victims, people who have been on the show before set up other people. I hate to use the word victim, though.”
Coming up with new ideas for pranks:
Hallock: “We have a few writers. Also, myself and Kevin Healy, executive producers, we all get together and come up with the different bits. Travis has inspired some.”
Draft: “Yeah, Some are just inspired by horror movies that you know. It’s an opportunity to put a real person in that same scenario that you saw in the movie. Like in “The Shining” or whatever. I mean, there’s a guy coming to the door with an axe. It gives a person to exist in that same sort of space”.
Hallock: “They are inspired alot by horror movies. A bit we will do will inspire another bit. We did a bit with Gabriel where “the mark” came to do an exterminating job. This homeowner had been hearing things in her walls. She thinks it is bugs, or rats or something. They hear scratching in the wall and right when the exterminators head is on the wall listening, this arm comes through the wall and grabs him. Soon, Gabriel comes through the wall. After that, we thought “wouldn’t it be cool if there was lab doing experiments on mixing human and animal DNA and Gabriel could be half man/half rat.” So another bit actually inspired the ratmonster bit.”
“The bits are not written, but rather heavily outlined. The actors know and we know what is going to happen. We just don’t know how the person is going to react so we kinda have to adjust our story as things are happening. We can change things on the fly and we have a good group of people who are good at that”
What they do when things start going wrong;
Draft: It was actually my friend Dave that got hit. I thought it could happen, because the kid seemed pretty tough and whatnot. His sister was the accomplice in the car. So, we set it up where Dave was going to pull out a knife and start stabbing me. And, I started thinking we shouldn’t do it, but Dave decided he was going to try it anyway. And, I knew the guy was going to come over because he was such a young, atheletic “aggro” type kid. We wear earpieces and the director tells Dave “I don’t think you should pull the knife”. Then, the aggro kid says “I shoulda brought my knife” and I’m like “yeah, you should have”. We could tell he was going to go off. They told him “Dave, I don’t think you should do the knife, just get back into the car”. But, Dave decided he was going to pull the knife and the kid came over and hit him. And, I let him. I let him hit Dave a few times just to teach him a lesson. And, I got hit a few times too. Luckily, his sister was there to pull him back. “
Hallock: “We always try to make sure people are safe, especially Gabriel. We always try to keep some space between people. The actors and “the marks” if they are in a dangerous situation. Flight or Fight response. Then we reveal immediately. Usually, like in the case of Dave, he wanted it to go that way, he wanted to get hit. As much as we told him no.”
Draft: “It’s kind of like a trophy on the show, to get hit. That someone will actually fight you”
Hallock: “But then we want to get to the reveal quickly to get things to calm down. Another actor on our show, Sven, has played alot of villains. He has scraggly beard and long hair. First bit of the third season, he got tackled by a guy. Right after, he came up and apologized to us because he got his blocking wrong and he got his back to “the mark”, which you are never supposed to do. But, at the same time, he was like “that was cool, that guy really stood up to me”. But, we really do try to keep things safe. I know Travis mentioned the kid saying he wanted to bring his knife. But, we make sure that they don’t bring their knives. We do weapons checks on all people before the bit starts, we don’t put anyone in a dangerous situation. We make sure no one is going to surprise us with anything.”
Draft: “We had a kid try to kick a wall down”
Hallock: “Yeah, he tried to kick a wall down. He was so intent that they were locked in, if he would have just went over and tried the door, it would have opened. He didn’t even think to try it, he was just in his head thinking they were locked in, he thought there are lights, alarms and smoke so we must be locked in.”
Lines that they won’t cross and places they won’t go:
Hallock: “People’s actual fears we will not exploit. If they are deathly afraid of spiders, they will not be in a spider bit. If you are afraid of monkey’s, we will not lock you in a monkey cage. We don’t lock anyone in anywhere, if you want to get out or leave, you always can. The main thing is that the show is supposed to be fun. They are set up by friends, it is supposed to be a thrill and when it is over, they are supposed to want to do it again. If we turn people into a quivering mass of nerves and they are shaking and in a fetal position, we have done a bad job. Exploiting real fears is not what we do.” And, we ask lots of questions up front, movies, fears so that we know that in advance”
Getting recognized in public:
Draft: “I am always changing my looks. I grow out my hair, grow a beard, grow a mustache. This is my bread and butter. I can’t get recognized at the grocery store.”
Hallock: It is always amazing to me that Travis doesn’t get recognized. He has been with the show since the pilot and has been in over 60 pranks. We have seen people after a prank say “yeah, I love Scare Tactics, one of the pranks I just loved was blah, blah” And Travis is right there and says “I was in that one”. Gabriel gets to put on costumes.
Pimintel: Yeah, special effects and stuff. And, I am surprised when I get recognized. It doesn’t bother me though
Hallock: “The thing about the Satan’s baby prank is that is that Gabriel was born as Satan’s Baby...wearing a speedo. Why wasn’t that a tip off for the person? It worked on two different girls that night and they were both freaked out”
Transitioning hosts, from Shannon Doherty to Tracy Morgan
Hallock: “The show has always been a comedy show for us. And our hosts have always done a good job and brought different things to the show. But, when we were coming back for the third season, we thought we should do something new. And, we thought Trace Morgan would be perfect. He is represented by my management company so we went to him and it came back immediately that he would love to. He loves the show, loves pranks. He was a really great choice for the show. We are first and foremost a comedy show and he helps bring that out”
Knowing when to reveal:
Draft: “We know how things are written and we are able to tell when someone is at the peak of their fear. We can tell when they are the most scared and only take them out a little bit more. We don’t let them hang for 20 minutes. The equivalent of when you are driving a car and you almost get into a car wreck. All your nerves light up and it is a short minute of fear. If someone starts to cry or look like they are really too afraid, then we reveal right away. It is amazing to watch them go from like fear to laughing.”
Hallock: Like one of our early bits where this girl is just screaming and screaming in this trailer, to, after the reveal “no way, that is cool”. From absolute terror to laughing in minutes. She was like “wow, my heart is really beating”. That is why we cast the way we do, younger people, fans of horror movies, ect. We found that people with marriages, children and mortgages to not like to be scared.”
“Everyone on set is empowered with the ability to reveal if they think someone is in a bad place or is too scared. We have the accomplices right there and we are always checking with them. They will tell us too if they think the person is getting too scared. We always know when the reveal should come”.
Do you have footage that doesn’t make it to air because people get to freaked out or because the prank doesn’t work:
Hallock: “That is why we run different people through the bit 3 or 4 times per night. Just so we give ourselves more chances for a good outcome. There are no bloopers in prank shows. You have to work with what happens, if someone misses there blocking or a monsters misses their cue, you have to go with it.”
“There are definitely people who don’t “buy” what we are selling. I bet some people didn’t buy the ratmonster bit”.
Pimentel: “They did, that was a one take, he bought it”. But, when it comes to scaring people, or guys, guys will still be scared, but come after me a little bit. It is easier to scare women”.
Hallock: “Sometimes, someone will spot a camera, or crew person. Or like in the surgery bits, we had a guy who was an Marine medic say “that blood doesn’t look right and that’s not what kidney’s look like”
We have had people come into a bit, look at the set and say “This looks like Scare Tactics”, but, they still go through the prank. But, then that is all the farther they think about it. They still go through and get scared. We had a “mark” show up, a bit inebriated and he picked up on that he was being pranked and he says “I know what you guys are up to and I respect it”.
Using special effects:
Hallock: “We have had alot of success using twins, so it seems like some insane doctor is cloning people. You can see on screen the actual moment when someone’s mind is blown. We do lot of makeup and special effects, especially on Gabriel, and that really works. I mean, someone bought that there was a half man/half rat.”
Draft: “I had my torso explode the other night for a bit. This guy comes in to make a delivery, then all of a sudden, he is seeing a surgery. They took a piece of sliver out of my chest. Then the alien comes in wearing a black trench coat. Because, that’s what people from space where, right?”.
Scare Tactics airs Tuesday nights at 10pmEST