Lionsgate has teamed up with Egan Escape Productions to create an immersive escape experience in Las Vegas, based on Lionsgate’s Blair Witch film franchise. ESCAPE BLAIR WITCH is an immersive, multi-room escape experience. It will open this summer at the Fright Dome, alongside the Official Saw Escape: Las Vegas.
Players begin their journey at the Burkittsville Ranger’s Station in the Black Hills Forest. Here, they must search for information about the disappearance of local college students, who might have suffered an accident in the woods – or been the victims of something more sinister.
Do you believe the stories about the Blair Witch?
Maintaining the brand
Ryan Gallego is the Director of Global Live, Interactive & Location Based Entertainment for Lionsgate. He spoke to blooloop about the immersive experience.
Outlining his role in the context of this project, he says:
“I’m the director of global live interactive and location-based entertainment here at Lionsgate. My role is under the leadership of Jenefer Brown. I’m in charge of truly capturing why Lionsgate is great, and why we place all our IP and some wonderful partnerships across location-based entertainment.
“Part of that, especially here with Escape Blair Witch, is making sure that franchises like this are given a true sense of the franchise in everything that we do. So, helping maintain that brand is key.
“With this project, I’ve been the liaison and the leader from a Lionsgate perspective. This is because we take a little bit more of a charge in guiding what our IP is all about, from inception through to opening.”
The appeal of Blair Witch
The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999. Speaking about the film’s enduring appeal, Gallego says:
“There have been a couple of later films, but we’ve also noticed that the fan base has been very avid with the Blair Witch. We released a new video game two years ago entitled Blair Witch. That has seen a massive uptick in the re-emergence of Blair Witch fans.
“What makes the Blair Witch franchise so great is that it has the sense of placing you into something that other horror genre films don’t do. It strips away the traditional tropes and puts you in a location like the woods in Burkittsville. You’re out there in the dark, and you have no idea what is going to happen. Speaking to the power of the film when it first came out, it was something that had never been seen before.”
“Every single time we want to try to capture that by doing something new, by bringing out something that people haven’t seen before.”
The original film is characterised by an incremental building of terror. Reproducing that for the Escape Blair Witch project was, Gallego explains, a matter of making participants feel they are lost in the atmospheric location of the film. They have no idea of what is going to happen next.
“That intensity, that sense of not knowing, inspires that kind of fear. It really helps with this particular horror genre.”
Escape Blair Witch: a truly immersive experience
Escape Blair Witch is located in Las Vegas, just off the Strip:
“It is directly connected to the official Saw Escape that we’ve also helped to create,” he says. “When guests arrive we want to transport them to the Burkittsville forest. We want to give them the idea of where the Blair Witch is from. Unlike most escape room experiences, we want to immerse them in the experience completely.”
This has been achieved by using similar techniques to those used in the films and videogames:
“As you enter the ranger station in Burkittsville, you get a little bit of an exploration of what is going on. There are people lost in the woods, very much as was the case in the films. But we try to give the guests a different experience. The guests are out there to help find these lost people. Once inside the Sheriff’s office, you never know what’s going to happen. Things go awry, and, much like any other escape experience, you have to solve it to be able to continue.”
A unique horror attraction
The experience is, he believes, genuinely frightening, very much in the spirit of the original film.
“You are in the space, and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says. “You don’t know where it’s going to lead you. It’s that sense of being on your toes and not knowing what’s going on that leads to unease and fear.”
We want you to feel like you are part of the film, part of the game, part of the franchise. We’re going to pull out all the stops to allow you to have fun, but also to scare you.
“But one of the things that we also want to make sure of is that we’re fully engrossing you in the IP. It’s not just about being an escape room. And it’s not just about being a horror attraction like you might see in a seasonal space. Instead, we want you to feel like you are part of the film, part of the game, part of the franchise.
“We’re going to pull out all the stops to allow you to have fun, but also to scare you.”
Ensuring an on-brand experience
The branding is an innate part of this:
“Part of what we do to immerse people goes beyond the visible. We have physically built out a lot of the spaces. The wood that we have used to create and build out the woodland has been taken from regional areas that are very much like the Black Hills Forest in Burkittsville. We want to convey that true life feeling of being out in those woods. Or of being lost in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere.”
“We do this by utilising a lot of the real-life aspects. We also enhance the Escape Blair Witch experience by adding deep sound work. So, we’re taking a lot of sounds that would typically be found in a movie theatre or an IMX venue, and applying them within our space.
“We’re also adding digital projection and projection mapping into the space. This helps to enhance the atmosphere, along with a lot of special effects such as smoke and air cannons. This is the first time, too, that we are adding a little bit of rain to an experience, which will be nice in Las Vegas because it’s quite warm.”
Horror enhances the challenge
Walking the line between horror and puzzle is, he explains, a fine balance:
“That’s part of the fun of it too; a bit of horror enhances the desperation of trying to solve some of the puzzles. It gives that extra thump to the heartbeat as you’re going through. But, of course, we also don’t want to scare people so much that they can’t solve the puzzles, and don’t want to take part.”
“The fear aspect of Escape Blair Witch is just part of the challenge of being able to go through the experience. What we like to do is both to add a bit of a jump scare that makes it fun, and also to put people in different situations from those that they’re used to where part of the horror lies in going out of their comfort zone.
“We have made the puzzles challenging. But there is also that knowledge that there’s something else on the horizon that will make it a little harder, a little scarier, to figure out. We like to bring people to a point where they are just so scared that they want to keep going. Because the only way through is to solve it.”
A strong partnership
Before working on Escape Blair Witch, Lionsgate also teamed up with Egan Escape Productions on The Official Saw Escape Room:
“At Lionsgate, we like to be a little bit more hands-on. We also want to make sure that we are partnering with the best – Egan Escape Productions are the best,” Gallego says:
“The Saw escape room is, clearly, one of the best in the world. We wanted to make sure we were going to not only meet but also exceed that quality with Escape Blair Witch.”
“Our process is that from inception onward, we like to partner closely with the production companies. This ensures that the brand is truly met and that people really feel the experience and the IP of the story. Since a lot of us are from other sectors of the industry, we have the expertise to know what technology is coming next, and to be able to recognise what part of the experience has been done before, so we can do something else.”
The impact of the pandemic
COVID-19 did slow progress on the project:
“Many of the challenges that we’re seeing right now in a lot of experiences are down to the COVID aspect. Materials are becoming more expensive and timelines are delayed. We always want to make sure that we are truly partners in this. We are very understanding, but we’re also here to help as much as possible through any of these challenges.”
Speaking about the target demographic, Gallego says this is fairly broad:
“Much like the films, we are trying to capture as many people as we possibly can with Escape Blair Witch. From fans of escape rooms and fans of horror to those outgoing people who want to be scared a little bit, while also physically and mentally challenging themselves.”
Escape Blair Witch is a repeatable experience
The experience is, he says, very repeatable:
“Repeatability is very important to us. We want people to come back over and over and maybe see something new that they hadn’t noticed before. That’s also something that we like to do within our puzzles.
“We have multiple puzzles in each room, and Escape Blair Witch, of course, will be multiple rooms. We like to offer the variety of being able to solve different things and have different results. One of the things that we also like to do with Egan Productions is, every once in a while, to change out a puzzle, and do something new. This ensures that when people come back, they have to solve something different.”
“The experience also changes, depending on who you’re there with. If you come with friends or a significant other or your family, the experience definitely changes.”
Escape Blair Witch is ideal for corporate events, too:
“We have found this with the Saw experience, and we’re going to make sure that the same is true of this attraction. It’s a great place to team build, and to have a little bit more of a VIP experience with some of your co-workers. It’s a lot of fun.”
Escape Blair Witch is expected to open in Summer 2021.
Images kind courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment