BROOKINGS – The Brookings workshop at Station 5 Productions is unlike any other you might encounter.
A tall, gray-skinned ghoul with a bladed hand stands vigil at the entrance, and further in awaits a grimy autopsy table complete with a figure, chest wide open and spackled with gore. A massive green beast named Steve sits to one side. Meanwhile, a gear-based puzzle box and a very large cup of soda sit among other projects in various stages of completion.
These are all marks of the work of Buck Burdick, owner of Station 5 Productions. Also on hand were two of his employees, Bob “Boz” Bosworth and Tasha Enevoldsen.
Burdick started his Fear Asylum haunted house more than a decade ago after being inspired by a bit of TV viewing. He was watching a Discovery Channel special on some of the top haunted house attractions in the country, and he thought, why not give it a shot himself?
He’s been a fan of haunted houses his whole life, but he’d never been to any outstanding ones. Still, he always liked the idea of them. Watching this show sparked something in him, and after watching that TV show, he told his wife he was going to go around the country to see some of those haunted houses, with the idea of starting his own.
His next step was to go to a haunted house trade show called the TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show. It’s the largest show in the world for this kind of thing, and the Station 5 Productions folks regularly go there now. One of the lessons Burdick learned from his first time at the show was that you have to be a DIY guy to make it far, given the prices of the pieces for sale at the show.
Before his work with Fear Asylum, Burdick had never made a prop. He never made his own set pieces or anything of the sort that now fills his workshop.
“Everything we do is custom, and everything is a complete learning process. If you look at the last couple of years, we’ve learned so much about what works well, what doesn’t work worth a damn,” Burdick said. “We have to be engineers, we have to be visionaries, we have to be painters and artists. … Every project is a completely new learning curve.”
“If you can’t think on your feet, don’t ever do this,” Bosworth said with a laugh.
And so naturally, there has always been plenty of trial and error involved, especially at the start. But, one project’s mistake could result in figuring out how to pull off another project.
Since starting, the Fear Asylum haunted house is now listed among the top 15 haunted houses in the country and the top haunted house in the state of South Dakota for the past six years.
They’ve had movie shorts filmed and promo photo shoots done in the Fear Asylum. They have people who come from hours away in neighboring states in order to visit their haunted house.
Going along with all that, they’ve developed a reputation for their craft, in their ability to design spaces unlike any other and props and pieces that ooze with detail and personality and engage as many of the senses as possible.
Times have changed, and technology has allowed for increasingly sophisticated attractions and pieces, and new trends have come into the mix, such as escape rooms, which first started making an appearance at the trade show about five years ago.
Since Burdick got his start with Fear Asylum, he’s expanded his business to incorporate consulting, designing and making pieces, props and setups for others, something he started doing several years ago. This has kept him and his team plenty busy as he takes in requests from people, businesses and organizations from across the country and the world.
A man in Texas has requested they build a zombie sideshow game to bring additional revenue into his haunted house. But it’s not all horror themed stuff. They’ve built from the ground up escape rooms, such as one designed as an alien space ship and another that looks like an abandoned 1800s mine shaft. With their attention to detail, they look like sets from a movie.
With the take-off of escape rooms, there’s demand in creating those kinds of engaging places that will continue to attract people to make multiple visits.
“People are serious about their entertainment dollars, and they’ll spend their entertainment dollars, but you’re not going to fool them more than once. So, you have to be up to that level,” Burdick said.
One of the key reasons they’ve been able to take on these outside orders and build some of these more intricate props and devices is that they started using the Brookings Area Makerspace available through the Brookings Economic Development Corpoation at the Research Park.
Station 5 has used the Makerspace for nearly a year now.
“Makerspace is a huge deal. In our industry, time and precision is huge. But the cost to buy the equipment to get you that time and precision is very, very expensive,” Burdick said. He added, “It has basically taken us from a garage shop to a production company.”
Some of the equipment they’ve made good use of are the CNC machine, the 3D printer and the laser engraver. The CNC machine in particular has allowed them to do things they couldn’t before.
Thanks to that machine, they’ve been able to make steampunk gearboxes for entertainment centers that, though intricate and containing dozens of gears, works perfectly in the end and was created in a timely fashion.
“Those tools available to us really help us launch and grow our business,” Enevoldsen said. “It really helped launch us into another realm of creativity and makes everyone else have to step up their own game.”
Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]