From My (Bloody) Heart: Leaving the USS Nightmare

Over the past month, I’ve kept something inside for the greater good of professionalism, and also to help contain what could have easily become a bad situation.  The Truth is… I’m not out to stir controversy.  It’s just that I’ve come to the conclusion that this should no longer be my burden to carry.  And so, I’ll let my feelings on this topic out.

Since I was 17 years old, I have spent the better part of thirteen Halloween seasons at the USS Nightmare.  In fact, (not including this year, which I attempted) there have been only two seasons in the last 13 years that I haven’t been present on board the “boat of terror.”  One of those seasons I spent living in California, while the other season (last year), I had just graduated college, and focused on my design career, and getting my company, J:10 Studios, off the ground, which I have since made a reality.

Over the course of the last 4 weeks, I’ve been asked more times than I can begin to imagine why I am not working on the USS Nightmare.  And to be honest, a part of my heart hurts just a little each time I reply with, "I wasn’t hired back."  I’m hurt by every picture I see posted, and every last post that each of the current staff (most of which, I consider my “october family”) post on facebook.  [If you’ve ever been burned by a relationship that had a sour ending, you might begin to understand how it feels when I see all the exciting posts and pictures, knowing I’m no longer a part of that].

You see, spending the majority of my life in my late teens, and almost my entire 20’s, I had the pleasure of meeting more people than I could imagine, which anyone who has been a USSN vet will agree.  If it weren’t for the Nightmare, I would never have met Candi Oakley, Jeff Pierce, John Roden, Jason Ervin, Brian Robbe, Steve Davis, and so many other people I can’t even list because the names go on and on.  I met Andrea Flannery at the boat in 2002, and we spent most of our 20’s together, even moving across the country, together at one point.  I learned to craft my makeup skills, pushed myself hard as an artist, and began to learn from some of the best out there on how to run an entertainment business. 

I can’t begin to name how many employees I’ve personally brought down to the USS Nightmare, (owned by BB Riverboats, another one of my part-time, long-time employers), which they’ve hired, and helped grow the company into what it is today.  I have personally added around 25 people to the crew, myself, in the amount of time I have worked there, by simply bringing them new actors and makeup crew each new season, to help contribute to the project.  The USSN had indeed became a part of my life.  I have been part of the year-long machine, and it makes no sense why I’m not there in 2011, doing just the same.  It’s not something I had control over.  Such is life.

The truth is, I applied to come back to the Nightmare at their job fair at the same time as everyone else.  I spoke with actors, crew, and was even invited by Mr. Allen Rizzo to preview some of the new set designs, in progress.  But after submitting my application, I was shocked out of my senses to be told that I wasn’t accepted nor invited to return as a makeup artist, because there weren’t enough makeup chairs for me to work.  I don’t expect any other versions of the truth to surface, and if there are any other stories, I’d like to squash those now.  That is why after eleven seasons of hard work, dedication, loyalty, numerous awards (all of which I have framed), and all the free brand promotion I’ve done, Justin Hite no longer works at the USS Nightmare.

Some people will be upset that I posted this.  To those people, I want to say I’m sorry, but as i mentioned before, this isn’t so much about the controversial reasons of not being re-hired.  It’s more about what I’m about to say, which I need to share now, in order to let go of that heavy burden I’ve carried over the past month.

I’d like to take this time to thank a few people.  Danny Kelly, for being the first one to invite me to come work in the first place, back in August of 2000, when we were in High School.  If it weren’t for Danny, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it.  My life would have been different.  I should also mention the rest of the crew who I rode down with in the first season, which included Allen Kelly, and Christian Shodahl.  Wow, that was the best year ever!

I’d like to thank Steve Schreibeis for promoting me from actor to makeup artist, and giving me the most creative liberty and free artistic control out of anyone else I’ve worked under on the boat.  Without Steve’s blessings, my creativity wouldn’t have had a place and for that I am forever grateful.  I’ll continue to move forward with what I’ve learned from this person.

Thanks to Jason Ervin, for being a mentor, friend, and critic throughout the years, largely helping me become who I am today.  Thank you to all the actors I have had the pleasure of working with, and those of you who would (sneak and) wait in line just for my makeup - that really made my night, each time I saw a line of people waiting for my work.  Thank you to the wonderful makeup staff I have worked around and grew as an artist. Really, it was the actors and makeup artists that made this job so fun, each and every night.  Scaring the crap out of people was always the biggest thrill, but it was truly the USSN Crew that made everything worth it.

Lastly, thanks to Allen and Glenna Rizzo for giving me a special place to work for most of the past 13 years of my life, and allowing me to really thrive in the Halloween spirit and the Haunt industry, a place where I see myself working as an artist, perhaps the rest of my life.

In closing, I’d like to address the obvious question.  What does the future hold?  Up until now, I held out, hoping that maybe I’d get a call from USSN, asking me to return back to help contribute, as they promised (should they ever find a chair for me).  Unfortunately, we’re approaching the middle of the season, and that hasn’t happened.  After thinking about it long and hard, I have realized that for so long, I have been the one to ask for a job, and request that I be allowed to contribute my skills.  After doing quite the same this year, and being denied, I guess the truth is I have to do what’s right for myself. 

Why would an employee, an associate, an artist, and a loyal friend be denied to return after so many years of hard work?  I still can’t figure that out.  Besides that, being the social butterfly I am, having the connections in the local scene, and having the network experience to go along with the creative skill set and background, why wouldn’t they want to employ me?  You see, the only thing the USSN ever did wrong, in my eyes, was not bringing me into their creative circle; writing scenes, character development, promotional campaign, set design, makeup room management, etc.  i could go on and on.  I would have done anything for them, if they’d just taken the chance to get to know me more as a person, and artist.

As a creative individual, I have accomplished quite a bit, and I expect so much more from myself in the years to come.  I’m not the same 17 year old kid I was when I first walked on board the USS Nightmare.  Since then, I’ve grown, experienced pains and joys, crafted my skills, and matured into who I am now.  Perhaps I’ll always carry a part of the Nightmare inside me.  It’s certain that I have way too much potential and creativity as a makeup artist, graphic designer, and networking/promotions craftee to be held back or be told I’m no longer welcome, because there is a “lack of space”.  If it were me in that position, I’d make room, if it meant bettering the company. 

Although it hurts to say, I think being told not to come back this year was enough of a reminder that you only live once, and that you need to make the best out of it, because there are no do-overs.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen a lot of creativity on that boat.  I’ve known some really great minds that were sadly ignored, and some of the greatest ideas never being heard, because they weren’t given the chance.  You can’t cage art.  It must be set free, and given liberty.  Without that, art is dead, and creativity is crippled.

So, to answer everyone’s question, No, I won’t be working at the USS Nightmare.  At least not this year.  And who knows what the future holds, because I’ve learned to never look past today.  All I know is I did my part, and it appears to have come to an end.  That’s how it goes sometimes.

To the actors, makeup artists, staff, production crew, and everyone I have been so blessed to work with through eleven seasons, I want to say from the bottom of my heart - Thank You so much for the memories and experiences.  I wish each and every one of you nothing but the best in all your endeavors.  You’ll always be a part of my October Family.

-  Justin Hite, USS Nightmare 

(1999 - 2011)

  • 1999 - Actor
  • 2000 - Actor, Michael Meyers
  • 2001 - Actor, Michael Meyers
  • 2002 - Actor, Michael Meyers
  • 2003 - Actor, Michael Meyers
  • 2004 - Actor, Michael Meyers, Makeup Artist
  • 2005 - Actor, Breaker, Makeup Artist
  • 2006 - Actor, Breaker, Makeup Artist
  • 2007 - Makeup Artist
  • 2009 - Makeup Artist
  • 2001 - UPN Channel 64 Commercial (Michael Meyers)
  • 2004 - Michael Meyers Hall of Fame Award
  • 2005 - Best Makeup Artist w/ Prosthetic Award
  • 2005 - Northern Kentucky Enquirer, Cover Page (Cover Photo & Makeup Artist)
  • 2006 - Cincinnati Enquirer, Front Page (Makeup Artist)
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Justin Hite

Louisville, KY, 40206, United States