Published: Friday, 10 August 2012 16:45 | Written by Christiane Elin
Exclusive Interview with Mark Lewis, Executive Producer of Paranormal Witness Interview by Christiane Elin Written by Christiane Elin
Paranormal Witness is back with a twelve episode second season on Syfy. Executive Producer, Mark Lewis, spoke with Christiane Elin of SciFi Vision about the new season.
The second season trumps the first season according to Lewis. The stories are more varied, higher octane, and more terrifying. Mark conceded they learned a lot from the first season and about storytelling and the way the show should look. He feels Paranormal Witness has gone from strength to strength.
Paranormal Witness producers spent time listening to the fans and social media and they were overwhelmed by the fan reaction. It was clear to see what the audience liked the most, and they are catering season two to exactly that.
Enjoy reading all of the exclusive tidbits and behind the scenes information about the newest season of Paranormal Witness.
SCIFI VISION: It looks like Paranormal Witness is back in two days over here.
MARK LEWIS: That’s right. I hope you guys are all excited about it.
SCIFI VISION: I’m very excited, paranormal is my specialty
MARK LEWIS: Really?
SCIFI VISION: Yes.
MARK LEWIS: And you’ve seen all the shows of season one, have you?
SCIFI VISION: I absolutely have.
MARK LEWIS: Good. Well, you’re in for a big surprise this time. I would say that the second season of Paranormal Witness so trumps the first season. But I think all the fans will be really, really thrilled.
SCIFI VISION: I have to say that I was really enthusiastic about the high production value that the first season brought.
MARK LEWIS: Oh, thank you. Well, once again, I think you’ll find that the production value is even higher in the second season. I think we learned a lot from the first season and really, I think we’ve got some strengths on the second season. The stories are, in a sense…they’re certainly more varied, they’re certainly sort of higher octane, they’re certainly more terrifying, I would say. I think we’ve really learned some valuable lessons from the first season about story-telling, about the way the show should look.
We were so overwhelmed and bowled over by the reaction to Paranormal Witness the first season from the fans, from the Twitter feed and the Facebook pages, and the Tumblr feed and so on…and from the reaction that we got from the audience. You know, it was very clear what the audience really responded to, what they really enjoyed, what they really loved, and so we’ve really gone out of our way this time to give them an even better show that really kind of takes us to the needs and the things that the people really felt were the positive aspects of the show.
SCIFI VISION: That sounds great. Now, when you are choosing a story, how willing are the participants in the telling of the story? Some of these stories are, well most of these stories are pretty frightening.
MARK LEWIS: Yeah, I mean I think it completely depends…It’s a very good question. There are many contributors, who we approach, who when we first talked to them, you know, they’re nervous about talking. In many cases, the events are so terrifying and were incredibly traumatic in their lives. So, there are many contributors who worry about speaking to television companies about putting themselves out there. And I think very much it’s important for us as filmmakers that we gain their trust and that we ensure or that we reassure them that their stories are going to be treated sensitively and [it is] going to come across…that we are sensitive toward their participation in the show and that we treat them sensitively and we tell the story…a story that they want to tell.
I think it’s very important that our contributors are everything in this series. We would be nothing without the stories that they have to tell. We would be nothing without the commitment that they make to the show and often times the bravery that they have in coming forward in putting their story out to a wider audience. It’s imperative that we treat those contributors with respect.
SCIFI VISION: Coming from a producers standpoint, do you have a paranormal storyline that intrigues you the most?
MARK LEWIS: Do you mean is there a particular story in the series that appeals to me?
SCIFI VISION: Right, yes. Some people have their favorite like ghosts, demons or possessions.
MARK LEWIS: I think I am always personally, I mean there’s obviously a big team working at Paranormal Witness. We have a lot of stories. We filter through a lot of stories. We reject a lot of stories.
So there’s quite a big team and I think quite a variety of us, some of the producers gravitate toward the haunting stories, some gravitate towards to more science fiction type films, the UFO stories or whatever.
Me, nothing can beat a good haunting story. I was about to say I love to be scared. Actually, you know, it’s weird, even though I make the films, I’m the first one to be sort of hiding behind the cushions on the sofa. And I like a good shocker. I like a film that’s going to make me jump out of my skin. And so I tend to gravitate towards those haunting films, I think.
Those are the ones that I like to hear about and when the story teams bring them to me. I love watching the first cuts in the edit suites. The first cuts of those films. If they make me jump, then I know they are going to make an audience member jump, so I guess that’s what I gravitate towards.
And on that front actually, in terms of haunting stories. That is one area that Paranormal Witness season two completely trumps the first season. We have got terrifying films. Time and time again when we have our executive producers or when one of our story teams view one of the films that we are preparing for the season, they come out of the edit suite ashen white, white as a ghost themselves, saying, “My god I didn’t realize our films could be this scary.” They kept on saying these are real life horror films. Time and time again people come out and say that. The editors that we’ve got working on the show, the directors that we’ve got working on the show, so I think it’s a pretty good thing if we as filmmakers think that the films that we are making are sort of more horrifying than some of the mainstream horror films that are out there. So I think that people are going to be really terrified this time around.
SCIFI VISION: Wow, okay. I’ve seen some of the clips for the first episode.
MARK LEWIS: Yeah, That one’s called, “Man in the Attic.”
SCIFI VISION: Yes.
MARK LEWIS: It’s the story of Jackie Hernandez, a single mom, a woman who has a little boy. She’s pregnant actually. She recently separated from her husband and moved into a house in San Pedro, California. Little did she realize, that she was sharing the house with someone or something else, the man in the attic. She began to experience, initially, sounds, high pitched squeaky sounds tearing across the roof. The sound of what sounded like pebbles tossed in the inside of the walls like the cavity of the walls. Then paintings started flying across one side of the kitchen to the other. The nails that pin the painting up would be found upright as though they were stood on the flat ends of the nails as it were standing on the table standing completely upright…Doors would open on their open. A babysitter came in and started experiencing things. Escalate, escalate, escalate, until finally Jackie begins to see someone, the spirit of a man sitting on a child’s bed. Sitting over, glaring at her, and you realize the whole time she’s been sort of sharing this house with the spirit in the house and his domain is in the attic. It’s absolutely terrifying. It’s really one of those films that really make you jump out of your skin. I think it will have the audience on the edge of their seat.
SCIFI VISION: Now was the episode, I think it was last season, some of them had two stories, and some of them told two stories per episode, is that going to be the same case again this season?
MARK LEWIS: It might change this time around. Again this was something that audience members did tell us. he fans were saying they really enjoyed the full story episodes, so they like to get completely immersed in a complete full story episode. They wanted to get to know the characters…They wanted to be with them to experience these incidents blow by blow, minute by minute. So this time around we’ve got ten out of twelve full story episodes and only two of the episodes have double stories.
SCIFI VISION: Okay.
MARK LEWIS: So it’s a bit of a change this time around. The full story episodes, you really do get to know the characters extremely well and you are with them on that kind of roller coaster ride, that terrifying paranormal journey that they have been on.
SCIFI VISION: For when you tell the stories, you were saying there were certain stories that you had rejected. Are there certain qualifications that you are looking for?
MARK LEWIS: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of qualifications that we are looking for. First of all I think the story absolutely has to be riveting. I think that we have a very high threshold for our stories. We want them to be absolutely gripping, absolutely entertaining, absolutely terrifying. Those were kind of the catch words for the series.
On top of that, the characters, contributors have to be totally credible. They have to be really believable. You want to watch these contributors and understand that these things really did happen to these people.
So it’s very important that we go through an exhaustive process and the most convincing interviewees that we can, because I think that this series, what it tries to do, is tell stories so that people watch them.
So for those that are sort of the believers in the paranormal, they will probably always believe. Those who approach the series from a more skeptical standpoint, if we get them watching the series, and get them watching these shows, and think “My goodness I really believe that character; this one is really is convincing.” then I think that we are doing our job.
SCIFI VISION: When researching the stories, are there any themes that are related to the stories, like a death, a suicide, or any of that type of background?
MARK LEWIS: We personally choose a kind of variety of stories. There’s no doubt amongst the haunting stories that there are patterns, and of course people generally start their first contact with the paranormal world [with] often a sort of a similar pattern, with a feeling of being watched, or things are being moved, or small seemingly innocuous things like keys go missing, or whatever. So there are sort of little familiar patterns that I think you see.
But the joy of this series is that every film is different, every story is completely different, every contributor is completely different. We go out of our way actually to make sure that we are finding completely different stories, completely different types of spirits, UFOs, creatures, all sorts of things, so that the shows feel different. But any way the stories are, I think [they] are always different, always take you on a completely different journey.
So though there may be similarities in how a haunting starts or something like that, generally speaking, our stories are incredibly varied and don’t have a pattern with them. That’s what makes it attractive that every time you switch on to this series, you’ll see something new.
SCIFI VISION: Yes, that’s right, I do remember it was a variety every episode.
MARK LEWIS: Yeah, season one if you remember had this sort of incredibly almost like supernatural tear jerker, the story of Highway 50, “The Haunted Highway,” and contrast that with “Rain Man,” the story of a young man possessed by a spirit that caused him to have almost supernatural powers, contrast that with the UFO story of “Trumble County UFO” and ”Imaginary Friend,” a domestic haunting tail.
Similarity in season two, we have stories like “The Man In the Attic,” which is an absolutely terrifying haunting story to something like the story of the abduction, the Travis Walton story, which is probably the most famous alien abduction story of all time. The Travis Walton story is famous because the abduction was witnessed by an entire car load of loggers, Travis Walton’s work team, who were with him in Snowflake, Arizona up in the forests cutting wood with him.
Then we’ve got a story like that, and then in contrast to that we have the story of Fox Hollow Farms which is a really terrifying haunting story of a couple who move into Fox Hollow Farm in a huge Indianapolis mansion which happened to be the former home of the Indianapolis serial killer, Herbert R. Baumeister. So the stories that we’ve got are completely different this time, tons of variety and hopefully something for everyone.
SCIFI VISION: Now it seems that the show is domestic to the United States, is that going to stay that way or you going to bridge out internationally?
MARK LEWIS: Currently, yes, all of the stories we are doing for season two are American based. But you know, I think the more we discuss the trajectory of the series and where it should go, we would potentially consider other places. We the filmmakers are London-based. Britain is full of real horror stories and real ghost stories so it’s conceivable that we could look elsewhere, but for now, season one and season two are American based, and believe me there is no shortage of stories in the United States. So we’ve got plenty more up our sleeve as well.
SCIFI VISION: Fantastic! Just on a personal note, do you have a background in the paranormal? Have you had your own ghost experience or anything to that effect?
MARK LEWIS: No not particularly. But we have a film called “The Apartment” coming out in this season, a story of a woman by the name of Jodie Foster, actually is the same as the actress, who moves into an apartment in Chico, California, and begins to be insulted by horrific nightmares of a woman who was abducted from her home twenty-five years earlier. She had horrific nightmares of what really happened to this woman.
Within that story there is a Sesame Street Ernie doll that keeps speaking, her daughter’s doll, keeps going and saying, “I feel great. I feel great.” And it usually serves as the forewarning of poltergeist activity or horrible nightmares. The doll knows what’s going on.
The doll that we used in the drama, having kept in the back of an edit suite on weeks on end, and I was working in there only a couple of weeks ago only to hear it suddenly start going off on its own, “I feel great. I feel great. I feel great.” The editor and I nearly jumped out of our skin because we couldn’t believe that it was doing exactly what happened to Jodie all those years ago and what was presented in the story. That’s the closest I’ve come to the paranormal and that’s close enough for me.
SCIFI VISION: Do you ever get to use some of the locations that you are talking about, because I know one of the stories from last year, the woman still lives in the house that they had the problems.
MARK LEWIS: Do we ever use the real locations for the drama?
SCIFI VISION: Yes.
MARK LEWIS: Let me explain the process. Obviously what we do is film the interviews all over the United States, wherever the contributors live. Often enough we’ll go to film the interviewees in their own hometown, and while we are there we will quite often film certain exteriors or whatever
…For example we filmed “The Divot Box” in Portland, Oregon, the story of a cursed Jewish Wine Box that wreaks havoc on anyone that owns it. That actually, the story itself, has inspired a Sam Raimi film, The Possession, which is coming out very shortly. That film starts in Portland, Oregon, so we filmed some of the interviews in Portland, but we also filmed some of the streets that were pertinent to the story, and we mix those in with the drama that we filmed, which…was filmed on location in Toronto. So we will do that kind of filming there. Rarely do we use in a haunted house story the actual house for the filming of the drama.
However, we have started doing something a bit different, as I mentioned before, there was one film making this year called, “Fox Hollow Farm,” which is the story of this couple who move into the former home of the Indianapolis Serial Killer, Herb Baumeister, and we did film in the grounds and around the house, the real house and that is mixed in with the drama footage, that we shot the interior drama footage that we shot for the story. What that does is give the story a real free fall, I think when you are watching the drama play out, the dramatic counter parts with the real people enacting the story, the very fact that you’re seeing the house in the background, the real house, definitely gives the story an extra feel fall. It’s something that we would like to do more of. If the real location lends the story an atmosphere then it’s really worth our filming at the real place.
SCIFI VISION: Yes, I think it does help make the story.
MARK LEWIS: You should watch out for it. I think it’s, I would say probably one of the most shocking films we’ve done, really, really one of the most frightening films that we’ve done, and when you see the real location within the film, it’s this big mansion with these poplar timber frames. It’s no doubt it kind of lends tremendous atmosphere to the story.
SCIFI VISION: Absolutely. When producing this paranormal content, does it make you think twice about things? You may not have had any paranormal experiences but how does that affect you?
MARK LEWIS: Totally, totally. I series produced both the first season and the second season and I personally conducted about seventy interviews across the two seasons, and I defy anyone sitting in the interviewer’s chair, across from that many interviewees, and not have you question your belief system. As I said earlier, we go out of our way to find the most compelling stories and the most convincing interviewees, and if I sit a few feet away and listen to them tell their stories and I’m convinced, you can’t possibly conduct seventy interviews and it not shake your belief system. I think the rest of them are one hundred interviewees across the two seasons now, and they can’t possible all be wrong. There’s something going on out there, that’s for sure.
SCIFI VISION: The opener of the new season has a paranormal investigative team involved in the story. I don’t believe the first season had any teams. This seems like a new element.
MARK LEWIS: For us, the story really takes off, fire off the imagination when the paranormal witness is describing what they saw and what they felt, what happened. It’s an active event that happened before their eyes, and so absolutely we would include paranormal investigators or paranormal teams if they too become paranormal witnesses, if they too record or corroborate, or things happen before their eyes, then too they become part of the story.
The stories we did last season that didn’t really happen. The events tended to happen in front of members of the household, and their friends and their families or whatever. There was one story that we told, “Emily, The Imaginary Friend,” which was in the first season, where there was a psychic that came in and helped explained what happened within the household within a haunting in Baltimore. I guess that was the closest we got last time around.
In the first episode, “The Man in the Attic,” what happens to the paranormal team that come to investigate the story is very, very much part of the story. It’s an absolutely gripping part of the story because they too witness what Jackie the principle paranormal witness had been talking about for weeks.
SCIFI VISION: I’m looking forward to seeing this second season.
MARK LEWIS: I really loved making this second season…Time and time again I sit in edit suites of viewing of the film, and they really knock their socks off this time. I think the bar has been raised a lot higher for the second season. The films are, they look better, they will scare you more; the variety of stories is really astonishing. So I think we really, really raised our game. I hope that the audience really responds to it too and really enjoys it as much as we have had making it.
SCIFI VISION: I have to be honest, when I first watched the first season, I was skeptical because I watch all of the paranormal shows. I went into it thinking, “Another paranormal show, I am not going to like it,” but I watched it and I loved it. So I am glad it’s back.
MARK LEWIS: It’s great to hear. It’s always really encouraging for us to hear a positive response. When I’ve been flying around the states and doing interviews for the second season, it’s really been astonishing when we meet obviously the contributors, equally when we film in the studios, or we work with camera teams, or we stay in hotels, or we eat in restaurants, and people ask what are you doing here, and we say “We work for Paranormal Witness.” More people had heard of it, and I got the feeling in the states that it was becoming a cult show, and even after the season had aired, people were watching it, somehow getting to see and catch up on past episodes.
I really got the sense that there was a real buzz about the show which was incredibly rewarding. We were all very, very grateful to hear that, and it seems like there is a real appetite for more from the show, so I hope the show will really deliver and the fans will respond to it with hopefully even more enthusiasm than in the first season. I certainly think it’s bigger and better.
SCIFI VISION: Listening to talk makes me very excited to watch season two.
MARK LEWIS: I recommend you don’t watch “The Man in the Attic” in your home alone and keep the lights on. The shows that we have coming up after, “The Man in the Attic,” is called “Brooklyn Haunting,” which is a story that obviously takes place in Brooklyn, New York. When you find out what this thing is, what the spirit is, it really is quite shocking, so there is plenty of surprises coming your way.
Paranormal Witness airs on Syfy on Wednesday nights.