By Lynn Tackitt
Remember when you were a kid telling ghost stories in the dark with your friends to see who could scare the others the most? Did you ever think, "When I grow up, I'm going to seek out the true stories and scare millions with them?" Well, Mark Lewis may not have said anything like that, but he sure is delivering a show that you will want to watch with the lights on.
He and his staff go through the painstaking task of searching out the true stories and verifying the credible ones to put out on the show Paranormal Witness
on the Syfy channel.
You would think that with all the stories and things that have happened to people that the stories would be stacking up, but as Mark discusses with us, it is a time consuming task. The show approaches with a skeptic professional way to give you the true version of a story, where you realize sometimes, things aren't always pleasant.
Syfy Conference CallParanormal Witness
September 15, 2011
12:00 pm CTQUESTION:
Could just talk a little bit about how the stories are chosen? Is there a database somewhere that you go to, or is it a friend of a friend telling you the story?MARK LEWIS:
I wish there was a database. Unfortunately there isn't. These stories, we really have to search for. I mean, we're on the hunt for very credible witnesses who tell extraordinary tales and extraordinary tales are proper stories -- stories that develop.
So those kind of stories are very few and far between. So we really have to reach out to all sorts of groups- sometimes paranormal groups. We have to search -- comb through newspapers and media reports -- everything that we can to try and hunt down these stories.
It's a real journalistic endeavor. Unfortunately they don't come sort of running to you. You really have to hunt them out because those are the best stories -- the stories where, I think - many of these people aren't sort of necessarily trying to sell their tales. You know, these are people that you have go and hunt out -- the people who have been through some extraordinary situations and extraordinary circumstances.
And actually, you know, are often shell-shocked by their experiences. And they're the ones that we have to convince to come on television to tell their remarkable tales. So it's actually quite a hunt to try and find them.QUESTION:
You mentioned how important it is to have credible witnesses...Some of the events have definite correlation to real things that have happened. Do you try and look that up to see if, like somebody died in the place before filming?MARK LEWIS:
Absolutely. Yes. I mean, first of all we are really only looking for the most credible witnesses. And we do do background checks and we do do evaluations on all of the witnesses for the series -- for the films.
And that is quite an extensive process. Also we're very keen within the stories, that the stories are corroborated. Now they can be corroborated by a newspaper report. They can be corroborated by real archive that, you know, Radio Transfer - Radio (Up) for example is one of our stories, Trumbull UFO Chase, tells the story of how a 911 dispatch office in Ohio was completely inundated with calls from the town of people seeing bright lights in the sky. And then up to something like 14 police officers ended up chasing this unidentified flying object around the country.
Now that entire incident was recorded over the Trumbull County police dispatch 911 records offices so all of those calls were recorded. And that - those features for that kind of archive, that kind of factual basis, features very heavily in our films.
Likewise, if photographs have been taken of poltergeist activity we make sure that those are cut into the films to give it that extra layer of credibility.
On top of that, the other thing that we're very insistent upon is that the stories -- we want them to be corroborated by multiple sources. And I think that when we find a contributor for the film, we're very, very keen to speak to other people within that story -- people they knew or their other relatives or people who come into the house that have experienced the same thing.
Many of those appear in the film, but some don't. So we seek out paranormal witnesses. We talk to the friend and relatives of that person to kind of verify this or at least corroborate this. So many of those appearing in the programs but some don't.
But all of those are full of extra layers of journalistic corroboration but can, for us, to try and put together the most credible stories that we possibly can. It's as I said, it's a great journalistic endeavor to try and do it so that we can hopefully get the most credible stories that we can possibly put on television.QUESTION:
The trend with a lot of these paranormal themed shows is the investigative style - the documentary style and the investigations. Why did you go more in the direction of reenactments instead of going to these locations and trying to investigate and collect your own evidence?MARK LEWIS:
Okay. Well, I think there are several of those shows out there as you say. That show exists very much and the ghost hunter show that exists out there already, and partly we don't want to tread on their toes, and partly they do it very well already. So we wanted to do something new and something original.
As you can tell, I'm British and we come from a - I come from a British television production company where we make many of these, what we call drama documentaries -- the sort of fusion of drama, dramatization, and a documentary component, which is the interviews.
And this is like a style of film that we've made. Before we made lots of abroads for National Geographic, we made Gold Rush for Discovery. And these kinds of shows are what we call testimony driven shows. And we find that they're very, very effective.
This has sort of pieces, as a documentary form because what you've got is the pure testimony of the witness. It's a sort of unadulterated testimony of the witness.
And to dramatize that very, very particularly, very, very literally, as you'll see with the shows, often to the very word, when somebody says, "I stood up and I saw the statue had been broken on the floor." That is what you see.
So it's very, very effective, I think, because the drama reflects very, very specifically the real testimony of the real people and we think it works very effectively as a documentary form.QUESTION:
Do you find that that is more compelling for the viewers instead of an investigation by hearing the story, but not trying to say, "Here's the evidence."MARK LEWIS:
I don't know that it's more compelling. I think it's compelling in a different way. I think people are very used to seeing cinema. They're very used to seeing movies. It's a medium that they understand. They're very used to seeing drama.
And it's sort of something that people are comfortable with. They understand stories from that sort of dramatic medium.
So when it's fused with real interviews that are the testimony of real eyewitnesses, it's actually both an entertaining watch. The drama is entertaining in the same way that a movie is.
But it's also compelling in a documentary way, because what you're listening to is the testimony. So I think it's compelling in a different way. We're not trying to compete with those kind of shows. I think those shows do something different from what we do.
And so I would say they're compelling, but in a different way.QUESTION:
As you mentioned, you're British. There's a rich history of many paranormal ghost shows out there. And sometimes they're pretty theatrical. So is there anything on Paranormal Witness
that you've said, "No we're not going to do that. We're not going to go down this road because it's just too ridiculous, or people won't buy it, or it's just too silly?"MARK LEWIS:
Any - they think they hear a voice?MARK LEWIS:
I think because yes. I think that's a very good question. I think we definitely have our kind of hope meters on. We worry that when we come across stories, we look at them and wonder whether they're too fantasia or too difficult for an audience to process or to believe.
And it's why we've gravitated towards the credible witnesses. And you tell compelling tales.
Now many of the tales that we've got - many of the stories we've got in the series, I would say still are. On the face-on-face value they appear quite fantastical. You know, there are stories of demonic possession, there are stories of poltergeists shifting great big pieces of furniture around rooms.
And - so on face value they can appear fantastical. And that's why I say there's an absolute necessity to search out the most credible witnesses that we possibly can.
If you believe those witnesses then you'll believe the stories. And and if that happens, then these stories become even scarier, still. They become even scarier because they are credible, because they feel true. And that has a tremendous power, I think.QUESTION:
[The second and third episodes] had a real different feel.The first two were just inordinately serious...But the third one...MARK LEWIS:
You need to tune in to episodes 3 and 4. I think that's going to scare you even more. Look out for episode 4. It's probably the scariest of all of them.QUESTION:
...And that's interesting that you said that, because I did watch 3 and 4. And 3 was almost kind of heartwarming for me, although obviously it was creepy too. But the fourth one, which is interesting to me, it wasn't so much - I mean, it's scary in way that...This was the UFO one...that was really interesting. Scary in a different way, but just kind of exciting in fact. So with all of these things falling under the paranormal subject, what's the breakdown of the rest of the episodes? Do you have a lot of spooky, or is it a big mix?MARK LEWIS:
I think that as a series piece I'm really proud of the mix that we've got. But to be honest, the mix is - has been quite sort of fortuitous.
We have a really broad range of stories that come in. Some are kind of real roller coasters, sort of shock-a-minute kind of films, like the Haunting of Mansfield Mansion, the one that I think is probably the most scary of all of the films.
Other than... poltergeist action films like the poltergeist. Others are like supernatural tear jerkers like Haunted Highway.
Others are just really kind of overwhelmingly fascinating, like Trumbull County UFO Chase. So I think it's impossible for me to sort of pigeonhole them and say we're got more of this and more of that, because honestly the 11 shows that are - but in stories that are in the six episodes of this season are all, to my mind, incredibly difficult.
And that's what makes it so fascinating. And they're a really rich mixed bag of stories. So it certainly kept us who work on it riveted because even we're surprised at how different the stories are.
So I hope an audience will respond in the same way and to say, "My goodness, there's such kind of mixed bag under the same kind of paranormal umbrella."
Well I was going to say I think what's really interesting about these films is that they play out like proper stories. If you were to sit someone down and tell them a ghost story in the best way that you possibly could, many of these stories play out like that. They play out, sort of like pretty wonderful, sort of perfect ghost stories.
You couldn't engineer them better. I mean "Emily, the Imaginary Friend" -- the first story, the premiere.
I mean it's a creepy story that develops, that has an extraordinary resolution. First of all you think it's an imaginary friend, then it turns into a poltergeist, then uses a real sort of kick in the teeth when you discover that Emily isn't Emily at all, but it's a sort of the poltergeist spirit masker - male spirit masquerading as a little girl.
I mean, you couldn't script something better than this. And I think that's what we found each time as we researched these stories and people tell us these stories and we get them corroborated by other people.
You couldn't write them better. So they play out like proper ghost stories, like proper pieces of storytelling. And I think that's what's been so rewarding for all of us who've been working on the series.QUESTION:
Are the narrators that were they first given to you, are they scripted or are they actually just talking about...MARK LEWIS:
I'll tell you the process. Our process is this -- we reach out and we try and find these stories. As I said earlier in there, we could find them from newspaper accounts, we could find them through paranormal groups. There's an endless sort of variety of ways in which we could track these stories down.
But once we've tracked them down and spoken to the witnesses themselves and persuaded them to participate, we then have initially incredibly long conversations with these people over the phone. I mean, hours and hours and hours when we get to know them and we get to know absolutely every detail of the story.
Remember many of these stories they may last a good, at the most, 43 minutes if they're to fill a whole TV hour. But many of these stories have taken place in some cases, over several years. And there are an inordinate number of incidents that make up these stories.
So we have to talk and listen and sort of pull from our contributors absolutely every detail that we possibly can, so that we can then put together -- in a kind of chronological form -- the story so that we can help them tell it in the best way because imagine if your family or your house has been sort of possessed by a poltergeist, and all your family have been sort of torn apart by a poltergeist, as it is the case in a few of our stories.
These become incredibly traumatic experiences for people. And, as I say, many of the events of these kind of hauntings or poltergeist experiences can take place over several years.
And so what we have to do with these people is sort of sort the wheat from the chaff and try and get the story written down on paper first of all, in a chronological form so that we know that we are telling the very best moments of the stories, because there are several moments, believe me, that we leave out.
We just don't have time to say all of the incidents that happened to these particular people because, obviously, these things happened over many years and there are as I said an inordinate number of events happened to these people.
Once we've got that down in paper form then we know we design a sort of list of interview questions for when we interview them on camera. And that will help us draw up the script, which we then dramatize for the film.
So really everything comes from the interview that we do with these people. As I say, they're testimony driven films. So we have to make sure that we help the interviewees get that testimony down in a complete chronological form so that we get all of the very best details down there.
And then we can then help select which are the very best events, the most extraordinary events to tell for the film itself.QUESTION:
Could [you] tell us a little bit about where the germ of the idea for this particular series came about and maybe some of the challenges you find getting it off the ground?MARK LEWIS:
Well first of all I'll say that we're a television company that makes many of these kind of testimony driven films. As I say, that we make lots of uproar for National Geographic, for example. It's a form that - where you mix the drama and the documentary, the dramatizations with the documentary component, which is the interview.
This is something that we've done before, and I think that we thought when we'd met with Syfy that it would be a really -- you know, the films that we've done before are kind of generally speaking kind of action films -- contemporary action films.
And when we'd had our consultations with Syfy, I think that we collectively thought it would be a really cool idea to move this into the sort of horror and science fiction genre that people are -- through movies and so on -- fascinated by horror or they're fascinated by science fiction.
And those real life stories -- there's real life horror stories, there's real life science fiction stories -- are out there. We should just be telling them in the same form. So, it was a kind of collective decision by Syfy and our production company, RAW T, to go ahead with the series.
And I hope that people are going to agree, I think we've hit upon a really, really fantastical idea because this form -- mixing drama with real testimony of real people -- works very effectively for this kind of story.
Stories that on face value appear extraordinary or on face value appear fantastical. And then you hear it from the horse's mouth, and you hear it from incredibly credible witnesses, and then you do start to kind of believe the unbelievable because you're listening to it from the horse's mouth.
And if those witnesses are credible and any member of the audience can look at their television screen and see those people, and judge for themselves whether they - whether this is real or not.
I think that we've got these incredibly credible witnesses. Then you start to think, "My goodness there is all of this sort of unexplained stuff out there." And when you watch it on your screens you think, "My goodness, it looks like it's true." It has to be true. It's corroborated by so many people, there's photographs helping establish the credibility of these stories."
And I think that's what - why the idea of these films works very, very well because it's a sort of a fantastical world but told by very credible people. I think that's what's really appealing about them.
Well, [the episodes] get more and more frightening (after the Haunting of Mansfield House), and we've got some real surprises coming up for the fourth, fifth and sixth episode. The sixth episode, which is in production at the moment, which we're editing at the moment, again is a story of demonic possession. And it is absolutely extraordinary.
And again on the face value you think, "My goodness, this can't be true, except it's corroborated in this case by six people including the Chief of Police of the town in which it happened."
So it really is an incredibly creepy, extraordinary story of demonic possession. So you better look out for that one.QUESTION:
Of all the episodes you've produced so far for this particular run of the series is there one you found especially tough to have pulled off and brought to the small screen? One that was really challenging for you?MARK LEWIS:
I think they all have their challenges in there. And that may sound like a bit of a cop-out answer. But they all have their challenges, I think because often the people in the series, they've been through very traumatic experiences. These are experiences that have affected them very, very deeply.
And I think we as filmmakers have to go in and talk to these people and to convince them to share their stories with a broader public. And sometimes that can be difficult for people. And I think we have to tread very, very sensitively and we have to listen and we have to be sympathetic and understand the experiences they went through so that we can help them tell the story in the very best way.
And so encouraging people to share their stories can often be very, very difficult. And we have to be very, very sensitive about it. So I hope we have.
You know, we take great care in working with our contributors very well so they feel comfortable. Because only when these people, sitting in the interview chair are really, really comfortable, will they be able to share their best stories and articulate their stories very, very clearly.
And so I think that's been - probably been the biggest challenge is getting people to open up, and getting people to articulate their stories in the very best way, helping them to tell the stories in the best way and making them feel comfortable enough that they feel they can share these stories.
So that's been a big challenge. The other challenge is dramatizing some of these things because when people talk about, in the case of the demonic possession, this - the main character, Don Decker is lifted up in the air.
He's levitated in the air and then flung back a few feet against the kitchen wall to dramatize those kind of things obviously we have to do that through stunts and special effects.
So a lot of work has gone in the - from the perspective of dramatizing these things to pulling off these very extraordinary events – levitations, poltergeisting your furniture, being sort of forced across rooms and so on.
We have to employ every sort of televisual ruse that we can to dramatically and visually show what happened to people. So that's been a real challenge as well.SCIFI VISION:
When you do these things and you talk to people, I've talked to people who have told me ghost stories and often, if we're sitting in their home, activity kicks up while they're trying to...MARK LEWIS:
When you guys are filming does the paranormal activity ever stir up? I mean, maybe not to such a degree, but do they make their presence be known?MARK LEWIS:
Now you're frightening me. No, not so far. I did many of the interviews with the people and, I mean, often we didn't do them in homes, actually. Because often we have a particular entry sell.
So we weren't always in people's homes. I will say this, that many of the people, I would be quite frightened to go to some of their homes when you hear what's happened to some of the people.
You know, Amy Moore, who is the owner of the House in Mansfield in Connecticut that has sort of (falling paintings) and such -- extraordinary kind of haunting. The stories that she tells are so horrific and so compelling and so convincing, and I remember I always throw these questions at our interviewees at the end. I've seen it from a skeptical point of view -- now there may be skeptics out here who say, "You know, is this really true? Is this really true?"
I remember her pointing her finger at me, wagging her finger at me and saying to me, "All you need to do, Mark, is come to my house." And she said, "You stay there for 24 hours and I guarantee that you will be pinched or hit or you'll see something or you'll feel something, but you'll be scared out of your wits."
And I remember her wagging her finger at me. And I'm there thinking, "My goodness I do not want to step inside your house." So, in answer to your question, no. I haven't seen - there's been no sort of paranormal activity around this -- thank goodness -- while we're doing the interviews.
But you only need to hear these people to know that their houses are often the focus of such an extraordinary kind of paranormal activity that I, for one, would often be frightened in stepping over the threshold into their homes.SCIFI VISION:
Your crew that films and does all the research, are they all pretty much believers, or do you have a skeptic or two, or did you have a skeptic or two and now they're believers?MARK LEWIS:
Well I would say this, the people who work on this show generally come from a journalistic background like myself. And I think that we always start with a healthy dose of skepticism. I think that was probably the best standpoint.
And in a way, if we're really, really skeptical and any story, any contributor has to convince us, then that's a pretty good place to be because we want to put the best stories into the series. We want to put the most credible stories into the series.
We don't want to put sort of flights of fancy out there. We want these to be very strong tales that really are compelling and that are as convincing as possible.
So I think we act as a pretty difficult starting point for some stories told here because we will often reject stories on the grounds that we don't believe them. And what we've been left with -- the 11 stories that are in the six films -- are stories that we find it very difficult, if not impossible, to knock down.
And I think that's a really good place to be because it means that what we've got left or are left with are 11 really strong stories across the six episodes.
Now I wanted to - I watched the trailer for the poltergeist segment. I wonder if it - what's the story on the second half of the episode, "Watched in the Wilderness?"MARK LEWIS:
Watched in the Wilderness is the story of a former Deputy Sheriff and a former Marine and a former cop -- he was a guy called Jeff Boiler who was an acting Deputy Sheriff in Oregon who having finished his duties one Friday afternoon, I think it was, decided to take a hike up into the wilderness of the Oregon - or the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.
And while he was there he comes across what initially he thinks is a hiker -- initially thinks he's a person high up in the trees. And then he very quickly realizes that it's not human, it's not a person.
And then he proceeds to be chased over the next hour or so down the mountain by whatever it is -- this creature that's out there, that chases him, herds him, down the mountainside, snapping great big bows of trees, right behind him, getting ever closer and closer and closer as darkness falls.
He was up there hiking in the afternoon. He only had a couple hours of daylight left. So all the time that he's rushing back, it's getting darker and darker. And whatever it is, is snapping the tree bows all around him.
It's just getting closer and closer and closer as it's getting darker and darker and darker. So it's a story of an extraordinary chase by an unidentified creature.QUESTION:
Wow. Well that's a little scary.MARK LEWIS:
Yes. I mean, again it's extraordinary.
And this guy's a former cop and Marine and it's a very, very credible witness. Something terrible happened to him out in the wilderness. I can tell you I certainly won't be going to Cascade Mountain to my vacation.QUESTION:
Do you have any plans to bring a story from the UK or other overseas countries in the future?MARK LEWIS:
We haven't discussed that. At the moment I think we're seeing how the first season goes and I think we're all hoping that it's going to be a long running series and a second season and a third season -- fingers crossed.
It hasn't yet been discussed. I mean, of course, as someone has already said on the line, there are an extraordinary number of tales of hauntings and so on in Britain. It's sort of like -- it's like the home of the ghosts.
And, of course, there are extraordinary tales around the world and absolutely that would open up the field. But broadly speaking, the series is, at this stage, broadly for an American audience and the American stories are the ones that we're telling first.
So I think it's early days to see where the series will go. But you're right. I mean, we could always open up the field to internationally because there are, you know...QUESTION:
Yes, I've heard some pretty crazy ones from Asia that I'd like to see.MARK LEWIS:
Yes, yes. Well I mean in Asia also, the Far East is kind of the home of the horror film, really. So, I think, yes, if you're going to tell horrific tales, maybe that's a good place to start.QUESTION:
What do you attribute to the resurgence in the paranormal over the past decade? Because around the 80s people just rolled their eyes and wouldn't pay attention to this stuff.MARK LEWIS:
Well I don't really know, to be honest. I think probably the Internet has had a lot to do with that. And the fact that people can join Internet sites, I imagine, where they share their experiences.
Certainly means that the stories get passed around a little bit more, I would have thought.
And people, perhaps who - the people who didn't roll their eyes, who do believe or who are interested in the paranormal, I suspect with the Internet have sort of found the safer places to go in a sense. Sites that they're familiar with and comfortable with where they can research these stories at their leisure.
Those kind of things are open to everybody. So I'm sure that has contributed to the resurgence.
On top of that, I think there are certain big films out there -- The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity -- all those kind of films, which have definitely piqued the interest of people, as well.
And I think that's what our series kind of taps into because our films, we like to think -- have such a strong kind of cinematic feel, a cinematic appeal -- that they sort of tap into that kind of audience. The kind of audience who like those kind of stories.
And what's interesting about, say something like Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, is the way that they're filmed. They're filmed in this very kind of gritty cinema verite kind of way. They're filmed almost like documentaries.
And so that's a sort of form that people now understand, and it makes -- yes, you watch Paranormal Activity and you are scared because it feels true. It's filmed on CCDV cameras. You watch Blair Witch Project and you feel it's true because it's made by documentary makers. It feels very real.
And as a consequence I think that's a very good - it was a very good springboard for our theories -- the fact that people now understand that kind of documentary form when they're watching these kind of stories, lends itself to a good kind of paranormal series.QUESTION:
There are a lot of shows that you could be involved with, and you've listed that you have been involved with a lot of shows. In order to do this kind of show, which a lot of people out there might find ridiculous and may not believe, I think in order to do this kind show, you have to have some level of belief yourself.
That's my question -- what story do you have? What's your belief? What's that thing that moves this into a position of wanting to make this happen?MARK LEWIS:
Is your question do I believe these stories?QUESTION:
Well do you personally have your own paranormal story?MARK LEWIS:
No, I've never had a paranormal experience of my own. But interestingly, as soon as you start working on a show like this, people will see. People that you meet, whether they're camera crews or researchers or journalists that work on the show or directors who make the shows or whatever they may be -- all the different people that form the crew, everybody talks to me and everybody starts telling me their tales. And it's like I must be about the only one who hasn't had a paranormal experience.
I mean, you realize that actually a lot of people have had some form of experience in their lives. And that's affected them. And it's not always something that they sort of freely talk about, whether it's because they're embarrassed about it or because they think the people will laugh at them, or whatever the reason may be.
I suppose for me, it's quite shocking how many people have had some form of paranormal experience or believe that they have had.
So I think that certainly changed my perspective. I think the stories themselves -- which in my perspective initially, was a very skeptical one.
My perspective on this show though, is having those who've seen, let's say 11 stories for six films is, do you want the lead-in at the end? I have to say it's very difficult to knock these stories down. It's very difficult not to believe all 11 stories.
If they were not true then across the 11 stories, all of these contributors would had to have come up with these extraordinarily complicated, convoluted tales, corroborated one another, that they would have had to sit down around their kitchen tables and, you know, devise these incredibly detailed, convoluted, extraordinary tales.
And well I just don't think that's possible. I think something in these - something has gone on in these people's lives. Something terrible has happened to these people's lives.
And I think that certainly changed my personal belief system. These people absolutely -- they're compelling in their testimony. And they are incredibly convincing in their testimony. And you can't - if you're doing the interviews or you're watching these films, I don't think you can help -- even if you're the most skeptical person-- being part convinced by them.QUESTION:
Well great, believing that something happened to them and then believing that something paranormal happened here, are two different things. So...MARK LEWIS:
...when you're somewhat convinced by them are you convinced that something, a UFO, a undiscovered creature, or a ghost, or demon has affected them, or do you think that there is another explanation that they just haven't locked onto yet?MARK LEWIS:
That is an incredibly passionate question. And I would say this for these stories, that I struggle to come up with an alternative reason other than the paranormal for many of these stories.
And that's quite a confronting position to be in. It makes you think, "My goodness. Not only has something gone on but I can't find any other reason bar the paranormal to explain these away."
And I think many people who watch these films feel the same way. And that's quite an extraordinary position to end up in.QUESTION:
So far the show has tackled some cases that might be familiar to people that are really hard core interested in this stuff. But have you thought about taking on, putting your spin on, some more famous cases or do you actively want to avoid those?MARK LEWIS:
No, this is the first season only. So we decided to go with wherever possible, original stories that have not been told. Some of them have appeared in certain media reports and newspaper reports. But generally speaking we were after the sort of new stories if we could possibly find them.
I think now, sort of knowing what we do and knowing, I hope, how to make these stories well, absolutely we would open up the field to some more celebrated cases. I think it would be really interesting to tackle those.
But once again, we would have to apply our same kind of rules, that we were hand-picking only the most credible witnesses. And if we felt, as filmmakers, that they didn't pass that test, if we weren't convinced by them, and if there is nothing to corroborate these stories. I mean, if we can find stories where the people are credible, where there are other forms of evidence to help corroborate their tales then we will tell those stories.
If we don't feel that, then I don't think we would put them up in this series. I think we just want the most credible tales that we can possibly lay our hands on.QUESTION:
When you're thinking about what makes a good story for your viewers, when you're thinking about the viewers themselves, kind of give me a thumbnail description of the demographics, the psychographic of your viewer when you're thinking, "Okay. Will this connect with them?" Who are you connecting to?MARK LEWIS:
I think there is a broad, broad church for our audience. There are the people who are paranormal believers. They will tune in to this kind of show, for sure, because they love it.
There are people also that we would like to appeal to who are the non-believers, because I think, what we've got are very credible stories told by very credible witnesses. And I think if we can make those people sit up and listen, to have them watch, then we will be doing a very good job.
I certainly think we are appealing to those kind of people now. On top of that, because the films are so cinematic and play out like real horror films or real science fiction tales, I think that we will also appeal to kind of movie buffs -- people who love horror, people who love science fiction.
So we are hoping that we have an appeal to those kind of people. So when we're constructing these films, I think we have that very much in mind. And when we're searching out stories we think, "Ah, that's a great one," that will really appeal to science fiction buffs -- people who love Star Trek or whatever, that'll definitely appeal to people like that.
You know, when we find something like the poltergeist story -- the story of Susan Lewis, there is a story that actually kind of plays out pretty much like Steven Spielberg's Poltergeist.
And I'm sure that we will appeal to people who like that kind of film. So I think there is a real broad church of people that we shouldn't be sort of pigeonholing our audience. We shouldn't just be sort of narrowing the field to just the believers. We should be appealing to as broad an audience as we possibly can.
And if we can get all of those people watching, get all of those people enjoying it, then I think we'll have done a good job.QUESTION:
You personally -- alien, ghost, demon, creature, Big Foot kind of thing...what terrifies you the most?MARK LEWIS:
Me personally - yes me personally is the idea of demonic possession. And I think when you watch the Rainman, which is our final film, the sixth film, I would really encourage you to tune in to that one, because that absolutely is one that disturbs me the most.
I spent so - quite a long time in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania where it all took place. And there are six contributors to that film. Don Decker, the gentleman himself who was possessed and five other people who witnessed what happened to him over the course of a couple of weeks.
And when you sit in these people's living rooms and you hear them tell this story, and they sit across from you and they say, "Mark, you just had to be there. You have to understand that what we felt in that room was evil."
And certain people were saying to me, "You know, I'm not a church-goer. I'm not a particularly religious person, but having lived through what happened back in 1983 in this story, I feel that there is real evil in this world and it's very difficult to convince people unless you were there,"
And when you hear someone say that to you, it really does send shivers down your spine and it really does sort of unsettle you, I think.
But very definitely for me, the final film, the Rainman, a story of demonic possession and extraordinary kind of activity that happened in and around this gentleman, Don Decker, that is certainly the story that really unsettled me the most.QUESTION:
Hi, great discussion. It's just been so interesting listening to this today. So thank you again. Figure a real quick..MARK LEWIS:
Do you ever use the actual site?MARK LEWIS:
Just to film in?QUESTION:
Now let me think before I answer that question. Yes we have done so in one story. Well actually there's one story that we're making possibly for a second season, where we've done that -- where we've filmed in the actual site.
I think that's something that we potentially investigate for future episodes. In answer to your question, no we haven't. Only rarely have we done that.
And it's partly because many of the homes in which these - how they are put, things like Poltergeist. Actually, a few of the people no longer in those homes, you know?QUESTION:
If your family's been torn apart by a paranormal activity and a poltergeist or whatever – in many of our stories the people have moved out. They've just sort of said, "I've got to get out of here." And have left those houses behind. So we haven't filmed in those places so it's difficult for us. And of course technically speaking, when you're filming a piece of drama and you've got all the crew members and all those kind of things, it's very difficult. You can't always time out with a crew of 40 or 50 people and just expect to film in a tiny house or whatever, it's very, very difficult. When you're dramatizing these things you have to find places where you are able to film and where you can get the camera crews. And so it's often very difficult to film the drama in the real locations.
It would be a very interesting thing to do. The Haunting of Mansfield House, which is the fourth story in the run, that is a massive house that is in Mansfield, Connecticut.
I think that would have been a fantastic location to film the real story. And I'm not sure I could have persuaded all the crew to go there, knowing the story and them all looking terrified, I think.
But yes, there's - I'll do the question -- no, we haven't really. But it's actually something that we would consider doing for certain stories. But most of them -- all of the drama film, we actually filmed in Toronto, in Canada.
It's a very good place. It's a very good double for America within one city. You can actually find so many different locations that resemble so many different parts of the United States, strangely. And that's why a lot of us come to Mayfair.
And I think that's been another challenge of the series, we have stories from all across the United States -- some in California, some in Kentucky, some in Connecticut.
So to try and find -- I mean obviously we have our crew all in one place just to film all of the dramatizations over a few months. And we have to center them all in one place. We can't be traveling around with a crew of 40 all across the United States, unfortunately, much that we would love to, to film all of the dramatizations.
So we had to find one, sort of central harbor city where we could find good doubles for all of these different locations that take part in the city - that take place in the series -- that kind of series.QUESTION:
Along those lines then, do you ever double check with the witnesses about aspects of the dramatization? Like once you've got the set there or a prop that you're using, you know, "Is this what the toy chest looked like..."MARK LEWIS:
Yes, we do.QUESTION:
...really or is it a prop...MARK LEWIS:
Yes, we do. This is what we tend to do. We first of all, before we even interview these people on camera, we will interview all contributors over the phone for hours and hours and hours.
That gets the whole story, but it also gets all the different details -- what does the toy chest that flies across the room look like? All those kind of things.
What does the house look like? We get into a very detailed plan of the houses so that when we seek their dramatic counterpart, the houses that we film these places in, we try and get as close a match as we possibly can to the real thing, often because we include real photographs of the house or the interiors of the houses in the case of the poltergeist story.
We try to find houses that on the interior look pretty similar to the real things as well. So it's very important that in these hours of phone conversations and then these hours of interview we get all the details that we can.
When we do go to interview these people on camera, what you see is a 20-minute story with the contributor. In fact, those interviews that we do with people will go on four, five, six, seven hours sometimes.
So there are many more details that - where the interviewee doesn't appear on screen telling you about that detail. But we use the details of the interiors, as it were, to inform how we dramatize things.
So that, as you're suggesting, several of the key props -- for example, when the toy chest flies across the room, yes, absolutely that was very similar to the real toy chest that flew across the room in Emily and the Imaginary Friend.
Yes, so we do try and listen to our contributors and match as much as we possibly can the real pieces of furniture, the real people, the real things that appear in the stories.
It's terrific to hear the amount of care that you're taking verifying everything.MARK LEWIS:
Yes and we do best...Yes, inevitably, we're dramatizing these things. And I think as much research information that we can do, using all of that research, using all of that testimony as wisely as we possibly can will only serve to make the stories more credible.
And that's always been the sort of the mantra of this series is to convince people to make these stories as convincing as we possibly can.