Wednesday, July 25, 2012

EPISODE 204: Priest Gun/Haunted Asylum

I've been lazy, I know.  I have no good excuse.  But, you wanted it, so I'm back with the behind-the-scenes reflections from 'Collector.  Let's get right to it.

Sawyer, Michigan, right on the shores of Lake Michigan itself.  That's where you want to be during the winter...north and on a Great Lake.  Ugh!  The days were sunny, but cold.  Our spirits were stable, but we all began missing home and those who were missing us.  It resulted in a lot of solo time off-camera and I was frankly okay with that.  We all need time to ourselves to decompress and relax.  It makes the times together that much better, I think.  One of the days I wasn't needed on set right away I went to the movies.  I went alone, which I never do, but I found myself walking through the hotel parking lot towards the highway, towards the theater on the other side of it.  Why did Brian cross the road?  Because Safe House with Denzel Washington was playing and I had nothing else to do.   So, like Frogger, I made my way across a major highway, hopping two fences and a divider in the process.  At that moment I was glad I was alone, I don't think I got over the fences as gracefully as I once might have.  It had been a long winter thus far and I was only Batman in voice, not in motion.

You get any EVPs, punk?
 • Safety was a huge concern on the set this time around, as there was a gun in the mix.  An unloaded gun, mind you, but a gun all the same.  The producers did not want us fooling around or joking at all with it so we were not allowed to even pick it up or take it out of the case.  Given the dark things that we deal with sometimes, it was probably for the best.  The last thing we would want associated with Haunted Collector was a tragic accident on-set.  I'll stick with the sledgehammers and shovels, thanks.  Despite that, you KNOW that every scene Chris and I had in the bedroom with the gun we were quoting Dirty Harry movies.  Oh, the footage they have to cut because of me and my pop culture references.

• There was another story that we were interested in following up on when we first got to Joanie's house.  The piano room had a large portrait of a man in it.  He was the owner of the piano and a former owner of the house.  He was a well known figure in the community...I'll come back to this, I want to get the facts right.

Omen or coincidence?
• Strange things happened to us in almost every town we rolled into and Sawyer, Michigan was no different.  This time, it seems as if we had almost outrun it since it took until the last day of shooting for it to manifest itself.  In front of the house is a roughly circular driveway.  It's not paved, but it's well-worn enough to see where you're driving.  In the center of it is a tree and you can see it in the episode as we drive up to the house for the first time.  Well, after the last segment was filmed a storm hit the area.  I was back at the hotel, but when the crew returned, they reported that the storm knocked that tree over!  This was shortly after our Jordan Springs shoot with the fallen tree.  What was more surprising than the tree falling over was the fact that it did not hit a single person, car or piece of equipment.  Given how much stuff a production crew brings along with them, that in itself is an amazing statistic.  Of course, the first question out of everyones mouth upon hearing about the tree was, "Was there anything buried underneath it?"

They know kung fu?
 • What can I say about my life on the road?  I tend to talk about our hotels a lot.  And why not, the hotel is a major part of your existence when you live in transit.  Essentially, it is home.  Be it ever so humble...or so small, or depressing or overrun by undesirables...there's no place like home.  This time, there was a perpetual pool party going on at the pool on the first floor.  At all times of the day and night there were tweens in bathing suits running to and fro as if they were on an Easter Egg hunt.  But, despite the occupants, we made the best of it.  That Sunday night we had ourselves an Oscar party!  Mark Gouldy, our sound guy grilled up all sorts of good eats and others bought snacks and drinks.  We cheered for our favorites, we booed at the people who were overlooked and generally had a good time. I especially liked the part of the evening where Chris Zaffis went on a tirade about the injustice of Kung Fu Panda 2 not winning anything.  It was a barrage worthy of a stand-up comedian on stage...I think I saw a young Lewis Black in the making that night.

Use the Force, Luke
 • Speaking of Gouldy and parties, we were losing him as he was going back home for the rest of the season.  We'd already lost his brother Mike to an injury that kept him from returning to the set.  It was a sad time, but we were going to have an epic party to celebrate it!  As with the Oscar party, we all went out and got food and other items for the festivities.  One by one we arrived in one of the hotel's meeting rooms to begin the last hurrah for our friend Mark.  Such nights are best experienced and left in the moment, so I won't go into too many details.  But I will say this: piƱata, blow-up doll, fireworks.  'Nuff said.

Radford, VA was our next stop - it was a college town and school was in session.  The hotel had a Mexican restaurant attached to it called Alejandro's...and for some reason, we delighted in mispronouncing the name (ale-jan-drows) and adding him to our pantheon of mundane demigods (of which the first one I will mention in the next episode's blog).  We did a lot of driving to and from the location and we got to know the town pretty well.  I got pulled over for speeding, but unlike NY cops, this officer was an actual human being and I was able to reason with him and he let me go without a ticket.  Thank you, Radford Officer.  Speaking of my home state, we watched an important football game which got the NY Giants into the Super Bowl.  I'm not an avid follower of football, or sports in general, but it was nice to see my home team destroy the teams of these west coasters.  Heh I had anything to do with it.  There was also a game and comic store in town that I had wanted to go to, but every time I stopped by, they were closed, or doing inventory or SOMETHING.  I'd knock on the glass door and a chunky, bespectacled man would peer out at me and say nothing.  Never once did he say to come back later, or the next day or offer to let me buy a damn comic or anything.  That store is now on my list of arch enemies.  Sounds crazy, huh?  I guess it was only fitting since we were about to investigate an insane asylum.

Many rooms, many mysteries
 • St. Albans was a maze inside...the episode could not accurately convey how disjointed it felt being inside there.  I say that a lot too, huh?  How the episode falls short of reality?  Well, as is true for many topics, nothing beats the real thing.  When we first got there, Chris, Jason and I decided to slip away from the production crew and explore.  We're all avid gamers, so we tackled the place as if it were a new level in a video game...the mapping system in our heads was recording every turn and every room.  But as we got deeper into the place, it kept changing.  It felt as if were a patchwork of times and places, where some rooms seemed to not fit the hallway we just came from.  This made getting back to the entryway hard.  We ended up in dead ends, rooftops, tunnels...the works.  But still, I cannot say I am familiar with the place enough to not get lost in it.  Perhaps that is how it feels to be a patient at a mental facility...lost, with no recollection of how to get out.

There Won't Be Blood
 • Here's something from the deleted bin: Jesslyn and I were tasked with going to the substance abuse ward and checking on an urban legend we'd heard about.  I'm forgetting the fine details, but it was rumored that a massacre occurred in that ward, either by a patient or a disgruntled employee.  It was said that the assaults were so savage, blood covered the walls.  So, we mixed up some luminol and went down to see if we could find any evidence of this.  Now, the way things are filmed, we didn't take any breaks during our sweep of the facility.  Jesslyn and I were down in that basement for a long time.  The scene you saw where something fell from the ceiling - that was in a bowling alley down there.  Yeah, a bowling alley!  Those of you who know me know what's coming next...oh yeah, the There Will Be Blood references.  "DRAINAGE!  I drink your milkshake!  I drink it right up!"  Again, more footage of me they can't use.  I need to get a counter going on this statistic!  But anyway, circling back to the luminol, watch that scene again, you'll see either in my hand or hanging off my belt a spray bottle.  Come to think of it, it might even be on the floor.  Why?  Because we had one of the producers prepare the mixture for us and they placed it into a metal spray bottle.  METAL.  Luminol is best used in a plastic bottle. Why?  Because the metal will react with the compound!  The bottle had been hooked onto my utility belt as we searched and by the time we got to the bowling alley I realized that the side of my pants was wet.  I was confused at first, I thought maybe I had leaned on a wet wall, or didn't notice a drip from the ceiling, but upon further investigation I found that the spray bottle was spurting liquid out of the nozzle periodically, as if the mixture inside were expanding and the gases it was putting off was forcing it out.  I pointed it out to Jesslyn and she found the same thing was happening to her bottle. The bottles then both remained on the floor until it was time to head to the substance abuse ward.  We sprayed every wall, pipe and door of that area until both of our bottles were empty.  Not a single spark or glow from the luminol.  That was a dead-end and why you did not see it in the final cut.

Who watches the watchers?
 • Aimee is quite the character.  She gets a lot of screen time, but mostly she is seen, not heard.  She's a funny girl, in a subtle way.  We all laugh a lot when we're all together.  I call her the "Napolean Dynamite of the Paranormal", because she has that sort of odd humor.  You either get her or you don't. Another thing that makes me laugh is how genuinely afraid of ghosts she is.  The daughter of a demonologist, she would be happy to do her research from afar and let us know what she finds, never stepping foot into a location.  I've seen many comments online about how miserable she looks and mostly that's because she is busy keeping her shit together while in these places.  You have to give her credit - she's uncomfortable, but she sticks it out and stays at her post.  That is, until St. Albans...down in the boiler room, I wanted Chris down there to help find the source of the sound he was hearing.  This left Aimee alone at the command center.  Scroll back up to the picture of the front of the building for a moment, the command center was maybe fifty feet inside the main entrance, no more.  You could see the entrance from where it was set up and outside was our entire production crew.  Aimee was by no means alone, but once Chris left, it was too much for her to handle and she headed outside.  When I heard this, I was annoyed at first, but then I heard about an incident with one of her research interviewees.  Turns out, one of the men she interviewed to get background on the activity at the asylum had been in there several times and claims to know some of the spirits that are in residence.  He told her that there are two spirits down in the basement that know we're coming and are quite evil and are planning to harm us.  Furthermore, he told Aimee that these two planned to erase whatever tapes we  used there...that they would get back to the edit room only to find them blank.  Make no mistake, this guy was the creepy old dude that warns teenagers in the first act of every horror movie.  And it resonated with Aimee, causing her to leave the monitors and moving forward, she stopped participating in the nighttime investigations.

The Dark Night Crouches
 • Now I don't remember if it was during the baseline sweep or the nighttime investigation, but we were in the boiler room and the meters spiked suddenly.  I looked around, trying to find the source and just then my flashlight turned off, plunging us into darkness.  Hmm, now that I say that it must have been at night, since the cameras film the investigations with the astroscopes attached, which means there are no lights on.  My flashlight is one of those big Mag Lites...they don't just shut off when the battery is low, they gradually get dimmer and dimmer so I knew it wasn't a battery issue.  Then, a muttered curse in the corner - the cameraman reports that the camera just died.  He radios up to the producers that he needs a new, "brick and tape" (brick being a new battery).  A moment of silence and he then tells us that he doesn't know if he got through or not because no one was responding.  I turned to where Chris had placed a stationary camera and started waving my arms around signaling to him that there was a problem.  Just then the dull red lights of the infrared went dead.  Everything requiring power shut off and would not come back on.  A few moments later I heard shouts from down the hall.  I could hear the executive producer and the director coming.  Johnny the director entered first, leading the way with a small headlamp on his head, a look of astonishment on his face.  Rick the executive producer came in next, looking to me, then to the cameraman and finally to Jesslyn.  "What the hell is going on?  My phone just died and all the monitors went down (referring to the handheld monitors the director used)!" My heart started to beat a little faster...partly from the memory of the two supposedly evil spirits down here and partly from the thrill of these mundanes finally coming to realize that such things do exist.  I reminded Rick about Aimee's witness and that just served to make him more nervous.  We all stood in uncomfortable silence for some time until the director called a break to assess the situation.  As I walked out of the room, I had no idea that the object of our search was mere feet from where I had been standing...

Originally, we were going to have our first Haunted Collector event at St. Albans, but due to low ticket sales, we've decided to cancel it.  Plus, we might not be available in September...all good news on that front.  However, I do hope it gets rescheduled and people sign on to attend - it really is a cool place and it's one I do want to get back to, since we've barely scratched the surface of this one.  While removing an object may help lessen activity, it doesn't always eradicate it completely, especially in a place like this.  St. Albans, I'll be back some day.  Count on it...