PEORIA — Central Illinois Ghost Hunters (CIGH) owner Shane Cleer has been involved in paranormal investigation for nearly a decade and a half. After managing his own small budget team, an opportunity to take over CIGH, an established brand in the area, presented itself.
In that time he has managed to grow the team of paranormal investigators, and also achieve a long term goal in creating a show out of the work.
Now, CIGH and Peoria production company Candlelight Digital have reached an agreement with Amazon Prime to stream an episode a week through January of the show, ‘When Darkness Calls’.
To see his vision come to life has been an awe-inspiring experience for Cleer and the members of his team, but it’s all happened fast. So we asked Cleer, Candlelight Digital owner and founder Ian Chasteen, researcher Brett Chilton and CIGH member Jessica Ramsey to reflect on how exactly they got here, and what it took to get their investigations from small town Illinois onto a major streaming platform.
Experience in the paranormal varies amongst different members of CIGH, and the team has some relatively new members who have played big roles in getting the series off the ground. The content element of CIGH is also relatively new, but the idea is something Cleer had been working on for some time.
Shane Cleer: I got into ghost hunting in 2007-2008, and I actually started my own team called SPIRIT, Shane’s Paranormal Investigative Research Intelligence Team. I had that team for about two years and then the owner of CIGH contacted me and wanted to know if I wanted to take over. I said sure. That was probably in like 2009.
I wanted to take it somewhere eventually. I was just waiting for the right time. I just happened to post on my Facebook page that I was looking for a video-audio tech, and that’s when Ian sent me a message.
Brett Chilton: It was a dream. We talked about (making a show), but when we brought Ian on ... he made it real.
Ian Chasteen: Time is flying by because it’s been really busy, but I think it was last year, they messaged me and said they were looking for an editor for YouTube videos. I met with them and they were like ‘we want to bring you on the team’, so I started with them on that; learning their equipment, getting everything that we needed. Then they realized I work in the movie and TV industry, and they were like ‘well, can we do it like a TV show?’ (I) said yes, we can do that.
They usually did just audio files on their website. They wanted to bring some video stuff in but, they didn’t know how to do it.
Cleer: We still worked the same exact way. Pretty much what Candlelight Digital does is they do the interviews of the clients at the beginning of the operations and then at the end of the investigation he’ll go back in to do some last minute filming inside the property, but the whole ghost hunting part, we still do it the exact same way.
Chasteen: It was a little bit challenging going from — because I’ve done TV, live events, music videos before — but I’ve never been put in the role where I’m the one doing the paperwork and all that, I’m usually the person doing the lighting. So this one was a complete different turn around, but based on my schooling and everything I had a pretty good grasp of what was going on. What we started getting a flow of everything down it became easy.
The original expectation for the show was to take the footage and edit it together for a Youtube series, but after further conversations, Chasteen put together a pitch deck and made some calls to Amazon. Quickly, they got word that the show could air on the platform.
Despite the excitement, the work wasn’t over. In fact, as of Dec. 12, Chilton and Ramsey were still adding captions to episodes. All hands on deck.
Chasteen: We were up in the air. They (said) ‘we want to get this on somewhere’. I was just listing off streaming stuff because we’re not going to get on to a major network because that’s not how it works, sadly enough. You have to go pitch and it would be a long process to get us that far. So what can we get here in the next six months? We can do YouTube, if YouTube likes it we can possibly get on to YouTube Red. But I can try Amazon too, and a couple calls and it came to be that we’re going on to Amazon Prime.
Cleer: (Chasteen) was building the suspense. He said ‘I will tell you guys’ where it’s going on Halloween. So on Halloween he got ahold of us to announce where it was going, and he says ‘where it’s going there can be up to 55 million people that can view it’. We kept asking him, and then he finally told us it was on Prime Video. So yeah, I was very, very excited.
Chasteen: It came very very quick and it kind of took the team and me by surprise, but we just held in there and we’ve finished up with what we need to do.
As for it being different than other projects that I’ve done, it’s basically the same, it’s just a little more rushed than we’re used to. Which is fine, we’re doing fine, we’ve had a couple of those hair pull moments but we’ve gotten past them.
Chilton: We crunched the time and we’re still editing some of the episodes, because of Amazon’s closed captioning (requirements).
Jessica Ramsey: It’s a long process.
Chilton: That 40 to 50 minutes of (video) took me about five hours. I got (the footage) Tuesday afternoon and I had it done Wednesday morning.
Cleer: We started late in the year so we really didn’t have much time, we were investigating pretty much every single weekend trying to get as many episodes as we could.
With how quickly the show got your point A to point B, the crew needed to thread a tight needle in order for the first episodes to meet deadlines. For instance, the premiere was turned into Amazon too late for it to air on the originally scheduled run date.
It’s a learning curve that Cleer recently addressed in a CIGH Facebook post, stating his heightened excitement for season two knowing some of the pitfalls of the first round of production, and, more importantly, knowing how to fix them.
Despite the bumpy start, it’s safe to say morale is still high, even if the crew are careful not to get too far over their skies.
Cleer: We have to say if because we don’t want to lead people to think there’s going to be and then there’s not, but if there is a season two there’s different things we’re going to try to do.
Watching episode one really opened up my eyes. There’s different changes, like we need to start doing time stamping. So when we go into a location we should show the time and let people know what time it is in the morning. People don’t know how long we’re on an investigation, we film from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. So there’s 12 hours of non-stop filming, but people don’t know that because we didn’t put the time on it. So now on episode three to six, Ian’s going to add the time(stamps).
Ramsey: For me it’d be talking over each other, because when you’re doing the editing it’s hard to know whose words to put in where.
Chilton: I know I’m going to interact with the camera more. I didn’t really focus when we were doing this thinking that an audience would be watching this, where now I see that ‘wow, I should have talked to the camera better there, because some of the equipment, if you look at this big box and it makes a lot of static and sounds like radio stations being flown through, you’re not going to know what that is.
Chasteen: Me going into it, we did our research into what ghost shows are and what makes them all similar and what makes each one different. We tried to take those and put our own spin on those things.
A lot of people don’t want to watch the same show over and over so we took it and (framed it as), these are real life people, real life families that are struggling and they don’t have answers. That’s where we kind of took off with the show and kept that mentality of ‘we’re not doing the same things as these shows, we’re doing it differently’.
Cleer: There are a couple episodes that are my favorite that I can’t wait to see on Amazon, which are the Hillsboro Haunt and the Morton case that we did.
Like Cleer, Chasteen believes there are truly good episodes within this first season, but doesn’t want to declare the show an all-out success before it airs. He does, however, see a path forward for the show to gain popularity.
Chasteen: Paranormal type shows are considered a niche market. It’s a smaller group of people, but that smaller group of people are very inclined to watch these shows. We have a lot of people in Pekin and Peoria that are going to watch it, hopefully that will increase our watch time to be able to be recommended under those bigger shows. Then when those people finish those bigger shows, maybe (the algorithm will) be like ‘you’ve watched this, we recommend this’, and it could be our show.
I’m not looking at this as a final project, I’m looking at this as a great start.