Sunday, December 27, 2009

Paul Kimball, Ghost Darer

Am I watching a reality TV program called Ghost Cases or Head Cases?

"Come on, drop it."

Co-host Paul Kimball is lying on the floor underneath a large painting that has been said to occasionally fall off its nail because of ghostly activity. His partner Holly Stevens waits in another room at the reportedly haunted Waverly Inn in Halifax, Nova Scotia, using a conversational method to make contact with any spirits that may be about.

Paul prefers the confrontational method, the paranormal investigator with a chip on his shoulder. He taunts any nearby ghosts to drop the painting on his head. But no ghosts knock off his chip -- or the painting.

That previous sentence might be considered a spoiler, i.e., I just revealed too much about the Waverly Inn episode of Ghost Cases. But while he may be arrogant at times, Paul isn't stupid. He knew that painting wasn't going to drop (well, at least in this universe).

The episode opens with a perspective-puzzling image worthy of M.C. Escher. Paul lies on the floor, a mirror placed next to his head showing the presumably cursed painting up on the wall, the scene tilted at an odd angle. He tells the ghosts if they're sick of all the ghost investigation TV programs, then take their best shot. A quirky intro. It's too bad that the rest of the episode didn't live up to this.

The episode is technically well-made, a professional production, but it follows the same formula used in other programs such as History Detectives on PBS. Parts of the episode are staged, set up beforehand. It's obvious that the investigators aren't meeting one of the subjects for the first time; there's been some discussion how to "play out" a scene.

For example, Paul and Holly walk into the Waverly Inn and are greeted by an employee. You can tell they've already did a general run-through with the employee. But even History Detectives with its (probably) bigger budget is guilty of faux natural scenes.

Assuming that the Waverly Inn investigation is representative of the series, Ghosts Cases needs to be edgier. More film-it-as-it-first-happens -- even with rough edges -- could be a better approach. At least it would be a different one. Record the initial interviews with subjects; no pre-production warm ups. Reveal some of the behind-the-scenes planning, discussions, and, if any, disagreements.

Skip the shots back in the studio with either Paul or Holly sitting down, explaining what is going on during the episode. Shoot everything on location and add voice overs if needed.

And why does the camera have to be in the room before the door opens and the investigators step in? Why not stay with the hosts, shooting over their shoulders, and reveal the room to both them and the viewer at the same time? Give the impression that the viewer is right there with them.

Instead of ghost daring, let's see some daring departures from the standard format.

In a parallel universe Paul Kimball did that. After a painting fell off the wall at the Waverly Inn and hit him on the head, a paranormal variation on Newton and the apple.

[ Ghost Cases is produced in Canada and can be seen via EastLink TV in the Great White North. For more info: ]


Paul Kimball said...

Hi Ray,

Believe me, I wish I was that alternate-universe PK with the ability to make a show exactly how I wanted to (although not if it meant dropping the painting on my head). But it's television, and that comes with boundaries, and rules, and budgets, and all sorts of other things... so one pushes the edge at the corners, where one can - in my case, always with tongue planted firmly in my cheek. ;-)


Paul Kimball said...


Let me add one note about the in-studio stuff. I think that it's useful to take some time to reflect on what happened, and also to review any evidence that you might have gathered while on site, which can take time to sort through - and, in the case of things like audio recordings, clean up so that you can focus on the interesting stuff.


Ray said...


I understand that there can be a need for in-studio stuff but does it have to be so formal? Instead of chair sitting shots with either you or Holly, how about you and Holly at a table in a home or apartment setting, drinking coffee and chewing on doughnuts, while discussing the latest investigation? Loosen it up.

And I know that audio recordings have to be cleaned up. I'm not saying use raw footage with no editing; just use more unplanned footage.

I realize that you are working within boundaries. But sometimes boundaries can be pushed.

As I said in my review, Ghosts Cases is well-made, professional, but needs to make itself different from the rest.

Of course, I do have my flights of freethinking since that flying saucer dropped on my head. Such flights might have to be taken with a asteroid of salt. [G]

Doug said...

It's not that the ghost isn't there; it's a Canadian ghost, and therefore too polite to knock the picture down.

Good to see you're starting down a new path, Ray: Reality show producer!

X. Dell said...

(1) I'm almost surprised at the glut of such shows on basic cable, although I guess I shouldn't be. What gets me is that some rely on the quasi-scientific, and others simply make the case of ghostly existence without evidence.

(2) I would see Kimball's actions more in line with a stunt, a way of making a rather monotonous subject (sitting in an empty inn waiting for the improbable to happen) engaging enough for television in a way that adheres to (as he comments here) the budgets, boundaries and rules of the medium.

Ray said...


Reality show critic, not a producer.

X. Dell:

Yup, it's a glut. I wonder if all of these shows are going to upset the Cosmic Balance by getting all the ghosts pissed off?


X. Dell said...

What's worse is that I now have this irrational fear that I'll croak, and the next thing I know some kid wants to shove a microphone in my face. It never ends, I tell ya.