by Christopher Olson & Jim Malliard
Location history, interviews, investigation, review, final thoughts…throw in a handful of perfectly timed, suspense inducing commercial breaks, and now you have the quintessential paranormal investigation television show. While this process in of itself is not bad, (in fact, personally I think this formulaic approach in some instances is actually good) the way the end product itself is presented is in no way representative of how things really play out during an actual investigation. There always seems to be enough perfectly timed evidence to keep the audience engaged through the entire hour-long time slot and provide absolute irrefutable proof that particular location is haunted. But what about the real world? How do investigations actually look without the magic of television?
Let’s start with locations and their history. First, I would like to say that this part in my opinion is just as interesting as the actual investigation itself. In the world of television, we are usually offered a few snippets of the location’s history, followed by a few stories of some “dark” entanglement, and then possibly an interview or two; all rolled up and delivered in a nice short easy to understand package. What isn’t shown is the countless hours upon hours’ worth of work that sometimes turns up absolutely nothing at all or the complete stonewalling you may receive from the proprietors of the location, or the lack of people that want to even discuss any experiences they might have had. There may be other times where you are just able to stand back and gaze longingly at the location from afar. The moment you set foot on the premises; you are risking trespassing charges because you don’t have the large network television bankroll to pay the landowner their absurdly inflated fees. If anyone is familiar with a particular “domed” area just outside of Phoenix, they understand this problem all too well.
Now there are the investigations themselves. Here we often see our team traipsing through the location, catching evidence in seemingly timed intervals, while perfectly framed on camera, that miraculously lasts the entire length of the investigation. Then there is reality. Just like sex in the movies, how it really goes down is nothing near what real life is like. Investigations can be incredibly boring, frustrating, or sometimes truly frightening. I have been to locations that I know personally to be very active and the only exciting thing to happen that night was having the pizza guy show up. I’ve witnessed a flurry of activity that can only be described as surreal yet none of the equipment had been unpacked yet. I’ve been to locations where the only unusual thing about it was how anyone thought it could possibly be haunted. I don’t doubt most of the evidence that is presented is legitimate, but it is pretty safe to say that the “one night” that we see on television is more than likely three or four with large crews manning multiple equipment setups.
Now one element to investigating that often fails to make an appearance on screen is that of the actual evidence review. We may see a snippet of one of the team members going through a few pieces on an audio recorder, but that is not the real review process. Each piece of media has to be reviewed individually: every camera, piece of audio, and photo. To say this is a grueling process is an understatement. To put things into perspective I’ll use one of my most recent ITC sessions. This was somewhat of an impromptu session, but I happened to be in a known paranormal location and experimenting with a new piece of equipment so why not take full advantage of the situation? I ended up with approximately an hour of recorded material. It took me four days to review (which even then, I still feel like I could go through it several more times) and the final product itself was an eleven-minute video with three of those minutes dedicated to showcasing the incredible views the location offered.
Now to take that same standard and apply that to twenty different cameras, countless audio devices, and who only knows how many photos. Suffice it say, you’re staring at a computer screen for a very long time. To make it look like three or four individuals can pour over this mass of information and cobble together this conclusive evidence in a matter of a few days is absolutely absurd. Josh Louis from HOPE paranormal is actually very good at addressing this element during his investigations. Often when he is conducting an ITC session, he regularly mentions that he tries to keep sessions shorter so that it is easier to review.
It may seem rather counter intuitive to try and limit the amount of material collected, especially when it comes to audio evidence, but one of the main reasons is that it is no different than any other type of work. You begin to stare at something for too long, you become somewhat desensitized to what you are looking at and something obvious can be completely overlooked. Keeping things short allows for a fresher mindset and enables the reviewer to catch more. Also, it is always best to review the material after some time has passed from whatever investigation or session that was completed. Coming at the evidence with an analytical approach instead of an investigative approach is easier to do once you’ve separated yourself from the situation.
One element that is often over looked at an alarmingly high rate is that of the post investigation. Not the evidence review portion that follows, but the actual life, that happens after the investigation is complete. The way television makes it look is that you just pack up your gear and head on to whatever is next, the location owner goes on about their day, and the world continues to spin. However, things are not always that simple, and the side effects from an investigation can be problematic.
So now that the cameras are off, the evidence is gathered, and the investigation is over, what happens next? If we are to believe what TV shows us, you move to your next location and start the process over. Once again, we have a case reality versus expectation. What isn’t shown is the absolute exhaustion that can come after an investigation. Exhaustion that comes from many different sources. Depending on the location, you may have traveled quite a ways on foot, or possibly even navigated some sketchy terrain and a full night of that will certainly wear you down. Then there is the draining experience that can happen when encountering spirits. Anyone that has been in those hotspots knows the feeling. We won’t go into the full details of how or why here, that is another article for another day, but the fact is that you walk away from the situation absolutely gassed.
But the most overlooked category within this category is that of the property owner themselves. Depending on the nature of the investigation, they may have long lasting negative effects on their home that they never wanted to begin with. The spirits that may been riled up during the investigation just don’t go away after the cameras are gone. While the investigators may have been able to walk away with some great evidence, the family that may be living in that home now have to deal with the repercussions from something they may have never wanted to deal with in the first place. Which leads to another potential rant for another day on how the aggressive, provocation approach has got to be one of the worst ways to go about investigating a location. In some very limited circumstances it may be justified, but overall it is a terrible idea.
Paranormal investigating certainly can be an exciting experience for anyone that may be interested in the subject, but like many things that get “mainstreamed” because of television, the real product is far different from that of the perceived product. The shows can actually be fun to watch, but always remember to take them with a grain of salt. Do not let what you see on TV be the foundation for what you set as your goals in the paranormal investigation process. If you do, you will find yourself more frustrated than not. If you are going at with the intent to be the next big network thing, then you are going about it all wrong. Make sure to have fun with it, explore your curiosity, and always keep a healthy respect for the other side.