By Kat Mokrynski
Picture: all rights reserved
Boogaras, Shaniacs, and those in between, rejoice! Nearly a year after the final episode of BuzzFeed Unsolved, Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej have returned to their ghost hunting antics in a new show, Ghost Files, on Watcher Entertainment. Last year, before the start of the final season of Unsolved, I had the chance to interview the “Ghoul Boys” and learn more about how the series had evolved over time. Recently, we were able to reunite so I could ask them some more questions about their ghost hunting techniques and what fans can look forward to in Ghost Files.
Kat: So how does it feel to be back hunting ghosts?
Ryan: Feels good to shake the dust off the boots and get back out there! I feel like we’ve gotten as much evidence this season as we got in the entire series of Unsolved, so that’s pretty cool. And honestly, just very fortuitous. Perhaps it’s because we have more tools, or maybe our intention is better . . . I could actually recognize that that might seem suspicious, but it’s truly just good fortune, I suppose. Maybe in the next season of Ghost Files, we won’t get ghosts at all? Who knows? According to Shane, we’ve gotten nothing anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.
Shane: Yeah, it’s alright. We’ve had fun! It’s nice to be back out there. In some ways, it does feel very similar to what we were doing before because ghost hunting will always involve us just crawling through crumbling old buildings until sunrise, but in the same sense, there is a renewed sense of excitement to it. Toward the end of Unsolved, it felt like it had run its course. And even before this show started, we were like, “Is it gonna feel new and exciting?” And it really does! I think there’s a renewed enthusiasm for it. And Ryan brought all his new little toys.
Ryan: They’re not toys. But yes, we didn’t want to make the show unless we felt there was something new to offer or a new way of doing it. We approached Ghost Files with a ground-up approach. Even the way we investigate and conduct the shoots is very different than how we used to do Unsolved. So it does feel like a different show with, obviously, some familiar elements. Because you can’t change Shane and I – We are who we are, for better or worse.
Kat: So it was a conscious effort to make it a different style than Unsolved?
Ryan: Absolutely, definitely a conscious effort. I wanted it to have its own visual language that felt different, I wanted it to feel a little bit more cinematic, and I also wanted it to feel much more intentional in terms of the actual investigation itself. Not just going in there and hoping for the best, but really approaching it from, “Alright, let’s systematically break this building down, room by room, and make sure that we do everything we need to do in each room to ‘cleanse the house.’” You see that in the visual language of the show with the blueprints – That was a very intentional thing, more like we’re conquering a house and it’s a battle plan, as opposed to just walking around and seeing what’s happening.
Kat: As Shane mentioned, you brought in the new tools, or toys, depending on how you look at it, for Ghost Files. How have they contributed to your videos?
Ryan: It’s a different way to investigate! If you walk in every room and you’re just trying the same method over and over again and not getting any results, it makes you start to feel insane after a while. It [new tools] keeps things fresh and interesting and it keeps the big guy engaged. He’s like a big-ass llama you see at the petting zoo – You got to feed them a peanut to keep them engaged. Sometimes I think breaking out the Estes method or the REM Pod is my version of giving a peanut to a giant-ass llama at the petting zoo. Otherwise, you’ll fall asleep!
Shane: What petting zoos are you going to?
Kat: I want to see a big-ass llama fighting a ghost – That would be fun!
Ryan: You know, standard petting zoo fair? A llama there you feed it some nuts.
Shane: I’m not familiar with that . . .
Ryan: Or like a big-ass mule or something, you know? Anyways . . .
Ryan: The metaphor stands! Any sort of big-ass, sleepy animal needs to be fed a certain amount – Otherwise, it will fall asleep. And Shane truly does feel like sometimes he needs to be fed in these places. I’ve got to keep it interesting for him! Because ultimately, he doesn’t believe in any of this – That’s still the same and never has changed or wavered even a little bit. And he needs to be entertained, because regardless of what method I’m using, he’s not going to believe it’s real. Might as well keep him engaged until the day that we see an actual ghost in person, which will happen one day. I’m confident of it.
Shane: Yeah, that it will [dripping with sarcasm].
Shane: It’s not just for me – It’s also for the audience as well. We’ve chosen to revisit a few locations that we did on Unsolved back in the early days when we didn’t have as many tools. We just walked in, looked around, and were like, “Wow, this place is spooky!” So we didn’t really do a thorough investigation. Regardless of your opinions on these tools, they do provide an extra angle of fun in these episodes. The more little gadgets that Ryan brings along, the more fun we have.
Ryan: It’s the best of both worlds! For his side, he’ll have more fun, and from my side we’ll actually get things that I find quite compelling.
Kat: In our interview last year, you mentioned that fan interaction had a part in the choices you made for your videos. What made you decide to take it to the next level with people sending in their own evidence?
Shane: Because Unsolved was boring
Ryan and Kat: [Laughs]
Ryan: I mean, part of it was! For a fair amount of Unsolved episodes, nothing happens. We’re honest! When we go out there and investigate, if nothing happens, we’re not going to show you something that’s fake. So we were totally fine putting out an episode with no evidence and just us goofing around, and hoped that you guys would be okay with that. But for this show, I realized we could kind of have that same vibe, that same attitude, and then also have episodes that will always have evidence in them. It dawned on me that we do have this amazing engaged fan base that’s also interested in the paranormal – A lot of them going on their own investigations! If I were to reach out, there’s a fairly good chance that they would send me evidence that they have from the location that we’re visiting.
Obviously, this was all very conceptual in my mind and I didn’t know what’d actually happen. But the fact that I put out the call out and then people sent the evidence to us was amazing! It really was just a moment of being very grateful for how engaged and supportive our fan base is. Now we have episodes that will have us goofing around, will have us conducting honest investigations, but will also have very compelling evidence from the fan base and the Internet. It’s becomes “Ryan, Shane, and the Internet Hunt Ghosts,” not just “Ryan and Shane.” Because as you saw with Unsolved, we’re not the best at fighting ghosts. This often comes up in live shows or questions – What do we do when a place isn’t particularly active? Most times a place isn’t particularly active! Haunted houses to me are always like living things – They’re not like a theme park ride that’s going to be the same thing over and over again. That’s why it is amazing when we do catch things. But basically, we now have evidence from fans in every episode, which means we have evidence in every episode. And somehow, we’ve also gotten lucky and gotten pretty damn good evidence in every locatio we’ve been in the season so far. We will always have the arsenal of evidence to fall back on from the fan base, which is great because they feel involved and we’re thankful for having them involved!
Kat: Shane, anything to add to that?
Shane: I mean, it’s really fun to look at what people think is compelling.
Ryan: Jesus Christ.
Shane: It’s legitimately been very fun to see videos from a lot of our viewers who are chiming in and sending us spooky photos and videos that they’ve captured. It’s just cool to feel like you’re roping the whole audience into the investigations. We’re taking them at face value and assuming that everyone’s submitting them in good faith, even though some of them look super fake.
Ryan: Because they’re too good to be true?
Shane: In our six years of doing this, we’ve never once caught anything that I find remotely compelling. So I it’s pretty fortuitous that some of these look the way they do. But hey, happy for them!
Ryan: The thing is, we’ve done it for six years, but we haven’t done it six years at the same place every day. We’re going to film one random day, every time.
Shane: But it’s fun! We’re all having fun, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of belief. We’re all having a good time out there, and that’s what it’s all about.
Kat: On that note of fan interaction, how do you and Watcher, in general, use social media to contribute to your storytelling?
Ryan: A lot of that would be Simone [Malec], who’s our social media savant at Watcher. She’s just incredible at everything that she does. She’s really got her finger on the pulse of what people like, what our fan base is into, but also has an inherent understanding of what the show’s DNA is. So everything that she posts is very much her, and sometimes it’s quite clear, because she’s roasting Shane and I, but she has free rein to post whatever she wants in regards to the show. And it shows how good she is at it when you look at all of our social media handles, but in terms of how I’ve used that to play into the show, really the only way is using social media to gather the evidence clips. And in each one of those videos I look like an insane person, because I am, I suppose . . .
Shane: She started out making Unsolved fan videos, and at some point, we realized we were all very bad at social media. I mostly just tweet about Speed Racer, Ryan tweets about the Lakers.
We begged Simone to come work for us and do better job at everything that we’re terrible at, and she obliged!
Kat: So what’s the backstory for what y’all call “The Boonker?”
Ryan: No one had asked us that yet! Well, basically, we were off location scouting, trying to find a new HQ because we got kicked out of our old office that we used to have at the ‘Feed. We needed to find a new place. Office real estate in LA is pretty tough! Anyways, we were looking for a new place to do our investigations and we just came across this like really great basement/underground area. It was a Craigslist ad, so obviously, those are always a sketchy. But it was really quite the find! We got down there and everything was covered with tarps and dusty as hell. But once you took those tarps off of it, it was a little old, nuclear-era bunker. It’s similar to the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film when they go into the sewers for the first time and they find this underground headquarters which is ready to go – Very similar and lucky for us to find this “Boonker,” especially because it had the grid necessary to hold all the spirits of the ghosts in the Boo Goo Containment Unit which you see behind us.
Shane: We’re fairly certain that it was built by Howard Hughes. It’s about 40 stories directly beneath the Hollywood sign.
Ryan: That explains the tarps, actually, a noted germaphobe.
Shane: But the containment unit that we’ve built costs several million dollars a day to run and contain the souls of the captured ghouls that we’ve amassed over the years. If, at any point viewership declines for the show, we will no longer have enough money to keep them contained, and we will unleash them upon the world. It will not be great for the living.
Kat: You’re referring to the ghouls as if you believe in them, Shane!
Shane: Well, no, I believe in them in the sense of this very compelling bit of lore that we’ve cooked up that is very real.
Ryan: It’s actually not lore! It’s very much like in Monsters Inc. where the city is powered by the screens. Watcher Entertainment – Our devices, our Wi Fi, all of that stuff is run by the ghouls in this unit. It’s a Catch-22 – If we don’t catch them, we don’t get power, we really have nothing to run the company. Like Shane said, it’s very expensive to keep it going because keeping them trapped is hard.
Shane: Yeah, they try to get out.
Kat: I can imagine!
Ryan: And if this series ever loses viewership, we will just release them. That obviously will have dire consequences. I don’t know if you’ve seen the documentary, Ghostbusters, but when they released that grid, it didn’t end well for New York – Lots of marshmallows.
Shane: There will be Slimers, there will be Munchers, those sorts of things. It brings us no pleasure to report this.
Kat: So you have to keep that viewership up!
Ryan: That’s right.
Kat: With the “Ghost Files Debrief,” you’ve had some of the other crew members get involved in answering questions. How did you decide to do that?
Ryan: Oh, that was just because we have an incredibly hard-working staff on the show. They are all so talented and they do so much work on it. Everybody from the top down – Myself, all the way to people who are simply logging the footage to make sure our editors have it in time, Frank [Frank Parker, Assistant Editor], everyone has truly worked tirelessly on this series to get it out there. It was a no-brainer to showcase some of the faces behind the scenes that make the show possible. It sounds cliché, but without them, the show wouldn’t get made. So it just felt like a natural thing. Also, I feel like our fan base has shown interest in how the sausage is made! It made sense to give credit to the people that are behind the camera, putting in all the work to help Shane and I be dipshits.
Shane: There’s a big sense of camaraderie when you’re out there at sunrise, walking around an old building – You get pretty tight with the crew. And in the same sense, the edits on these episodes are very beastly. So Ryan’s in the trenches with the post team, who really work their asses off to get the episodes out. These episodes are also so much longer than Unsolved ever was! A lot of these are around an hour. People see us in front of the camera, but the whole team is just incredible. It’s very much a group effort. Ryan very much wanted people to know that it wasn’t just Ryan and Shane yucking it up. It’s a very, very talented, hard-working team that we’ve got.
Ryan: Yeah, it’s also just to showcase that it takes a village to make a show. And this is a show – It’s not just videos on YouTube. It really does take a full and committed team of talented individuals to put something together that long. I think that’s important to get out there.
Kat: So, Ryan, you had said previously that you were “demonic” about Unsolved’s tone and visual elements. Has that “demon” energy transferred over to Ghost Files?
Ryan: Yeah, without any doubt. If you saw the last debrief, I think there was a question where somebody asked Lizzie [Elizabeth Lockhard], “What’s the hardest part about working on Ghost Files?” And I think she without hesitation just said, “You,” and pointed at me! And you know what? Lizzie is a bit of a stickler too when it comes to visual elements. She’s actually just as picky as I am. But yeah, we have some pretty long edit sessions where we really try and get the show to be what it is. But the thing is, it’s not just me who’s that way! I was actually talking to one of our lead editors, Anthony Frederick, he edited Waverly and Ignatius and now he’s editing the finale, very talented guy. He said “The biggest problem with the show is that it’s good and that we all care.” When you have a show were everyone who’s working on it feels that it’s good and they all actually care about making it good, it lends itself to the situation where it’s like, “What if we did this one more thing or this thing? There’s this endless pursuit of making it as good as it possibly can be. When everybody is on the same page about that it’s amazing for the show, but you do end up working longer hours and you work pretty hard on it. It only happens that way because we’re all very proud of it. But yes, we’re all demons in that sense.
Kat: Question again about “Ghost Files Debrief” – Is “Cheekies” going to be the official name for those formerly known as “Cowards?”
Ryan: It’s a work in progress.
Shane: I think we have to audition some more.
Ryan: I was reading through some of the comments, I forgot who said this, but someone had mentioned that we should call them “In-Boo-Tweeners.”
Kat: Ooh, the “In-Boo-Tweeners” . . .
Ryan: Which is kind of fun! It’s similar to the wordplay of “Boogara.” Though “Cheek Splitter” is pretty goddamn funny to me. But you know, maybe people don’t want to refer to themselves as a “Cheek Splitter” – That gets you arrested in some places.
Shane: Initially, we call them “Cowards,” but then when did a short Ghost Files tour around the country, sometimes people would come up to the microphone and identify themselves as a “Coward” and it felt wrong. It felt really wrong.
Kat: It’s kind of funny listening to that out of context, some fan coming up like “Hi, I’m a coward and . . .”
Ryan: It is. It is very sad. We need to come up with a better name. I am equally delighted by a fan coming up and saying, “Hi, my name is this and I’m a ‘Cheek Spliiter’.” Very funny. A “Cheeky.” But I don’t know. We’ll figure something out!
Shane: I think the lack of a definite name here speaks to these people’s indecisiveness – You got to pick a side!
Ryan: They had a really cool name for Blade, that vampire who could walk in the daylight – They called him “Daywalker.” I thought that was pretty fucking cool. We could just call them “Daywalkers.”
Shane: I’m gonna veto that one. I’m sorry. We have a P.O. box [PO Box 967, Culver City, CA 90232] so people can submit questions via postcard.
Ryan: We should do that in the next debrief – A naming competition, see if anybody could come up a better name.
Shane: Yeah, rope everybody in.
Kat: Have other people do the work – Perfect!
Kat: So now some lightning round questions. Favorite site that you visited so far?
Ryan: Probably Alcatraz, just for the historic value.
Shane: Yeah, Alcatraz was crazy, a pinch-yourself moment. It was very hard to believe that we were left fully unsupervised, but not, because there was a ranger there the whole time. To be able to walk around, alone, at night was surreal.
Kat: Favorite ghost movie?
Ryan: Oh, man. It’s gotta be either The Orphanage or The Others.
Shane: I’m gonna go with a toss-up between Poltergeist and The Fog.
Kat: Favorite fun fact you’ve learned at a site?
Ryan: St. Ignatius was bought by people who were CrossFit owners. I believe that was one of the fun facts of that place. Weird.
Shane: I could think of some facts, but I don’t think most of them are fun . . .
Kat: They don’t have to be!
Shane: Gosh, have we learned anything, Ryan?
Ryan: I think there was a 13-year-old teenager who had made the swim from Alcatraz to the mainland. I learned that while researching.
Shane: That’s fun! It’s fun that they didn’t get eaten by sharks or seals.
Ryan: Well there’s a serious riptide there, too.
Shane: That’s a fun one – I’ll take that!
Kat: Favorite ghost story?
Ryan: There’s a one-liner – The last man on Earth sits alone in a room and then a knock at the door.
Shane: The movie with Christina Ricci – I was a big fan of that growing up so I’ll go with that.
Kat: And finally, dream site to visit?
Ryan: Probably the Stanley, but the Stanley completely shut down so that it would just be us.
Kat: Good luck with that!
Ryan: Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.
Shane: Wait, the Stanley shut down?!
Kat: No, it’s just that it would never happen they wouldn’t give up that much money.
Shane: Oh I see, yeah. The Stanley would be fun. We’d been there before but we didn’t get to do a proper hunt. Or the Tower of London, someplace that we could absolutely never go, like the White House. Catch Lincoln . . . No, he’d be over at Ford’s Theatre.
Kat: He is apparently at the White House as well! He travels.
Shane: Okay, we’ll get his lanky ass then!
Kat: You should come to the Tower of London!
Shane: There gotta be some ghosts there!
Kat: Oh yeah, you got the two boys under the staircase, Anne Boleyn, all those ones.
Shane: That’d be a fun one to visit. Any place that absolutely would never have us.
Well there you have it, friends – We have a lot to look forward to with Ghost Files, which will be returning in 2023! Along with the second season of ghost hunting adventures, there will be more shows available on Watcher Entertainment, including the iconic Puppet History! To quote Ryan, the upcoming Puppet History is “going to be amazing” and it will be “interesting to see what they do without that annoying host they used to have” [When asked about his rumored deal with the Devil, Ryan claimed to have no knowledge of the event].
Along with all of their shows at Watcher, Ryan and Shane have also released a book about their adventures during Unsolved titled BuzzFeed Unsolved Supernatural: 101 True Tales of Hauntings, Demons, and the Paranormal, which can be purchased on Amazon.
Watcher Entertainment can be found on Instagram, Twitter, tumblr, and YouTube. You can support the channel on Patreon and gain access to a Discord channel, early access to new series episodes, access to bloopers and behind-the-scenes content, and even some exclusive merchandise and events!
Thank you to Ryan and Shane for the interview. Special thank yous to Simone Malec, Katie LeBlanc, and Meredith Edmonds for their assistance in arranging and scheduling.