3 min read
This is such a silly story. I don’t know if I even want to tell it. It has to do with a haunting. And ghosts. In a hotel room... in Denver. And there’s a Goldilocks appearance in it as well. I played Goldilocks. This is so embarrassing.
OK… it is almost Halloween. And I wanted to share a ghost story on the road with you. So I’ll just set aside my inner ingénue, and man up for this spooky tale:
Me and the guys were in Denver, the Mile-High City, to shoot some legitimate stories. There was Red Rocks Park and a new Art Museum, plus some hipster downtown cafeterias like you find on the coasts… but with altitude.
Our local tourism clients were proud of their town and the streets boomed with fun, money and opportunity. Denver is the fastest growing big city in the U.S. with a frontier energy still rumbling from its Gold Rush beginnings in the 1850’s.
So now about those scary ghosts: Our clients told us of an old haunted hotel in town – there had been numerous ghostly sightings over the decades, especially in one particular room - 206. Guests had awakened to strange, paranormal manhandling. Some had even been a little roughed up. A few had fled the place in terror. It sounded promising.
Halloween was approaching and the network morning news shows always looked for haunted hotel stories to feature on trick or treat day. They might appreciate something like this. We quickly arranged a shoot.
The hotel staff were excited to have us and welcomed the publicity. They would even let us shoot in room 206, the paranormal epicenter of the Rockies… or at least downtown Denver. They promised to do this for us even though the room was currently rented out to a guest.
I didn’t know they were allowed to do that. Maybe they’re not. But up we went with our gear to the second floor where the hotel manager knocked on the door, announcing his presence. Only the sound of the wind howling through the trees echoed back. Not really. It was vanilla quiet.
The manager opened the door for us and we entered into what could only be described as… a hotel room. Vastly updated since its Wild West beginnings, it appeared the room haunted its guests with a coffee maker, mini-fridge and remote control.
No ectoplasm seeping from the walls. No twin girls asking us to play. Just a sign indicating it was a non-smoking space. It was fairly generic.
So… I figured we’d just spray the place – that’s video talk for shooting it from every possible angle. Then later we’d add some ghostly sound effects… and cut in old blurry photos. Maybe that would help amp up the scary factor.
We also tried dimming the light and swinging the camera about in a sort of approximation of Ghost ‘O Vision. OK, it was pretty cheeseball. But… most ghost stuff is corny, right? Still, the artist in me was starving. This room had supposedly witnessed horrible, unspeakable acts and all I had were Kodak moments. What to do?
Then inspiration struck. Since the earliest days of the documentary, filmmakers would… how do I say this?… massage events to create a more dramatic version of reality. Thus the re-creation was born. Not reality exactly, but the closest you could come to God’s world… on a budget. And they work!
Thus energized, I blurted out my plan: we would stage a late-night haunting of a guest in this infamous room. I would play the guest, snuggled into the king-sized bed. Then my dreams would be rudely invaded by a ghost or gang of ghosts who would appropriately terrorize me.
I looked to the hotel manager for his reaction to this, in retrospect, ridiculous idea. I was ready to convince him if need be. No need – he loved it. He immediately radioed in for more helpers.
But what about the guest… the room guest… the person paying to have temporary ownership of this space? What if he should return in the middle of our… art?
No problem, the manager assured me. He assigned one underling to stand guard down the hall on radio. Then, extending the perimeter, he ordered another employee to run down by the front desk and intercept the guest should he inconveniently return during our production.
We had suddenly transitioned from doing a holiday puff piece to shooting a caper film. Kinda like ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. But instead of George Clooney or Brad Pitt playing the cat burglar, it was… me.
As I crawled into the bed for my scene, I had a thought… while the hotel staff and I were violating any number of laws, why did we have to use this exact room? There was nothing ghostly about it. And we were just re-enacting stuff that couldn’t be proven anyway. Why didn’t we just move to a room that was… not rented out?
But the manager was a purist – he loved the authenticity of it all. And the drama. Perhaps he had been an aspiring actor before taking that part time job at the front desk many years ago. Like it or not, this hotel manager was now my producing partner and stationed his staff throughout the building to keep watch over his new baby.
I half expected him to take over and call out, “Action!”. But he left that to me… to execute this hare-brained scheme of mine. Who would I call out "Action" to anyway – a gang of imaginary ghosts? (As opposed to real ones.)
I Had To Dig Deep
…to find my motivation for the fear and terror I needed to project. But I quickly got it. We had to be at Denver International in ninety minutes for our flight back to L.A. That gave us less than an hour to summon the spirits in this room. And for me to convincingly frighten audiences all over America, while they got their kids ready for school.
We started shooting. I’m no actor but wave a red light at my face in a dark room and I can conjure up a reasonably terrified salesman on the road. I was all sweat and bulging eyes and blubbering lips.
I thought I was doing a pretty good job – the crew was OK with my performance. But… the Hotel Manager waved his hand to stop the action. Excuse me?
All eyes turned to him while he considered. “Hmmm”, he sighed. “It’s just not realistic”.
What?! We’re doing ghosts here. Who’s to say what’s “realistic” regarding Casper and Company? Should I smile instead?
No need for sarcasm, he informed me. As manager, he claimed to be familiar with the ghost stories in this room and felt from all evidence that the hauntings were quick, startling and decisive. I should tone it down. Use my inner fear instead.
I looked at the clock; the van was probably waiting for us downstairs. Ok, I’d do it his way. It’s his hotel, his room, his ghosts… and his job, if the guy this room belonged to should show up.
“Use your sense memory”, he helpfully suggested.
“Right.” So I did. I toned it down. I was terrified… but subtly.
Maybe he was right. There seemed a tad more dignity to his interpretation as I lay half-naked in some stranger’s sheets, in Denver, pretending to be haunted, to create entertainment for America’s morning news shows… that coming Halloween.
The Radio Squawked
A whispered voice came through interrupting my performance, “He’s here in the lobby. I think I can stall him.”
“Tell him about the specials at Happy Hour. Give him some coupons!”, the Manager hissed back.
We all looked at each other for a beat… like we had just seen a ghost. Then we snapped into action – I jumped out of bed faster than I had for the camera. Lights came down, housekeeping entered with fresh sheets.
I threw my clothes on and tried to clean up any traces of this afternoon’s matinee. Would the guest notice anything? He had paid good money for this room. Would he suspect that someone’s been sleeping in his bed?
I dunno but I was ready to run for the forest… so to speak. With the manager’s help, we tossed our gear out the door and stumbled down the hallway– cables dangling – to the elevator.
There, the door opened and a pleasant looking fellow stepped out.
“Good afternoon.”, the manager greeted his guest. Then to us, “Come, come.”
The guys jumped in but I hung back a beat to look – sure enough, he headed straight for room 206. Pleasant dreams.
A few days later, one of the morning news shows did in fact broadcast our story. They said it had all the right elements – a great old hotel, a good story with lots of sightings and the right spooky atmosphere. They used all the footage we shot of the room… before I came up with my brilliant idea.