Week 36: “Shooting a Music Video in a Haunted Hospital”
It’s approximately 7:00pm when the car pulls up to the main entrance of the Old South Pittsburg Hospital in Tennessee. It’s dark outside and Karalee Renee Brannon, the production’s editor and our driver, believes that we are in the right place but not 100 percent sure. She tells me the hospital looks different at night then in the day time when you can see the neighboring houses and people milling about. At 7:00pm at night it’s like a ghost town. There are no street lights but some of the houses do have the occasional solar powered walk-way lights in the ground. The reason why Karalee doesn’t recognize the building is because it is the front of the hospital whereas she has only been to the rear, which is where everyone else (probably) is. She quickly drives to the rear of the building hoping that that is truly the case.
I’m in the passenger side of the car with Karalee whom I know having worked with her and the rest of the Espeute Productions team on a previous production but this is the first production in which I was to be an active member of the production team. Espeute Productions is also made up of director and producer Daniel Espeut and musician and audio engineer E.M. Watson, whose music video we are set to film overnight at the abandoned hospital. We are filming the music video “Go Ghost” which is the latest single from Watson’s solo album. I’m excited because we’re in an abandoned and allegedly haunted hospital which is one place I’ve never filmed in before. When Watson and Espeut asked if I would help them with their production I jumped at the opportunity not only to finally get a chance to work with these talented film makers but to also get a chance to be in an actual haunted hospital. It was an experience that couldn’t be passed up.
There were several other cars already at the location. We got started a little late on the three hour drive from Atlanta, Georgia but we wouldn’t ultimately be the last to arrive. The exterior of the hospital was pitch black dark and Karalee warned us that most of the power in the building was not working. She said we were lucky to have any of the handful of pockets of power that we did. The hospital has three levels including a basement. The plan was to utilize as much of the location as possible in the one twelve hour window of filming that we had. Just a small order for an independent production.
Karalee was our eyes as me and two actors who came up with us made our way into the building first using the light from our cell phones only before we entered into one of the main corridors that actually had power (this was the second floor which would become Base of Operations for the production). Already, Espeut and Watson had all the equipment out and were prepping to shoot despite a huge amount of the cast having not arrived yet. Time was of the essence and we only had twelve hours to shoot.
I would like to stop to take notice of the actual facility. Before prepping for the shoot Espeut and I walked the three levels of the complex to get a good idea of how and where we were going to film. The third level was to be our main filming location. The red illumination from the “Exit” signs gave the entire floor a haunting glow that we just had to replicate for the actual music video. It also contained the nursery (which still had tons of toys and items left behind) and a long hallway filled with empty rooms to film in. The second floor (Base of Operations) would be the climax of the music video because of the reception desk and entrance hallway and for the fact that it had the most working power. The first floor (where the actual entrance of the hospital was) was in complete disarray with little power. The library (as I like to call it) still contained shelves and shelves of old books and magazines and comics as well as audio books (on cassette) and tons of CDs; most of these items had been thrown all over the room covering the floor. There was also a place I liked to call the “garden” where there were bags of top soil and planters but no real plants; it was as if someone brought the plants from outside inside and left them to rot in this one room. The “garden” was next to the “clothing” room which housed tons of unwanted and left behind clothes thrown everywhere. The first floor was not a place we were going to film not just because it would take a long time to run power down to the floor but because this was the place that had been truly forgotten to rot away with time. The kitchen and entrance to the basement were also on this level and of interest to film in but they presented their own set of problems.
Since we were still waiting on several actors to arrive Karalee, myself and the rest of the crew started prepping for the first shot of the evening. If you don’t already know, the first shot of any production is always the hardest and takes the longest. This shot and sequence would feature Watson in the haunted hallways of the hospital and cover most of the music video (to be spliced with all the other shots that Espeut had mapped out). It took us a while to get the lighting right for this. We wanted to maintain the red halo of the whole floor but also light it so it could also be seen and functional for a film production. Espeut was very hands on for this (and it shows in the final result). We muscled through that first sequence and it was actually quite exhilarating watching both Espeut and Watson do what they do best which is make good music and good movies. Despite our small crew everyone was dedicated and once this first sequence was complete the rest of the night’s filming fell in line like a tumbler.
The thing about music videos is that they need a “hook” to sustain them. It’s not just the song and it’s definitely not the performer (as I’ve seen many that don’t even feature the performer) but it is the theme and style that is chosen that makes a music video successful. For this Watson has chosen to surround himself by the specter of a haunted hospital and the darkness of an abandoned building filled with its own ghosts. Espeut brings something to the table I’ve never seen. I’ve previously only seen his work on the feature documentary GreasePaint, the short documentary Raised in the South of Normal, and the one-take music video “Don’t Be Judgin’ Me” (also based on an E.M. Watson song). With this production Espeut uses canted angles and stylized lighting choices and a lot of handheld cinematography, so, in other words, he’s making a horror movie which is exactly what this production needs in order to be effective. This is a far cry from everything he’s done previously and proves he can change styles according to each particular production.
I discovered something about myself on this production as well. As I was acting as Gaffer/Best Boy (and generally anything else needed just like Karalee) I also took it upon myself to also contribute in the art direction of the production and I found it quite fun. Setting the scene and the atmosphere of each sequence with what I called “found items” was exhilarating and thought provoking. Each sequence from the abandoned hallways to the nursery to the operating room had to have their own look and feel and that wasn’t necessarily easy considering the state each of the locations (it is an abandoned hospital after all) had been left in. The great thing about the hospital is that there is not only hundreds of items that had been left behind to rot but newer items left behind from previous productions. I had the perfect choice of items to add and augment to the set giving it that haunted look and feel. I had never really done this on any other film but my own and that was out of necessity; I really enjoyed this aspect of the production – creating the physical world of the characters down to the smallest details was fun. It’s something I hope to get the chance to do again on someone else’s production (and not my own).
The rest of the night was long but was worth it. The rest of the cast arrived and were made up of different ghosts and ghouls for the production. The nursery is a standout for many of the ghosts but Espeut also wanted to make sure that each ghost had their own special moments in the production. A lot of care was taken to inhabit the world of “Go Ghost” with as much terror and haunting imagery.
This production had a great group of individuals that came together to produce a wonderful project that everyone can be proud of. At the end of the night, as I watched people slowly drift away and the crew strike equipment to be packed back up into the van it dawned on me that I never experienced a single paranormal event. I take that as a sign of comfort that the ghosts of Old South Pittsburg Hospital didn’t mind that we borrowed their home for an evening. I did try to return everything I borrowed back it its rightful place.
Maybe, since I enjoyed my experience there so much they’ll let me visit again one day.
To watch the E.M. Watson music video “Go Ghost” go here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtZoLpgdgHs
You can learn more about Espeute Productions at http://www.espeute.com/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/EspeuteProductions/?fref=ts To view photos from the shoot you can visit Instagram at #espeuteproductions or Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/kevinlpowers/espeute-productions-go-ghost-music-video/