Recently Ricky Hess, man of many hats, and creator/sometimes director of the series agreed to quell my curiosity about a few things regarding the series, including what can viewers expect now that this series has gained the attention of Web TV giant Hulu, among other things...
I was working with some local horror filmmakers a few years back making short films and got the idea to make a horror themed web series. I have always liked The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock, so making an anthology series appealed to me and gave us the ability to expand our storytelling with different tales in each episode. We can explore stories in mixed genera's from Sci-Fi to fantasy to horror to suspense. The great thing about anthology series is that it has mass appeal to a wider range of people. If one episode doesn't float your boat, another probably will.
Did you know from day one that you wanted to present it as a web series, and if yes why this platform ?
I knew from day one I wanted it to be a web series. Having a digital series gives you an instant distribution on streaming media platforms and there are no restrictions on episode lengths or content for that matter. Web series are the new digital frontier in film making and are available on so many devices it seemed a great way to showcase your content and reach a wide audience. With high definition cameras being so affordable now, there are literally thousands of web series being produced every year. Our goal from the beginning was to produce as high quality production as we possibly could given our parameters. We have been very fortunate in having some great talent and crew who come on board the project with that goal in mind also. We have even had Grammy and Emmy award winning artists that wanted to help on an episode or two. We have always been proud of the fact we use all local mega talented Atlanta artists to produce the series. It is more of a community project that way.
Horror Hotel is a series that should appeal to a wide range of audiences and in the first season has shown itself to be a horror series that families can share, was this intentional and if so why did you choose this route it truly is at this point the road less taken in the genre??
The family friendly format was intentional from the beginning. We wanted the greatest appeal to be in the story telling itself and not just rely on visual stimulation to carry it off. Again, our model was the older anthology series which were able to cross generations and avoid offensive content yet still maintain an edginess and surprise the audience with twisted endings and ironic outcomes. We put the story first and use the visuals to enhance it as much as possible. This also really helps in distribution possibilities as it widens the number of places it can be placed and viewed. Not placing restrictions on the content just made sense.
The series features several really smart choices in my opinion, choice to set the series in one local, with a few recurring story elements and characters which seems like it would help make series more cohesive as well as help keep production cost down, was that part of the thought process going in and how long did it take you to find the right setting??
Well, the series is set in one local as you say. Basically a motel room. Nearly all of the action and filming takes place inside that room, which makes writing the stories a challenge. Trying to come up with clever ideas that will hold an audience and keep it inside a motel room. We initially explored the possibility of using a real motel room somewhere to film but quickly discarded that because the rooms were not big enough, there was too much noise, etc. It wasn't going to work. The solution was to build our own custom set which we did. We built a small but workable motel set in the basement of a house with breakaway walls like a theatre set. Since it is underground the noise problem was solved. We even built some exterior walls to set up for outside the room scenes that keeps us from going on location to do simple outside shots. We do have an actual motel that we can utilize on a limited basis for establishing shots. To help expand our world a little more, we built a miniature motel model to scale with model cars, etc that we use for miniature photography. You can see it in first season episode "Invader" and extensively in second season episode "Aliens Stole My Boyfriend". There we custom built a 'space buggy' that crash lands on the parking lot of the motel. It is quite realistic and we were totally delighted with the way it turned out.
As far as recurring characters, we have one, Al Sharko played by the talented James Edward Thomas. Who by the way actually appeared in the 80's Twilight Zone remake series. Sharko is a shady character who pops in and out of some of the episodes usually conducting some nefarious business transactions with guests at the motel. Having a recurring character at all in an anthology series is more of a rarity and it was actually happenstance. Our writer Al Hess first introduced him in "Houdini's Hand". He discovered the character was a perfect addition to a number of the other episodes as a indication that there was a shady deal going down because Al Sharko is involved. Jim does play another character in first season as sci-fi writer Rodney Silvers in episode "Invader". Much like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, we do use some actors in several different episodes.
We were fortunate enough to be able to self fund the series and will continue to do so. Web series are not known for producing much if any income. Streaming video, while wildly popular, has yet to be monetized very well. While there are advertisers out there, the revenue from it is miniscule compared to traditional television platforms. Their is very little money to spread around, if any. You make web series for the love of the process and fun.
The series seems to be a bit of a family affair with Debbie, Al and Ricky all named Hess can you tell us a bit about the relationships between everyone?
We are a family production. Debbie, the executive producer is my mom and Al, the writer, is my dad. They came on board to help produce the series with me. Debbie has a background in advertising and marketing which suited her for the organization demands of assembling together the cast and crew needed to create episodes and to work on the distribution side of things. My dad, Al, has written interesting stories for quite some time. He and I used to make up scary, quirky stories when we were on long road trips. He also is a fab carpenter and artist in his own right. He makes most of the clever props we use in the episodes even hand carving the custom designed space buggy from a block of wood. Together we all built the set including the carpentry work, plumbing, electrical, etc. It took about 6 months to complete. (we are slow!) I had post production experience, special effects experience, costume experience, created the series, direct and just about a million other things. We all wear a lot of hats to produce the series.
How has this enhanced the series?
It has definitely enhanced the series because we can communicate quickly and know what direction we all want the series to go in. Not to say that there are never a differing of opinions on things, everyone has a mind of their own after all, but we are able to quickly resolve any issues and keep moving forward. We know what we are capable of filming time wise, effects wise, story wise, so deciding on story ideas and locations and scenes becomes a quick decision.
What was the biggest learning curve in making this web series as opposed to traditional shorts?
Making an anthology series is like making a whole bunch of shorts but with shorts it's a one shot deal. You make it your done. With a series, you have to continually keep putting them out and make it consistent to content, quality, etc. We had to learn how to set the standards for that consistency and communicate to our crew who came in what we needed in order to keep that.
Horror Hotel has been touring the festival circuit for the last year or so, how has the reception been for the series?
It has been very well received in the festivals we have entered, around 10 so far this year. We won 4 outstanding awards in the LA web fest this year including Outstanding Directing, Score, Sound Design and Series. We were also nominated in 2014 by the Georgia Entertainment Gala for Best Short Films/Web Series for projects produced in Georgia. Our latest selection was episode "Invader" into the prestigious Raindance Web Fest in London.
I think the biggest surprise in entering festivals overall is how hard it can sometimes be just to even get in a festival. There is so much competition and competition from countries who give their filmmakers money to make web series like Canada, Australia and Great Britain. They have money to make series with lots of visual effects, costumes, locations and elements that greatly improve production value. Independent filmmakers in the US don't have that advantage. Now days, just being an official selection in a festival is a win.
Now that the series has been picked up by Hulu what changes if anything for Horror Hotel?
Nothing really changes with the addition of Hulu to our platforms. Hula is such an honor because it has allowed us to showcase the hard work of the 100+ people and growing who have worked on the project. It's fun to be alongside popular tv shows and have your series seen by so many more people. It shows that web series are respected in upper level platforms and that's encouraging for all web series producers.
I have seen several casting calls for the series, and think its just awesome that the series uses a lot of local untapped talent to say, and it had me wondering if you have ever considered a script contest for viewers to submit work as a way to showcase additional budding talent?
Yeah, as I said earlier, we use only local Atlanta talent with great return on their skill sets. Early on I had a series bible that I shared around with friends and even pitched to writers clubs, etc. looking for story ideas. I just never received the kind of stories we were looking for or that could easily be adapted to our limited environment. Crafting creative, workable scripts is an extremely time consuming project and we are hard on our writer, Al, my dad as it is. He submits many, many story ideas and even treatments to get the few we decide on. And that is with him knowing exactly what we can and cannot do. It is just much more expedient that we write the series ourselves, at least for the time being.
Well, we hope to continue producing episodes as time and funds allow and we continue to enjoy the experience. We are halfway through production of second season which is good. Distribution platforms like more than one season of content. First season had over 90 minutes of content, which is really good for a web series. Second season will be about the same. We are striving to up our game on second season with more effects, scene changes and overall improved production value. We would be excited for any new opportunities to come our way, but truly, we do this for the love of film making and just to have a lot of fun at it.
I would like to say Thank you to Ricky Hess, creator of Horror Hotel for finding a way to fit a chat with The Horror Nation into his schedule between the many hats he wears for the series. Its been a pleasure and honor. We look forward to watching season 2 and wish you and the entire team continued success in this great series!
To learn more about what Horror Hotel Web Series has in store for us in season 2 you can follow them on twitter @horrorhotel123 or for those who prefer Facebook drop by https://www.facebook.com/HorrorHotelTheWebseries?ref=bookmarks, give them a like and tell them The Horror Nation sent you!
If you'd like to take a look at the series we have included an episode right here for you, and have two more (Episodes 1 & 2) available in the recent review, which you can link to below. Or simply connect with the series via their website at: http://www.horrorhotelwebseries.com/