Interview with Haunted Sunshine Girl
by Barry Meyer
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A Girl. A Camera. A Ghost.
There’s a crud load of pretty young things all over the Internets, vlogging their miseries and joys, and occasional guitar strummings — thanks lonelygirl15! And some of them have become quite famous — no thanks Biebs! As usual, much of the stuff is pure nose goblins. So many people looking for stardom, and none of them with near enough talent to get on the local carpeting store’s cable TV commercial. But then, sometimes you run across something that sticks out.
Sunshine Girl (no real name given) is a 16 year old girl (now 17), who has decided to start a YouTube video blog (titled The Haunting of Sunshine Girl), to try and convince her Mom, and everyone else who will listen, that she has ghosts in her house. What follows is a list of video entries, totaling near 300 in a 10 month time frame, where Sunshine encounters a strange neighbor, Creepy Lady, who shows up unexpectedly with foreboding, eerie warnings; strange messages and photos of people with pillow cases over their heads; a Creepy Man who attacks her, while she investigates her estranged father’s house; haunted house busting; and a cult-like sacrifice on a rainy, stormy night.
But, let’s not jump the gun here! This is no Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity. This ain’t no creepy, scare the skinnies off you type of ghost story. It’s really all quite unique. And that can be attributed to two factors. First, is show creator Nick Hagen (along with Sunshine’s Mom) who has crafted an idea about a Gilmore Girls like mother and daughter, who are just so having some paranormal activity around their home unit. The show is primarily spun from the POV of Sunshine and her Flip-style phone. And what is genius about it isn’t all the ghostly activity, but rather the relaxed pacing. It takes several episodes (all about 2.5 minutes in length, with some a bit longer) before we ever encounter anything remotely strange. And when Sunshine finally does share some of the activity with the viewers, it’s all pretty much — whatevs! It’s like, hey there, I’m Sunshine, blah blah blah… This is my life, and stuff, and oh yeah — I have ghosts.
This is the second — and key factor — that Sunshine isn’t your average TV show material. Yes, she’s wonderfully adorable and very cute — but she’s not the latte chugging fashion slave (or a booze guzzling teen mom in the making), who is boy bait for the all the floppy-haired high school Casanovas (or rather, Troy Boltons) who we find on every other teenage show. No, Sunshine is holding to no one, but herself… and her Mom, who she adores. She’s an individual. Strong, but flawed. And with a mind of her own. When she speaks to the camera (usually held at her own arm’s length), she has a geeky, bubbly confidence, and a quick wit, that is endearing not just to the boys, but as well to the girls. She’s like the protagonist in a Judy Blume novel, or that friend of the kid in those 70s After School Specials, who the boy has a secret crush on, but will never tell her, because she has no real interest in anything but having a good time with her friends. It’s terribly refreshing to find a girl on a show that is just fine with who she is, with no need or desire to be defined by anyone else but herself (now, that’s “girl power” for you Spice Girls!).
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl is a gem of a show… and yeah — it’s a show. Part of the experience of watching and enjoying Sunshine Girl is the wild response it gets from some viewers. Like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, and the many caught-on-tape shockers, it doesn’t announce itself as a fictional piece of work. It also doesn’t announce that it’s real, either. And this, of course, is by design. Part of the fun of these mockumentaries is the acceptance that they are not real, along with the giddy hidden desire that maybe, just maybe, they are!! Hell, no one went and saw Avatar and came out all steaming mad, because it looked so damn real, but was all animated. But, really, for a few good yucks, you should check out some of the, umm… non-fans of Sunshine Girl who work so diligently — with blogs and other YouTube channels — to “debunk” the fictional world of Sunshine.
I had the brilliant opportunity to sit and chat with Sunshine and her Mom, to have a behind-the-scenes look at their little show (that I predict will blow up soon enough!!) We talk about ghosts, h8rs, Cheetos, and how to be a good role model…
Mom – The way we usually explain it is Paranormal Activity meets Gilmore Girls, with a little Easy A thrown in. It’s a girl who sets out to prove her house is haunted. And decides to record the videos and throw them up on YouTube, and low and behold, people are interested.
BR – You know, I admire how you guys paced the show. You didn’t jump in, with the early episodes, with ghosts jumping out all over. It’s like a regular teen girl blog, and “Oh, yeah… I have ghosts…”
Mom – Yeah, we rally wanted it to seem authentic, and very much like people would be watching a friend. We didn’t want to complicate it. We just wanted to keep it really simple, and that’s what are formula was. Nothing about it has been accidental. It’s all been very specific and on purpose. We like to call it “unscripted fictional reality.” It’s not scripted. It’s all ad-libed. There’s a story and plot lines, but Sunshine does not have (written) lines.
Sunshine – Nope… I make everything up.
BR – No dialogue is scripted? It’s all you?
Sunshine – Yes.
Mom – Yup. (to Sunshine) You’re a genius!
She gives her a high-five. Then air-fives me.
Mom — A Skype high-five!
BR—Ah! Skype five. Our timing is off so, I’m swatting at thin air.
Mom – It’s all good.
BR – So, the idea behind this all comes from the show’s creator, Nick Hagen.
Mom—Yes, Nick Hagen. The genius behind the curtain.
Sunshine – He’s Oz.
Mom – He is Oz. And we were talking about this earlier, that he is totally cool with staying behind the scenes on this. You know, doesn’t feel like he needs credit for everything. Although, anyone who knows anything about the show, knows that… you now – it’s a show. So, he likes to let it be that.
BR—Speaking of that it’s just a show (and not reality), some people have really gotten testy when they figure it out.
BR—Does that bother you – people who get mad when they discover that it’s fiction – but still need to debunk it? Or do you see it as part of the whole thing?
Suddenly, Mom moves to the computer on another desk, and lets Sunshine take center stage. She taps away quickly on the keyboard, with Sunshine trying to peek over her shoulder.
Mom—I’m gonna let Sunshine handle that. I actually have to delete something off the wall that somebody just said that’s… been posted (coincidentally) as we’re talking about this.
Sunshine— Yeah, it’s just part of it. For me, it’s kinda like, I don’t get too invested in what people say about me, because they don’t know me as well – They think they do, but they don’t.
BR—It’s very easy to be brave and write nasty things – like call you fake – while safely under the anonymity of the Interwebs.
Mom—We actually filter the comments, so Sunshine doesn’t see the really nasty stuff. She knows it’s out there, but you know – she’s seventeen. Let’s let her be seventeen a little longer. And honesty, we were shocked that anybody really believed it was real. We understand that very early, like maybe in the first five or so videos… But, since unicorn levitated…? Really? Really?
They both have a chuckle at this.
Mom—We never set out for people to think that it was anything other than Paranormal Activity. It’s the Blair Witch Project. So, when people started getting really angry about it… You know, we didn’t put it out there that we were actors or any of that. Nobody would have heard about Blair Witch if they had come out and said “This is just a story…” So, when it came down to people saying “This is fake,” and “You suck,” “You’re all liars,” — we say — hey we’re actors. We’re playing a part.
BR—So, as actors, what then is next for Sunshine Girl?
Mom—We have a ton of plans. Halloween is going to be busy for us. We have more channels. We just launched more channels. We’ve got Uncle Tommy’s YouTube Confessions.
BR—I saw that. Good stuff.
[Uncle Tommy is a recurring character from Haunting of Sunshine Girl, and friend of Mom and Sunshine]
Mom—Yeah, it turned out that people really loved Tommy.
Sunshine – I love Tommy!
Mom—We were like – yes! We were thrilled! So we’ve got lots of big plans. Maybe, taking Sunshine to new mediums. Maybe see Sunshine in other forms… that’s all we’ll say about that.
BR—Oh, no secrets revealed to me?
Mom—Just a tease, there.
BR—How about you, Sunshine. Would you, or are you, thinking of moving outside of Sunshine and maybe taking a try at other projects or possibilities?
Sunshine—College is next year, so that’s exciting. But, with Sunshine, as far as that goes, we’re gonna keep going with that until people get tired of it.
Mom—“Til their sick of Sunshine.
Sunshine—Yeah, until they’re tired of me – which doesn’t seem to be anytime too soon, thankfully.
BR—And you’ve been at this for nearly a year?
Sunshine—This December it’ll be a year.
BR—So, you’ve got another whole year to do this, and then it’s off to College?
BR—A haunted college? Are there any?
Sunshine—Yeah! I’ll have to look into that.
Mom—The plan is to keep right on going. If the audience is liking it, then we’re having a great time. We love it. We’re having so much fun. We love working together. We’re best friends. We’re having a blast!
BR —What’s the schedule like on your show – shooting wise. Do you come up with an idea, and shoot? Or do you block off a bunch?
Mom – We usually go a couple times a month, and shoot somewhere between 15 to 30 episodes at a time. It depends on how complicated the scenes are. Like the sacrifice scene was all in one night. Kind of a big production – we actually brought in rain towers. We hired a special FX artist to come in – who was also the stunt guy — that Sunshine hits with the car [In another episode]. We had a special FX makeup artist who came is, as well, to turn me into the demon. That was not a mask, but makeup.
BR – Nice! Real production value!
Sunshine – Yes.
Mom—And that’s where all the money goes to. The money we get goes right back in, to pay for these people who are willing to come in and use their skills to make it all work. You know, it’s not easy to get a guy to let your 17 year old daughter hit him with a car.
Sunshine – Yeah… Hadn’t even had my permit for a year.
Mom – Hey Jerry! How’d you like to have my daughter, who hasn’t been driving yet for a year, hit you with a car? You cool with that? He’s like “yeah!” And we’ll pay you for it! “Yeah, wohoo!!”
BR – How many times did he get run over?
Mom — Yeah. Exactly! We’re really proud that we’ve been able to pay all of our actors and our crew. That’s a big deal. That’s where all of our money goes. You know, people say it’s really cheesy, and over the top. But, whatever it is – we’re trying to make a good webseries that breaks out and entertains people, and gets people to watch. We’re not out to say, you know… ghosts are going to hurt you. Or, that cults are “good.” We’re not trying to lead any children astray.
Sunshine – Well… maybe.
Mom – Yeah! Sunshine was!
BR – That’s one of the qualities I like about Sunshine – that it’s generally good clean fun.
Mom – Yeah BadRonald! High five!! Yeah, we really try. We try at making this as family-friendly as it can be, while still keeping it creepy. You know… Sunshine here – she won’t even wear a tank top. I’ve tried.
Sunshine – She does try…
Mom – You know, if I could get her in a bikini – I would!
Sunshine – She does… try…
BR – There was even a time, on one of the trip episodes, where an OMG slipped out. And you called her on it.
Mom – Mhmm! There’s a lot of people who watch the show, together, as a family. And we love that! We love that moms and daughters are sitting down to watch it together.
BR – Do you, Sunshine, see yourself as a role model, at all? I don’t mean that you set out to, or that you have established yourself as one. But, do you accept the idea that you could be a role model?
Sunshine – Me! I didn’t expect to be a role model. But, then, this happens and I’m like “Yeah! I’m okay with being a role model.” I’ll be like Lady Ga-Ga. I’ll be cool like that. Yeah.
BR – Good. It’s good to see that, in this market that’s saturated with all the Disney stuff, or Nickelodeon stuff, that you’re doing some good straight forward… you know… girl power stuff.
They both get a nice chuckle at that.
Mom – It’s been a happy accident. And she’s become a good role model. She’s brave, and she’s out-going, and she’s… different. You know, what you see is this girl – Sunshine. And it’s not fake. The ghost? Okay… okay, there’s no ghost in her house – you don’t have to print that if you don’t want to! Actually – who knows! There may be a ghost in our house. There have been a couple EVPs that we did not put in.
Sunshine – It’s been weird, yeah…
Mom – Not gonna lie to ya. Yeah! So, it is actually very possible that house is haunted… But, the real people seem so drawn to (The Haunting of Sunshine Girl) is because Sunshine is so genuine. The relationship that you see on the show is really the relationship that we have. [Looking to Sunshine and joking] You know, we’d look at each other and wonder why a camera crew isn’t always following us around!
Sunshine – All the time.
Mom – We’re hilarious! We should have out own reality show.
Sunshine – We’re so funny, it’s ridiculous.
Mom – And modest.
Sunshine – Yes. So humble.
Mom – Yeah, humble. And you can see, we’re both so much alike.
BR – I’m seeing the Gilmore Girls. You guys are fans?
They both nod their heads delightedly, and pump fists.
Mom – We love Gilmore Girls. And Veronica Mars.
Sunshine – [sing songy] Veronica Maaaars! For three. Short. Seasons!
Mom – Our two favorite comments we get a lot is that no mother and daughter has that relationship. And we’re like, yeah, none.
Sunshine – Yeah… none.
Smile… Oh, uh nevermind
Mom – And the other is that – couldn’t you find actors that look more a like?
To this, they put their heads together to demonstrate the point.
Sunshine – Really. My mother.
Mom – I am.
Sunshine – She gave birth to me.
Mom – Yeah… painful, too!
Sunshine – Oh my god. I wasn’t even that big. I was 6 pounds.
Mom – But I didn’t have drugs, though.
Sunshine – Well, that’s not my fault you didn’t get there fast enough. Jeez.
Mom – We tried.
BR – Yeah, see… you guys are so faking it.
BR – What shows do you like now?
Mom – [To Sunshine] Go!
Sunshine – Oh! NCIS. Nikita. Project Runway.
Mom – That’s just her, because I don’t watch NCIS or Nikita.
Sunshine – Nikita’s so good!
Mom – We like the new Pan Am.
Sunshine – Pan Am!!
BR – I agree!
Mom – We’re loving Pan Am. We’re still trying to catch up on Friday Night Lights.
Sunshine – We’re so behind.
Mom – We’re busy. She’s busy.
BR – Chasing ghosts.
Sunshine – Yup.
BR – So… Cheetos or Cheez-its?
Sunshine – I’m gluten free. So – Cheetos. They’re made of corn. So, Cheez-its, I can’t. Made with gluten, so… and Cheese Nips – the off brand. Same thing. Can’t eat them.
BR – Forget Cheese Nips. Cheez-its are the way to go. How about Cheese Doodles?
Sunshine – I’ve never heard of those. What are those?
Mom – That must be a NY thing.
Sunshine – Oh, NY… I want me some Cheese Doodles!
BR – So, you guys are not Horror fans, I understand?
Mom – No!! Not the scary stuff!
Sunshine – I’ve watched one horror movie, and it scared the heck out of me.
BR – Just one!
Sunshine – Haunting in Connecticut. “There’s bodies in the wall! There’s bodies in the wall!”
Mom – No, we don’t watch that stuff — that scary stuff.
Sunshine – She didn’t even see it.
Mom – I didn’t even see it. I saw Sixth Sense. That was scary.
Sunshine – No it wasn’t.
Mom – Yes, it was!
Sunshine – Like, three seconds of it was scary.
Mom – No, it was scary.
Sunshine – I didn’t even finish it.
BR – Because you were scared.
Sunshine – Because I got bored.
Mom – You should’ve finished it. Yeah – really, we wouldn’t have watched our own show!
Sunshine – No! No no.
BR – Okay — one thing we don’t know abut you?
Sunshine – One thing you don’t know about me…? Hmmm… [time killing sing song] I got nuthin’
BR – How about school – what’s you favorite class?
Sunshine – In school, now? Or favorite class I’ve ever taken?
BR – Ever taken.
Sunshine – Human Biology.
Mom — Isn’t she weird?
Sunshine – It was so good! It was amazing. I loved that class.
BR – Did you have to do frogs or anything like that?
Sunshine – We did a sheep’s heart… A cow’s eye…
BR – Wha!
Sunshine – Yeah, it was really gross. We had to take apart all these animal parts. We did a cat…
BR – Cat brain?
Sunshine – Yes, I think that might’ve been what it was. I don’t remember, but loved that class.
Such a nice lad…
BR – How about Literature. You like reading?
Sunshine – Love reading. Reading is super fun.
BR – What books?
Sunshine – Hmm… you see this is where – I like scary books! I like mysteries, and stories that twist and turn. Not necessarily like death and gore, but… yeah, I have a huge bookcase full of all my books.
BR – You’re a Jane Austin fan, right? Is she your favorite?
Sunshine – The movie Pride and Prejudice is my favorite. But, I love Neil Gaiman. He’s my favorite author. He’s amazing. Probably, Neverwhere is my favorite book.
BR – So, how many viewers does the Haunting of Sunshine Girl have now?
Mom – Over 11,000 subscribers. And, we also have a lot of viewers who don’t subscribe, but watch. It’s funny with that, because we think there may be sort of a secret shame for watching the show. We kinda think there’s a bunch a people who watch, but don’t tell, you know, their friends. Especially boys.
Sunshine – Yeah…
Mom – Oh, and speaking of boys… we’ve had a lot of trouble with boys hating Nolan [One of the newer teen characters, who helps Sunshine and Mom with some of the mystery and intrigue]. Boys of all age.
Sunshine – Adult men!
Mom – Yeah, so many will say “He sucks…” When the word they’re really looking for is jealous! The girls love him, though.
BR – Safe to say, there’ll be more of Nolan.
Mom – Yes, more Nolan. Also, more Uncle Tommy. We also have some great stuff coming up for Halloween. On the 29th (of October), we’ll have a special live event.
Sunshine – I’m wearing a costume!!
BR – You gonna tell me what it is?
Sunshine – No! You don’t get to see until you tune in. Gotta tune in.
Mom — October 29. Noon PST to see Sunshine’s Halloween costume. And…
Sunshine – And live Fan Appreciation Daaaay!
Mom – Sunshine will answer your questions – live. And! At the end, when she’s all tired and we log off, there will be a special… very creepy… scary video.
Sunshine – [Ghostly voice] Yup!
Mom – People will be able to write in their questions, whether it be via FaceBook, YouTube or Twitter. And Sunshine will take the questions and record her answers… Like, Barny asks…
Sunshine – Barny asks, from Jimmiestown, NY – what’s your favorite cereal? And I say — whatever it is!
BR – What is it?
Sunshine – Oh! Corn Chex. I’m so lame…
BR – Chex Party Mix at Christmas?
Sunshine – Except you can’t eat Chex Mix, ‘cause half of it’s not even gluten free. Pretzels. Full of gluten.
BR – How about substituting with something, like bagel bits. But no –
Sunshine – Yeah, bagel bits. Gluten, too. So hard being me.
Mom – I think you have the title of your blog post –
Sunshine – “Can’t Eat That Chex Mix.”
BR – Will there be any cross-over action with your other shows?
Sunshine – Well, two of the three are me, so the other is Uncle Tommy’s.
Mom – I’ve been on Uncle Tommy, But, we have some stuff planned that we can’t talk about yet, with some other channels. We’re starting to expand to outside of Sunshine’s universe, too.
BR – Now, Coat Tale Productions – was that previously established, or did that spring from Sunshine Girl?
Mom – When we decided that we were going to do more that Haunting of Sunshine Girl, Nick and I formed Coat Tale Productions. The idea behind it was that we wanted to do this and bring along all our friends along with us. Oregon film is a very tight knit group, and we have people who we love to work with. The reason we have Creepy Lady in our videos is because we love the actress Adrianne, who plays her.
Sunshine – I love Adrianne!
Mom – Originally Nick wrote Creepy Lady as an old woman. And I was like, “No You know who’s creepy? Adrianne. Adrianne’s creepy. Let’s put her in!” Uncle Tommy is a great friend in our lives, so we waited until we could bring him in, in a way that would work and we could keep him around. So, we saw Coat Tail Productions as more of a family thing. We formed an LLC and we’re looking to produce in new media.
Sunshine – And… what about your seventeen year old?
Mom – My seventeen year old?
Sunshine – Your seventeen year old producer. You forgot.
Mom – My seventeen year old is a producer, yes. She’s the third part of out little production group. She’s a producer – which is gonna come in handy when she’s applying for colleges. It’s gonna be like, “Yeah… producer. What’ve you done?”
BR – “World’s youngest producer – what’up? What’ve you done?”
Mom – “Four million views on YouTube – ba-da-doosh!”
Sunshine – [soto] “Ba-da-doosh?”
Mom – Yeah, this has been good for her. She’s learning a ton. She’s taken to it like a duck on water. She’s incredibly, incredibly professional. When we were at the creepy house location, with the Creepy Man –
Sunshine – Not be confused with Creepy Lady.
Mom – (At that location) it was the first time we had a crew, instead of just her and I and Nick. At one point, we were all sorta like goofing off, and we Sunshine here was like “C’mon, let’s get this shot!” She’s totally in this, making creative decisions. She helps with the casting. She’s definitely the one who had final call on casting Maxwell as Nolan – which wasn’t easy, to try and cast a boy who was cute and could keep up with Sunshine –
Sunshine – It’s very hard keeping up with me. I’m very riveting.
Mom – And could do the ad lib. Which, is not that easy. Oh! And to hold the camera!!
Sunshine – Not easy… Sometimes you get half the face, and other times you can’t even hear them. They forget that they had the camera, and suddenly [gesturing holding the camera at arm’s length] the hold it out and nobody’s there. No one’s in the shot.
Mom – It’s interesting bringing in other actors, because we’ve been doing this on our own for 8 months.
BR – Pros.
Sunshine – Yeah!
Mom – …At this style.
Sunshine – But, nothing else. We can’t do anything else.
Mom – I’ve been acting since I was a year old.
Sunshine – I’ve been since I was six.
Mom – So… we’ve been doing this for a while. She’s done a lot of modeling.
Sunshine – Foot model.
Mom – I’ve done a ton of voice over. Stuff for Nintendo – I’m the voice of Princess Rosalina, for Mario Cart and Super Mario Galaxy 1&2. Lot of film – What the Bleep Do We Know. Lots of local stuff – Oregon.
BR – Famous last words?
Mom – Thank you! You’ve touched on stuff that a lot of other people don’t get to. So… Please, everyone stick around for October 29th!! We’ve got some really cool surprises.
Sunshine – Thanks! Tune in!!
Barry Meyer Barry Meyer was born to the world as the first scientifically produced Cathode Tube baby. He’s a film critic, videographer, editor, and writer, residing in Jamestown, NY.
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