Expert Opinion: Paranormal Cameraman vs. 'Paranormal Activity 3'

on October 27, 2011 by Steve Robinson, as told to Boxoffice

pa3expert.pngSteve Robinson, Paranormal Cameraman.

When the first Paranormal Activity came out, I already had a job as a cameraman on Ghost Hunters International. I was like, "All right, you're talking to The Guy." I was full in the mix and I wanted to see how they'd do it. And the first one, I was like, "Yothey hit the nail on the head." The second one, I couldn't really follow. But the first one was amazing and this third oneup until the endwas spot-on.

Shooting for Ghost Hunters International, I've looked for ghosts in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Spain, France, England, Ireland, Wales, Germany, Italy, Romania, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Philippines, Malaysia, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, South Africa and Jamaica. I think I got them all, but I might have missed some. I was on the road for two years with my camera, sitting in the dark and just being ready to catch that something on tape. We'd be at places where whole families have been killed. We were in a hotel in South Africa. Two owners and one of their kids died in a fire, burned to death. People would see the ladythere's always a lady in pink or white, a female in a gown, that's one of the most common ghoststhey'd see her all the time and sometimes the husband, but no one ever saw the kid. They burned in the same fire, right? Those are the answers I look for.

Me, I'm a skeptic. I want to believe, but I need that definite proof. I'm always looking for the alternate explanation. But if like the guy in the movie, I thought I saw something otherworldly, I'd do the exact same thing. I'd cover my house in cameras. Even if I just got a light breaking, that's huge. No one's out there getting full manifestations. Maybe a lot of people aren't even open to the idea because it sounds f--king insane. The mother yelling at the girl like, "This is not happening! There is no Toby!" that's what a lot of parents would say.

The way the guy in the movie would set up his camera in a dark room? That's basically what we did, too. We'd set up a camera and let it roll. And a lot of times, we did it while people were sleeping, too, because the cast members would sometime stay overnight and sleep in these rooms where people were murdered and try to draw out what was there. You'd watch the footage and they'd move, they'd turn, but a couple times you'd catch a weird little pop of light. You never saw doors opening or moving. Sometime people would get up, but it was like they were unconscious of what they were doing. You'd see some weird stuff when we watched the tapes. Like they'd get up and just move something on their desk. We had a guy oncehe doesn't remember doing thishe got up, walked to the door and looked out, closed it and sat down in a chair. That's kind of weird. Nothing happened. He sat there for four or five minutes, got up and went back to bed. Sometimes people would wake up and claim that things had been rearranged in the room.

But usually, we'd just sit in the dark and listen. And things go bump in the night. You'd hear something and disregard it. Hear it again and go and find the noise. And when you got there, you'd hear a similar noise nearbythe same thing, but further away. And you'd keep following it and it'd always be just ahead of you. That's what they call an intelligent haunting: it's moving you around. It's messing with you. And that's just like how it starts in Paranormal Activitythat's really accurate. Spirits like to play games just like a child does.

If you can get a direct response, that's monumental. You say, "If you're here, knock twice," and they knockthat's huge. But the guy wasn't doing that in Paranormal. He was just hearing stuff. I've experienced a bed shake, but that's still not real evidence. We were making the show purely based on evidence. I had weird s--t happen to me all the time, but without evidence, it's just a personal experience. And you can't validate that as proof of paranormal activity.

There's two types of hauntings. An intelligent haunting is a spirit who consciously moves based on what you're doing. They're smart enough to know that there are other people in the house. The other is a residual haunting, like a ghost that's on a track playing on repeat. The spirit will walk the same path all the time, be in the same spot all the time. It doesn't do anything based on what's happening in the real world. A spirit is just stuck there in the same spot over and over. Nobody knows what makes one versus the other. From what I've seen, I'd say a lot more were intelligent than residual. There would be reports where someone would say that this ghost was at this spot in this room, but even if we caught something, the ghost wasn't where people said it was. "Oh, you saw it here? I saw it there." I'd say the breakdown is 80/20 intelligent to residual if I had to make a guess. The whole theory is that all ghosts want something or need something to move on. But the intelligent haunting, the ones who play with you, they're also smart enough that they can hide from you when they want. It's weird, like, why the f--k would they care?

Up until the grandmother's house, most of the experiences they were having in Paranormal were things I've heard a hundred times over-people have experienced all those things: the footsteps, the noises, the doors opening, the knocks, things changing. That was all very, very accurate. And also the way that the movie moves really slowyou don't just walk into a place and ghosts are running around. It takes time. A room will build and you can feel itit feels like the room is drawing in something.

When the girl got sick? We had instances where people would walk into a room and feel immediately ill. Once we pulled them out of the room, they felt better. Even I would go into rooms and something wouldn't feel right. Like when his friend went into the bathroom and said something didn't feel right and then he felt the claw? We were in Cape Town, South Africa in this old stone chamber where they would keep people tied up and tortured. This guy Barryhe wasn't sleeping, he was just sitting with his back to the walland we saw him in our infrared recorder. He can't see a thing himself, cause it's pitch-black, but he's holding this sound recorder in one hand and asking questions, trying to rile up the spirit. And then the recorderyou hear it, it's like a "crack!"it sounds like a rock hits it and he just froze. Watching the tape, it's clear as day that something hit his hand. You can hear it, you can see his hand move, and his reaction was 100 percent legitimate.

The markings in the movie, those stories are huge. Huge. People waking up with, like, a burn or a cut or something that wasn't there before. It might only be a one-off, but they wake up and see, almost like The Blair Witch, things moved around into patterns. And they're like, "I didn't do that." Again, it's just unexplainable personal experiences that can't be explained as evidence. But it happened.

When the girl's hair got pulled, you do hear of that, but it's not as extreme. People get tapped on the shoulder, blown on the neck, chills down their spine. And their hair pulled, but not violently off the ground. I had one in Sweden up by the Arctic Circle. A priest had apparently killed himself in this room. Go in the room, nothing happens. Go in the room next door, and you feel something really strange. And everybody felt the same thing because afterward, we talked about it. When I was in there, I was following one of our guys through this big dining room and, I s--t you not, as I was adjusting my focus knob, something tugged on my elbow really sharp and fast and hard. Not violent. But I stopped and there was nothing there. I know, I know for a fact I felt it.

And there's a scene in the movie where it's raining. There's a theory that when it rains, there's more potential to draw paranormal manifestationsit helps generate power. They used to use ion counters, and when it rained, the ions would grow larger. A lot of times when we were investigating in the rain, more unexplained things would happen: things moving, doors slamming, lights bursting. But in the movie, when it was raining, you didn't hear any of those soundsthe girl was just standing there.

Remember when the camera is panning and you see the light by the front door getting brighter and brighter? That happened to me in Slovakia. I climbed 300 stairs to the top of this old castle in Dolny Kubin. It's this big open citadel that's been turned into a museum now with old photos, drawings, weapons. It's 2 o'clock in the morning and as I was walking up, it started snowing. I got inside, turned on the light and there were all these individual bulbs strung across the first room hung one by one. I start shooting b-roll and walking around. I walk up these inside stairs to the second floor where people had seen these hauntings and there's these big metal doors. "BOOM!" The door slammed. No big deal, could be anythingcould be the wind. Easy to debunk.

Then the lights go out. I get on the radio and I'm like, "Hey guys, did someone trip a breaker?" No. "Is somebody else up here? Did one of the security guards come along?" They say, "No one's up there, man." "Okay, well, the f--king lights are off, so someone fix it." The lights come back on and I just assumed they fixed it. I keep shooting my walkthrough and then the lights go out again. Then they come back on. I get on the radio and ask, "Are you guys f--king with me, man?" Keep walking and I hear the creak of another of those big doors opening in the citadel. No big deal. Lights go out again. They come on. They go out, come on, just flipping on and off. And then as I'm coming out of the hallway to go back downstairs, another door behind me just made this earth-shatteringly loud slam. I froze and the lights went out.

And now I'm sitting in the dark and I'm starting to think, "What the f--k, man?" and I'm really getting scared. I'm like, "Guys, I'm out of here. I can't shoot, there's too many problems with the electrical." They're like, "Fine, did you get your b-roll?" "Yeah, there's enough here to use." And then all of a sudden, the lights came back on, but a lot of the individual bulbs were out. And then one would get dark and another would pop up-they were individually lighting up. They never broke, but they were turning on and off and flickering. I heard another door move and then all of a suddenboomit went black. I just sat there listening. In more than 40 shows in 40 different places, this was by far one of the most scariest shoots. And then I heard what sounded like footsteps. I don't know, it's an old building, could be something else. And then the lights came on again, bulbs started popping, and I ran. I just ran. I grabbed my gear and peeled out. Remember I said it was snowing? When I got to the main door, the light switch was still in the on position and there was fresh snowat least two or three inchesand no footprints. Nobody was there with me. I got downstairs and everyone was like, "What is going on?" I was in kind of a panic. It was just one of those unexplainable things.

Both of those girls started to see the ghost at the same time after the Bloody Mary thing. If one more person sees it or feels it, that's monumental. One time, we were in a Soviet prison cell in Latvia asking questions and I heard this woman's voiceand everyone else could hear it even over their headphones. We all locked up, me and the other two guys with me. I think it was a room where someone had hung themselves in there, it's in the show. The prison was small: just two floors, a bunch of cells, a torture chamber. If there's a lot of people around, the likeliness of something happening is much slimmer. So you go in in sets of three. One guy went to go get more batteries, and when he came back I could hear him walking towards me. I turned to get my shot of him reentering, and as he peels around the corner, you hear this woman's voice and you see his face just go bright. It was this strong, low whisper in Latvian and I don't know what it said, but I know I heard it. Those little things keep you going.

Most of the places we go are castles with blood and history and wars. But in actual houses, we dealt with a lot of children because they're supposed to be more sensitive to that. There's a house in Peru where the grandmother contacted us because she said her granddaughter was playing by herself, but talkingalmost interacting with something that wasn't there. She'd straight up tell the girl there's nobody there, and her granddaughter would say, "No, these are my friends." It's kind of borderline schizophrenia if you're seeing things like that. But that little girl in Peru, she was so freaky dude. She would come up to you and say weird things. She'd go, "They're watching you." "Who's watching me?" And she'd be like, "You're okay," and then just walk off.

She was about the same age as the little girl in the movie, like 6 or 7. She'd do the same thingssee things, toowhile we were there. She'd just walk around and then stop and focus and stare and be in her own little zone just zoning out. Like that time lapse in the movie? She would do that. She'd be there for 20 minutes and we'd sit there and look at her. What saw wasn't an imaginary friend like Toby. What she described was like demons. Very vicious, but still harmless. And she said there was another child, tooshe saw a little girl. No name, not like even a friendjust a girl. She said she'd see her sitting. Not doing anything, just sitting there. But she could see them.

See in Paranormal Activity, that girl spoke to the ghosts. This girl in Peru never spoke to them. She never said they spoke to her. She said they would just walk around. They were residual ghosts. The demon thing she described, she'd see in a chandelier. It would hang and swing on the chandelier in this one room. And there were these really weird old photos of the housethere was this one photo with an image in the back of a face that you could see. Photos are real tough to prove. If you look at something long enough, your eyes will actually start to see a face. They call it "matrixing." You see almost what you want to see in the shadows and reflections.

But this girl in Peru was weird because she didn't like to talk much. We would try to interview hershe only spoke Spanishand she would lock up. You'd ask her a question and she'd just nod or shake her head. She'd come up and put her hand out and you'd touch it and she would just nod and walk off. Her grandmother believed her. She gave us the history of their building. No violent murders, but she just said there was always something there. At the end of that show, we had to tell them that there wasn't any evidence. We told the grandmother, "Based on everything we did, the photos, the video, asking the spirits, we've come to the conclusion that there's no paranormal activity here." She just said, "Nope, I don't believe you." But without any kind of proof, it's just a story.

A lot of the cast members on the show, most of them had something happen to them as kids. It sparked their interest and then they began studying, reading books. Just like the guy was doing in Paranormal Activity. And then they'd start recording, trying to figure out what the ghost wanted. It shapes you. You're like, "It wants something from me." It's not like a calling exactly, but something is reaching out to them. And when they get older, for some of them it just stops and they forget about it. But for the others, it's a mission. They say the more you try, the more it happensit's all about reaching out. You could try 100,000 times and it might only happen once, but that one thing would be what keeps you going.

You have to be open to it to see more. People who'd come in and be like, "F--k ghosts, I don't believe any of that," the chances of them seeing something were way diminished. I was very open to it, but things weren't happening to me. I'd be in the same room as somebody and it would only happen to them. I'd go, "Why am I not feeling it?" The producers would pull me out and be like, "Hey, did you feel it?" and I'd be like, "No!" Sometimes a spirit would respond better to two woman than two men. Sometimes two men more than two woman. Sometimes a guy and a girl would have a huge night. It all depends. What it depends on, I don't know.

They say that spirits will attach themselves to an object, and when they move and take their stuff, a lot of the times, the spirit will come with them and they keep experiencing the same things. The trick is finding that object and getting rid of it. That's what my next show is: Haunted Collector. Our guy goes in and tries to find out which object it could be based on the history of the place, based on the stories. It's a new way to approach it. But typically they won't attach to peoplethat's more of an possession thing. In this one, the ghost was attached to the girl. When they left, Toby went with her. When he broke his back, that was all possession stuff. Possession really wasn't our deal.

We only had a possession once at the Black Horse Inn in England. The story was that this ghost sat there and drank. People would see it, it as just a common thingnothing crazy. But when we went in, there was so much activity happening in the bar. You'd hear glasses rattle. Noises everywhere. S--t was alive, almost. Something was there. It was really intense. This guy Barry went in and sat in the same exact spot where they usually saw the guy sitting and asked him questions based on the history he was given. Then all of a sudden, he freaked out. He jumped up and ran out of the room, just ran. We went outside and were like, "Dude, what's going on?" and he was like, "I don't even want to talk about it right now. I'm done. I'm done. I'm not going back in there." He later said what he felt was hands on his shoulderswhich is fine, you feel little things, I've felt a tug on my jacketbut then he felt something pushing into him. He said he almost felt like he was changing. Like something was crawling into him, like he was about to lose control.

This guy eats, lives, breathes, s--ts paranormal stuff. All he does is just travel the world looking. He creates his own equipment, he just works non-stop. He's determined to find evidence and his stories are insane. Like the claw in this movie? Once he was on a boat and he was pushed off and submerged and couldn't get himself up out of the waterhe thought he was going to die. He finally came up and he said his kidney hurt, he was having pain in his kidney. Then he developed this massive infection or a stonesomething bad happenedin his kidney, but he had had a dream about it years prior and it came to fruition. He had to have part of his kidney removed. But at that bar, he said he'd never experienced that feeling before, but whatever was in there was forcing itself into him. I've never come close to experiencing anything like that, but when you see his reaction, it's real, man. I can't say true or false, but he was so scared. And he's a very calm guy. But he f--king ran out of the tavern and wouldn't go back in.

I don't really understand where the ghost came from in the movie. The house was new. Or how that thing would have been attached the girl. I mean, there's the coven and all that. Maybe it was something the grandmother gave them. And when the stuff was all on the ceiling, that's a poltergeist. They say that kids can sometimes manifest the movement of things without even knowing that they're doing it, which is what Poltergeist was. After that is where I got lost. Oh, and the sheet? When there's a shape under the sheet and then it vanishes? I've never seen anything like that. And when the dust fell and it looked like it broke over a shape? Never seen that. Also, some of that stuff in the movie happened during the day. 85-90 percent of stuff happens at night.

As a camera man who did this for a livingputting in cameras and looking for ghostsit was awesome to watch Paranormal Activity 3. It was so cool. Because every day I'd get up and be excited like, "Man! We heard these stories and now we're going to be investigating all night!" It'd be raining and we'd set everything up and then we'd just sit in the dark with a camera. When he was just snooping around, that's what I would do. Sometimes I'd just go into a room and stop and wait for it to settle with the camera rolling. Just give me somethingI want to see something. And you could feel it: there's something in here, but I gotta catch it. The way he was running around? You're not supposed to do that. Sometimes we would be running cable and someone would be like, "Yo, I just got f--king touched, I swear to god," but we can't freak out because you don't want to scare it. You want it to come back. I'd pick a location where my movement was minimal because a lot of times, we'd be shooting and I'd hit something with my arm and the guys would freeze. I'd point to myself to let them know where the noise came from.

I get it, though. It's really scary when stuff starts happening and you want to freak out. At the end with the demon stuff and when the old creepsters are in the barn, I wouldn't be able to keep it together. That's something physical, though, that you're seeing. I've seen pops of light in a pitch black room, but that's all it was. Whatever those were, those weren't straight-up ghosts.

And because I've done shows like Paranormal Activity, I was analyzing where he put his cameras and figuring out where I'd put mine. When his friend came over and was like, "You need cameras there and there and there and there and there and there," I was like, "Yeah! We'd have coverage here, we'd run the DVR system..." and I started cycling through the stuff that we'd do. We'd run cables and cameras through these castles. In that house, I'd have ten more camerasI would have gone full-blown crazy. I'd definitely have pointed one towards that little door in the girls' room. Sure, it was for aesthetic purposes and to have that mystery to pull the girl and the babysitter toward that camera, but where we were, if you heard a story about a glass of water that moved, you put a camera on that glass and you watched it all night.

The Paranormal Activity guy's camera equipment was fine for the '80s. But now, people shoot with ultraviolet equipment, infrared. They pull chips out of cameras so you get more of a light spectrum. A lot of the photos we'd get where we saw weird things were ultraviolet. It was bizarre. In New Zealand, there was this one with a face. And it's standing not very far from me. Another one at a hotel in Brazil, there'sI s--t you notwhat looks like a walking figure. There's multiple shots and when you flip through them, it's walking through the frame. They say children and animals don't have this filter in their eye yet, and that's why they're also more susceptible to seeing this world.

And six hour tapes? That would kill me. Now everything is digital and they've crunched it down. Even our recorders. Everything's more sensitive. The equipment gets crazier and crazier. When I was on the show, there'd be new pieces of equipment coming in every week, like, "Hey, I just invented thisnow let's try it." The wildest s--t, dude, trying to catch anything. Waveform monitors hooked to cameras, flooding rooms with infrared light. You're still in the pitch black, but the camera can see you.

I'd say 85-90 percent of what we caught was audible. The recorders would pick up voices here and there that you couldn't hear at the time. A lot of it was a stretch, but sometimes you'd say, "There's a lot of us here trying to reach out to a girl who died," and you'd hear that knock. And that could be anything. But then you say, "Okay, that was good. If you can still hear me, give me one more," and if you get a second one immediately following, it's only audible, but...

I know people here in LA who say they have ghosts in apartment. They know it sounds crazy, but radios turn on, CD players won't turn off, weird things like that. In bars, I stopped telling people what I did because everyone's got a story. Everyone. Once that conversation started, that was it for my night. I started saying I shot boring commercials.

Even though I've lived through Paranormal Activity for real, the movie still scared me. I think it would have scared me more had I not been around this so much. When I got the call to do the show, I didn't know anything about ghost hunting. I mean, I knew what a ghost was, that typical "Booooo!" type of s--t, but when you go on the road with these people, you sit down to dinner and you hear all the stories, you'd like, "Wow, this is a big, big thing."

But because I have to shoot, I have to listen, I have things to focus on that keep me from freaking out. I get desensitized. I've sat in the darkest, weirdest, creepiest spots and not been scared. Pull the camera, pull the recorders off of me and sit me in the dark and it's a whole different ballgame. But my first show, we were in this huge mansion in south Wales just outside of Aberystwyth and I was so freaked out. I have to crawl around these tunnels where people died? When it was time to go in by myself and shoot b-roll, I made a PA come in with me. He was like, "You signed up for a ghost show and you're scared?" I was made fun of so bad. It's that anticipation that's way scary. It gets to you.

I really wanted to be that guy who captures it so I can show people proof. What we got was good enough for some people, but it wasn't good enough for me. I've been out of the ghost game for two years, maybe even a little more. When I stopped, it felt like I'd given up a little bit. The lack of personal resultsof things happening to mekind of bummed me out. I'm in a 60-meter well in Romania with human bones at the bottom, rappelled in there looking for this. I was trying so hard, and a lot of it was for my own personal reasons. People always ask, "Are ghosts real?" and I don't have an answer. I can't say no because I've had unexplainable personal experiences that have happened to me. But I can't say yes because it hasn't been tangible enough proof.

Towards the end, I was getting kind of upset. I'd gone to 31 countries and the results just weren't enough. But it always seemed like it was right there, that that moment was coming. You'd hear the noises, shaking trying to shoot like "Something's in here!" and you're so scared because you just want it. You're like, "I'm not leaving." But I was jaded because they didn't want to talk to me. I'd ask questions, too, I'd try to help, I'd investigate on my own before we got there. Yes, I was making a paycheck, but I was there every day to catch a ghost.

But I'm going back in for 12 weeks with a new show, Haunted Collector. That's it, and then after that if there's nothing, I'm done for real. If I'm going to do something else paranormal, it'll have to be exorcisms or possession or murderous rituals or something like that. I'll have to step it up. But after seeing Paranormal, I'm all fired up. He's running around with the camera and I'm like, "I used to do that s--t!" I hope I find my ghost because this has been exhausting. I just want a nugget. I'd be so happy. But I don't knowwhen you get that one, you want more and more.

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