The story of how a successful podcast was turned into a movie: introducing the tale behind The ParaPod Movie.
On a desperately cold winter’s night three years ago, I stood outside a former council house in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, and made a decision. I’d been doing The ParaPod podcast for a couple of years, and it had been a big success. The simple premise of a believer in the paranormal arguing with a hardened skeptic about the existence of ghosts had captured the imagination of a big audience, and we had accrued millions of downloads and a charmingly obsessive audience.
I’m the skeptic side of it by the way, just in case you worried you were reading the words of a deluded maniac. That role is filled by Barry Dodds, my adversary on the show. He’s a stand-up comic, as I used to be, and is the most gullible person I’ve ever met, accepting all sorts of weird and wonderful stories on the most basic level of trust. It makes for a funny show.
I’d succumbed to the rather obvious idea of trying to convert it into a television project, which is how I found myself outside 30 East Drive, which claims to be the home of the most violent poltergeist ever. So, in front of the cameras, as we filmed a speculative pilot version, I threw marbles, pretended I could see things, and moved random objects, whilst my co-host slowly lost his mind at finally experiencing “paranormal activity”.
After seven hours of gathering footage, as we stood outside having a break, I faced the truth that this wasn’t a viable TV project. The cover would be blown in the first episode. It was Barry taking it seriously and me messing about. Where do you go with that in week two? I said that we shouldn’t be making a TV show, we should be making a film. I’m sure that somewhere in the world, lightning cracked loud. It was a stupid idea, but I like stupid ideas. The motto “but why not?” was immediately born.
You hear of so many films that were filmed on phones, or made for a tenner or whatever, and The ParaPod had managed to grow and sustain itself as a truly independent podcast from incentivised donations and merch (I decline adverts or sponsorship on podcasts). It was just a matter of applying the same accidental strategy to a larger project. On the following week’s podcast, we stated our ambition and offered a movie credit to anyone who donated a tenner. That’s what got the ball rolling.
Very soon, in a moment of bizarre kismet, Bil Bungay got in touch with us. Bil has been involved as a producer on Moon, the recent Diego Maradona documentary, and – most relevantly for us – When The Lights Went Out. That film was based on the supposedly real life paranormal events at 30 East Drive, and he had bought the house in order to hold the premiere there. Which in turn led to him doing a great sideline in renting it out to paranormal groups. Which was how we came to be filming there for the pilot. He was a big fan of The ParaPod, despite my relentless mockery of his supernatural claims, and offered to properly make up the budget. Just like that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very low budget, but still…
He was also insistent that I direct it. Beyond little bits of theatre, years ago, there was nothing on my CV that implied I could direct a movie. He argued that I was the ‘director’ of the podcasts (I think he had mixed it up with ‘producer’ – I certainly produce the episodes), and that this should be my project. Which I now know was an assertion that I should do everything, but it was cash to get it on the screen so I kept quiet and agreed. I also considered it a wise move to have someone from each extreme of belief in senior roles, that way I could present a more balanced take on it all. Well, as balanced as you can get when one half of the cast is earnestly telling you about headless horsemen.
Thus began three years of incredible, exhausting, often frustrating, learning on the job. Johnny Vegas kindly shoved his personal assistant Bev Dixon over to me so that she could help with line producing, and a framework of locations was put in place. The film follows Barry trying to prove the existence of ghosts to me, by taking me to haunted locations, just as the podcast has consisted of him telling me about them. It’s sort of an ‘illustrated podcast’, filmed as documentary, that very soon took an unexpected turn. Spoilers prevent me from revealing it, but the basic premise gets knocked for six and we continue on that diversion. We ended up with about two solid days’ worth of footage… Which is a lot to get into a 100-minute film…
In line with how the rest of this film was cobbled together, I first met the editor Simon Gibbs when he came backstage at a gig and offered to be the editor. The story is as simple as that. The whole reason this movie exists is because a group of strangers all said “but why not?”. He plucked up the courage to come and ask somebody who was out of their depth making their first movie if he could help. He may regret it now, after two years of relentless back and forth, cutting and recutting, both of us trying to find the narrative. Like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle mixed up with 20,000 random pieces, but we found it. Did we ever.
Three years of solid, labour of love work later, we showed the film for the first time at a sold out Prince Charles Cinema in early January 2020. There was a calm satisfaction in waiting patiently for the standing ovation to end before doing the post-screening Q&A.
In line with the independent ethic that’s run through the entire production, we have so far neglected traditional distribution in favour of taking the film around cinemas ourselves, making a whole night of it, on an ever-expanding tour. After so long creating the beast, I’m now letting it lead the way. It’s quite the adventure to see where we will end up.
More details on how to see the film can be found at www.theparapod.com
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