Hellier Producer Greg Newkirk Talks the Terror, Intrigue, and Goblins of Season 2
No matter how many paranormal investigations series you've watched, you've never seen something [...]
No matter how many paranormal investigations series you've watched, you've never seen something quite like Hellier. Both in its subject matter and in its methods, the debut of the first five-episode season of the series took the paranormal community by storm, adding infamy to the rural community of Hellier, Kentucky. One of the most mysterious moments of the series came in the first season finale's final moments, when audiences, and the participants, realized that, while they might be done with the investigation, the investigation wasn't done with them, confirming there was much more to this case than anything any member of the crew had experienced.
In the first season, paranormal enthusiast Greg Newkirk received an alarming email from a man claiming his home had come under siege from "goblins," only for the correspondence to abruptly end, resulting in Newkirk, along with colleagues Dana Newkirk, Connor Randall, and Karl Pfeiffer, heading to the small town in search of answers. From government cover-ups to alien abductions to the Mothman to mythical monsters, the series found unsettling connections to all corners of paranormal phenomenon in Hellier.
In the time since the original season debuted, the team has found all-new evidence and fallen deeper into the rabbit hole of Hellier, as new witnesses have reached out to alert the team to their own experience in Hellier, drawing them back to the depths of the Appalachian community, while adding investigator Tyler Strand.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Newkirk to talk Season Two, how to keep a clear mind when overwhelmed by bizarre occurrences, and, of course, the Kentucky Goblins ahead of its release on Amazon Prime Video on November 29th.
ComicBook.com: It's hard to be considered a "professional" paranormal investigator, but what is your history in the field?
Greg Newkirk: It's funny because people always ask, that's what they want to know, "How long have you been doing this?" And I always say 20 years, but the first five don't count because the first five was basically just fucking around. Me and my friends, the reason we even started ghost hunting is we wanted to take one of my friends out and scare him in a cemetery. We had friends and our older brothers and stuff hanging out in the forest and hanging Blair Witch signs from the trees. That dates it. Just scaring our friends. Then we had so much fun, we decided to go to haunted houses and cemeteries on the edge of town. When weird stuff started to happen, we were like, "Oh shit, maybe monsters are real."
We started reading books and reading stuff by Hans Holzer and going, "Wow, there's something to this, there's people who actually do this." We started to slowly, gradually take it more seriously. I started a website. My wife and I, we even met because we ran rival ghost hunting websites as kids. We hated each other. One day we woke up and we're like, "Oh wow, we're getting paid to go around the country and talk about this stuff." It's really weird how that happens. I don't know where the definitive marker is, it just kind of happened.
It's a difficult question to answer, because people always want to become better in their field, so finding the moment you became an "expert" in something that others enjoy as a hobby isn't always easy.
But the part about any of this is there's really no experts. People can call themselves experts but, "Oh, you're the expert on that thing no one can prove? Okay, great."prevnext
Standing Out From the Crowd
Over the past 15 years, there have been countless shows depicting paranormal investigations. What do you think it is about Hellier that sets it apart from its peers, whether its something you set out to do differently or inadvertently depict?
I think when we sat down and realized what was happening with Hellier, when we started Hellier, we thought we were going to be making an hour-and-a-half documentary about some guy who had goblins in his yard. We thought it was going to be pretty straightforward. We didn't expect it to turn into a much bigger thing, much less now something with a 10-episode second season.
When we realized we wanted to make something that was a series, we wanted to make it different. I don't think it's a secret if you watch a lot of paranormal TV — and, admittedly, I love paranormal television, I love it all, even the worst of the worst — it all follows a very specific formula. There's a three-act structure. The team rolls up, they investigate, and then they have a nice, clean end and they leave. Anyone who's been a paranormal investigator or done any paranormal investigations or even has done the real research knows that's not how it works. It's not convenient. It's not easy. And there's a lot of overlap between different types of phenomenon.
We wanted to show that overlap because that's what we were experiencing and we wanted to show what one of these investigations is really like when you're starting from scratch. And, hopefully, that comes across. It's different, for sure. People aren't used to seeing it and it doesn't really follow that traditional three-act structure. But that's the rub. That's how it works in real life.
Does the number of paranormal TV series make people more open to your work or does it turn people off, hearing that you're doing a paranormal series and them jumping to the conclusion that you're just people trying to get famous by running around in the woods?
It's really tough, man, because if you take a glance at the Amazon reviews for the very first season, you'll see that it has a nice solid, middle of the road, three-star rating, which is fine. That's great. But what's really interesting about it is if you look at it, 40% of those reviews are five-star reviews of people saying, "This is what I wish other shows were doing. I wish they would show this. This is real." And then the other people are saying, "You didn't find any goblins. No stars."
They've been trained to think that they're going to get exactly what they expect, which is, I don't know why, they expect to see a goblin. It would have been great to find one in the first season, but frankly, if you watch it, I think it's so much weirder what we find, and that's the phenomenon. It doesn't really work like that. I think people have been trained by the last 15 years of paranormal television to think that everything is very neat and simple and it's not. It's incredibly messy.prevnext
What makes Hellier a hard sell, but also refreshing, is that it doesn't rely on physical evidence, photos, or videos, with the audience having to accept the subjective experiences. Audiences have to buy into the fact that your team isn't intentionally messing with the audience.
Exactly, for sure. But honestly, think about this. Every single ghost story you ever hear, you have to do that anyway. That's just part of a good ghost story or a monster story. We could show a lot of grainy stuff. We could sit there and go through the footage and lighten it up and put big red circles around blobs. But that's not really the point. That's not really what we're interested in.
I realize how frustrating it can be for people who have grown to expect that kind of thing. But the reality is, things are stranger than that and if you can buy into it and just go with it and be open to it, like you said, the paranormal is subjective. To really experience it, you have to subject yourself to it. And when you can do that, things get really weird, really quickly.
All of these paranormal TV shows can thrive because they never have to prove with 100% certainty that the phenomenon exists. Until someone captures Bigfoot or a goblin and puts it in a facility for people to come see it, some people will never believe those supernatural events can occur.
Of course. And it's something that we all realize when we decided this is what we wanted to base our lives around. There's really no way around it.
It sounds like the people who give the show five stars check their cynicism at the door and leave themselves open to believe what your team is doing.
Well, it's funny. Anytime anybody ever, ever says anything like that to me, like, "You guys made it all up," I always laugh, because we're all creatives. I think we're all pretty good storytellers. And, frankly, if we were making it up, don't you think we'd have found something other than a tin can [in the Season One finale]? The can itself is weird and it gets a little weirder in Season Two, there's some weird callbacks to that. But we didn't know we were going to make a Season Two. We had no idea at the time. I always joke about how I think we could have definitely written a better ending than that.prevnext
Whether audiences loved or hated the first season, what can we expect from Season Two?
It's definitely a direct continuation. In fact, the interesting thing about Season Two is we actually started shooting it before Season One even aired. The stuff that happened, it was really tough keeping all this stuff a secret while people were watching Season One, especially people who are like, "Wait, that's how it ends?" Because we just kept saying, "Listen, the ending with the new email is not cute. That's for real. This was just a prologue."
What's really cool about it, is there's 10 episodes this season and it's the sixth episode that actually catches up and shows the release of the first season and everything that happens because of that release. And by the time they're done with episode 10, the audience is quite literally a month behind us. Everybody's caught up. And it's neat to see that happen in real time, but it's insane.
There are actual answers to a lot of the lingering questions from Season One. We follow up on a lot of the threads that are left dangling from Season One and it's a thousand times more bonkers. I always talk about how the first two episodes feel they like they are Season One. And then it becomes almost a different show gradually after the third episode. And the first episode is very much catching everybody up and then it's like a shotgun blast. If Season One was the fuse, then Season Two's the dynamite.prevnext
While you and your team are mostly hoping to uncover answers behind these bizarre events, there are some people who might see similarities to how some people might believe, to a dangerous degree, in unsettling and otherworldly conspiracies. One person you spoke with even claimed that there are authoritative cover-ups happening near Hellier. Can you talk a little bit about the differences between being open to the paranormal and having the convictions that there are lizard people in our government?
That is very much our mindset for the rest of those episodes.
When we start to talk to people in the town about what's going on, because that's kind of the back half of the season, is us actually going to this town, this Somerset, Kentucky. When we go there, the people in town, the normal people, once we start saying, "Is there ever any talk about weird, underground rings of people doing weird rituals and stuff in town?" They clam up and say, "I'm not even going to talk about this on camera." So there's something going on in this town. It's just a new version of Satanic Panic. And that's the line we have to walk.
I think people are going to be really scared for us when they see it. At the end of the day, the way that we end up dealing with it is — I don't know, it's very fresh. It literally happened just a few months ago. I'm still kind of figuring out how I deal with it. I'll tell you this, my wife told me to buy a gun and she's Canadian.
I don't know, man. I don't know. I don't know how people are going to respond. I don't know how they're going to act. It's scary. At any given point during Season Two, every single one of us quit. We don't really make a big deal of it. You can gather it from watching, but every single one of us at one point is like, "I'm done. I can't do this. I don't want to do this."prevnext
Just the Beginning
One of the more compelling moments features, I believe, Connor pointing out that the experience isn't "fun" anymore. It conveys that you guys aren't doing this merely to keep mining the well, but you don't have a choice about following these threads in hopes of answers.
I'm glad that we did because the things that we find out and the things that we do are, I think they are necessary and I think we were supposed to do them. We sort of, at this point, as strange as this might sound, we talk a lot about how we really do feel like we're making this project on behalf of something else. Because every time we do decide we're done or every time we find a dead end, something really strange happens to us that says, "You're going on the right path." So the synchronicities in Season One are nothing compared to what happens in Season Two. The back half of Season Two is ... I still have trouble believing it myself.
It's obvious that we're supposed to be making this. At least to us. Why? I'm not quite sure. Maybe we'll find out. Maybe other people will find out. One of the great things about Hellier is the fact that we release it for free. Season One really became part of the case because so many emails came in from people who said, "I've seen something like this. My grandmother saw something like this. You should go here, you should talk to this person." All of those things happened because Hellier was free. Now we're at this point again where we're going to put Hellier out. It's going to be free. As many people who want to watch it can watch it. Then we get to sit and sift through a whole other set of emails and contacts and see what this jogged free for everyone else.prevnext
If there was one person or figure, even a divine being, that you could sit down with and discover the answer to one question that could potentially cause a chain reaction of learning the truth to all the mysteries, who would that person or what would that question be?
I think we get very close to that in Season Two. I think that those questions are things that we get very close to. And, of course, there's an element of taking things on faith, but when you see some of the connections that are made from the information that's available and the things that we follow up on in Season Two, I think the biggest question is, what's the cause of all of this? What or who? And I think, what is a better question? And I think we get very close to an answer and numerous potential answers.
And that's really the great thing about where Season Two goes, is, like I said, by the time that we're done, the viewers are caught up to where we're at for the most part. And they have these tools at their disposal, as well. Anyone who wants to take what we have found and run with it can do their own research and come to their own conclusions and have their own experiences and potentially come as close to the phenomena as we do. That, I really think, is the magic of Hellier, is that it democratizes a lot of that process in a way that other shows can't or won't.
No matter how much you believe in the events unfolding on screen, there's definitely nothing like Hellier, which includes the ways in which the audience themselves can engage with the phenomena and explore their own research.
We make a great effort, particularly in this season, to give up a lot of the information that we've been holding really close to our chest. Whether that's people or places or other bits of information that people are then able to take and run with. That's the type of thing that, it's very tough to do and obviously because it's an ongoing case, there are some things that we have to be careful about and obscure. But the general data, people can take what we started and they can go and they can check it, they can verify it, they can subject themselves to it and see what happens to them and see if their experiences match up to ours. Because, at the end of the day, what we really want Hellier to be is the anti-paranormal show.
Everything about it is backwards. It's shot like a film. The fact that Karl shoots it in an anamorphic lens, it looks like an old Spielberg film. Stuff like that. You don't see that happening and it does a weird thing to people when they're watching it. There's a lot of people who don't think that Hellier's real. I think they're going to have a harder time with that in Season Two. If there are still people who are like, "Oh well, this is just all a scripted drama," I'm just going to take it as a compliment because, frankly, I'm not this smart. I don't have this much time.
And, no offense, the way you guys interact and react, it's clear that you're not actors.
There was a point where we tried to do reenactments for another project. We were so bad at acting, we had to cut it. We're just terrible. We're terrible actors. And I hope that that comes across. I think when people see that we're actually really scared, we're really scared. It's hard to make a real-time documentary about things like this and not really know where it's going. When we started Season One, I even told Karl, I was like, "Man, I don't know about this. I don't really believe we're going to find any goblins, man. And if we go do this, I like to do things where I can reasonably predict the outcome."
I couldn't predict the outcome of this. I especially couldn't predict where it goes now. I hope that that comes across even more in Season Two, especially because people can fact check a lot of the data that we have and come to their own conclusions.
Season Two of Hellier premieres on Amazon Prime Video on November 29th.
Are you looking forward to Season Two of the series? Let us know in the comments below or hit up @TheWolfman on Twitter to talk all things horror and Star Wars!prev