If You Want to Be on a Paranormal TV Show

Many of my readers are eager to star in a TV series.

Here’s what you need to know.

One of the main resources for media exposure is Help a Reporter Out, aka “HARO.”

Remember, those listings are not screened or verified. You could be talking to some creepy guy with no media connections at all.

Never give out personal contact information unless you have confirmed the person’s professional references.  Call the network, production company, or publisher to verify the contact information for that person.

Got a job offer? Get everything in writing.  Make sure it’s very specific about what you’re expected to do, for how much money, and exactly when you’ll be paid.

Know the risks.  Another producer offered me a part on a new TV show.  She said it was going to be a serious, academic show.

The production company bought my plane ticket, said they’d reserved an upscale hotel room for me, and promised I’d have a full-time chauffeur during the filming.

Everything seemed ideal.

Then, right before I got on the plane, someone on the production crew blundered.  She told me the show’s real name. It was far from academic.

I cancelled.

So, make sure your contract says exactly which show you’re being filmed for.  Don’t give the production company (or the network) free rein to use your interview or appearance in any show they like.

Listen to the producers’ questions. 

  • Are they too eager to believe your story?  Suspect false sincerity.
  • Are they fishing for drama where they wasn’t any?  It’s one thing to build a good story that engages viewers.  It’s another to turn your experience into something far more extreme (and ridiculous) than it was.
  • Are they digging for something to discredit you, or portray you as someone unstable?  Of course, producers want to avoid guests that could be a liability.

Jason Gowin (from Extreme Paranormal) said this after his confidentiality agreement had expired:

Realize that nothing you do on television will be safe from manipulation… Rest assured, you are there to make money for them, not be a beacon of integrity. [Link]

Pay attention to your gut feeling.  If something doesn’t seem right, maybe it isn’t.

Don’t expect fame for yourself or your paranormal investigating team.  Most TV shows avoid guests who might profit from a TV appearance. Producers may edit out anything that might help your career.  Expect that.

A paycheck is not guaranteed.  The producers’ (and the networks’) explanation is: A paid appearance could be misunderstood as a performance.

Many TV shows will get around this by offering to pay for your travel expenses and give you a “per diem” to cover additional out-of-pocket costs.

The per diem could barely cover meals from McD’s dollar menu.  Or, the per diem might pay for a nice big TV, to watch yourself later, when you’re on the show.

Generally, producers won’t tell you how much the per diem will be, unless you insist on it in the contract. Expect a tiny per diem, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re going to be a cast member on a series, make sure you earn enough to cover your monthly bills.

I have a firm policy of not asking friends how much they earn from their shows.  I don’t want to know.  I already feel sorry for how much privacy they’ve given up, and how much they’re away from their families.

  • According to rumors, many stars earned a low four-figures, per episode, sometimes working seven days a week and 10- to 12-hour days.
  • I’ve heard that supporting cast members (not the two or three stars) earned about $500/episode. I hope I’m wrong about that.

You can be on TV if you really want to be.

If you’ve read this far, you probably think fame is worth the risks.

The first thing to consider is your strategy. Sometimes it’s easy to get on ghost-related TV shows. Sometimes, it’s easier to get on another kind of TV show, and use that as a credential to get on the show you want.  That’s why you’ll look at opportunities far beyond paranormal shows.

Start with the following resources.

Resources

I recommend HARO lists (linked above) and sites like RealityWanted.com (Sites like that appear and disappear rapidly. If you’re not dealing directly with the network, always be sure you’re talking with a reputable company.)

Also check network-specific webpages, such as casting calls for SyFy, MTV, ABC, VH1, TLC, HGTV, BBC (UK).

(You never know when a network will take an interest in paranormal programming.  I recall an episode of a food-related TV show where people competed by preparing ghost-themed cakes… and a real paranormal investigator was among the judges.)

You may find even more casting calls at production companies’ websites, such as Pilgrim (Ghost Hunters, etc.).

References

Get advice from experts.  Don’t leap into this field unprepared!  You may have just one chance to be on (or pitch) the show of your dreams.  Get it right the first time.

  • The 2006 book, Get on TV, is still one of the most popular books on this subject.  It’s not specifically about reality shows. It teaches you how to build a career by being on a wide range of TV shows.  If being a TV star has been your life-long goal, this book is worth reading.
  • If you’re interested in reality TV and you’d like to be a guest, a star, a producer or a writer, you’ll want to read Reality TV: An Insider Guide to TV’s Hottest Market.  This 2011 book gives you a good overview plus specific advice, and earns rave reviews from people in the industry.
  • This next book is by the winner of Big Brother 10 (U.S.), Dan Gheesling:  How to Get On Reality TV.  And, since it’s a Kindle book, you can download and read it immediately.

There are other books about this subject, but those look most useful.

 

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Talking About Ghosts – Checklist

For many years, I’ve spoken to groups of all ages, kinds and sizes. It’s a delight to tell people about this field.

I’ve learned a lot about what to say (and what not to say) and when to say it. I hope this checklist helps you when you’re asked to speak in public, too.

Remember: You don’t have to include everything from this list.  It’s a guideline to make presentations easier.

CHECKLIST

1. Introduction

  • Your name (or the name you use for this work) and where you are from.
  • How long you have been involved in paranormal research.
  • Why you began this research.
  • If you have a specialty, what it is and why it is important to this research.

2. About your team (if you are part of one)

  • Name of your team, where it is based, and the area you cover.
  • How long your team has been researching.
  • Introduce team members by name and specialties, if they are with you.
  • What services you provide to the public (investigations, training, talks like this one) and how much — if anything — you charge.

3. The tools you use

  • Hold up each tool and explain what it is called, what it does, and how often you use it in your work.
  • Describe what you have brought with you to demonstrate (such as how an EMF meter works) or what you will be presenting (audio, video, a walking tour, etc.).
  • Explain which tools can be used by anyone (hiking compass/EMF meter, flashlight for yes/no, etc.) and which are best for professionals (IR video cameras, Frank’s Box, and so on.)

4. Present your information

  • If you are reporting on one or more investigations:
    • Give an overview first.
    • Explain where you researched, when and why.
    • Describe your experiences floor-by-floor and room-by-room.  (A floor plan or map may help them visualize each encounter.)
    • Tell the audience what “normal” would be, before each recording or demonstration.
    • Demonstrate the research technique or play the recording three times (if it is short) and then ask if anyone has a question about that evidence.
    • Take general questions and discuss specific situations at the end of the talk.
    • If you are telling “ghost stories,” tell people whether they are fictional or your true experiences.
    • Illustrate your stories with photos, recordings and/or drawings.
    • Remember that your audience wants to be entertained.  Use broad gestures, lots of variety in your voice, and so on.
    • If you are taking the group on a walking tour, talk about where you are going, safety concerns, and your general rules (such as when they can ask questions).  Then, lead the tour. (Optional: Organize them in teams of two, so no one gets lost or left behind.)

5. Close the talk

  • Tell them that you have completed your presentation.
  • Ask for questions or comments.  Be sure they understand that there are no firm answers to most questions, and that is why we are still conducting research.
  • Refer the audience to your website, books, events, workshops, etc., for more information.
  • Close with contact information, and distribute any handouts you brought with you.
  • Explain that you have to leave at a certain time (be specific and stick to that) but you are happy to talk with people privately — for a just a few moments — if they have questions.
  • Thank them for attending.
  • Smile when they applaud.
  • Before leaving, thank your host/s and give them a small gift. (A book, a CD of EVP or a general presentation, a “ghost photo” from the location, etc.)

[Thanks to Claudia of Parahunt.com for restoring this.]

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Making Money in Ghost Hunting

Stacks of moneySome people are in this field for fame and/or fortune.  I’m not one of them, and I hope that you’re not.

I know absolutely no one, personally, who’s getting rich as a paranormal investigator.  In fact, most TV stars that I know… they have day jobs.

However, most of us would prefer to work full-time in the paranormal field, rather than ask people if they’d like fries with that order.

So, here’s a summary of the main ways to earn a living as a paranormal expert.

They’re not the only ways, just the usual ones.

TV- and movie-related work

Fame: Fame is possible, and perhaps likely.  Infamy is a risk as well.  It’s all in how you’re edited by the producers and the network.  Then there’s the makeup and lighting, what your co-stars say about you, whether or not you’re ridiculed on The Soup, and many other variables.

Fortune: Don’t expect to get rich from documentary-style movies or reality TV.

Warning: Absolutely anyone can film a pilot for a TV show.  Getting the show picked up by a network is only slightly more likely than being struck by lightning, unless you have talent, a great angle, and truly great connections.  So, if someone wants to include you in their TV pilot, don’t quit your day job.

Typical work opportunities in TV and movies:

  • Be a regular star on a TV show.  (Most guests on reality shows aren’t paid, and sometimes don’t even get travel expenses.)
  • Be a consultant for a TV show or series, or a movie. (Get everything in writing, signed and notarized, on paper.)
  • Write for TV or movie productions.  (If you make the right connections, you can build a career and have fun at the same time.)
  • Develop a fan site about the TV show or movie, and find ways to monetize it. (This is tricky. I tried it with one show and didn’t earn a cent.)

Writing books and articles

Fame: How famous you become depends on how good your writing is, and how well you promote yourself.  Even if you’re published by a major publishing house, do not expect them to organize book signings or do much of any PR for you.

However, if you write well and you’re willing to work hard, you can achieve moderate fame with your writing.

Fortune: If you’re working for a traditional publisher, it’s possible you’ll have a best-seller and earn lots of money.  It’s about as likely as winning the lottery.  Books that sell for $9 – $15 usually earn their authors about 25 cents per copy sold. (That’s what I’ve earned and what Jack Canfield mentions in the video, The Secret.)

You can usually do much better with an independent publisher, but you may have to do more work on the book and on your own PR and distribution.  Generally, I don’t recommend any publishing house that charges a fee to publish your book.

If you’re writing stories for book anthologies or for magazines, your writing skills and reputation make the difference between earning at least minimum wage… and earning nothing.  My favorite book for freelance writers:  The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli.  Good writers earn three figures per magazine article they sell. Really good writers can earn four figures per article. (When I write for anthologies, I’m well paid.)

Writing articles for online use usually pays $2 – $15/article, or more if you’re really good at writing or you’re a celebrity.

The biggest demand for ghost-related writers is for Halloween-related books and articles.

Tip: If you write books for traditional publishers, you may not see your work in print — or earn a cent from it — for six months to two years.

If you write for magazines, allow them at least three months’ lead time to publish your work.  In other words, pitch Halloween articles no later than April or May.

Sometimes, you’re paid when you deliver the work. More often, you’ll be paid once the magazine is actually on the newsstand, or 30 days after it’s published.

Typical opportunities for writers:

  • Writing books, including nonfiction, “ghost stories,” and novels.
  • Articles.
  • Screenplays.

Photography

Fame: Like writing and art, your fame potential depends on your skill and how well you promote yourself.  Luck and novelty can also be factors.  However, keep in mind: If you walk up to a stranger on the street and say, “Quick, name one ghost photographer,” they’ll probably stare at you before mumbling some TV star’s name.

Fortune: You can earn a good living as a freelance photographer if you’re willing to work hard.  Halloween-related photos (ghost pictures, cemetery photos, haunted house pictures) sell well year ’round to book and magazine publishers.  You’ll want a copy of the latest edition of Photographer’s Markets to learn who’s buying what, and how much they’re paying.

Typical opportunities for photographers:

  • Illustrate books and magazines.
  • Illustrate promotional material for paranormal events and speakers.
  • Sell your photos via stock photo services, online.  iStockPhoto.com is one of many.

Videos have a narrower audience, but you might get involved in filming a TV pilot (get paid up-front, not after the show sells) or create your own videos of haunted encounters.

Appearing at paranormal events and conferences

Fame: The bigger the event, the more famous you’ll seem.  However, be selective about the number of events you speak at. (Avoid over-saturating the market.)  Try to get your name and photo on the event’s promotional materials.

Fortune: Unless you’re already a star, or selling your own books at the event, paranormal events pay little or nothing.  If you’re reimbursed for travel expenses and/or your hotel room, that’s great… but don’t count on it.

Warning: Find out who’s on the schedule with you before committing to any event.  If many of the speakers have poor reputations, it can reflect badly on you. (“Birds of a feather…”)

Don’t make firm travel plans until you’re sure the event will happen.  About 50% of the events that book me, postpone or cancel the event altogether.

Tip: Big events at major venues — and those hosted by major celebrities in this field — rarely cancel, even if they’re taking a big loss on expenses.  Conferences organized by local groups have a higher cancellation likelihood.

Putting on a paranormal event or conference

Fame: Until your event has been successful for several successive years, your own events won’t make you famous… unless you’re already a celebrity in this field.

One bad event, or someone griping about how your ran the event, can be very damaging.

Fortune: Unless you’re very lucky, you’re likely to lose money putting on your first event (or two). After that, it’ll depend on the economy, when and where the event is, the quality of your speakers and activities, and how much competition you have (saturated field).

Warning: Hotels often ask for non-refundable deposits, and their meeting room prices may shock you.  Never rely on filling up hotel rooms (sleeping rooms) to offset some or all of your meeting room expenses.

It’s better to be pleasantly surprised with a profit than devastated by four-figure  (or higher) losses.

Set a firm “no refunds” date — usually the date that you have to give the hotel the deposit — and stick to it. People will call you with the most amazing, convincing tall tales excuses, usually involving themselves or a family member being diagnosed with cancer.

Also have a “Plan B” ready if your biggest celebrity cancels at the last minute.

Investigations

Some people charge money for private investigations.  Most people — including me — don’t.  In fact, most of the bigger celebrities don’t charge a cent, and some don’t even ask for travel expenses.

Fame: If you produce extraordinary results, you might build a reputation as a great paranormal investigator.  In 80% or more of your cases, the home owners will be reluctant to admit that they even consulted you.

Fortune: In most cases, there’s no money in investigating.  I’ve talked about this in other articles.  Some clients have already lost their jobs due to the stress of the hauntings. Other people won’t take you seriously unless you charge a fee.  The latter group is diminishing rapidly, because they see ghost hunters on TV conducting free investigations.

If you consult for a business — for example, helping realtors who need to know if a home or business is haunted — you’re more likely to be paid.  Home owners rarely pay for investigations.

Tip: If you expect to charge money, even just travel expenses, you must have professional-level experience in this field — probably more than 100 real, formal investigations — and a list of references for potential clients to check.

It’s prudent to have liability insurance for your team.   If a Ming vase is broken during your investigation, the client won’t care that it was poltergeist phenomena, and not your fault.

Get rich quick?

There are no get-rich-quick paths in this business.  Though some people have catapulted themselves to fame and/or fortune, few remain there for very long.

Success in any field — including this one — requires hard work, constant study, and immense integrity.

If ghosts and hauntings fascinate you, it’s probably best to keep your day job and pursue this field as a hobby, at least for the first few years.

In the meantime, keep all of your photos.  Maintain a detailed journal of your investigations.  Experiment with new ideas, theories, investigation tools and techniques.  All of them may be extremely valuable once you are ready to enter this field as a full-time professional.

Focus on one niche rather than trying to be an all-around ghost hunter.  Sure, you’ll need to know a little about every facet of ghosts and hauntings.  However, career success comes from identifying your strengths and greatest interests, and developing a niche that’s uniquely yours.

Photo credit: Michael Faes, Switzerland

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