Hiding in my Home
by Christian Parker
I feel obligated to say, especially having received some criticism and dwindling view counts on this series as I’ve been writing this account: take any advice I’ve given here with a grain of salt. I often express that something seemed helpful
in a particular moment of the production process, but how beneficial it really was is not for me to decide.
I hope there are useful nuggets of information anyway.
I’ll try not to get any more autobiographical than this afterward, but to begin with, I’ll explain the circumstances of my coming up with the idea for Hiding in My Home. I had graduated college about six weeks before, was desperately looking for work, and was hanging around my (parents’) house, generally looking for things to do. I knew it would be a good idea, especially as long as I didn’t have a “real job”, to keep my mind occupied creatively, so I set to work trying to come up with an unfiction series minimalist enough that I could actually create it, but ambitious enough that it would satisfy me. The idea came to me very suddenly on July 12th (I think).
I had actually spent months planning out the first two acts of an unfiction series the previous summer. I was very proud of this concept but it was far too complex, logistically, to create at the time. After years of this kind of thing happening to me, I knew I needed to come up with something actually doable; hence, HIMH was originally going to end at the moment Anthony is introduced. The series would comprise a number of cryptic videos, like you often see in ARGs, vaguely telling the story of a person who claimed to be a victim of something, only to end with another person explaining that the protagonist had actually committed a terrible crime and had sought refuge in/around a house that wasn’t theirs.
This idea was borne out of the necessity of staying home during the pandemic -- something I could create without going anywhere, but that could still include concrete characters to whom an audience could theoretically get attached (as opposed to a series that’s exclusively created in editing software, where enjoyment might be rooted more deeply in puzzle-solving.). Though the title has caused speculation about the possibility, the lockdowns had nothing to do with the material of the series; they did catalyze the series’ creation, though, if that makes sense. The question “how do I make a house a compelling setting for a web series, not a place that feels obviously amateurish?” produced the idea. The “not obviously amateurish” part… I don’t know how well I’ve succeeded there but that was the intention.
I began shooting these videos, knowing that I’d ask my friend Max (who also enjoyed certain unfiction series and had done some acting in his day) to play the part of the other character in the final video.
The truth was, though, a handful of videos like that wouldn’t satisfy me. Even if it had managed to be a well-crafted project that did what it set out to do (flip the traditional “creepy cryptic ARG video” conceit on its head with a final, soberingly real video), it would’ve felt too much like a missed opportunity to expand the story from there. I decided to combine what I had come up with so far with elements of the aforementioned unfiction series I plotted out the year before. This involved a cat-and-mouse game between two characters, and in the case of what HIMH would become, two characters who attempt to build evidence against each other in order to pin the crime committed in the early videos on each other (this summary leaves out key pieces of the puzzle, but I don’t want to spoil things that still haven’t been revealed).
At the end of July, the first four videos in the series had already been uploaded -- I had published them without knowing I would start to feel more ambitious.
With that ambition came the knowledge that I would have to start treating HIMH like less of a throwaway project. I began writing for it more seriously and advertising it however I could; I’ll discuss these processes separately.
I began planning each video more thoroughly before creating it. The early Hollis videos were simply artistic experiments through which he tried to garner sympathy for himself, but now I began planting clues in these videos that would suggest he wasn’t on his own property, or that would otherwise play into the story much later. Starting with Anthony’s first video, I began scripting almost everything.
I called Max and brought him on board not just to act, but to help me come up with and streamline ideas as well. We did this over the phone for a few hours each night for 1-2 weeks in the middle of August. We came up with a solid plan for the “second act” of the series (taking us through the events of Video #32), and I wrote up a video-by-video outline of this section of the series. We also discussed how the series would end, and landed on something pretty concrete there. What we didn’t plan much at that time were the events of Act 3 -- how we would get from the end of Act 2 to the very end. I believe this was a good move, in hindsight.
I also confirmed that another friend of mine, Elijah, and my older brother Stefan, would be able to play characters in this series (“Dr. Tanner” and his assistant “Liaison”, respectively). I owe much to these two for their consistent willingness to help me and Max out. Stefan had never acted before, while Elijah had; I cast them accordingly, giving a more even-keeled, less emotional role to Stefan and a character who displays emotion a bit more to Elijah.
I decided I would do everything I realistically could to expose this series to more people, now that I was getting increasingly excited about it. 1) I prepared to do some things that I felt were desperate/shameful (even if people really do understand it these days) and 2) I fully expected the series to gain little notoriety in the grand scheme of things no matter how hard I worked at this.
Here’s what I did:
I created a Twitter account for the series, to enhance the real-time unfiction feel, but also to simply start following tons of people so they would click on it. I followed users who themselves followed other ARG Twitter accounts and the accounts of ARG analysis YouTube channels. On average, 50 per day.
I did the same thing with an Instagram account for the series (though I usually only posted on there to announce a new video).
I advertised the series on old YouTube channels of mine.
I submitted the series to the Night Mind Index.
I regularly posted new videos to r/ARG and related subreddits. Here, I acted as if I was a third party showing off the series, even though I’m sure nobody fell for that. I also posted the videos to /x/ sometimes, in character, as Hollis.
I began commenting on horror and ARG-centric YouTube videos with the HIMH YouTube account. I justified this by leaving comments in character, as Hollis, and later as Anthony. I tried to follow various YouTube channels to learn when they would release a new video, so I could comment on it early, and then use up to 12 alternate gmail accounts to artificially inflate the comment’s rating and get it to the top of the comment section. I really got this formula to work well sometimes in September (one successful top comment that alluded to the series could get as many as 30 subscribers), but I started trying it in August.
I noticed occasional scoffing at how desperately I was advertising the series, but honestly, it was far less than I expected. People were pretty understanding. My cautious goal was to have 100 subscribers on YouTube by the end of August, and we just barely achieved that.
By this time, I was preparing to shoot the final videos in that first Hollis stretch of the series and Max was preparing to film his first Anthony video, which was to be released this month.
Some semblance of production value (outside of Adobe Premiere and After Effects for editing) was needed at this point. For Video #12, I needed fake blood, which I bought for cheap. For Video #13, I needed to simulate flashing police car lights. As luck would have it, I had exactly what I needed for this -- two 250w Lowel Pro cinema lights and blue and orange gels to cover them with. I had just enough orange sheets to layer on top of each other to make red -- red on one light, blue on another -- Stefan twisted these red and blue lights in his hands to make off-camera police lights for me, and it worked a lot better than I expected.
Because Anthony was finally to appear in Video #14, actual directing finally came into play as well. This did, and still does, pose one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in filmmaking. Some of the early Anthony videos (14, 16, 17, and 21) were done remotely as well, so in addition to making sure Max recorded in a place that could plausibly look like part of my house, I couldn’t direct him in person. We discussed the script for #14 beforehand and Anthony’s demeanor, and Max recorded a number of takes.
The biggest question here was how Anthony should come across as the new protagonist. There are reasons to be skeptical about what he says in this video, and though we wanted viewers to sympathize with him, we also wanted them to sense that, maybe, he wasn’t entirely trustworthy. Consequently, we decided that Max should play Anthony a bit robotically, but with some genuine emotion underneath, to hopefully suggest that at least some of what Anthony’s going through is true, but that at least a little is also false.
This video was arguably the most significant moment in the entire series -- the moment that the true nature of the story came into the open. I was more nervous for its release than for any video since because the material was changing so radically and I knew that Max’s robotic performance may seem plainly amateurish to people, even though it was largely intentional (not that any of us are professional actors -- all our performances are far from perfect). I expected controversy among the small viewerbase, and while there was some for these reasons as well as the apparent plot hole of how Anthony could simply hack into a YouTube channel, reception was mostly positive. Those who enjoyed it seemed to really enjoy it, and those who didn’t simply stopped watching, which is as much as we could’ve hoped for.
#14 also marked the only major instance so far of viewer reception prompting us to deviate from our plans. It wasn’t necessary to do so, but due to my lingering paranoia about the series seemingly becoming too different too quickly, I created an entirely unplanned video, clearly in Hollis’s style, to reassure people that Hollis would continue to upload videos himself. Originally, Hollis wasn’t going to upload again until three Anthony videos had been posted. I ran this by Max and he agreed to it. This decision probably changed little in the big picture, but at the time, it felt significant.
Over the course of this month, the story’s inciting incident unfolded and its format from then on was introduced (Videos 11-15); for this reason, as well as continued advertisement, there was a minor explosion of popularity that exceeded my expectations. Word-of-mouth probably started helping too. The channel had 500 subscribers by the end of the month, and we had gotten excited about what the future might hold.
This was a month of taking our licks, putting our heads down, and just continuing on. We uploaded Videos 16, 17, 18, and 19, and got into a sounder rhythm for writing, shooting, editing, and uploading. We also tried to get ahead however we could -- we had no set schedule, aside from trying to post videos no more than two weeks apart, but now that we knew how the series would go, we wanted to have a buffer of 1-2 completed videos at all times.
Writing continued the same way -- because of the video-by-video outline, I knew what I needed to get across in each script. A difficulty I encountered around this time was the tedium of screenwriting, which was exacerbated by the fact that I had little opportunity to come up with new ideas (I already knew exactly what I had to write). I combatted this problem by contenting myself with inserting Easter eggs into a script anywhere I could -- little artistic parallels within one script, references to past videos, or foreshadowing future events. Elements in a narrative should rarely come up only once -- once can be a mistake, but two or especially three times is a pattern. I’m no master at following this rule all the time, but trying to is what has made screenwriting fun for the duration of the project.
Another issue with scripting (that I was much worse at dealing with) was writing each character’s dialogue in a way unique to him. My writing is formal, precise, and not conversational at all -- for narrative dialogue, this works much better for characters like Dr. Tanner, Liaison, and maybe Hollis, but it made much less sense with Anthony, who was presented as a bad decision-maker. Thank goodness Max’s acting emphasized Anthony’s naiveté and strangeness, because played another way, he would’ve come across as yet another “cunning mastermind”-type (who doesn’t actually behave intelligently).
October was the month that shooting became more formal. On October 23rd, we had our first “big shoot”, where Max came to my house, and we, along with Stefan, filmed multiple videos’ worth of material in one day (in this case, Videos 19, 22, and 24, so this was also the first instance of writing and shooting out of order). Max lives over an hour away from me, so for the stuff where he needed to be seen at my house (which is Anthony’s house), we had to film as much of it at once as possible. These big shooting days were stressful, but if I didn’t have too much else going on at the time, they turned out to be pretty exhilarating.
In terms of advertisement and popularity, this was, in all honesty, a demoralizing month for me. I knew this was irrational thinking at the time because the channel was continuing to grow more quickly than I had expected at the outset, but it was a small decline from the previous month, which stung, as we were all putting even more effort in (and I continued my promotional schemes the same as ever). I knew for a fact that Hiding in My Home was a name thrown around the niche/emerging unfiction sphere; I now suspect that, as we got to about 900 subscribers, the series reached a kind of saturation point within the most dedicated part of the ARG community. Most of those people who seek out new ARGs every day and are constantly keeping themselves up-to-date on new developments probably knew about HIMH, and that made another exponential increase in exposure like from August to September very unlikely. This is speculation, but it feels probable to me.
At this early point in the series, I knew taking a break wasn’t an option, but I was definitely getting burnt out by the end of October. Luckily, I had finally managed to secure a couple video editing clients, so that kept me in decent spirits -- I imagine it’s always a good idea to keep some of your eggs outside the amateur creative project basket.
This was probably a less educational month, because it was mostly a month of luck. In blunt truth, the reason I felt most demoralized at this time was that I knew we needed a YouTube channel to cover the series if it was to grow any faster than a couple hundred new regular viewers per month. We already were getting more viewers than some people ever do, but I was greedy and proud, and wanted to hang with IAmSophie and Dad and LasagnaCat and Local58 and all the other recent YouTube unfictions that are bigger, better, and more professional.
I went to Elijah’s apartment (Dr. Tanner’s apartment where Hollis stays in the story) for a weekend to film Videos 20 and 23 -- very simple videos, so it was an easy weekend. Just as I was about to leave on Monday, November 9th (I remember the date well), InsideAMind released a video not even so much analyzing HIMH as simply telling people to go watch it. That was a bigger favor and compliment than I could’ve imagined. The same day we passed 1,000 subscribers, we also passed 2,000, and all of the videos after #13 quickly amassed multiple thousands of views. This was surely the best day I had had all year. I knew Jamie had looked at the series on a Twitch stream, but I never, ever expected him to release a video about it on his YouTube channel just a couple weeks later. By the end of the month, we had about 5,000 subscribers, and I felt I didn’t need to promote the series myself anymore.
Max and I were hugely reinvigorated to work hard -- so we moved a planned shoot day ahead by a week. We returned to the Dr. Tanner apartment to film Video #32, where Anthony searches the apartment and then confronts Dr. Tanner. This was very far ahead in the series, but Max wouldn’t be able to film with us between February and May the following year, so we needed to get this video done sooner rather than later. I was definitely worried about it having continuity issues, like little bits of dialogue that don’t make perfect sense once we caught up to that point months later. That did happen, and it made editing that video in March/April 2021 a bit of a nightmare. I cut out certain lines that revealed too much and tried to make the resultant cuts as seamless as possible. I’ve found that you can patch up many things in editing if you’re patient, able to think outside the box, and sometimes willing to accept something merely passable when there are no other options.
After one shoot day for miscellaneous things on December 2nd, our buffer of recorded videos was pretty sound; we had the next 3 videos entirely recorded, and many segments of videos after that. I decided to put something in the series that Max and myself hadn’t planned back in August (after the two of us agreed on it). This was based on audience reception, but unlike Video #15, I consider this a simple addition, not a change of plans.
Dr. Tanner and Liaison’s company was about to become part of the series, and though its presence is essential to the plot and themes of HIMH, I knew the “underground/dark web/criminal syndicate” can be a little clichéd. I at least wanted to integrate it as organically as possible, and so I included a puzzle in Video #22 that would allow viewers to discover the company for themselves, and then email Liaison (not that they had met such a character yet).
Interactivity, and particularly cryptography, in horror/mystery ARGs is very risky in my and Max’s minds. The inclusion of a code must be motivated by the story. Particularly in something heavily serialized and (I hope) grounded in reality like HIMH, there can’t be codes just for codes’ sake. I wanted creepy distortion, numbers, spectrograms, etc. because I love the atmosphere they create. If I ever made an unfiction series, I wanted to include ToTheArk-style videos in it, but it had to be for good reason. We’ve found that a good way to do this is for one character to only be able to communicate to another character over YouTube/Twitter/some platform visible to the public, but they’re also desperate to keep the message a secret from the public (and other characters in the story).
This email-the-secret-organization minigame was fun and successful, and we were later able to include its ramifications in the main story (Video #35). In Video #24, Anthony also explains that it happened. To ensure that interactivity would remain strictly optional but also propel the story, we insisted on summarizing what it did for the story in future videos.
Though not as stark as Anthony’s introduction, the emergence of this company was also a big evolution of the story -- one that Max and I discussed at length and toiled over. Max especially, and rightfully so, was afraid that getting wrapped up in it would take focus away from the Hollis-Anthony dynamic, and Jordan. I maintained that there was only so much we could do with a cat-and-mouse game between Hollis and Anthony with no third party getting involved, and that we needed to raise the stakes during the rising action of the narrative. We came to the conclusion that as long as we constantly reminded the audience that Anthony (and Hollis) were only using the services of “Regional Protectorates” as a means of cornering/protecting themselves from each other, it was okay -- but obviously RP also complicates things with their own agenda.
There was a frustrating issue of continuity this month. The scene that introduced Liaison in Video #24, which Max, Stefan, and I had already shot, had happened in October, but we ended up having to release the video deep into December. As we had shot it, the scene clearly took place in fall (leaves colorful and still on trees), which would make no sense for mid-December.
We all had to reconvene to reshoot this scene. This has been the worst instance so far of needing to reshoot an entire sequence, though we had to do the same thing for parts of Video #26 the following month. Overall, we’ve been lucky in this regard, having shot things vastly out of order at times. Continuity errors can crop up in many ways, on a micro level (weather/climate or characters’ outfits different across scenes in the same video) and a macro level (characters' statements contradict each other, even implicitly, like unintentionally reflecting different motivations).
For various reasons, our video buffer ran out this month. Elijah got sick for a couple weeks, and so the Video #26 reshoots were delayed, as was the “Anthony puts up a poster” shot in Video #27 because I needed Elijah to get me inside that location. Though I saw a longer break on the horizon, I didn’t intend to take one here -- but circumstances dictated that we couldn’t upload for about a full month between Videos 26 and 27.
Things may have been different if we had stuck to our original video order, but audience reception elicited a small change -- what was going to be two videos we combined into one (#27). Some viewers had said that the “Anthony, Anthony, Hollis, repeat” pattern of uploads was getting predictable, and so we changed things up by having Hollis upload two videos in a row, building evidence against Anthony a little faster and elevating tension just a little sooner.
The takeaways here were: 1) changing the format/order of your story slightly can have positive effects and doesn’t have to change the substance much, and 2) on a long enough production timeline, unplanned delays are bound to happen. In regard to that second thing, it’s a shame, but sometimes there’s nothing to do for it.
We were approaching the end of Act 2 with only its last six videos left to upload, and fewer than that to write/shoot/edit. What we did have left to produce, though, represented a big undertaking. Video #29, in my mind, was the moment that HIMH finally stopped being a “slow burn” and just kept accelerating until the end; shooting, at the very least, was going to get harder, and every shoot was likely to be as difficult as the very involved Video #32 shoot back in November.
It was clear, for a number of reasons, that we would have to take a hiatus soon. We had focused so much on shooting and editing Act 2 that we had done no formal pre-production on Act 3 -- Max and I had tossed ideas around, but nothing more. Plus, Max was in school (locked-down) until May, we couldn’t reasonably spread the remaining Act 2 videos out until we were ready to start uploading Act 3, and I had finally found a full-time editing job on top of my other clients.
This need for a break ended up being the biggest reason that not officially planning any of Act 3 was a good move. We were lucky, though, that the end of Act 2 left open the possibility of the story-world stagnating for a while -- as a result, we could write Act 3 as taking place just as far in the future as we actually started releasing it. Still, writing, shooting, and editing sections of the series separately, rather than writing everything, then shooting everything, then editing everything, was generally wise because it staved off more burn-out.
Returning to Act 2, though, the remaining shoots involved Hollis breaking into Anthony’s house to search for physical evidence, and Anthony waking up just as Hollis escapes, then taking the opportunity to follow him back to Dr. Tanner’s apartment (for which he had long been searching). In this case, Stefan helped me considerably -- we intended to get this all done in a single night, with both of us standing in for Anthony off-camera when necessary, but we ran into a problem that forced us to hang up our hats in the middle of a shoot for the first time. The entire break-in video went smoothly enough, but when we hit the streets to film the Anthony-pursuing-Hollis video, we found that our camera was simply not going to pick up clear visuals in the low nighttime lighting without careful planning. It didn’t help that I had to be in front of the camera and Stefan was unfamiliar with camera operation. We resumed a few days later with some particularly bright locations in mind, and though the work was slow, we finished it.
I like the camera we’ve used for this series, but it’s an older one, and its inability to handle low light has plagued our shoots consistently. A found-footage unfiction series can get away with bad visuals, but HIMH has sometimes taken it to an extreme that I hate to look at. Same thing with the built-in microphone quality. Maybe I should’ve invested in a newer camera at the start of the series.
Pretty much all shooting for Act 2 was done now, and mostly editing remained, so this is a good time to describe the editing process more thoroughly (for the more dynamic videos with multiple characters and continuous dialogue). Editing any given video where Anthony speaks to another character in person is a challenge for one specific reason: I (who play Hollis) hold the camera in place of Max/Anthony almost all the time, and deliver his lines during the scene, then dub over my voice with Max’s voiceover dialogue. I imagine for some viewers, this has been obvious at times. It’s one of the biggest shooting-related decisions I’ve made, and I can’t figure out if it was ultimately a good or bad one -- we’ve simply kept going this way since October 2020 because we all got used to it. I’ll list the positives and negatives of this approach.
Most importantly, I can hold the camera myself this way and Max doesn’t have to. I’m the only one who knows how to use the camera comfortably (zooming, pulling focus, changing the exposure, etc.) Maybe I should’ve taught Max how to do it early on. That said, it would’ve taken at least a few weeks for him to really get familiar with the camera, especially having to use it while acting simultaneously, and I felt we never had that kind of time.
It meant that Max didn’t even have to be present at some shoots where Anthony was involved (and Max had to drive 2-4 hours round-trip every single time we needed him).
It was an excuse for me to be present at all times for directing purposes -- if I didn’t hold the camera, I often couldn’t have been on set at all because I could be caught on camera at an inopportune time.
Max has to do voiceover dialogue, which is actually harder than live dialogue, in a way -- we have to go over each line very carefully for him to get the tone just right without feeling it in the moment. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to get it exactly right.
Any time I’m standing in as Anthony and my reflection or shadow is visible, a take is ruined.
When I deliver Anthony’s lines to cue the other actors in a scene, if there’s any ambient noise in the background, or another actor has to talk over my voice, editing becomes difficult and tedious, as I have to include many sound effects to replace the natural, now-muted soundscape (a general ambience track, footsteps, camera “whooshes” when turning, “handling the camera” sounds, among other things), and the timing/volume on each little sound has to be perfect.
The quality of the voiceover track itself has to match the setting of the scene. It’s obvious if an outdoor scene includes indoor voiceover, and the other way around. I’ve spent multiple hours trying to find the perfect level of echo in post for certain moments because it just refuses to sound right. Some of the things I’ve been most ashamed to release in this series are instances of awful audio like this. I will say, though -- to my knowledge, I’ve never gotten a single complaint about this, so either I’ve been too hard on myself, or it’s so obvious that nobody even feels the need to bring it up.
In short, for non-cryptic/non-Hollis videos, editing for HIMH is 90% audio and 10% visuals. The only visual-editing difficulties occur when I absolutely have to brighten a shot artificially, and when I have to make a cut point between two shots look seamless, like there is no cut. We’ve tried to make the latter as easy to deal with as possible by cutting in the middle of quick pans and moments where the camera goes up close to something so the shot goes dark.
We uploaded the last video of Act 2 on April 6th, and our planned 3-month hiatus from uploading began. For me, there was a period of three weeks where I did no work on the series at all. There were many things about Act 3 that excited all of us a lot, though, and so I grew anxious to return to writing the series soon enough.
At this point, we had a skeleton for Act 3, but some elemental story beats still needed filling in; for anyone who has seen Video #35 of HIMH and beyond, you know that much of Act 3 involves Anthony’s unexpected imprisonment in a storage unit by Dr. Tanner and Liaison, but what was Hollis doing during this time? I knew his objective at this moment in the series, but I was having trouble manifesting it in an action-oriented way, to offset Anthony’s sedentary isolation and increase the drama of this story before the climax. I brought in Stefan in a writing capacity and he helped me solve this problem.
By the end of the month, I had a video-by-video outline for the rest of the series. One thing was clear, and it was that production value and effort were going to have to increase. We needed to rent a storage unit and film there at length, we needed multiple fake news reports, we needed a couple rather expensive props, we needed more dynamic camera work, we needed to film radically out of narrative order to fit schedules/location rental periods, and we needed the range and intensity of emotions to increase for all four actors.
This month, I arranged the storage unit rental and wrote all the remaining scripts for the series, minus the final three (shooting those was pretty far in the future and I needed a break by then).
I’ve neglected addressing this for a long time, but here’s the perfect moment to do so: the effect of the HIMH Discord community, and in particular, the moderator team. I established out-of-game contact with one of them as early as October 2020, and the entire moderator team by this month, May 2021. Initially, I was very hesitant to break immersion at all, but eventually realized that for the sake of mildly regulating the interactive elements of HIMH, it was necessary.
In addition to being all-around wonderful people, the moderators have kept the HIMH Discord a friendly and open place for discussion of all sorts, facilitated puzzle-solving, discouraged game-jacking and confirmed what is canon when absolutely necessary, discouraged people from looking into my real location (lol), and even assisted me in production elements starting this particular month. Some of them sent in takes of one of Act 3’s news reports (Video #33), and all of them helped me discuss certain supplementary aspects of Act 3.
The moderators deserve unending praise for their help. This is all to say, if you’re in a position to have a Discord community with moderators you sense are capable and friendly, do maintain an out-of-game relationship with them.
As for the broader Discord community and its relationship to the series, the more dedicated viewers tend to go there for discussion and puzzle-solving. I’d say there’s been a group as large as ~30 people and as small as ~10 people posting at least a few times per week, trying to tease out answers at various times. The small size of this group compared to the YouTube viewer-base has never bothered me. I rarely engage in the interactive elements of ARGs either, which is why I wished to create an unfiction series with only supplementary interactivity. Still, these viewers are near and dear to me.
Here began the home stretch of HIMH; I had written all scripts save for the last three, we had our storage unit rental for the month of June, and Max, Stefan, Elijah, and myself had scheduled two separate days in June to get a majority of the storage facility scenes done. Luckily, scheduling was fairly straightforward -- I worried it would be difficult, as we had work during the week and other obligations sometimes on weekends.
We were all rather anxious about filming inside that facility. We had no clue whether or not we’d be allowed to. To my knowledge, though it’s limited, you can do what you want with a storage unit, but we were planning on shooting multiple things outside the unit itself -- out in the alleys of the facility, at all times of day. There was nothing written in the rental agreement about recording one way or another. Obviously, the wise and mature thing to do would’ve been to run our plans by the facility’s manager and get an OK beforehand, so we decided to wing it without telling anyone. Seriously though, this facility was a very convenient location for us and we were afraid to be told “no” right from the get-go -- we figured we’d film on our two big shooting days, and a series of smaller days (with just me and Stefan), and sneak an exterior shot or two each time. If we were asked what we were up to, we’d just be honest.
Stefan and I filmed the quick-and-easy Video #39 first to test the waters, and we quickly realized there would be no problem at all; as it turned out, people regularly meandered in the alleys, and though there were many security cameras around, nobody ever seemed to notice or care that we were out there with a camera. Our greatest challenge for storage unit days became extreme heat, especially inside the closed unit, but after a while, all four of us got used to it. We made sure to have a cooler with cold towels inside at all times as well.
We conducted these big shoots more professionally than anything else so far. I created a comprehensive shot list for Act 3 based on the scripts, and I went into both big days with a sub-list of every shot we needed for that day. We were filming up to three entire videos’ worth of footage at once, and considering that, both days went about as smoothly as possible. If you have a separate location you’ve paid for, make sure you go there knowing to a T what you need to film and when. Even then, plans are likely to change due to unforeseen circumstances (people being around when they can’t be, rain, forgotten props/equipment) but these changes are more manageable with a sound schedule in place.
What seemed like a trade-off with the smoothness of the storage unit shoots was the laborious undertaking of securing a particular prop for one of these two shoots. The previous two months, I had imagined multiple moments in Act 3 that were exciting beyond almost anything that had come during the first two acts -- there was one in particular that I loved so much, but also knew would be a monstrously difficult task. In Video #38, where Hollis searches Liaison’s car, there was a theoretical version of the event where Hollis simply tries to open the door, it’s locked, the alarm goes off, and he has to run; there was another version where he used a rock to smash the car window and ensure that he can quickly search the glove compartment before having to leave.
Obviously, I wanted the second version. With significant help from Stefan, I learned the process of creating a breakable candy-glass window, bought all ingredients and materials, and tried making one three times. I knew going in that there was no way this thing would look like the passenger-side window of a car -- not least of all because we had no way of getting the proper curvature -- but I hoped that 1) filming the scene at dusk, 2) tinting the window black with food coloring, and 3) not showing the smash in perfect focus would help us obscure the imperfection of our creation.
It was still a nightmare. For the first practice window, we apparently didn’t get the mixture hot enough and once we poured it into the mould, it only ever reached a molasses-like consistency. The second time, it worked -- and we tinted it a decent color as well. We gingerly took the window out of our makeshift clay-bordered tray and transferred it to a freezer for about a week until the shoot. In the meantime, we made another back-up window.
The plan was to somehow tape the window into the rolled-down window spot on Max’s car the night of the shoot. I tried to test this the night before on our back-up window; unfortunately, I discovered that said window was only about two millimeters thick in the middle because it broke right there while I handled it. We were down to one window. I now knew we could never tape it to the car as the candy glass was far too slimy after more than five minutes out of the freezer. The only chance was to have two people hold it in place -- one inside the car and one outside the car -- right as I was about to smash through it, and for me to make sure I didn’t catch either of them on camera.
We filmed all day, and saved the window smash for the end. Darkness was falling fast and the air was electric as we retrieved the glass and returned to the “set” (a field). Elijah and Stefan gooped their hands up holding the window delicately in place -- it didn’t break as they did so. I grabbed our rock from the ground and smashed through the thing. I swear it broke like a real window, and I got it all on camera. It was perfect -- except that it was a little too dark to really see what happened. Again, our camera is bad in low light. After all that trouble, our biggest problem ended up being that we filmed maybe 5-10 minutes too late. At the time of writing this, I haven’t uploaded Video #38 yet, but this shot will be included in it -- I just hope people can tell we actually did break the window. If I brighten the shot artificially, just a little, I think they’ll be able to.
After a couple more trips to the facility for supplementary footage, we got everything we needed there. I’ve been sorting through hundreds of shots since, slowly piecing these videos together.
What remained outside of editing was writing the last three videos’ scripts and conducting three additional large shoots -- for Videos 41 and 43, and two of the last videos in the series. The first of these shoots happened on July 17th, and the second on July 31st. I won’t go into detail, as none of these videos are likely to be uploaded by the time I’m submitting this document.
I can’t deny, and I think I speak for all four of us when I say, we’re very ready for this series to be done. So much about Act 3 excited me at the outset of its production, but after thinking about, writing about, and eventually looking at the results of all those ideas so much, it’s hard to even see anymore if they’re good.
We did resume actually uploading videos this month, ultimately making our self-imposed ~3 month deadline and satisfying my own unstated hope of returning in time for HIMH’s one-year anniversary. It does bring me great joy to see positive reactions to the series’ continuation and I hope viewers who have enjoyed the series up to this point will be happy with the final videos.
I’ll end with another discussion of viewer reception -- how I’ve perceived things since the InsideAMind video came out -- and a couple other final thoughts. All emotions about the series’ identity, positive and negative, have been duller since that video. It’s a wonderful feeling for the series to have, for lack of better phrasing, etched out a small place in the unfiction world, and nothing has mattered as much since I first felt that it had.
But if I’m being honest -- and it would be a lie by omission if I didn’t say this -- I’ve felt dispirited at times since that video came out, inasmuch as I’ve felt happy or unhappy about viewership and reception at all. From November 2020 to the time I’m writing this, we’ve released 18 videos in the series, and I don’t think one has gotten more views than the previous one more than maybe three times. This is more so the rule than the exception for web-series; it happened to Marble Hornets, certainly -- it happens to most at some point, I’d say, on larger and smaller scales alike. Regardless of whether HIMH or any other web-series “deserves” this (because I’m aware that our series is flawed), it’s been pretty discouraging at times, at least for me. The obsession with numbers becomes tiring, and yet the numbers are impossible to ignore. For the last few months, my motivation for finishing this series has mainly come from a personal desire to see the project through to the end and test my own abilities, not any fantasies about the series becoming more widely-known than it is now. Of course, though, from a more objective standpoint, the important thing is satisfying the remaining viewers who have enjoyed the series, theorized about it, and stuck with it. I hope the conclusion does so, providing many answers and emotional thrills.
Lately, the experience of working harder than ever to bring the series to a close while also seeing its flaws has confirmed to me how difficult it is to create an impressive, entertaining, enriching work of art with few means and few people at one’s disposal. The other actors did/do so much for me with no compensation that I tried to make their jobs as easy as possible by making as many decisions and doing as much of the work by myself as I could -- and I probably took on too much responsibility in the end.
I still believe that, though there have been issues with the presentation, the story of HIMH is a good one. We honestly didn’t make it up as we went along; we planned far in advance almost all the time, and have had (what we think are) good thematic reasons for making the choices we have. And though, clearly, discouragement sets in at times, the complementary times of excitement make it worthwhile. I am happy to have worked on this series -- it’s been an ambition of mine to complete an unfiction project for a decade, and I’m close enough to finished now that I know I’ll accomplish that objective.