by Lorie Lewis Ham
Our Halloween issue seemed the perfect time to talk about an interesting web series called Horror Hotel. Recently we interviewed the show’s creator Ricky Hess about this interesting series, and you can even check out an episode of the series at the end of this post!
KRL: Tell us what exactly Horror Hotel is?
Ricky: Horror Hotel is an anthology web series that has intriguing stories inspired by The Twilight Zone and the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television show. The stories span sci-fi/fantasy/suspense/mystery. It is considered a family friendly series with no offensive content.
KRL: When did the first episodes go up?
KRL: Where did the idea come from for the series?
Ricky: I was working with some local horror filmmakers a few years back making short films, and got the idea to make a horror-themed web series. I have always liked The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so making an anthology series appealed to me; and gave us the ability to expand our storytelling with different tales in each episode. We can explore stories in mixed genres from sci-fi to fantasy to horror to suspense. The great thing about an anthology series is that it appeals to a wide range of people. If one episode doesn’t float your boat, another probably will.
KRL: Why did you want to do this type of series?
Ricky: Web or digital series are the new wave of viewing media, as more people move away from traditional platforms to view their entertainment where and when they want it. I wished to get in on the increasingly popular web platforms which can cross over to traditional outlets as well. Another big factor was that shorter episodes can be produced, enabling us to enlist the help of more cast and crew without a major time commitment on their part.
KRL: What is the web series background of those involved?
Ricky: I had helped out on several other web series productions before in various crew capacities, and lots of our cast and crew members have worked on or appeared in other web series. The production of a web series is no different from any other kind of film work. It’s just that they are primarily shown on the web. Due to the technology, you can now watch most web content on your big screen TV via set box tops like Roku. Plus, with the widespread use of high quality cameras, like the Red and others, the production value can be just as high as big studio work with 4K capability. As a matter of fact, there are many major studios producing web series now with well-known actors because they want to capture that web audience as well.
KRL: How do you come up with episode ideas?
Ricky: We have a dedicated writer for the series who happens to be my dad, Al Hess. He has been writing stories since he was in college and wrote for the campus newspaper. When I was a kid he delighted in sitting around the campfire with my Cub Scout pals making up scary stories. I guess they were pretty effective because they sometimes caused the boys to call up their parents to come and take them home. He has a vivid imagination and trends toward artifact-based episodes like Warehouse 13, or more retro stories similar to the ones in The Twilight Zone. The ideas come from lots of places. The “Tesla’s Tooth” episode came from the news about a possible ban on sugar drinks in New York City a while back, an initiative which failed.
One of our upcoming second season episodes, “Aliens Stole My Boyfriend,” was birthed when my dad saw the Denzel Washington movie, Flight. He liked the airplane crash in the movie, and decided he wanted to do a story with a space buggy crash. We said fine, come up with a plot, which he did. We actually produced the “crash” using our custom-built motel model. He hand-carved a space ship (buggy) with which we did stop motion photography to produce the crash. On long road trips, he and I will start coming up with story concepts and ideas. We are all fond of sci-fi, so that type of story is always on our minds. He also knows what we are capable of producing, so choosing stories becomes much easier for us.
KRL: How did you come up with the funding?
Ricky: We are fortunate enough to be able to self-fund the series and will continue to do so. Web series are not known for producing much, if any, income. Streaming video, while wildly popular, has yet to be monetized well. While there are advertisers out there, the revenue from it is minuscule compared to traditional television platforms. There is very little, if any, money to spread around. You make web series for the love of the process and for fun.
KRL: I see it’s a family affair. What family members are involved, what are their roles, and have you worked together on other projects? Is it a plus or a challenge to work with family?
Ricky: We are a family production. Debbie, the executive producer, is my mom and Al, the writer, is my dad. They came on board to help produce the series with me. Debbie has a background in advertising and marketing which suited her for the organization demands of assembling together the cast and crew needed to create episodes, and to work on the distribution side of things. My dad, as I stated earlier, writes the episodes to date. He also is a fabulous carpenter and artist in his own right. He makes most of the props we use in the episodes. Together we all built the set, including the carpentry work, plumbing, electrical, etc. It took about six months to complete. We are slow! I had post-production, special effects, and costume experience; I created the series, I direct, and about a million other things. The three of us multi-task to say the least.
It is a plus for us to work together as a family simply because we are all on the same page, work together so well to get things done and make decisions quickly. There are always differences of opinion about one thing or another, but we work it out and just keep moving forward.
KRL: Was/is it difficult to cast?
Ricky: Casting has become much easier the further along we get. In the beginning, before we were very well known, our auditions ran light. We would have fewer than 30 people show up for auditions. We always appeal to our local talent and prefer to use them, because Atlanta has so many talented actors from whom to choose. As we continue to produce more episodes and increase our distribution, the auditions have grown a lot. Now when we post new casting announcements, my mom, Debbie, gets swamped with submissions which we are thankful for. It’s so exciting to see a lot of people interested in being a part of the project.
KRL: Was it hard to find someone to do the makeup and costumes and sets?
Ricky:Because of budget restraints, we usually don’t have a dedicated makeup artist. We really don’t need one for most episodes. We did bring on three people for episode “Guillotine,” because the girls “’transformed” to glamour queens and we needed a drastic, professional look. Unless we need special costumes, actors usually self-costume. We had special alien costumes made for “Aliens Stole My Boyfriend” because we wanted them to have really cute, 60s retro airline stewardess dresses. They were amazing too!
The sets are important to us. We needed to create a creepy, unique atmosphere as most of the stories take place inside the room itself. We custom-built our set in the basement of a house with breakaway walls like a theater stage. We redecorate it for each episode with different wall treatments (we have lots of “peeling paint”), different furniture, etc. My mom, Debbie, designs each new set treatment. It is her favorite thing to do. I guess it’s pretty convincing as people often ask us where the creepy motel we use is located. We also custom-built a motel model which we use for miniature photography for exterior shots. Occasionally we do some location shooting at a real motel or around town, but not too often as that takes up too much shooting time and our time is limited.
KRL: How many episodes were in season 1?
Ricky: Season 1 had six episodes ranging in length from 12-18 minutes, with a total of over 90 minutes of content. That is quite a lot for a web series. We do what is called long form web series.
KRL: How many are/will be in season 2?
Ricky: We are on track to have six episodes as well in Season 2. We are striving for more production value in season 2 and trying out new things that we did not do in season 1.
KRL: I understand the series has won some awards. Can you tell us about those?
Ricky:Earlier this year we won four outstanding awards at the LA Webfest for Outstanding Series Directing, Score, and Sound Design. Kudos to all our cast and crew for making that possible. We have made quite a circuit of film festivals this past year, and were selected to screen in over 10 so far, including the recent Raindance Film Festival in Great Britain.
KRL: When did the connection with Hulu happen?
Ricky:We began airing on Hulu in May of this year. We are also available on AT&T U-verse, Xfinity and MSN videos with more platforms being added all the time.
KRL: How exciting was that?
Ricky:We were very excited and honored to be selected for Hulu and run alongside network programming. We are so thrilled to be able to offer the cast and crew who have contributed their talent and time such a high-caliber platform to showcase their hard work.
KRL: What are the future plans for Horror Hotel?
Ricky:Well, as long as we are having fun and have the funds to do so, we will continue to produce episodes. We will be announcing soon even more platforms to add to our distribution. We just want people to be able to see Horror Hotel and enjoy it in as many places as possible.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Ricky:We really believe in the future of web programming, are thrilled to be on that cutting edge, and to be able to see it growing exponentially. We are so appreciative to all the cast and crew of Horror Hotel (over 100 to date now) who have made this series possible.
Editor’s Note: We just got news from the producer of Horror Hotel about the following: We will be running on DirectTV starting in November on channel 568 in rotation with other short films. It’s our first broadcast platform and we are very excited about that.
Learn more about Horror Hotel and keep up with new episodes by visiting them on the internet: