On Why We Want to Believe with Jason Hewlett, JoBlo.com & Vancouver Paranormal

14 Jun

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

To make a mark in the paranormal pop culture scene requires a schtick network television and mainstream movies rarely want to play up. We Want to Believe is not so much about exploring the wilds of Supernatural British Columbia than Super, natural as it’s actually marketed. Instead, it’s to reveal to enthusiasts of such occult-type television programming a web series can hold a viewer’s attention much better in a shorter, digestible format!

The show’s genesis came from Jason Hewlett, who originally thought of making an audio podcast after spending a few years with the Vancouver Paranormal Society (VPS). He has his own show, works for the Kamloops Daily News covering local crime and is a voice on Radio NL 610 AM before bringing his skills to the group. All it took was believing there was something under the bed as a child and finding something weird–perhaps druidic–on a hike once at Shuswap Lake later in his years.

Jason Hewlett behind the microphone

“We had done one episode teasing at the idea of a show,” reveals Hewlett. “We thought of having a Facebook live video on our page and John Fallon, from Arrow in the Head & Joeblo Movie Network saw there’s a show.

“He said, ‘You should really do it as a YouTube short. There’s a bigger audience, and et cetera. We have this channel that we’re starting up…”

His advice to shape the program to what it is–a 10 minute peek into what VPS does–was perfect. Not everyone has the time or attention span to be committed to a singular hobby and be ready to review hours of endless footage. This team is one of Canada’s oldest organizations, dating back to 1993, and the membership is truly dedicated in seeking to understand the para-realities that current science cannot explain. They once were part of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, but have later decided they are better off on their own, especially when the Pacific Northwest region is its own world.

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(L-R) Brandon Knippelberg (cinematographer/editing) Shawn Knippelberg (co-host/sound) Jason Hewlett (co-host/writer/director/cinematographer) Pete Renn (co-host/lead investigator) Sarah Jane (investigator with Vancouver Paranormal Society) and Marcus Flor (cinematographer/editing).

“We got a pretty good group right now with the VPS, especially here in the interior,” says Hewlett. “The people that we got together for We Want to Believe was like …. We tried a year ago and we just didn’t have the right group; it just wasn’t happening.”

“I think when the first television shows came along, the people didn’t expect to become famous. At a certain point, especially if you’re on a network, you’re going to bow to that network’s demand. You can’t have a show where nothing happens. We hope we get a case where we find nothing. We want to be the first.

“That happens more than half the time we’re on a case. So if you want to be famous or if you decide you’re going to be a paranormal investigator and want to appear in the press right away, question why you’re doing it. [What we do is] more about [us] helping to calm people’s nerves and change their perspective on what the paranormal is.”

Hotel manager Riis Ingalls explains the paranormal activity while cinematographer Brandon Knippelberg and writer/director Jason Hewlett film

In the same token, those who have spent decades in the study of parapsychology deride what the entertainment industry has done. Salon.com published a piece about how the academics used to get their fair share. They do more lectures than paranormal societies and that got displaced. Both have a goal to educate the public. It’s not just about placating the nerves of those affected by a mysterious encounter with something they can’t fully comprehend. Sometimes investigators have to be counsellors too.

When the team went to a haunted hotel that’s been converted to social housing, they were not only mindful of the residents, but also considerate to investigate the root causes that created this resident’s reputation.

“By episode four, the Demon Jar (hinted at in episode one) will be talked about a lot more. The manager of the hotel has a friend who claims to have captured a demon in a jar, which is why the episodes are called the Demon Jar. We will hear this story again plus see a picture,” says Hewlett.

What makes this series enjoyable is that it doesn’t have those annoying bumpers leading to a commercial and after break reveal nothing spectacular. The creative minds are well aware of what irks them when watching those network paranormal reality programs on Travel Channel or A&E. They’re here to offer the opposite. We Want to Believe is a program made by investigators for investigators, and JoBlo.com gave the team carte blanche to produce what they want.

“We’re only using music during some of the talking head sequences,” reveals Hewlett, “And we use it because the first episode is setting everything up. You do need the ambience. There’ll be more in the third one, but eventually, there’ll be no music at all. We’re not trying to grab your attention.

“I’m sure that’ll turn off some viewers, but we’re just trying to show what it’s really like during an investigation. We’re trying to keep it as honest, accurate and realistic as possible.”

Lead investigator Peter Renn and investigator Sarah Jane

Although when things get exciting, a whisper or capturing something on film, naysayers will climb out of the woodwork to debunk and the enthusiasts will say that’s the most amazing footage ever seen. That’s the nature of YouTube and any other social media service with scores of videos of alleged paranormal activity. All anyone has to do is look at all the comments.

Hewlett is aware and can’t fault what these people are saying. This includes the pareidolia effect. He says, “I believe it can impact what we see, or think we see, even in a picture. That’s something we as investigators struggle with.”

Even with having a new show on the block, there is a fine line all investigative groups have to consider. As soon as they branch into a medium where you are showing what you do, a certain pressure rises to have something to show for your effort. This producer knows you need to be prepared to either deliver that, or decide it doesn’t matter. “You also open yourself up to further scrutiny and naysayers, and need to be ready to defend your work, and live with what others might think,” adds Jason.

Jason Hewlett puts on film an EVP session

As for this show’s future, just like every other television show, streaming or otherwise, they are on a brief hiatus because of COVID-19. The team is not sure when they’ll be back out, and thankfully they have enough footage to finish the “Demon Jar” arc. The next episode is with the chiefs at JoBlo.com for review and the finale still needs to be pared down from its 24 minute length. If there’s a fifth, that depends on whether or not there’s any loose strings.

The next chapter will be “The Barn.” It’s just that, an old refurbished warehouse allegedly being spooked. “[Having that title] seemed to make sense since it’s got that nice ominous ring to it, assuming you’re a horror movie fan.” grins Hewlett.

The fact most paranormal investigators are horror movie buffs is because they were drawn to the subject at an early age and it’s more or less defined them for much of their years. “To live or experience it for real is not the same thing,” Hewlett says, “They’re both very different.”

These works go hand in hand because of popular culture. Movies like Blair Witch, The Conjuring, The Entity or Amityville Horror features someone trying to be a detective. Hollywood and film is going to sex it up as much as possible because that’s what sells tickets. In the real world, Hewlett says it’s very rare when something goes flying off the shelf or a spirit comes in to throw people around. The movies make you think that happens in every case when it’s not.

As for where this show will go next, the sky’s the limit. For now, the locations will focus on what’s nearby for them to investigate in the Interior of British Columbia–and they can easily sideline to finding the famous cryptids known here, namely BC’s lake monster, Ogopogo and the Pacific Northwest’s version of the Sasquatch. The unexplored byways are ripe for more mysteries; from Prince Rupert to Prince George is a stretch of road, Highway 16, known for a lot of disappearances and deaths.

“Paranormal societies are naturally drawn to hauntings. They’re easier than trying to find a Bigfoot or spending nights looking up at the sky and not getting anything. To say We Want to Believe leaves it open for us to cover a little bit of everything in the end, which we hope to do.” smiles Hewitt.

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