For years, people on the internet have been eagerly watching videos regarding the supernatural, attempting to discover whether or not ghosts are real. Across Youtube, the biggest series attempting to answer this question has been Buzzfeed Unsolved, which dove into the ghost hunting field for seven seasons after successfully building a global audience in true crime. Both ‘True Crime’ and ‘Supernatural’ editions of BuzzFeed Unsolved cannot be compared to any of the countless other mimics online, all thanks to the undeniable, relatable charm of hosts/creators Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej. Well, now they’re back with another ghost-hunting series titled Ghost Files, but this time they’ve upped their game.
After leaving Buzzfeed with years of investigative experience under their belts, Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej looked to expand on their interests in a fresh way while still delivering their recognizable sense of humor to their highly dedicated fanbase. They’ve done exactly so with Ghost Files, and we had the chance to get to the bottom of their new supernatural series in an exclusive interview. We discuss the inception of Ghost Files, their recent developments within their new company Watcher Entertainment, what they learned from Buzzfeed Unsolved, and how the duo is taking their ghost-hunting experience to a whole new level. If you’re at all a fan, a Boogara or Shaniac perhaps, all of your biggest questions regarding their new show are answered below.
First of all, how did the idea to return to the paranormal world with Ghost Files come about, and how did you work to refine this idea in terms of what needed to change and be kept the same?
Ryan Bergara: Doing a show like [Buzzfeed] Unsolved for as long as we did, naturally, you kind of start to pinpoint things you could do better if you could do it all over. But when it came to Unsolved, it became such a hit that it’s hard to tinker with something if it’s doing well, like that adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I always knew I was going to go out and hunt ghouls again, but I had a couple of things to improve the format and make it a better show overall. I had been aggregating those thoughts to a part of my mind for a while, so when we finally had the opportunity to do this a second time, I was pretty excited to cobble all of those things together.
Despite it being a show about ghost hunting, there wasn’t a lot of evidence that came from Unsolved, which was great because people started coming to watch for the dynamic between Shane and me. I was curious if there was a way to pack in the scares and the evidence, while still delivering on the presentation, style, and humor we had come to be known for. With Ghost Files, we’ve figured out how to include our massive audience and involve them in a way so that we can now guarantee really cool, scary pieces of evidence in every episode, which we could never really do before.
Frankly, I’m just very relieved that the audience actually has sent in really great pieces of evidence for us to try and recreate. It’s been amazing to see that because it’s one thing to ask for something from the people who watch your show, and it’s another to actually have them follow through and participate.
Shane Madej: It’s kind of a big brain move from Ryan because it really is like killing two birds with one stone. This was always Ryan’s problem with Unsolved, trying to figure out how to avoid episodes that are straight-up snoozers. We had a few of those, which I think is good because it lets people know we aren’t faking evidence or playing up moments. Ryan had this fairly brilliant idea because we have this very engaged fanbase, so now we are involving them in a way they haven’t been before. You’re going to get some evidence no matter what we find out at these spooky locations, however, we have had some fairly chilling moments, so we’ve got the best of both worlds here.
How different is it developing this series compared to Buzzfeed Unsolved, now that you guys aren’t under such a larger corporation and brand?
Ryan Bergara: When we started Unsolved, we were really just getting into the show-making business. We had never really created or produced a show before at all. Unsolved, if you go back to the first episode, was just this sort of germ of an idea that I thought would be cool to test out and see if it got any traction, and never would I have imagined that one video would turn into a series that spanned 15 seasons over ‘True Crime’ and ‘Supernatural.’ Going into Ghost Files, we knew from the beginning that this will be a series that people hopefully will watch. And we now know what it is to make a show on Youtube, so it was definitely different from that perspective in that we were at two very different starting points in our lives and have much more knowledge now, which can be a blessing and a curse.
When you’re younger and just making a 5-minute video, there’s no expectation, preciousness, and overthinking attached. We did a good job staying away from those things creating Ghost Files, but there was definitely more pressure in this scenario. We had the freedom to make it whatever we wanted, and we were afforded a lot more opportunities for trial and error to figure out the language and feel of this series. That’s why we took so long making it, we didn’t want to have our first big ghost-hunting show on Watcher be something we just threw out there to appease people because that’s what they’re used to seeing. We wanted to make sure it was something we were proud of, and in that long, sometimes painful process, we came up with just that.
Shane Madej: It’s cool too because, to BuzzFeed’s credit, they were pretty hands-off with creative decisions on Unsolved. We really got to do a lot of what we wanted to do there. But like Ryan was saying, that wasn’t created as a ghost hunting show. It started out as Ryan and Brett [Bennett, original co-host of Buzzfeed Unsolved] just talking about crazy things they had heard, and then it grew over time. At a certain point, it was such a well-oiled machine that you don’t really want to tinker with the formula. It was cool, though, to see Ryan, after having had years of ghost hunting experience, craft the optimal version of the show based on everything we have learned as “the world’s greatest ghost hunters” over the past several seasons of our tireless, heroic work.
Ryan Bergara: Yeah, heroic for sure.
Compared to Buzzfeed Unsolved, Ghost Files is a longer form series with the first episode coming in at around an hour and, as you have confirmed Ryan, future episodes being around the same length. How has this longer format helped to expand these stories and experiences in a way that you’ve never had the chance to before?
Ryan Bergara: The longer time allows the show to breathe a little more. With Unsolved, it was an issue of manpower because we didn’t have as many resources dedicated to the show, which is crazy considering you would think that would be the problem at Watcher. However, BuzzFeed was a company that was making several different shows, with Unsolved being just one of them, while Watcher, despite also making multiple shows right now, has been circling Ghost Files on the calendar for some time. Here, we were able to experiment more with the look and how we were going to let scenes play out, as far as walking around locations.
It really just paved the way for more experimentation so we could make it into the best version it could be, and feel different from Unsolved but still have that same energy that people came to love. We also wanted to make it feel very distinct and different, and I don’t know if we would’ve been able to do that if we didn’t have not only the time to make it but also the runtime to play with. It’s not that we were locked into certain runtimes at BuzzFeed, but it was more just that it takes a certain amount of time to edit longer content, and we had to crank out a lot more back in the day. What it really boils down to is that we were able to be more experimental with more runtime, and I’m excited about it.
Without giving away too much about the actual episode, the premiere sees the two of you return to Waverly Hills Hospital after five years. What was it like to expand on that location in a way that you didn’t get to in the original episode?
Ryan Bergara: First off, when we visited Waverly before, we barely knew what we were doing when it came to ghost hunting. As Shane says, now as the world’s greatest ghost hunters, we are a bit more seasoned and savvy in our techniques. It was really cool to reinvestigate a place that we did so long ago, now armed with more knowledge, tools, and gadgets. That was already going to be fun because as someone who is a legitimate believer in ghosts and wants to gather evidence, I was pretty excited at the possibility of what we could catch now that we had more tools.
But other than that, we also didn’t really have as fine-tuned of a crew when we did Waverly before, so we weren’t really able to investigate as much of the property because we weren’t as efficient. Now, armed with a crew that has done this for five to six years, it was pretty cool to throw everything we had at the entirety of that location. I think that shows in terms of all the evidence we received and the stuff we captured ourselves, it’s definitely just far superior to the last time we went there.
Shane Madej: It’s also fun because the last time we went there, I honestly don’t know what we did last time. What point were we at? Did we have any tools? We just walked around, basically, right?
Ryan Bergara: Yeah, we just walked around with an audio recorder while you screamed.
Shane Madej: Yes, but this time was more fun because we finally got to do solo investigations, and they’re pretty lengthy. Waverly has long been the most daunting or imposing building we have ever investigated, so to be loosed upon it on our own, and to have to walk through the halls of that building alone, was a really fun experience.
Ryan Bergara: As you’re talking about it, my heart is actually starting to beat a little fast. We’ve done a lot of solo investigations up to this point, but this was the first time we did this new solo investigation, which was just kind of designed to be more miserable for me. We’re in there longer by ourselves and I really did not want to do the solo investigation at Waverly. I think that shows in the episode, it’s not an act and I was strongly considering taking the coward’s way out and just saying that I couldn’t do it because I would have a heart attack.
I lost my mind a little bit there, it really is horrifying. Waverly has tormented me for so long in nightmares, so to return there and have to do it by myself, it’s crazy. I can’t believe I didn’t bring that up, it’s almost like I blocked it out of my mind, I wasn’t well. It was also freezing, and I was actually glad it was freezing because it gave me something to distract myself. I could be like, “Well, maybe I’ll die of frostbite,” instead of seeing “little Timmy” in there. Yeah, thinking about that just gave me a physical reaction.
I know the loyal Boogaras and Shaniacs are eagerly waiting to see the evidence (or non-evidence) of whether or not ghosts are truly real. Do you think this season of Ghost Files could provide more evidence to that question than ever before?
Ryan Bergara: Oh absolutely. We still have one more episode to shoot but in the five we have finished, we have probably had more happen than we’ve had in several seasons of Unsolved combined. We have a bit more time at these places to conduct a full investigation, and now we’ve started placing cameras and audio recorders in places where we weren’t at, which has proven pretty fruitful with what we have caught this season. I think we’re going to be offering more to discuss than ever before – that will be exciting for Ghost Files Debrief, which will be focused on what happened at the location and showing audiences evidence that we weren’t able to get into the episode, and answering viewer questions focused around the location!
Shane Madej: The comments are going to be a warzone, though.
Ryan Bergara: Yeah, if you thought the two camps had eased, that’s not the case. They’re just diametrically opposed forces of nature. I don’t think it’s going to be any better this season based on what we’ve captured because it’s going to be hot on those streets.
Shane Madej: We gave them a year off, but now they’re returning to their battle stations because there is a lot to discuss in this upcoming season.
Ryan Bergara: Sharpen your swords, Boogaras, there is a war to fight out there.
While discussing your fan base, I’ve seen so many of your fans eagerly anticipating Ghost Files on social media. How has it felt to see all these loyal viewers follow you guys from BuzzFeed to Watcher?
Ryan Bergara: It’s incredible, it definitely puts you in this permanent mindset of gratitude. It really brings into focus that this show, nor would this company, have happened if it wasn’t for the people who have supported us since Unsolved. When we were making Unsolved, we worked for BuzzFeed and we were just doing our job. When it came to Watcher, that was born out of the support from all the fans, and the fact that now we’re a legit company with employees because of that support really is insane. That has also just pushed us even harder to do our best to make this show as good as it possibly can.
We don’t want to just do a half-assed version of Unsolved, we want this to be something that pays homage to what came before but is also completely its own thing and worth your time. I would like to think the reason we have gotten to where we are is that we create content knowing that the audience’s time is precious, and we’re very thankful that they chose to spend it with us. Sometimes that can drive you insane, in terms of trying to make things too good. You’re never going to be able to make things as good as you want them to be, but as long as the effort is there, that’s all you can ask for.
Shane Madej: Yeah, it’s very much worth the wait. This one is for our fans. It’s got their evidence, we’re going to places where they want us to go. We gave them one week after Unsolved ended so they wouldn’t take us for granted, then we quickly announced Ghost Files. We couldn’t wait any longer because we didn’t want people to think we were abandoning them. I saw people who were like, “I can’t believe they are going to stop ghost hunting!” We decided to let them think that briefly, but we needed them to know we would return with our boots on, so they didn’t have to worry.
It’s not too much of a stretch to consider the two of you pioneers in true crime content as well, with BuzzFeed Unsolved: True Crime being one of the earliest examples of an in-depth true crime series, which is now found all over Youtube, Twitch, Instagram, and TikTok. Have there been any discussions about you guys possibly returning to true crime in the future at Watcher?
Ryan Bergara: There have been discussions, but for now it’s definitely not something that we’re looking to do. Over the years of discussing true crime with Unsolved, it definitely wears on your psyche a little bit. We’ve talked about different versions of what we could do with it, so I’m not going to completely rule it out but right now it’s not something that we’re focused on. We made Watcher to be able to host shows we want to make, and I hope that’s apparent.
For instance, we made Puppet History because Shane is a history buff and he loves puppets because he’s a weirdo. We made a show that combined those two things, and luckily people watched it. It was the same thing with Unsolved, that came from me just being passionate about ghosts and true crime, and that’s where I was in my life at that point. Now, I’m very much focused on ghost hunting and other topics that Watcher has covered like travel, food, and creepypastas, which is actually what got me into the Internet horror sphere to begin with. It’s not something that I’m going to completely rule out but it’s definitely not something that we’re focused on right now.
Shane Madej: When we started doing ‘True Crime’ at BuzzFeed, it’s weird because it felt saturated then but towards the end of Unsolved, it felt even more saturated. I think there’s still a wide interest there but we would want to find an angle on it that would be interesting to us. We have talked about different approaches that may still see the light of day at some point, but right now, we are all in on the supernatural. You know, plenty of terrible things have happened at all these places we’re going to, so people looking for some truly depressing content can still find it.
Ryan Bergara: Yeah, we would have to find a specific point of view that’s different from what we’ve done in the past. That’s what we’re doing here with Ghost Files, the point of view and the approach is different, and that warrants a new show. There are things that we’re kicking around that might be a possibility, but they’re just not ready at this point.
I know you probably don’t want to get too far ahead of yourselves, especially with Ghost Files having not even premiered yet, but have there been any discussions about a possible second season and what that could entail in the future?
Ryan Bergara: Interesting. What can I say about that? I guess I wouldn’t be too sad, I suppose. I actually don’t know how to answer that.
Shane Madej: We have to walk the line of making it seem like we’re not the ones who greenlight our own shows.
Ryan Bergara: Yeah, we can’t just leave it up to the higher-ups because we are the higher-ups now. We do have our plans and we have a team of people that are very good at messaging those plans, and we often mess those plans up. I remember on a live stream with our audience, I shared my screen and on the tabs of my browser were the plans for a show that hadn’t even been announced yet, so I guess you can call me the Tom Holland of Watcher. I’m terrified to talk about my own company, so with that, I’m just going to keep quiet there.
Shane Madej: I mean I’ll say probably 100 seasons, right? That gives you a different take on that.
Finally, you two have experienced many different hauntings in your time as ghost hunters. Are there any past hauntings you would like to return to in the future of Ghost Files and expand on them further?
Ryan Bergara: We returned to Waverly, so we’re never ruling out any kind of return as long as it makes sense. There are definitely places that warrant further exploration and I feel we could get more out of them. And there are certain places I definitely won’t go back to, like the Island of the Dolls. That place was gross and covered in spiders, and I don’t like gross places or spiders, especially if the spiders number in the thousands. But yeah, I definitely think there are places we will return to, that’s just the nature of this series. There are a lot of haunted places, but there are only so many.
Shane Madej: I don’t know if there are any specific ones off the top of my head. It’s obviously a lot of fun to return to places that we didn’t get to properly explore, but there are also just so many places we haven’t been. It might be on account of people being fans of the show, but there are places that I pinch myself that we’re allowed to go. Like in this season, we go to Alcatraz for an episode, which is unbelievable that they let us go there and do the things that we do on such hallowed ground.
Ryan Bergara: They welcomed us with open arms into a major historical site in our country’s history. They must have seen Shane scream at the Goatman and tell him to go fuck himself so they decided to bring him on to Alcatraz and have him go to exhibits.
Shane Madej: Yeah, I hope we will continue to go to these places because, as irreverent paranormal bad boys as we are, we are very respectful and our reputation precedes us at this point. We’re wonderful, sweet boys that people love to have at their locations.
Ryan Bergara: In terms of respecting the structures themselves and not making a mess, but verbally, no, not at all.
Shane Madej: Yeah, verbally we are quite rude and crass.