On a dark and stormy Vancouver night, Haunted Sunshine Girl sat on the black sofa, toying with her flip camera as her mother sat by her side.
The 17-year-old, who uses the name Sunshine to protect herself from online stalkers, has been filming her adventures with slamming doors, strange noises and other byproducts of household ghosts since last December.
So far, the series of mostly two-minute videos has gained quite a cult following on the Web, netting more than 4.3 million total views on the YouTube channel “hauntedsunshinegirl” and averaging about 25,000 hits a day.
And that makes director Nick Hagen, who came up with the original idea for the series, very happy.
“I’m kind of interested in the paranormal. I think it’s fun,” Hagen said. “This series is basically the groundwork for our production company, called Coat Tale Productions. It’s like a startup, small-business venture for us.”
A lot of people believe the ghost activity in the series is real, but actually most of the strange phenomena are created with visual effects software and fishing wire, he said.
Even people who have discovered that Sunshine’s mother — played by her real-life mother, Mercedes Rose — is a professional actress sometimes have a hard time believing that there aren’t paranormal forces at work behind the levitating unicorn (yes, really) and other strange happenings on the show.
“We get all sorts of offers to help fight the ghosts,” Rose said. “People adamantly believe it, even if you tell them otherwise.”
‘Pretty much just me’
The success of the series can most likely be attributed to the talents of Sunshine, who, along with being attractive, comes across easily as the genuine, upbeat, energetic and somewhat silly teenager that she is in real life.
“Sunshine is me, pretty much just me, except that I’m not really haunted,” she said, smiling at her mother.
Rose got the idea to recruit her daughter for the show after Hagen came forward with the idea, she said.
“I knew it would work, and I knew Sunshine had the personality to pull it off,” Rose said. “She’s an Aries, like me, she just loves the attention.”
Another reason that the personality and adventures of Sunshine come off well in the show is that the series parallels her real life. When the fictional Sunshine gets sick, it’s likely that heralter ego is sick too. When Sunshine is preparing for her high school prom, so is the girl who plays her.
And when the fictional Sunshine lists 10 things about herself in the show, well, those are pretty much the same for the real 17-year-old, too.
“Pretty much everything is true,” said Sunshine, sipping on a bottle of Vitamin Water, which she touts in that list. “It’s just me.”
Much of the show is filmed in Vancouver at Hagen’s house.
“It’s great that we get to film at my house because I can sit around during the week and think, hmmm, what can I do here,” Hagen said.
Sunshine’s room in the series is also in Hagen’s house — which nets a few laughs from the young actress when she notes that she has her own bedroom on set.
Sometimes problems in the Hagen household become opportunities for the show, as well.
One of Hagen’s dogs wrecked his bathroom door by severely scratching it several months ago. Before he replaced it, the group decided to use it in a scene in the show, adding some bloody handprints and screaming children to the background.
“When his dog attacked that door we were like, how can we use these scratches?” Rose said. “We have a great time.”
Check it out
“The Haunting of Sunshine Girl”:
• On YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/hauntedsunshinegirl
• On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheHauntingOfSunshineGirl
• On Twitter: http://twitter.com/hauntedsunshine
Some outdoor scenes are also shot around Vancouver, including a segment (number 36 in the first stream called “Ghost at the Old Fort”) where Sunshine and her mother go to visit the “creepy old fort,” which, of course, is Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Nobody’s getting rich off the series, but Rose and Hagen said they’re thrilled that with the advertising revenue so far they can pay all of their actors — something that’s fairly uncommon for a small-scale production like “Haunted Sunshine Girl.”
They both said they hope to pay Sunshine enough that she doesn’t need to take on another job when she goes to college next year.
And no, Sunshine said adamantly, she doesn’t intend to go to college to become a professional actress.
“I wouldn’t mind being famous, but I don’t want to be an actress,” Sunshine said. “I’d really like to go to art college and get a general degree. I want to stay in the industry — this is my family. But I think it would be really fun to do art directing or something like that. Like making all the wands in Harry Potter would be so cool.”
Despite the show’s success, other kids at Sunshine’s high school haven’t really found out about her side gig so far, she added.
“One kid found out the other day, he’s like ‘I found your YouTube channel,’” Sunshine said. “I’m like uh, that’s not me. Uh, OK, yeah, let’s not mention that to anybody.”
The group has been filming some especially creepy episodes in honor of the show’s first Halloween.
And on Oct. 29 at noon Pacific Time, expect a special live broadcast with multiple videos responding to fan questions, Hagen said.
“It’s like a fan appreciation day, and at the end we’ll have a very special scary video,” he said.
“What’s it going to be?” Sunshine asked him, eagerly.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Hagen told her.
As to whether paranormal activity in general is real, the three said they’re really not all that sure.
“I believe in it,” Rose said.
“I’d like to, but I don’t outright believe,” Hagen said. “I’d have to see something first.”
And Sunshine? Does she believe?
“Yeah, uh, sure,” the 17-year-old said with a wry smile, as she prepared to fire up the video camera.