By Paula Hendrickson
Randall Cropp and Christopher Cowley are best friends and creative collaborators at their production company, Squared Media. Whether making an independent film or a shooting TV pilot, the co-creators—both of whom are based in the Rock River Valley—divide duties, with Cropp serving as producer, writer, and director and Cowley as editor and the director of photography.
They’ve landed a distribution deal for their film, The 5th Kind, but are currently working on a pilot for a reality show called The Paranormal Project. Given the season, I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Cropp a few questions.
What led you to become a filmmaker?
Chris and I have known each other for 15 years and we’ve always been in love with art and creating. When we were kids we’d go out and film silly short videos. As we grew up we started to realize that we didn’t need to leave the dream as a dream, we could work to make it a reality. We’re absolute cinephiles and consummate consumers of media so that naturally led us to gravitate toward making films, TV shows and more.
Tell us a bit about The 5th Kind and its local connections.
The 5th Kind is completely finished and in distribution. We sold the film in January and it went live about two months ago. You can find it on iTunes, Vudu, Fandango Now, Hulu, in Family Video and more. The whole film was self-produced and we cast all local actors. We shot a vast majority of the film in the woods of Stronghold Castle and what we couldn’t get there, we went to some of the beautiful parks in and around the Rockford area. The film is based on a UFO that I had seen while standing outside in my yard, back when I lived in Rockford a few years ago.
What made you decide to make a reality series—and a paranormal one at that?
Chris and I have just about the most farfetched conversations in the world. We’ll talk about aliens, conspiracy theories, legends, and myths… and I think that mindset naturally led us to look at the paranormal. I can speak for both of us when I say that we believe that there is more to life than just ‘this’.
Chris adds, “I’ve just been fascinated with the paranormal and fringe science forever.”
So we decided to do an investigation at the old Shiller Piano Factory in Oregon. We went in as total skeptics just to see if it was an idea worth exploring. We ended up capturing some incredible stuff and that was that—we knew we had to explore further. We both love traveling. We love history. Chris is one of the most innovative editors and filmmakers that I know, so it just seemed a natural fit and I love to meet new people and learn everything about everything. We came up with The Paranormal Project and got right to work.
How are you raising funds for The Paranormal Project?
Luckily, as filmmakers, we were fortunate enough to be able to use our 5th Kind equipment for a lot of The Paranormal Project so that investment is paying off two-fold. But we still needed a little bit of extra funding in order to get into some hard-to-access locations. We put together a crowdsourcing campaign (gofundme.com/projectparanormal) in order to fill in the cracks of our budget. We’ve been lucky with some amazingly gracious donors so far.
Tinker Cottage is one location you’ve investigated for the show. How many do you have lined up so far?
So far we’ve filmed two actual locations. Tinker Swiss Cottage in Rockford and The Ashmore Estates in Ashmore. We’ll head out to Watseka in just about two weeks to film our most ambitious investigation yet at the Watseka Wonder. We’re going to look for a few more locations in and around Rockford to investigate and we hope that with these all in post-production we can come up with a solid 1-hour pilot episode to pitch to networks and investors.
What will set The Paranormal Project apart from other paranormal investigation series?
We are both absolutely in love with all of the paranormal investigation shows. From Ghost Hunters to Ghost Adventures, we love what they do. But we don’t want to copy them, we want to be ourselves. What makes us different is that we go into each investigation as if it were a rigorously controlled experiment. We have scientific gear that has never before been used on those shows. We have techniques and fabricated experiments that we believe can make a huge difference in the field. Ultimately, our goal for each episode is to inform, investigate, and entertain. We are shooting The Paranormal Project like it’s a travel show, but we’re treating our content with the utmost seriousness that the field deserves.
How many episodes are you making? Will you release them yourself—on a YouTube channel, perhaps—or are you shopping them around to studios or cable networks?
We have enough content right now to release three episodes. By the end of the year, we will have added another two episodes worth of content. Our goal is to take all of this and compress it into a pilot episode that we can pitch to networks. We’ve got feelers out to several national networks and we feel really good about our chances. But if that falls through, we have backup plans. We’ve been DIY our entire lives so if a network passes, we’ll release it digitally and get our audience the content they deserve. R.