The bright lights of Hollywood cast celebrities as larger-than-life, untouchable, flawless – everything we wish we could be. But behind the glitter and glam lie dark shadows, a seedy underbelly that reaches far beyond the borders of Hollywood. Our October Podcasters of the Month, sleuths and podcast hosts Tammie Merheb-Chavez and Brice Mitchell Williams, recognized that the ghosts of crime in the Golden State remain long after its famous occupants have died.
Merheb-Chavez and Williams teamed up in 2017 to explore the twisted world of “Hollyweird Paranormal.” The podcast features true crime and paranormal activity from Hollywood through Los Angeles, California, and beyond. They tell titillating tales of true crime and its paranormal aftermath – from saving one of L.A.’s historical and haunted restaurants, to preserving Marilyn Monroe’s 1929 Spanish colonial home, to the ghosts of Mae West and Montgomery Clift.
A transplant from New Orleans, Merheb-Chavez moved to Los Angeles in 2009. In addition to being a part-time paranormal investigator, she’s a full-time costume designer for film, TV and theater. Williams lived in various states in the Midwest in conservative, Christian communities. As such, he never really believed in any kind of paranormal activity, yet life experiences have taught him otherwise.
It’s only fitting in the fright-filled, mythical month of Halloween that we delve into the fascinating and wicked world of true crime and paranormal. Merheb-Chavez and Williams share their insights on growing and sustaining your show, no matter what genre.
- You have a wide scope of approaches within Hollyweird, from dead celebrities to paranormal incidents to crime, to listener tales to studying haunted locations across the U.S. How did you decide on this format and how has it benefited your show’s success?
As silly or cliche as it may sound, I think our style has mostly been an experiment in trial and error. Our journey to making the podcast what it sounds like today was born mostly out of two friends just chit-chatting during breaks at work and one day realizing, “We might have something here?!” When we first started, we didn’t know what we were doing, where this would take us, and if anyone would even listen! In the beginning, we just knew that the more we interacted with the people around us, the more we discovered that everyone had some type of paranormal story to tell. It truly is a great unifier! And we knew that many people shared our affinity for everything that surrounded this weird entertainment town we are so lucky to live in! So our initial episodes were really just a love letter to the marriage of those two worlds. We really didn’t have any idea what it would begin to morph into!
As we went on, we started branching out and meeting the amazing people who partake in this sphere and we got to know our amazing listeners. The more we progressed, the more stories we were able to spotlight and, in many ways, following that passion for collecting stories and the people who share them has been the greatest success we didn’t even know to hope for!
As we continue to move forward, I hope to continue adapting. The world of Hollywood and the world of paranormal investigations are both deeply kinetic and alive. We are watching in real-time via the strikes how drastically and quickly the entertainment industry is changing. Our future and passion will be to move forward with the changes in these fields and continue to tell the stories and experiences that bring these worlds and people together!
- Each of you has had distinct experiences that piqued your interest in the paranormal. I know it’s hard to summarize, but can you each tell us what prompted you to investigate paranormal activities and start this podcast?
Brice: I would say I have always been a skeptic of what is typically considered, “paranormal.” Growing up very religiously, we really only believed in a very narrow understanding of what happens to us when we die. Unfortunately, that worldview wasn’t able to encompass the experiences I was having with my own eyes and ears and gut instinct. As with anything, when you are confronted with evidence that contradicts your worldview, you can either double-down on your beliefs or adapt to the new information being presented to you.
I have always believed in logic and in my own instincts; so I just try and trust those to guide me when I can’t fully understand the world around me. I think that mindset helps in this world of paranormal investigation because it keeps me grounded in the ability to be open to what is possible and skeptical in a way that is rooted in facts. I am the first to admit that there is so much we truly don’t understand, but I also like a little proof in my pudding! Starting this podcast with Tammie has truly just been the natural extension of both our friendship and our experiences with the paranormal! We have been extremely lucky to see some truly incredible places and investigate and meet some amazing people! The podcast is just one way that we are lucky enough to share those experiences with a wider audience!
Tammie: I’m originally from New Orleans, which is a very spooky and haunted city, so I’ve always been intrigued and curious when it came to dealing with the paranormal. I’ve had quite a few unexplainable experiences growing up and it seems that I was on this paranormal journey that has evolved and manifested into this unique paranormal podcast with Brice, who has been this amazing balance on my views.
The paranormal investigations grew after our first season when I had this urge to find the answers to the questions that have resided in my mind from the beginning, “what happens to us after we die?” “Are ghosts real?” “What are ghosts ?” and “Is there a consciousness that persists after we expire?” That’s when I realized that I wanted Hollyweird to be more than lip service, I wanted to do the fieldwork and bring our listeners along for the ride with Brice, who braved certain locations with me. I learned more from his experiences than from my own because they were shared experiences, which are the most important.
- Hollyweird has been active since 2017, Well done! What are some tips for your fellow podcasters on how to sustain a successful podcast? And, importantly, how do you approach co-hosting to maintain that success?
You must always put yourself and your mental health first! We’ve seen many of our fellow podcasters go through burn-out and depart from their podcast because they’ve overworked themselves, which affected their content, clarity and drive. It’s okay AND important to take a break or a little hiatus from the microphones because life and work get in the way. We’ve always taken time off from our podcast because we have our day jobs, trips we want to take and ourselves to tend to. But, we notice something amazing happens! We notice that our listeners send us messages expressing their excitement for future episodes, we gain more inspiration with the time we allot ourselves, and it gives us time to meet new people and places that end up making their way onto our podcast.
What has helped us in this approach is that we’ve been good friends for years, which helps everything else evolve naturally and organically on our podcast journey. For podcasts with more than one host, communication and maintaining a healthy friendship with one another is very important. We’ve always made sure to be understanding of each other’s time and outside projects while being flexible with our recording schedule.
- In what ways do you think podcasting can be a powerful tool for exploring the supernatural and creating a sense of mystery, and how do you approach this in your own show?
I think that podcasting is one of the mediums best suited to the exploration of the supernatural! We all, of course, love to go to a scary movie or a scary amusement park because we crave the pressure release valve of “terror!” But, much like Hitchcock movies, what is unseen is often scarier than even the best, most expensive CGI. Podcasts leave so much up to each listener’s imagination and they will be able to concoct something far spookier and personal than any more-visual medium could. Ultimately, at its core, podcasting is just very technological story-telling. I think this has always been our approach with Hollyweird. We are storytellers and story collectors. The stories will always unify and entertain, and yes, sometimes even scare! We have been so lucky that so many people have been generous with their stories and that we have gotten to witness so many incredible stories through this podcast. In many ways, we get to stand at the crossroads of history and entertainment and are able to use paranormal investigation alongside more traditional historical methods to delve into worlds that might otherwise remain mysteries. And then, through the connectivity of podcasts, we are lucky enough to share those experiences! We may be a bit biased because it is the method we have chosen for ourselves, but we can’t imagine a more intimate, more readily available tool to explore this world and then disseminate that experience than through podcasting!
- How do you vet the trustworthiness of the individuals you talk to and reports you receive on paranormal activity? Can you give advice on maintaining credibility in podcasting to your fellow content creators?
We’ve created and maintained a very safe space for our listeners, especially for those who submit their personal paranormal stories for our segment of “Listeners’ Tales.” With that said, a lot of the stories submitted are pretty genuine, and each one is astonishing yet very personal. What makes them more genuine is when some of these stories open with, “I was never a believer of ghosts until…”
But, we always approach everything submitted with an open mind and logical approach. If we are sent videos and pictures, then that is when we bring in our contacts in the paranormal field who specialize in studying and analyzing these types of evidential recordings. We always vet those who uphold a great amount of ethics and education while at the same time having a fresh pair of eyes to catch onto something we missed.
The biggest advice that we can give to content creators is to have a great amount of ethics, respect and positive creativity with what you produce. The impact of your work and storytelling is pretty palpable when you’re growing your audience and creating a space for others to share.
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