It’s not uncommon for everyone's newsfeed to become flooded with Halloween memes throughout October. Scroll down far enough and you’re bound to encounter users sharing and resharing and re-resharing the same batch of holiday content. Sometimes it’s a meme proclaiming that spooky season is upon us. Other times it’s Michael Myers vibing to Fleetwood Mac. But one local animator has a new online series that's likely to stand out amid the holiday monotony.
New Ghosts on the Haunt is an online animated series from recent University of Miami graduate Alec Castillo. The web series centers on Skeeter and Scooter, a couple of slackers who lost their lives in 1998. Dying just before the new millennium, Skeeter and Scooter are doomed to haunt a hotel alongside the spirits of those who died at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The differences between the two ghostly groups are striking. Antiquated versus X-treme. Record players versus boom boxes. Dying of polio versus dial-up internet.
“There’s the irony that they think the '90s are the coolest, newest generation, but they’ve been dead since 1998, so they’ve missed the 2000s,” Castillo says. “There’s a whole layer of irony where they don’t know the future.”
It’s an idea Castillo has been kicking around for some time.
“In January of 2018, I was watching a ghost-hunters documentary — like, some night-vision GoPro strapped to some guy’s chest that goes into a haunted hotel,” Castillo explains. “The host of the show was like, ‘Why are ghosts all from super long ago?’”
Fast-forward a few months later. Castillo is interning at Adult Swim, and he’s invited to pitch content to the company. He recalled the ghost hunter's sentiment, only Castillo’s ghosts would remain crystallized in another forgotten era.
“It was going to be a little mini-mockumentary,” Castillo explains. “The concept was that there are '90s ghosts in different spots of America — like, there’s one guy in a Y2K bunker, there’s another ghost who loves the Chicago Bulls.”
Adult Swim passed on the project, but Castillo valued having been given the opportunity. He put the idea to rest as he returned to his studies at UM. A couple of years later, Castillo took a TV-writing class taught by screenwriter Tom Musca, best known for cowriting Stand and Deliver, the late-1980s cultural touchstone starring Edward James Olmos.
“At the beginning of class, he was telling us what he did over Christmas break, and he said he was at a haunted hotel,” Castillo says. “The point of that class was to write and develop a pilot, and the first day of class he was like, ‘Give me a pitch for a show, right now.’”
On the spot, Castillo decided to build a story off Musca’s holiday experience.
“I was like, ‘Oh, it starts in a haunted hotel,’” Castillo remembers. “The '90s-ghosts idea kind of flashed back in, and then I was like, ‘And then there are '90s ghosts, and they’re really annoyed with an AOL dial-up machine.’”
Castillo spent his final semester fleshing out the idea into a 22-minute pilot script for Musca’s class. As his college education was coming to a close, COVID was ramping up. Thanks to the pandemic, he and millions of other graduates were told the last thing any independent young adult wants to hear: Go to your room. But for Castillo, quarantine would provide the solitude to reassess his New Ghosts idea.
“It was a serious lockdown — inside all day,” Castillo says. “And I was like, 'This is pretty good. I guess I might as well just make it.’ Then I started the journey toward reformatting it and doing it as something for the web instead of a 22-minute series.”
Recruiting three close friends, he quickly assembled a writers' room. The four would meet over Zoom two or three times a week to rework New Ghosts on the Haunt into a three-episode season. Once writing was complete, Castillo reached out to friends in the Miami comedy scene to voice the show's characters. The season had to be completed in time for Halloween.
Castillo officially had the Holy Trinity required for running a show: a staff, a cast, and a deadline.
“It doesn’t have to be me just making a little video in my room,” Castillo says. “I could actually reach out and get people who can help make it happen.”
Given his background, Castillo is a diehard fan of all things Disney. In fact, he believes Disney’s brand of immersive storytelling is inherent to the way Miami citizens perceive the world.
“I grew up in Miami, so I feel like, for some people, a lot of the Miami experience is doing the three-hour drive up to Orlando once a year,” Castillo says. “That really shapes your view of entertainment and storytelling. No one gets to create characters of that magnitude nowadays — like, that’s like a lost art form.”
New Ghosts on the Haunt is a love letter to the Haunted Mansion and the Tower of Terror, and Castillo was determined to add some actual Disney talent to his roster. Enter Ron Schneider, a theme-park journeyman known for originating the role of the Dreamfinder at Epcot. When Castillo reached out to Schneider on Facebook, the actor took him up on it.
That made it all the more difficult for Castillo to make the decision to discard the plotline that involved Schneider — after the actor had already recorded the voice work.
“When it comes to the bigger picture, I really needed to put my big boy boots on and do what I needed as a creator and showrunner to make the best show possible,” Castillo elaborates. “I ended up cutting [Schneider’s] character just to make the story work, and I felt really nervous. He already recorded his lines.”
In the end, Schneider, was understanding of Castillo’s dilemma. Castillo offered him a different part, and he says Schneider knocked it out of the park.
“He made me understand it was a good thing and part of the process of making art,” he says of how the scenario played out. “If you still have an eraser on the back of your pencil, you should use it.”
New Ghosts on the Haunt is streaming now via YouTube.
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