About this project
After over 3 years of research, we're proud to present our new Kickstarter campaign: What Happened to Elisa Lam?
This documentary will explore the mysterious case of a young woman who was found dead on the roof of an infamous hotel in 2013. The film will trace three competing narratives that seek to explain what happened: the police and those who believe Elisa died from a tragic accident resulting from bipolar disorder; web sleuths, friends, and conspiracists who believe Elisa was murdered; and paranormal experts who suggest Elisa was possessed by a dark force from the Cecil Hotel’s past. At the heart of the film remains the pulse of a creative but deeply troubled young woman whose online writings and struggle against depression continue to resonate with thousands of people across the world.
The case defies conventional categorization. Is it a true crime mystery? A profile of mental illness? A paranormal investigation? Or all three… The Elisa Lam case transcends all labels and becomes a Rorschach test for the 21st-century mind - everyone who looks at it sees something different.
Distressed by relationships, difficulties with her college coursework and worsening psychological troubles, Elisa Lam embarked upon her fateful “West Coast tour” in late January of 2013. On January 31st, she failed to make her daily phone call home; she was declared missing a few days later. The police released the last known sighting of her in the form of a surveillance video recorded inside the elevator of the Cecil Hotel (renamed Stay on Main). The chilling video, which shows Elisa acting peculiar and seemingly hiding from someone, went viral online. Early speculation was that either she was on drugs or being stalked by someone inside the hotel. When police finally released the toxicology report, it only deepened the mystery.
With a grim, 9-decade history of untimely deaths, the Cecil Hotel legacy adds a macabre and provocative backdrop to the mystery. Over the years, dozens of people have committed suicide by jumping from the windows of the Cecil - so many, in fact, that residents used to call the hotel ‘the Suicide Hotel’. At least two serial killers, Richard Ramirez (“the Nightstalker”) and Jack Unterweger, lived at the Cecil during their murder sprees. Multiple reports of paranormal activity also color the hotel’s history, with several residents claiming that a malevolent entity choked them in their sleep.
Soon after Elisa’s disappearance, residents of the Cecil began complaining of low water pressure and dark water. A maintenance worker discovered the cause of the problems: a corpse. Nineteen days after she disappeared, Elisa Lam’s naked body was found in the water cistern on the roof of the Cecil Hotel. Suspecting foul play, LAPD detectives launched an investigation that many would come to view as insufficient. Their controversial conclusion is still debated today.
Our examination of the Elisa Lam case will focus on three primary angles: the murder conspiracy; potential paranormal activity in the hotel; and an analysis of Elisa's psychiatric condition.
Along the way, we will assess how the case became a part of the pop culture zeitgeist, serving as the inspiration for a season of American Horror Story.
The case is full of almost mind-numbing synchronicities, too, ranging from eerie similarities to the 2005 horror movie, Dark Water, to the LAM-ELISA tuberculosis test.
Using police records, videos made by independent investigators, animations, eyewitness testimony, archival footage, recreated scenes, and Elisa Lam’s own journals, What Happened to Elisa Lam? will peel away the layers of the investigation from multiple points of view in order to reconstruct Elisa Lam’s tragic final night and assess the weeks and months before and after.
This will include: abstract and dramatic recreations of Elisa’s emotional landscape, aided by voice over scenes drawn from her online writings; dramatic recreations of the night of her disappearance, including her experience in the hallway and elevator; TV news clips about the case; drone footage of downtown Los Angeles; interviews with multiple people intimately connected with the case; the surveillance footage; interviews with LAPD detectives and Cecil Hotel management; abstract animations of Rorschach test imagery; found footage and archival footage of the Cecil Hotel from previous decades; recreations of bipolar disorder (first person pov of what it’s like to experience hypomania and severe depression); paranormal researcher Clyde Lewis investigating the Cecil Hotel; a body language expert analyzing the surveillance footage.
What Happened to Elisa Lam? will showcase characters from all spectrums of the case -- detectives, psychologists, friends of Elisa’s, journalists and filmmakers who became obsessed with the case, Reddit moderators and website owners who saw the case grow into a viral phenomenon, even short-stay and long-term Cecil residents who were accused of killing her.
Over the last year, we have cultivated relationships with several people intimately connected with Elisa Lam and the case. The narrative will focus on these subjects while detouring to explore other aspects.
Directors/Producers Jake Anderson and Jared Salas
Jake and Jared were freshman year roommates at the University of California Santa Cruz, where they graduated with BAs in Film and Digital Media. Since then they have honed their collective vision of narrative storytelling with two feature screenplays ("You're Getting Sleepy" and "The Gate"). They run the popular website TheGhostDiaries.com, which has millions of readers. In 2016, Jake wrote and directed the science fiction short film "Machine Wash Warm," which will premiere later this year; Jake has also written 2 books of short stories and the screenplay "Psyop." In addition to working on the special effects teams of Transformers 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, and The Green Hornet, Jared is a Creative Director for Allison Maslan International; he is also a musician and will be scoring an original soundtrack for the film.
Simon White - Producer
Simon is a special-effects coordinator and film producer. In addition to his LA-based projects, he has traveled to Africa to work on the documentary One Child At A Time, which is about his family's health clinic there. He has also produced videos for the Scifi and Chiller channels.
We are thrilled and honored to have an additional trio of tremendous co-producers joining our team:
Jason Sussberg is a fellow UCSC grad and director of the hit documentary The Immortalists; he is also the co-director of the much-anticipated documentary Bill Nye: Science Guy.
Patrick Brice is the writer/director of two hit films, Creep and The Overnight. He also happens to be the friend who first alerted Jake to the Elisa Lam case.
Chris Donlon is an editing virtuoso (Creep, The Overnight, Blue Jay) who also made an award-winning Vine claymation short and edited the documentary Asperger's Are Us. We are beyond thrilled to have him on board as editor of What Happened To Elisa Lam?
In order to cover the extensive traveling, labor, and technical costs of filming a feature documentary, our team plans to raise at least $30,000 with this Kickstarter campaign. We have multiple platforms through which we can generate interest in the film and these same platforms will help us later as we look for distributors. We run a popular paranormal/horror site called TheGhostDiaries.com, which gets 5k-10k pageviews a day. Over the last three years, we’ve drawn over 2.5 million unique visitors. Director Jake Anderson wrote two articles on the Elisa Lam case which generated about half a million page views, tens of thousands of FB likes and shares, and seemingly endless comment threads.
There is great interest in this case among our readers. The Ghost Diaries’ Facebook page currently has 180,000+ likes. The Ghost Diaries Twitter account has over 10,000 followers and the Ghost Diaries Tumblr account is growing as well.
By advertising our Kickstarter campaign through our site and social media platforms, we should be able to raise enough money to make a powerful documentary. The more funds we raise, the better the documentary will be!
Risks and challenges
The biggest challenge in making this film is telling the story in a way that does not further stigmatize the case and Elisa. There are many (thousands) sensationalized accounts on YouTube and other films on the subject are sure to come -- ours will go beyond just murder conspiracies and paranormal speculation and assess the sociological and psychological impact of the case. The film will honor Elisa while exposing the full story of how the case has resonated with so many people around the world.
We've already invested 3 years of our lives researching every nook and cranny of the case and we've invested considerable personal funds -- with your help, we can take it to the next level.
**Out of respect for Elisa's life and those still grieving her loss, WE ARE GOING TO DONATE A PERCENTAGE OF OUR FUNDS TO HER FAMILY.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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