Beyond the Badge, COVID-19

CDCR employee records ‘Scary Stories to Keep You Six Feet Apart’

Bearded man wearing a hat.
TV Specialist Hugh Neely's personal video project is meant to help others during the pandemic.

By Lt. Katherine Cruz
California State Prison, Corcoran

CDCR employees have sewn masks, donated personal protective equipment to hospitals and assisted non-profit organizations struggling during the pandemic. When a CSP-Corcoran TV Specialist wanted to help, he turned on his camera and got creative.

To help reinforce physical distancing, Television Specialist Hugh M. Neely is crafting a web series called “Spooky Stories …to Keep You Six Feet Apart.”

The series features classic horror genre stories read to the camera by actors from a local theatrical group.

In his spare time, Neely has worked with the local theater group Kings Players for the last few years. When the pandemic forced the Kings Players performing venue to shut its doors, Neely wanted to help.

Classic stories read by theatrical group

Camera man films someone seated on a chair, surrounded by theatrical lighting.
Hugh Neely volunteers his time crafting a web series to promote physical distancing.

“I came up with the idea of producing a new web video series, using actors from the group, on my evenings and weekends. By the time the entire series is finished, we’ll be coming up on the fall so I decided to make it a series of classic ghost/horror genre stories,” he said.

He compares it to story time at the library, since the actors are reading into the camera, allowing for physical distancing.

“The stories are a little more tween-to-adult oriented, and they are read by multiple actors per story who take part as both characters and narrators,” he explained.

A self-proclaimed “director/photographer type,” he stepped out from behind the camera on this one and played a more extensive role.

“I selected the stories, edited them into scripts, held remote casting over the internet and telephone, chose the cast, planned the lighting for the videos, etc.,” he said. “I am directing all the episodes — production is ongoing — and editing them. I enlisted my friend and colleague, Jeffrey Silverman, to compose original music for the series.”

Neely also takes on an acting roll as he appears in two of the eight episodes.

He’s been the TV Specialist at CSP-Corcoran for more than two years. Before joining CDCR, he made documentaries for television. Neely has also been involved in theater for 35 years.

Within the first few weeks, the series received hundreds of views, garnered coverage from the local newspaper, a write-up from a Fresno arts reviewer, and a TV news story. Many viewers have also chosen to make donations to the Kings Players.

How to watch the videos

The first episode went live July 10. Subsequent episodes are being released each Friday and will continue at the rate of one a week until all eight are available. The video series is hosted by YouTube, and featured on the home page of the website.

View the first episode on YouTube (may not play on a CDCR computer).