David Lowery brings “A Ghost Story” to theaters across the country today. Without taking a break after filming “Pete’s Dragon,” he dove straight into this new project. Sometime in the not so near future he promises to take a break but don’t expect that any time soon.
David Lowery explores space in a different way with this film. He explores how our spaces affect us and how we affect them. It is all hauntingly beautiful and interesting while stretching the mind and challenging us a bit. He wants you to see and explore the ideas that plaque or just bounce around in his mind from time to time. He brought Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara back together for this intriguing film. Get more info and check show times in your area here.
Earle Dutton: How have crowds been reacting to “A Ghost Story”?
David Lowery: That is a great question. I can’t speak for everyone in the audience, but I usually gauge things by how many people get up and leave before the Q&A starts. By and large most everyone has been staying seated, so that is a good thing. At the very least, they want to hear what I have to say. The reactions I have been getting are extraordinarily positive.
ED: What inspired this movie?
DL: I can’t really explain the linear version of that, in terms of the chronology of events. I did sort of spontaneously write an outline for a movie that has this idea tackling physical space. I was thinking of the spaces that we live in, how we occupy them, how we define ourselves by them and then move on. What gets left behind when we leave a house or an apartment? How are we affected by those places? How do we change as a result of leaving them? That is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about late at night or on long drives. One of those things you just ponder on. Another bit of inspiration came from a fight I had with my wife about where we were going to live. The fact that we were moving across country, I didn’t want to and she did, lead to a fight that felt like a scene from a movie. I have also always loved ghost stories and haunted houses. I was really interested in making a film about a haunted house that was told from the perspective of the ghost. There is just something very interesting about that to me. There is something very sad about the boredom that a ghost must face when cursed with haunting a house for all of eternity and no one is living in it. That is very poignant to me. Of course, then there is the sheet. The bed sheet has been on my mind for a while. I just wanted to make a movie about a ghost that was a guy in a sheet.
ED: Do you have a favorite ghost movie other than this one?
DL: Oh wow, that is a great question. There are so many. Everything from “The Conjuring 2,” which I saw right before shooting this film to a Japanese movie called “Ugetsu” which is a sad ghost story. You don’t even know it is a ghost story for a large portion of the film. “The Shining,” of course, most filmmakers love that movie. I love “Poltergeist,” which is a classic that just can’t be touched. There are so many good ones. I feel like the idea of a haunted house is uniquely suited to cinema because it has the potential to scare the wits out of someone but can also present a sad and poignant story. It is a great genre in and of itself.
ED: What was it like to work with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara again?
DL: It is great! I wanted to work with friends going in to this movie. I didn’t want to work with anyone who wasn’t a close friend of mine. We succeeded. We kept our family very tightly knit on this movie. It was a very small crew and clearly a very small cast. Luckily at this point, I am able to consider Casey and Rooney close friends. I was able to just call them and ask them if they wanted to work on the film. It felt like just hanging out with some pals.
ED: I read somewhere that you guys are all vegan as well, which is kind of interesting. Did you plan it that way?
DL: (Laughter) It wasn’t intentional but it definitely makes going out to eat easier. We all bonded over being vegan while working on our first film.
ED: I also read that you started this film right after finishing “Pete’s Dragon.” When do you take a break?
DL: I don’t know. I am kind of wondering that right now. We just finished shooting another movie three weeks ago. I am editing that right now, but I had to leave it to do press and publicity for this movie. I was looking at my schedule this morning and realizing I am not really going to get back to editing until the end of July. Then we will have to do pickups for that movie. By that time, I will probably have another script done and want to make that movie. Maybe, I can fit a vacation in around October or November but we will have to see. I keep setting myself up for this.
ED: What was it like switching from a big-budget film like “Pete’s Dragon” to a micro-budget film like “A Ghost Story”?
DL: It wasn’t as different as I thought it was going to be. I thought it would be strikingly different. This happens to me on every movie I make. It just doesn’t really change my process. This entire movie (“A Ghost Story”) costs less than half a day’s budget for “Pete’s Dragon.” I thought it would be a shock to my system but it wasn’t at all. There are differences. On a big studio production like “Pete’s Dragon” you shoot for seventy or eighty days. On “A Ghost Story” we shot for nineteen or twenty. You end up doing a little more yourself on small-budget movies since everyone has to wear multiple hats. The actual process of making it did not change at all. It was really remarkable to me how difficult it was to make “A Ghost Story.” But, it was really remarkable to me how difficult it was to make “Pete’s Dragon.” Every movie has it challenges. You have to give each movie your all.
ED: You do these really long sweeping shots. How do you judge how long a shot should really last?
DL: It’s usually a very intuitive thing. For example, in the pie scene, that was up to Rooney. I told her what the emotion and intent of the scene was but of course the script says that she eats the entire pie. That sort of implies a general running time for the shot already. I just told her to take her time and tell us when she was done. Everything else is pretty much up to me. I kind of just shoot for a certain length of time. We usually shoot a lot more than we need. Then in the edit, you sort of intuitively understand the rhythm of the movie. The more time you spend editing the further you understand it. It is not exactly a quantifiable thing. Sometimes you can look at a shot and see that it needs to be twelve frames longer but more often than not you are just watching and know that shot should be done now. It is a very intuitive process. It is also a very personal one. My own barometer for the length of a shot is not going to be the same as everyone else’s.
ED: Were there any difficulties in Affleck wearing that sheet for so long?
DL: When you put a sheet over your head it often just looks goofy. That was a shocking realization for me because I thought that is what we were going to do and it would be easy. I thought that the costume would be the easiest thing about this movie. I never thought it would be the most challenging aspect of the film that caused me to lose sleep every night. It was really tricky because we wanted to make it look a certain way. It was meant to look the way you think a ghost looks in your head. In real life it doesn’t look that way at all. We had to build out the costume to look right. It had all sorts of layers and a helmet. It was really less of a matter of someone acting under the sheet as someone puppeteering it. There are many cases of several people actually puppeteering it. It was a trial and error process that was very frustrating. There were plenty of times I just wanted to quit because I thought it would look stupid. We stuck with it and figured it out.
ED: Do you have a short elevator speech that you might tell a new person to get them to see the film?
DL: That is a good question because I should have one. The thing I usually tell people is that this is a film about a ghost that lives in a house for several hundred years and the experiences he has while doing so. It is probably not the most exciting pitch but it is my synopsis of the movie (laughter).
Get more info about David Lowery, “A Ghost Story” and check show times in your area here.