Tell me about the movie, The Writer’s Ghost.
Essentially, the main character is a successful writer. She moves into a new house 20 miles from her old location. She starts having some weird paranormal stuff happening that she can’t explain. The story takes some interesting twists that involve her new boyfriend, Scott. It’s pretty cool actually. It’s not like the movie Paranormal Activity. It’s also possession-based. The ghost sort of possesses her new boyfriend.
How do you turn a script into a winning trailer?
I tried to use the actual actress in the trailer, but she was unavailable. She was in Russia doing a play. The trailer was based on the script minus the ending, so it was my job to take as much of whatever parts of the script I felt were important and to put those into about a minute-and-15-second format. It was pretty short. It was a process weeding out what would be dramatic or scary. How do you scare people in a minute and 15 seconds? I don’t know. It seemed to work, I guess. They did a focus group in Billings, Montana. The writer’s response to me was people were actually scared of my trailer and jumped at a couple parts.
How do you make a story scary through direction?
There are some techniques you can use camera-wise to make it scary. A lot of the lighting, for sure, adds to it. And there is a technique where sometimes when the camera moves too close to the subject you can’t see around them and for me that kind of makes it scarier...I think between that and audio you can get people to jump. Audio is a huge part of video, and just fluctuating audio from very audible to way too loud, it scares them. By running the shots as long as possible without cutting away I think you create a creepy vibe as well.
What have you done to prepare for the shoot?
I’ve been working with a producer from L.A. … We’ve been ripping apart the script and going over it quite a bit in the last couple months. Doing everything from rewrites to getting together a prop list. There’s a lot of mental preparation. I try to visualize what I’d like to shoot for each of the scenes. You try to stay as true to the original vision as you can.
How would you deal with moody actors?
You mean, primadonnas? It’s a psychology lesson, at least for me. Actors need to be in the right frame of mind in my opinion to give their best performances. For example, our lead actress, if she’s not in the right frame of mind to be scared, I may have to sit her by herself someplace until she is in the right frame of mind. I’m not going to call action when actors aren’t ready. I think it’s important to wait until they’re in the right mindset and then let them go. I think there will be a lot of improvisation as well. I like to give them the freedom to do what they need to do.
How will it be different directing a fiction story, rather than a documentary?
You’re able to do retakes, rather than a live event where you get one shot. It sharpens your skills shooting large events, knowing your gear and having to adapt to it very quick.
What’s your best advice for aspiring filmmakers?
I guess same advice given to me. If you want to be a director, if you want to be a filmmaker, just go out and make film. ... For me, I had to go out and shoot various shorts and music videos. So if it’s your goal to be a director, you got to really take the bull by the horns. Whether it’s buy your own gear or rent it, you just have to go out and show people what you can do.
— Rebecca Fishow
As seen in the April 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.