A G H O S T S T O R Y
A G H O S T S T O R Y
STILL PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRET CURRY INTRODUCTION BY
DAVID LOWERY, DIRECTOR WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM
ANNELL BRODEUR, COSTUME DESIGNER JADE HEALY, PRODUCTION DESIGNER WILL OLDHAM, ACTOR ANDREW DROZ PALERMO, DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY TOM WALKER, PRODUCTION DESIGNER
INTRODUCTION: by David Lowery, Director
Ask me why A Ghost Story is presented in the 1:33:1 Academy ratio with a curved vignette around the edges and I’ll tell you the reason is - well, there are several reasons but the main one is: something about that overt proscenium makes the movie easier to hold on to. This is important to me. I’ve always endeavored to make my movies tangible, tactile, full of textures, so that you might imagine what each frame would feel like should you reach out and touch it. I love the idea of movies as objects you can hold in your hands, and feel the weight and shape of. Which you can’t, of course, because they aren’t. They’re just memories. The only thing physical about motion pictures are their byproducts. The refuse. Paint cans. Scrap wood. The port-a-loos that need to be emptied. An old pair of script sides, left in a pocket, molded to the shape of my leg. Hard drives in a closet. Costumes taken to wherever old costumes go. Set dressing left out for curbside trash pickup, props sold or returned or kept as mementos.
And, in the case of A Ghost Story, this book, which you are now holding in your hands in the same way I wish you could hold the film. Looking through these pages, you will see the faces of people you do not know and events you were not privy to. Each of these images is a memory that you do not have. Trust that these remembrances and their mysteries complement the fleeting, ephemeral phantasmagoria which expunged them: a little clarity gained here, a bit of mystery deepened there. Revealing, compounding, enriching. A Ghost Story is tethered to this book by little umbilicals of history, and while being constrained is usually perceived as a negative, in this case it is a help. It makes the movie a little bit more physical, and - for me, at least - gives me something greater to hold on to.
PRODUCTION LOG: by Andrew Droz Palermo, Director of Photography
Over an early breakfast, Toby Halbrooks, one of the film’s producers, told me about the concept for what would later be called A Ghost Story. It was a simple pitch - a ghost in a classic Halloween sheet, played by Casey, would watch his former life slip away. Other than that, he didn’t tell me much else. After reading David’s short script, I wrote to share with him that it had really spoke to me very personally. Like the ghost, I was beginning to feel that time was accelerating, and starting to slip by. It feels like just yesterday I was only a kid, living in Missouri, enjoying infinitely long summers. But as I’ve begun to see my parents age, and their health decline, I’ve started to reflect a lot more on time and its passage. This is certainly not a new or original thought, and actually, it’s one of the most relatable situations. But what I think makes A Ghost Story so great, is that it is so at comfort with the ever rushing present. There is grief, and feelings of missing out, but it doesn’t seem overly concerned with legacy or making a lasting mark on the world. This was present in the screenplay, and I feel even more apparent in the finished film - both in the way we pushed the narrative, and in the humble construction of the piece. This ease of worldview is one of the things I admire the most about it.
Looking back on the production of the film, I’m reminded of how alive and creative the environment always felt and I’m so thankful Bret was around to capture the process. To have such a strong photographer on set who was there not just to witness, but to also collaborate with us was such a gift (he was after all the gaffer and the 2nd Unit DP in addition to being our photographer). It was a pretty motley and diverse group: we had a pair of great leads in Rooney and Casey, more than a few musicians, a couple of magicians, and a really game and down-for-thecause crew. The things I’ll carry with me are the moments after set or in between the cameras rolling: David playing piano in the morning over coffee, my first rollercoaster on the 4th of July, all of the delicious vegan food, a roller skating party, the many trips to The Drafthouse, et cetera, et cetera. It’s all small stuff, things that mark the time I spent among friends in Dallas, but I think it was really important to the finished product. It was made with hard work, but it almost seemed effortless because it didn’t feel like we were chasing perfection or precision - we were chasing something deeper, more evocative.
PRODUCTION LOG: by Annell Brodeur, Costume Designer
There wasn't much of an introduction to the ghost when Toby first told me about David's idea. "He wants it to be like the classic 'guy in a bed sheet' sort of ghost." When we spoke about it, David added a bit more, telling me he wanted the sheet to age, become ancient, as the movie went on. We watched the trailer for Finisterrae, looking at the example put forth for their apparitions. We took note of many of the practical parts of the execution and how we would rather it look. David sent along the thirty odd pages of the script. We followed up with GIFs of Geena Davis and Bill Pullman in sheets from Beetlejuice back and forth. And that was that. We didn't over analyze or complicate the design in the beginning, that came later. I knew I wanted it to look as natural as possible: just a sheet draped over a frame. I wanted us to be able to distinguish but not fully see the body underneath. I did not want it to feel like a Halloween costume. As the building process started, I tested theories and approaches but it soon became clear I was facing piles of puzzles that needed solving. One of the most important elements David wanted to include was a darkness within the eyes. We wanted to see the space between the sheet, a detail that would ground the ghost in reality in a magical way. To achieve this, I built a helmet from soft foam with concave eye sockets made from a sheer black fabric. This wasn't
the most comfortable solution for anyone having to wear it in the heat of a Texas summer, but it allowed for extra depth in the eyes and a smooth cranium and brow. We also wanted the sheet to age over the course of the film. We discussed and decided we would need five different ghosts. Three clean ghosts for the return home and time spent with M (as well as a gag that was subsequently abandoned requiring several ghosts to play at once). One “dusty” ghost who stands witness to his house being demolished, the land being built up and his return to the original plotting of that land. Lastly, an ancient ghost who releases his bonds. It was obvious, after a bit of testing, that even a king sized sheet wouldn't cover me, let alone Casey, entirely. So we would need to build our sheets from extra wide bolts of fabric. We used a heavier bodied fabric for the clean ghost, which felt new and crisp. The dusty and ancient ghosts were a lighter weight, lower thread count fabric that, after treatment after treatment of dyeing processes, held less of a shape and looked saggier than their clean counterparts. For the ancient ghost, we used a flour paste to give the effect of mold and stains from sitting, waiting to loop back to retrieve M’s note. When toes kept creeping out from under the sheet while walking, we changed the shape of the hem, stiffening it with horsehair, and started searching for a way to
keep the bottom edge away from the feet within. This led to using two petticoats to fill out the bottom half of the ghost. We ordered several hoop skirts that, had they arrived in time and made their way in front of the camera, would have lent a more gliding, floating feeling to his movement but, thankfully, that didn't happen. There's a sort of trudging heaviness given by the ability to see the movement of the legs. It's possible to feel the weight of his captivity in the house and in this world. By this time in solving our ghost's puzzles, shooting had begun and we put one of the five of our creations to work. David has mentioned before that we had the fortunate luxury to rework and reshoot some of those first days' work. Negotiating how the ghost would move and interact with the space, as well as how Andrew would frame him, soon posed even more problems that needed solving. The biggest was his face. His eyes, which we had tried in various sizes and angles to find a configuration we could empathize with most, were drooping and folding and falling out of place. Most often his nose looked like an elephant. He needed more (still more?!) structure underneath the sheet. I built in a lining which could attach to the helmet, keeping the sheet in place, as well as maintain the small folds around his face and eyes, keeping his expression consistent. We did eventually reshoot much of this first few daysâ€™ work with a ghost with a â€œfaceâ€?.
Throughout production, he needed constant attention and care. The way my key costumer Katie Dean and I would configure the drapes and folds and lining of the fabric would change from take to take, scene to scene. Katie often lay on the floor, just outside of the frame to puppeteer him, keeping a gentle hold of the hem to pull his face taut when he looked down. A language developed between David, Andrew, Katie, and myself to be able to tell each other what was ultimately looking goofy on the screen. Between setups, he was stored on a wig head on an old fashioned light stand, kept at roughly Casey’s height should the light-stand Ghosty need to stand in. Sometimes his face would go on our hands like a puppet with the tail twisted and held like a baby, or wrapped around one of our shoulders.
By the time we made our way to Cityplace Tower to shoot the empty high-rise, we had been in the confines of the house for quite a while. We were in close quarters there, not necessarily tripping over each other but there wasn’t room to really play. In the bare office space we all finally had some space, something I hadn’t realized I was craving. Seeing the ghost there, with room to explore, looking out windows forlorn, turning back to look over his shoulder, the steadicam able to finally capture him in his entirety, was a chance to see the character we had finally completed fully come to life.
After all our labors, Ghosty was no longer a costume, he became his own person. And even now, when I have the opportunity to watch the film, I get to see someone I knew once, someone who really needed very little introduction.
PRODUCTION LOG: by Jade Healy and Tom Walker, Production Designers
Jade: Simply put, when David calls, I always pick up, and when he tells me he wants to make a little movie about a sheet-wearing ghost, I pack my bags and head to Dallas. Working with David is never just about designing sets - it’s a much more meaningful collaboration that always leaves me with a better understanding of myself and the world. David’s stories give you so many layers to work with. His characters are always fully developed, even when they have very few lines and wear a sheet for most of the film. As a designer I think of myself as an archaeologist, digging through dirt and sorting through artifacts and trying to piece together the past and history. With this film there was a huge history and a huge future to dig through. Tom: One of the rewards of working with David Lowery is knowing that you’re collaborating with a talented and unique storyteller. Whatever material David tackles, he creates something singular and intriguing out of it, even if everything isn’t spelled out on the page beforehand. That is the best kind of motivator for agreeing to work in a small, poorly air-conditioned house in the Texas heat in July. I have strong impressions of the smell of latex paint, vinyl adhesive, and wallpaper paste. The image of Rooney Mara applying a thick glob of paint over the tiny slip
of paper in a crack in the trim sums up my estimation of working on the house interiors. Paint over paper over varnish over wood over glue. Itâ€™s as if the house, where the ghost spends most of his screen time, were being held together merely by layers of odor, heat, and sentiment. Layering was an important element in the design of the interiors. The home of C & M is old and worn, but it still needed to feel comfortable. The warm, neutral palette of their house provides a pleasant contrast for the ghost. I know we painted the living room multiple times before arriving at the right color. Visual texture, however, keeps it from feeling monotonous. From the crochet afghan draped across the corduroy sofa to the scuffed paneled walls with their thrift store paintings, everything has a faded but tactile quality. You can understand why C is attached to it. Itâ€™s the impression that comes from living in a place with someone with whom you have many fond experiences. Favorite artwork, a collection of musical instruments, curated LPs, and piles of well-loved books. There is a sentimental history that clings to the place and, in some ways, holds it all together. But this romantic affection is deceiving. There is something immediately nostalgic about the look of the place that has the effect of seeming both pleasant and
disquieting at the same time. I like this contrast. Like the modern art against the antique floral wallpaper. When the ghost moves back in with his beloved, the place is not the same, especially when he is forced to remain long after she has moved on. She is what made the place palatable. Everything else becomes merely a bad memory. We were fortunate to find a main location where we had the time and freedom to experiment. The property was removed enough that we weren’t a nuisance to the surrounding neighbors. We could leave the grass to overgrow for effect and move furnishings in and out as needed without causing alarm. An adjacent property was used as the art department staging area. It was later torn down in the film alongside C & M’s house. It was inhabited by the grandma ghost in the floral bedsheets who speaks to C in subtitles. When the day finally came, I can’t say I was sorry to see both properties razed. There was a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing there would be no more pickup shots, no more moves, no more transitions. I’m somewhat of a sentimentalist like C, but I was ready to move on. While pains were taken to make sure the different ghost costumes and interiors complemented each other, I appreciate how Andrew’s cinematography was still able to reflect the ghost’s moods by subtly highlighting or diminishing his
appearance. At times, especially when the ghost is at his lowest, he almost seems to fade into the background, a progression that continues through the film. Even the massacre of the pioneer family is hauntingly beautiful in its faint stillness - the ghost, motionless as time passes by in brief elegiac shots. Again, everything is muted and tamed, as if beauty and sadness are somehow inextricably linked. I remember frantically pulling clumps of dry grass out of the earth to arrange around our skeleton, creating a straw nest to cradle our little lost pioneer. David likes to work with his friends when he can, and this project provided a great opportunity to play in his own backyard with many of them. I am grateful to have been able to collaborate on this project and sincerely thankful for all our friends, family members, and volunteers who made a seemingly daunting task somehow manageable.
PRODUCTION LOG: by Will Oldham, Actor
David and Toby contacted me about the ghost story. The dragon movie had been a long sweet slog, even for me at a distance singing “Go north, go north...” again and again and again, and there were convolutions in the progress of it all. The idea of going from the city-mouse home of dragons to the country-mouse home of ghosts made terrific sense. I have ingrained in me the concept of Dallas shining with an evil light (from the Silver Jews song). Toby dropped me at a big modern hotel that scared the shit out of me; as soon as I walked in the room I knew I wouldn’t sleep there. I walked to the public library, in the heat and bad energy of downtown. I had my character’s monologue in my head; I’d recited it a few times for my (then) fiancée the day before, treading in eight feet of water. So whatever dark Dallas lobbed at me, I was safe in the world of the coming party. We went to the set that evening, the house in Irving. My sense of security ballooned. Irving, and the house, were very natural extensions of the space my brain is in a constant state of longing to occupy. Again, Dallas could not harm me. I guess it was a long day in the house the next day. In these lines of work our brains get accustomed to speeding-up and slowing-down time. We’re like the people that go into outer space and return then to earth to find that their friends
and family have aged at a faster rate. We rip open a month and fill it with days that we then rip open and fill with hours that are further ripped to fill with minutes in which we do our work, preparing emotional time-nests for audiences to let themselves loose in. Ghosts have been left alone too long. Things don’t make sense without ghosts. After a while, we got fooled into thinking that things never made sense. “Making sense” takes maintenance. We can’t make sense of anything without incorporating the things that haunt us. In the making of this movie, there was a boatload of intention centered around corralling the things of the past (ghosts and all) into the present, and then moving forward united. Our dead party hard with us. We carry on from the home in Irving.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank David Lowery for conceiving the world of A Ghost Story and allowing me to be a part of the realization of it - the experience was a singular one and will always be fondly remembered. My utmost gratitude goes to Toby Halbrooks, who from the first day on set advocated the collection of these images and has since been key in facilitating the development of this book. Thank you to Jesse Patrone-Werdiger, Sofia Bonami, and Perri Silver at A24 for your enthusiasm and your involvement in promoting the best aspects of filmmaking. My appreciation to Casey Affleck who contributed his iconic sketch of "Ghosty" to the cover. Thank you to my wife Joy Curry who helped compile and arrange these images and whose invaluable perspective I would be lost without. Finally, thank you to all who fill these pages - the cast and crew of A Ghost Story - for your patience in front of the camera and your hard work behind it.
Appearances: Casey Affleck - 11, 17, 36, 46, 47, 80, 81, 83 Shawn Bannon - 7 Michael Barnett - 61 Annell Brodeur - 16, 20, 21, 22, 41, 66 Bret Curry - 2, 4, 85 Katie Dean - 7, 24, 42, 72 Adam Donaghey - 66, 72 Amy Forsythe - 41, 67 Brea Grant - 70 Augustine Frizzell - 70, 71 Toby Halbrooks - 66, 77 Jade Healy - 31, 67, 68 Chachi Hood - 70 James M. Johnston - 29, 30 Ke$ha - 72 David Lowery - 4, 7, 10, 25, 39, 41, 42, 44, 49, 51, 63, 72, 83 Rooney Mara - 11, 12, 13, 26, 36, 37, 38, 45, 53, 62, 65, 67, 68, 79, 84 Jonny Mars - 70 Judd Myers - 82 Will Oldham - 70, 73 Andrew Droz Palermo - 7, 10, 11, 42, 49, 52, 53, 61, 65, 67 David Pink - 28, 66, 72 Richie “Dagger” Salazar - 32 Justin Scheidt - 7, 27, 59, 72, 76 Kenneisha Thompson - 51 William Tinker - 12, 59, 61, 76 Tom Walker - 78 Savannah Walsh - 57 Rob Zabrecky - 54, 55, 56, 58 Cover art by Casey Affleck
Images captured with Leica Q and Mamiya RZ67 cameras in the summer of 2016. Copyright © 2017 Bret Curry All photographs © 2017 Bret Curry "A24" logo © 2017 A24 Films All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, altered, trimmed, laminated, mounted or combined with any text or image to produce any form of derivative work. Nor may any part of this book be transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher and author.
This book is comprised of behind-the-scenes photographs from David Lowery's 2017 film A Ghost Story starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and...
Published on Nov 24, 2017
This book is comprised of behind-the-scenes photographs from David Lowery's 2017 film A Ghost Story starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and...