Casey Affleck A Ghost Story
Cast: Sonia Acevedo, Casey Affleck, Carlos Bermudez
Director: David Lowery
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Running Time: 93 minutes
Synopsis: With A Ghost Story acclaimed director David Lowery returns with a singular exploration of legacy, loss, and the essential human longing for meaning and connection.
Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost (Academy Award-winner Casey Affleck) returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife (Academy Award-nominee Rooney Mara), only to find that in his spectral state he has become unstuck in time, forced to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away. Increasingly unmoored, the ghost embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life's ineffable questions and the enormity of existence.
An unforgettable meditation on love and grief, A Ghost Story emerges ecstatic and surreal " a wholly unique experience that lingers long after the credits roll.
A Ghost Story
Release Date: July 13th, 2017
About the Production
Months before delighting global audiences with the critically acclaimed Pete's Dragon remake for the Walt Disney Company in the summer of 2016, writer-director David Lowery was already immersed in his next project " an independently produced, under-the-radar ghost story set in his native Texas that reunites the stars of his breakout feature, Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Like Pete's Dragon, Lowery's fourth feature is steeped in myth and fantasy, a film that hits soaring emotional heights while exploring our universal need for love and connection " even after death.
A Ghost Story opens in a faded suburban ranch house, where a young couple, identified only by their initials C and M, share a quietly restless life. C (Affleck) longs to make music and stay close to home, while M (Mara) dreams of moving elsewhere, creating a subtle tension that stays largely unspoken throughout. Suddenly, C is killed in a car accident at the end of their driveway; M travels to the morgue to identify his body, which lies disturbingly still on a slab beneath a crisp white sheet. M departs in grief " and moments later, so does C, still wearing his sheet like a child's vision of a classic ghost, with brooding black holes for eyes and a lonesome, billowing gait.
Days, weeks, and even years pass as C haunts the house where he lived, loved and made music alongside his partner and muse. Ultimately, M disappears into her separate future, prolonging the agony for C as he obsesses over their lost mortal bond. New residents of the house come and go, including a young Hispanic family as well as a fun-loving crew of grad-school hipsters. Despairingly, C realizes that he is stuck--forever bound to the space occupied by the house, regardless of how many decades and eras may pass. Unstuck in time, he is imprisoned by his inability to accept his situation, forced to watch passively as the world changes dramatically around him.
Finding Meaning Through Loss
A Ghost Story places Lowery in the rare company of cinematic artists equally at home in high-concept studio productions and intimate indies. A poetic examination of time and legacy, this film boldly calls to question what, if any, larger meaning our actions in life might hold. In A Ghost Story the weight of existence comes to terrify both the living and the dead, informing everything from Casey Affleck's ghostly, yearning walk beneath a billowing white sheet, to the yearning philosophical monologue delivered late in the film by frequent Lowery collaborator Will Oldham, to David Lowery 's own expansive and spacious long takes inspired by European and Asian filmmakers. Time waits for no one " the sooner we accept this, the lighter our mortal coil. "At some point we have to let go," David Lowery explains. "We don't have the choice. Dealing with the lack of options in that regard is tremendously difficult, and it's a huge aspect of what this movie is about."
Indeed, David Lowery was initially drawn to the cinematic art form because it allowed him to manipulate time " by preserving it, extending it, rewinding it, even projecting it into the future, all of which is variously addressed in A Ghost Story. "I'm frequently terrified by how quickly the years fly by," he remarks. "This movie is a very explicit attempt to deal with time passing " it's going to move forward whether I like it or not, and eventually everything I've worked towards or achieved will become meaningless." We are all ghosts eventually, he suggests; through certain actions and reflections, we can endure the dark night of the soul.
A Ghost Story is also a powerful statement on love and connection, as David Lowery's protagonist pines for his partner across the years, searching for meaning in pervasive solitude. "I'm a romantic at the end of the day " I never set out to tell love stories, but they somehow wind up being that way," he insists. "Much of this is due to Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara's wonderful chemistry, which exists even when they are apart, as A Ghost Story demonstrates. When you've planted the seed of them being together, like we did in Ain't Them Bodies Saints, it turns the movie into a big love story. I'm not trying to say that a connection can transcend space and time " I don't believe that's true. But I think certain connections we have with people can help us through those epic life crises that so often become miasmas of despair."
David Lowery also harbors a deep preoccupation with ghosts, in particular the image of a deceased Despite its dark subject matter, A Ghost Story offers hope in its vision of finding meaning in life (and death) by leaving a mark on the world " whether a small, private gesture like Rooney Mara's character placing a memento within the wall of her house, to something grander, like a work of art or a child. The notion of creating something that outlives us is a powerful drive, a way of cheating death or tasting eternity. "We all strive to make sure whatever we're doing in life is built to last," he says. "The image of Rooney Mara hiding something only she knows about " a little piece of herself " is an attempt to beat time in a way, to conquer her earthly existence. This is a universal aim, the sense that we are constantly trying to affect the world around us, (fighting our impermanence)." Our yearning for legacy is what makes us human.
But what comes after that?
A STORY ONLY HE COULD TELL
David Lowery conceived of A Ghost Story in December 2015, following an argument with his wife over whether the couple should move to Los Angeles " where commercial filmmaking jobs like Pete's Dragon beckoned " or remain in Texas, whose sprawling and indelible terrain creatively inspired his earlier features ST. Nick and Ain't Them Bodies Saints. "It was one of the biggest disagreements we'd ever had in our relationship," David Lowery says. "It felt like a scene from a movie, it was so dramatic."
Over the next few months, other ideas and influences began to sprout and combine with various obsessions of David Lowery 's, including time, the way it plays out in the physical spaces that surround us, and the interior thresholds and passageways that are a frequent presence in David Lowery 's other works. Ain't Them Bodies Saints cast member Ben Foster once quipped during an interview that Lowery was more interested in the doorway than the person standing in it, something the writer-director doesn't deny. "I could stare at empty doorways for hours," he admits.
Producers Toby Halbrooks (Listen Up Philip, Upstream Color) and James M. figure's spirit haunting the living beneath a white sheet. "I've wanted to tell a traditional ghost story for years," he remarks. "I love the classic iconography of the bed-sheet ghost " you can show this symbol to anyone around the world and they know instantly what it represents." Over the years, Lowery has watched this image surface time and again in everything from music videos and photography to the 2010 art film Finisterrae from director Sergio Caballero, featuring two ghosts in white sheets wandering the Spanish countryside. He remembers in particular the indelible scene in Halloween when Michael Myers dons a ghostly sheet before embarking on a killing spree: "A guy in a mask puts a sheet over his head and it becomes even more haunting," David Lowery remarks.
A Sense Of Space and Time
As much as A Ghost Story examines the people that haunt us, the film also argues that spaces, history and even time can haunt as well " as represented by the film's unforgettable establishing image of a faded Texas ranch house that becomes a central character in the film, living and dying in the same capacity as its human occupants. "The sense of houses being haunted by history is something I think about a lot," David Lowery says. "We can debate all day long whether or not ghosts are real but there is no doubt that events have transpired in every space we occupy " especially our homes. A Ghost Story was an opportunity to make a movie about what it means to linger in the spaces that surround us, to spend time just existing in them."
David Lowery began preparing for A Ghost Story in May 2016, turning a ten-page outline into the sparse 40-page document that became the shooting script. He completed production on Pete's Dragon a month later and then dove headlong into its micro-budget follow-up. "We finished one movie on June 10 and by the morning of June 12 we were shooting the new one," he explains. "Having just spent three years on a big production, it felt good to do something spontaneous, operating on very little other than gut instinct. It wasn't like I needed to refresh myself after finishing a studio movie, but I took what I learned on Pete's Dragon and applied in a completely different way " on a smaller scale."
Johnston (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) began contacting demolition companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the hope of finding a condemned property that could serve as the principal location " and later be destroyed as a plot device. They found a dilapidated ranch home in Irving " the very suburb Lowery grew up in " belonging to Scooter and Barbara Walsh, who became instrumental allies in A Ghost Story's production. The couple, who eventually planned to tear down the property and build a new home in its place, allowed David Lowery 's art department to spruce up the single-level dwelling with wallpaper, temporary walls and a kitchen to make it appear habitable. They kept the air conditioners functioning in the house as temperatures exceeded 100 degrees during the month-long shoot. The Johnson's granddaughter, Savannah, even joined the cast as a pioneer in a flashback sequence and served on several occasions as Mara's stand-in.
Getting The Team Back Together
After securing the Irving location, Lowery immersed himself in the casting of A Ghost Story. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who played doomed lovers in his Texas-set outlaw romance Ain't Them Bodies Saints, were the first actors he contacted, having stayed in touch after that 2013 production. Both were established stars by 2016, with Casey Affleck riding the crest of his acclaimed performance in Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester By The Sea " resulting in multiple prizes, including The Academy Award® for Best Actor " and Rooney Mara coming off a string of hits including Carol and Lion. Both were excited by the prospect of shooting something quickly and on the sly, and revisiting the easy rapport they developed on David Lowery's sophomore feature. "I knew what their dynamic was and had no interest in messing with it," David Lowery explains. "Their chemistry together is undeniable. We saw it on day one of shooting Saints. And since Casey Affleck doesn't last long in human form in this movie, I wanted the few scenes they share together in the flesh to feel as compassionate and human as possible."
In keeping with the story's visual and temporal design, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara were required to remain still and impassive for long stretches of time in front of the camera, whether passing the decades underneath a white sheet or consuming an entire chocolate pie in a single four-minute take, as Rooney Mara does in one memorable scene. Even after one character's passing, the actors appear together in the same room, divided between life and death, requiring a closeness and emotional calculus that could only have come from colleagues who knew each other's craft intimately. "I love both of them individually but I particularly love watching the two of them at work together," David Lowery admits. "There was a greater degree of comfort and familiarity this time around. We know each other's shorthand. We're also all vegan, which makes working together even easier. After A Ghost Story we decided that we should do a movie together in Texas every three or four years."
With Rooney Mara, David Lowery employs an abundance of close-ups in a movie that was mostly conceived with long, wide and spacious shots in mind, emphasizing the story's cosmic sweep. It takes a particular movie star to change the way a director shoots a movie, but as David Lowery concedes, Rooney Mara is by no means a conventional star. "She has one of those transcendent faces that changes when you put a lens in front of it," he explains. "It's the reason why close-ups are such a powerful tool in movies, and it's what defines our greatest stars. When you find the right face, you want to make sure you're using it right. It can convey all of the emotion you thought you'd need dialogue for." Early on in the production, David Lowery and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo found themselves moving the camera closer and closer to Mara's face, capturing in mesmerizing long takes the actress doing everything from observing Casey Affleck compose music to navigating the profound grief of losing her partner. In abject, placid stillness, Rooney Mara's distinct features spring to life on screen, conveying worlds of emotion in singular static shots. "From those moments forward, we kept the camera close to her, because that's how Rooney Mara shines," David Lowery adds.
Lowery rounded out his cast and crew with familiars from his firmament, including actorsongwriter Will Oldham, who contributed music to Pete's Dragon and came aboard A Ghost Story to play a drunken philosopher waxing poetic on the pull of time during a party sequence that also features a cameo from the pop star Ke$ha. Savanna Sears, who starred as a little girl in David Lowery 's debut feature St. Nick, makes a return appearance to the fold, this time all grown up as another partygoer. The close-knit crew shot for 19 days during intense summer heat, returning for a week in August for pickups. "We wanted to keep risk factors low, so we paid for it ourselves and made it with friends," David Lowery explains. "Part of that involved not talking about it."
David Lowery's Unique Inspirations
Awash in stillness and mystery while it moves through time, A Ghost Story stands out for its distinct and mesmerizing visual style. Prior to filming, Lowery convened in Los Angeles with director of photography Andrew Droz Palermo (A Teacher, You're Next) where the pair scoured photography books by Gregory Crewdson and watched masterworks by Tsai MingLiang (What Time Is It There? Goodbye Dragon Inn) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Cemetary Of Splendor), whose static long takes induce a trance-like state out of suspended time. "I love these movies because I have a short attention span and often find it difficult to focus," Lowery admits. "It's much easier to follow movies that feature long shots because there are fewer cuts. Every time there's an edit, the brain is forced to make a connection from one shot to another, or one idea to the next, which gets wearisome. It's why three-hour action movies can leave you feeling exhausted. You're exerting so much mental energy following the editing itself."
Lowery also studied Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman's 1975 feature Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles for its deliberate pacing and use of psychological space. Akerman's 1972 silent documentary Hotel Monterey intrigued David Lowery for its rigorous and often clinical examination of physical spaces devoid of human activity. "It's really captivating and incredibly engaging even though there's nothing much to follow," he says of the film. "There's no characters or plot, just this riveting document of physical space."
In a crucial scene in A Ghost Story, one that became the subject of much commentary following its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, a grieving Rooney Mara consumes a chocolate pie over the course of several prolonged minutes while Casey Affleck watches mournfully nearby beneath his ghostly shroud. "We wanted to create a lot of beautiful tableaux for scenes where we knew the camera was going to observe something several minutes at a time," David Lowery explains. "There's a certain amount of time in which you can comfortably stare at an image before you lose interest or move on, and we wanted to find those boundaries. The pie-eating scene is only two shots, and the way the house was laid out (elongated and linear, across a single level, typical of Texas ranch homes) helped us determine where the cut would be and how long the shots could last. Every shot in the movie has its own inherent running time."
Setting The Visual Tone
Lowery knew from the project's inception that he wanted to shoot in the 1:33 aspect ratio " in which the image width is only slightly greater than its height " signaling to the audience that A Ghost Story isn't a traditional motion picture. "I'm a sucker for widescreen movies and I tend to visualise things in that aspect ratio, but I also love challenging myself and thinking outside the box," he explains. "This meant embracing a smaller aspect ratio. Gus Van Sant's Elephant was the first modern movie I saw shot in 1:33. The images tower over you rather than stretch out horizontally in widescreen. They dominate." They also confine and constrict the characters on screen " and by extension the audience watching them.
David Lowery also chose to soften the edges of his frame with so-called vignettes, or rounded corners, which coats the film in yet another aesthetic layer. "More and more we watch movies on high-definition TV screens, so a 1:33 frame appears as a bold square in the middle of a wide, rectangular screen," he explains. "The vignettes help de-emphasise the rectangular, softening the claustrophobia and containment of the main character, who is trapped for the entire movie."
The Power Of Sound
Scoring the cosmic sweep of time became another critical factor in bringing A Ghost Story to life. Composer Daniel Hart has contributed scores to all of David Lowery 's films including his breakthrough 2011 short film "Pioneer." While working on the score for Pete's Dragon, Daniel Hart played David Lowery a pop song he'd written for his band Dark Rooms entitled "I Get Overwhelmed." David Lowery listened to the track repeatedly while he wrote and Conceptualized A Ghost Story, eventually incorporating it into the narrative itself. "It felt right for the movie " the idea of being overwhelmed and feeling like you don't have control over your own life," he explains. "Daniel Hart let me use it as a central component of the story, and he set about turning elements of that song into what became our score."
For the score itself, David Lowery urged Daniel Hart to embrace the horror-movie elements of the story. He encouraged him to explore weirder and more unconventional sounds, including electronic ones " the opposite of the folk-driven score he conceived for Pete's Dragon. "It was a chance for him to do something different," David Lowery adds. "There's a piece with an 808 drumbeat in it, for example, and a lot of vocal compositions. Daniel kept topping himself with every musical cue."
Overcoming An Unexpected Obstacle
Crucial to the production was engineering the white sheet worn by Affleck for much of A Ghost Story's running time. The costume, built and designed by Annell Brodeur, was more than a simple sheet, incorporating several layers of petticoats to create a sense of shape and a helmet designed to keep the actor's face aligned with the eyeholes. "It was meant to be easy, but turned out to be difficult and terrifying," David Lowery explains. "Wearing it in the Texas heat was no fun but shooting it was even trickier " it's an inherently goofy image and a very dominant one in the 1:33 frame. Figuring out how to shoot our ghost so he didn't appear absurd and cartoonish was a constant learning process."
Annell Brodeur's attempts to make the ghost appear as eerie and ethereal as possible while a human being moved around beneath the sheet became a daily challenge on set. Wrinkles, folds and billows created character and depth, but consistently required adjustments after even the slightest false movement: "Something as simple as him sitting down or turning to look over his shoulder became intricate and complex stagecraft because the costume moved with Casey Affleck," David Lowery explains. "If the sheet billowed the wrong way, it ruined the illusion." During the filming of close-up or medium shots, Annell Brodeur and her costumer were required to crouch down outside the lens's reach, following the ghost as he floated through a scene to make sure the folds moved in a consistent fashion. "It was extraordinarily complex," David Lowery adds. "Acting in the costume was the equivalent of dancing on a stage only a few centimeters in width. We filmed C's return to the house on the first day of shooting, and wound up re-doing that scene several times while we figured out how to work with this contraption. It was the biggest challenge of the entire movie."
Another trial for the filmmakers was Casey Affleck's unique physicality and gait. "You don't think about it when you look at Casey Affleck normally but under a shroud his movement is quite distinctive," David Lowery insists. "At first we embraced it, because we liked the idea of a throughline extending from Casey Affleck as a human being into this ghost in the afterlife. But then we dialed it down because that physicality made the character too human. When you see an actor moving in a certain way under the sheet, it ceases to feel ethereal."
A Ghost Story
Release Date: July 13th, 2017