Tag Archives: Frightfest

“A Ghost Waits”: How singer Tom Waits inspired a romcom (?) horror movie…

This is not my blog. It is a syndicated piece sent out by a PR company to plug the world premiere of new movie A Ghost Waits at the Arrow Video Frightfest event in Glasgow next month. I have not seen the movie, but the interview is interesting…

It is an interview (slightly edited by me) with first-time director Adam Stovall, who describes himself on Twitter: “I direct audio books. I write things. I really like hot wings and Kentucky basketball.”

The film’s blurb reads: “Jack’s job is to fix up the house. Spectral agent Muriel’s eternal task is to haunt it. They should be enemies, but they become fascinated by one another and eventually smitten, leading them to question everything about their work, lives and decisions. But as duty calls for both, something’s got to give for them to have the time together they so desperately want.”

The PR billing for this interview piece is: “Director Adam Stovall reflects on getting through depression,  creating paranormal romance and the influence of Tom Waits…”


You have an interesting CV – from comedy theatre and film journalism to writing for the Hollywood Reporter and 2nd Assistant Directing. Was all this a game plan to becoming a fully-fledged director?

Adam Stovall: “Movies meant more to me…”

I’ve known since I was a little kid sitting in the basement watching the network TV premiere of Back To The Future while holding my Back To The Future storybook and waiting for them to premiere the first footage from Back To The Future 2 during a commercial break that movies meant more to me than they did to those around me. And that’s not a low bar – my dad worked as a projectionist all through his college years, and my mom takes my aunt to see at least one movie a week. I remember seeing Pulp Fiction in the autumn of 1994 and suddenly realizing that a) cinema was far more elastic than I had previously thought, and b) it helped the world make sense in a way nothing else could. That was when I knew this was my path.

But I grew up in Northern Kentucky, which felt like the furthest you could possibly get from Hollywood. I spent my 20s trying to do anything else and be happy, to no avail. Towards the end of my 20s, I was mired in a severe depression, getting wine drunk and writing scripts on the weekends. Then, my dog died, and it put into stark relief just how alone I was. So I sold as much of my stuff as I could and moved the rest to L.A. so I could pursue film.

Quickly I had the thought that I’d feel pretty stupid if I moved 2,000 miles and just sat in my room, so I started volunteering in the Creative Screenwriting screening series. After eight months of that, I wrote for a magazine, which closed down, then a friend asked me to work on his movie. I was not supposed to be the 2nd Assistant Director, but they ended up with a budget far smaller than they thought they’d get so, as people left the production for higher-paying gigs, I kept getting promoted. It was an incredible experience and the best education I could have asked for in terms of no-budget filmmaking. It clarified for me where money needed to go, and where money went out of habit.

So yeah, that’s a game plan…

Did the story of A Ghost Waits come as a sudden flash; were you inspired by the likes of Ghost and Beetlejuice?

Playstation video game P.T. was one inspiration for the film

The idea for A Ghost Waits came from a video game and a web comic. I am not a gamer, but I was visiting some friends and they told me I needed to play a game called P.T. which was designed by Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima. It’s a first person puzzle game where you have to walk through an L-shaped hallway in a haunted house, doing specific things in time in order to open the door at the end of the hallway, which then puts you back at the beginning of the hallway.

At some point, it occurred to me that there might be a movie in someone like me having to deal with a haunted house. While I was working on that, I saw a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic where a man asks a woman what she thinks is the most American film. She answers, “Ghostbusters,” and he asks why. She explains that people get demonstrable proof of an afterlife, but the whole thing is about growing a small business and navigating government bureaucracy. I thought, “That’s hilarious and also I want to see that movie.” So I wrote it!

How long was the development process and where did you obtain financing?

Development on A Ghost Waits moved irresponsibly fast, haha. I had the idea in November 2015 and we shot in August 2016. Normally I have all the time in the world to write, since nobody cares about a spec script being written by a no-name, so the process of writing with so many eyes on me was equally exciting and daunting. Fun fact: I usually name characters and title the piece late in the process, but I wasn’t able to do that here since we needed to create documents for casting and whatnot. So I went home, opened up my Tom Waits discography and named every character after a Tom Waits song. And then named the movie after him, because he is one of my creative north stars…

(Actor) MacLeod Andrews and I had spent the previous year trying to get another movie made, but just weren’t able to raise enough money. One of the investors we met in that time remained very excited to make something so, when I had the idea for A Ghost Waits, he immediately said he’d invest half the production budget. My mom had told me to let her know when we had a firm budget number so, once we had half the budget, she invested the other half. That covered principal photography and then MacLeod and I put in our own money to cover pickups and post-production.

How do you describe the movie? A supernatural comedy? A paranormal romance? What?

I’ve been referring to it as a haunted house love story, but paranormal romance is good – maybe I’ll start using that!

Was the choice to shoot in black-and-white more an artistic or budgetary consideration?

A bit of both, to be honest. I love the B&W aesthetic, so it was always a possibility in my mind. I mentioned my idea to my Unit Production Manager during prep while we were on a location scout and she told me not to do that. We shot in colour with the intention of staying that way, but we also shot with two different cameras – the Blackmagic Ursa Mini and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema – which yielded slightly different looks. I drove myself crazy trying to match the images in colour-correction and, one day, MacLeod said, “Have you thought about just making it B&W?” Because MacLeod is the best person ever. Once we used a B&W LUT (a colour-grading file) on it, it felt right, tonally and aesthetically. Would we have gone with B&W even if we had more money? Who knows! Just another possibility for the pile…

When did you first meet MacLeod Andrews? Did you write the part of Jack with him in mind?

MacLeod and I met on the set of a film called Split, a bowling rom-com, which filmed in Louisville, Kentucky. I met the filmmaker on a panel, and he asked if I’d be down to come work on his movie. MacLeod is a native of Louisville, and had worked with one of the producers on the film before. We instantly hit it off and I was struck by his obvious talent and charisma, so I sent him a script I’d recently written. He dug it and we decided we wanted to work together.

I absolutely wrote the part of Jack for MacLeod. To the extent that, if he’d said no, the movie would not exist. Fortunately, our brains function on similarly weird frequencies, so we’re usually intrigued and excited by similar ideas.

What about Natalie Walker? How did you come to cast her as Muriel?

I’d been following Natalie on Twitter for a while and was impressed by her humour and brilliance. I had a feeling that casting her in a role that demanded she sublimate her energy would yield a similar result as when Robin Williams was asked to do the same for dramatic roles. I emailed and told her about the project and offered to send over the script so she could check it out and see if it interested her. She responded that she was very interested, so we talked and she did a self-tape, which was perfect. We hopped on FaceTime and I offered her the role.

The chemistry between MacLeod and Natalie is wonderful. Was that instant or did it need nurturing?

Instant! We never even had a table read, much less any rehearsals, so the first time they met was on set. Since we had such a small crew, I was always doing a multitude of jobs, which limited how much time I was able to spend with them. A lot of their dynamic is due to the work they did on their own.

Where did you film and for how long?

We filmed in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Lakeside Park, Kentucky. Principal photography was 12 days in August 2016 and then we did the first set of pickups over four days in April 2017 and the last set over a week in February 2018.

What does having the World Premiere at FrightFest Glasgow mean to you?

Cesar A. Cruz once said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” At my lowest, movies have made me feel less alone, and I wanted to make something that could do that for someone else. We made a small, personal, weird film, and it means the absolute world to know it means something to others and is finding its place in the world.

Finally, what’s next for you?

We’re working with a couple producers on two films, which we’re obviously hoping to make soon. One is an existential horror drama, and the other is a coming-of-age comedy-drama. In the meantime, just writing a few things and hoping for the best.

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Julian Richards: horror, Brookside and Carrie Reborn for the Z Generation?

Julian Richards is an interesting Welshman.

Part film director and part film sales businessman through his company Jinga Films. He has made two horror films this year.

I was invited (not by him) to see his movie Daddy’s Girl at the recent Raindance festival in London. When I saw it, I had reservations about it.

So I was interested to see his even newer movie Reborn, the pitch for which is: “A stillborn baby girl is abducted by a morgue attendant and brought back to life by electrokinetic power. On her sixteenth birthday she escapes captivity and sets out to find her birth mother leaving a trail of destruction behind her.”

The poster pitch is: CARRIE FOR THE Z GENERATION.

Yesterday, Reborn had its North American premiere at the Another Hole in the Head festival in San Francisco.

So I had a chat with Julian Richards.


JOHN: Daddy’s Girl… The first half or so was torture porn, which I disliked, then the female central character looks in a mirror and the whole film changes – it turns on a sixpence – and becomes totally different.

JULIAN: Well… Daddy’s Girl was an interesting journey… I first came across the script 12 years ago and to get to make it 12 years later was a bit of a challenge. There were several characters in a story and the big twist at the end is you discover they are all the same character. When we got to make it, after 12 years, the first thing the producer said to me was: We were not going to do that.

He was right, because, under the circumstances, we would have needed an enormous amount of control with the casting, which we didn’t have working in Tbilisi in Georgia and on the budget we had. We had a deadline to start shooting which was four weeks away and, even shifting the story in a different direction, the whole casting and crewing experience was a… a game of musical chairs. It really was.

Daddy’s Girl starts as ‘torture porn’, ends somewhere different

JOHN: It’s set in the US. Why shoot in Georgia – the Eastern European country not the US state?

JULIAN: Because there was a tax incentive to shoot there and, in terms of labour costs, it’s probably the cheapest place in Europe at the moment

JOHN: The producers were Indians based in Dubai.

JULIAN: Yes. They had been shooting Bollywood films in Georgia and now they wanted to make horror films.

JOHN: So, in the original, the central girl had multiple personalities who were on screen as different people?

JULIAN: When all the characters in the story were her, it was part of her fractured view of the world. And her mother as well. There was a lot more of her almost being haunted. Haunted by the suicide of her mother. It was supernatural but actually more psychological.

JOHN: We can’t really talk about the very end of the film. But it ends up in a totally different place from where you might assume it would from the beginning.

JULIAN: That was actually the producer’s idea. And it was what we needed because, if you take out all of those elements – about all the characters being the same character – she becomes two separate characters and so I think the end worked for what we needed to do with that kind of film.

Reborn poster: Carrie for the Z Generation

JOHN: We can’t really talk about the end of Reborn either because of the multiple twists. But I think you have some sort of writer’s gene in you, as well as director’s. The end of Reborn is a writer’s ending. And, earlier in your career, you wrote something for Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

JULIAN: When I graduated from film school, I went to LA for a year and my first job was writing a screenplay for Amblin, based on a novel Chris Westwood, a friend of mine, had written: Calling All Monsters. It was very much an In The Mouth of Madness kind of story, about an author haunted by his own creations. But, when Amblin turned into Dreamworks, new people came in, looked at all the old projects and it got caught in turnaround and never happened.

JOHN: So then you came back to the UK to…

JULIAN: …direct on the TV series Brookside and to get my first movie Darklands off the ground.

Darklands was screened at a film festival in Korea and (movie producer/director) Roger Corman was on the jury. He released The Wicker Man in the US and he came up to me after Darklands was screened and said: “I’d like to release Darklands in the US.” 

“I was jumping for joy. Corman was a god.”

So I was jumping for joy. Corman was a god to me. I introduced him to the producer of the film, but they couldn’t work out a deal so it never got released there. The producer’s company went bust and it took me 16 years to get the rights back. I eventually got it released in the US a couple of years ago.

JOHN: You seem to be attracted to horror. You directed the body-under-the-patio plot on Brookside. So you brought horror into TV soaps?

JULIAN: No. That was just the timing. I was there when they happened to be doing the body under the patio, the lesbian kiss and the plague that wiped out half the cast. I did episodes in each of those storylines. 

JOHN: What is the attraction of horror? Just that it sells? Why are you not making RomCom movies? They sell. 

JULIAN: I’m not driven to horror by money. It was a boyhood fascination and passion I had. I started making films on super 8 when I was 13.

JOHN: What was the 13-year-old you’s first film?

JULIAN: The Curse of Cormac, based on a graphic story strip in a House of Hammer magazine.

JOHN: You used to read House of Hammer?

JULIAN:
I did. And Monster Mag and Fangoria magazine.

JOHN: So an early fascination with horror.

JULIAN: Yes. Stephen King’s book Danse Macabre was very interesting: defining the key ingredients of horror as suspense, surprise and gross-out. If you are going to make a successful horror film, it is going to have all those three ingredients.

JOHN: Reborn is difficult to categorise. It is not in one little box.

“You are sympathetic with the monster. Tess appealed to me.”

JULIAN: What attracted me was it was a classic horror story. I love monster movies where you are sympathetic with the monster and Tess (the ‘reborn’ daughter) appealed to me. When I read the story, I was torn between whether it was Tess’ story or Lena’s (her mother) and I decided the story was actually Lena’s. Tess is an anti-hero. Lena’s objective is to get back into her career as an actress and that’s how I came up with the ending.

JOHN: Which we can’t talk about.

JULIAN: No… But, from a meta point of view, I wanted it to have a new, contemporary twist at the end. Let’s have fun with it.

JOHN: You are involved in an upcoming anthology film called Deathcember.

JULIAN: Yes. It’s based round the idea of an advent calendar and every time you open up a window, that opens up a new story. The German producers have chosen 24 directors and I am one of them.

JOHN: How long is your section?

JULIAN: Five minutes. We will probably be shooting it in February/March next year, ready for the Sitges festival in September.

JOHN: And you are possibly making Rabies.

JULIAN: I am in talks with the Israeli producers about possibly shooting that in Wales. Based on my experience of shooting Reborn in Tbilisi, Georgia, as America, I could probably shoot in Wales for the US too. A tree is a tree. As long as the cars and costumes look American, then it feels American.

JOHN: There must be a more personal film you really want to make.

JULIAN: I would love to make a film in Brazil.

JOHN: Your wife is Brazilian.

JULIAN: Yes. I have this idea which is basically Elite Squad meets Cannibal Holocaust – about a crack force of urban cops who fight the cartels. It’s political theatre… My idea is that they are sent into the jungle to fight the indigenous… It is illogical to take urban fighters to the jungle, but the politicians do it to make a statement. They take them out of the favelas of Rio and put them into the jungle of Manaus.

JOHN: Sounds like a thriller.

JULIAN: It’s action and it’s political. They will fight tribes that have had little contact with humanity and maybe they will be cannibals and all kinds of things as well. I am taking it down the horror route.

JOHN: You want to do something serious but mask it with genre elements?

JULIAN: A little bit of both. I always like to do that. I did that with Darklands with Welsh nationalism.

… TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW …

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