By Liz Lopez
Writer/director David Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”), returned home in 2016 after finishing work on “Pete’s Dragon” and instead of taking a long overdue rest, embarked on creating his personal project, “A Ghost Story” that went on to have a World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this year. During a recent visit with the filmmaker in Austin, I joined in the opportunity to talk to him among other journalists. “A Ghost Story” is filmed in an older, one-story home in Texas near where he grew up with his family after they moved here from another state. Lowery stated it is a confluence of big ideas and does have some personal elements.
Lowery stated he did not set out to have this feature film to be a love story, but it turns into one, primarily due to the chemistry between Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (reunited from “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”). He added the actors didn’t have much to go on, but their knowing each other transformed it that way.
Early in the film, Casey Affleck’s character, C, passes away in a car accident close to home before he and M (Rooney Mara) finished packing to move away. C has not really wanted to leave there and ultimately, his spirit stays there, at times haunting new residents, alternating with waving hello to another similar spirit in a neighboring home.
This story about a ghost is one that the filmmaker stated is important for people to answer in their own terms. He is not providing any answers, but does provide a way for the audience to explore. “The process is an important one for me.”
During the interview, we did discuss the simple use of a white sheet with dark spots for eyes. He said he used it as a symbol (one he considers universal) and it can allow for people to laugh with the silly image. Although this symbol appears simple, it does not mean the filming process went so smoothly. “It was lots more arduous.” A determination for the eye size is important as he did not want the eyes to appear too goofy or too squinting. Additionally, it also became an issue to keep the eyes in place from day to day. Ultimately, Lowery credited the costume designer with creating a helmet for the sheet to help keep the eyes in place.
As the conversation led to this process and the difficulties, I asked the filmmaker if he could identify a challenge he was willing to share. “Challenges are great – especially doing this with very little money and not much time. The ghost is the biggest one. I thought it might break me and that it would be the one to kill this project. I doubted myself, but producer Toby Halbrooks encouraged me so, I embraced the challenge and learned from my mistakes. “Then I realized the only one to pull the plug is me.”
I could not hold back from asking about a specific very long scene with M eating a pie by herself. Lowery said the scene is almost five minutes long. “It is all about the lack of connection. The ghost is observing her like the audience. It is a moment of extreme grief and also a very private moment. It is a strong, yet beautiful thing to watch.”
“A Ghost Story” arrives in Austin theaters July 14th