David Lowery's endearing and emotional A Ghost Story began as a ghost of an idea

David Lowery's endearing and emotional A Ghost Story began as a ghost of an idea

The director of the film about life after death discusses his inspiration behind the story and overcoming self-doubt


Casey Afflect and Rooney Mara had a chemistry that was instant and believable ... even through a deceptively complicated bed-sheet costume.
Photo: Sundance Film Festival Hong Kong

The most frightening thing about death may not be death itself, but not knowing what comes after. A Ghost Story explores the often-toted belief that our ghosts linger on after death.

The supernatural fantasy drama follows the typically white-sheeted ghost of musician C (Casey Affleck) who returns after death to in the suburban home which he once shared with his grief-stricken wife, M (Rooney Mara).

“The image of the ghost was something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Director David Lowery shared with Young Post.

“When I sat down to write the screenplay, I wasn’t thinking about a story or characters. I just had the image, the emotion, and the curiosity to just start and see where it went.”

“The seed of A Ghost Story, however, is the argument that Lowery had with his wife about whether they should stay in Los Angeles or move back to Texas, which later grows into part of the plot.”

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The director credits a somewhat unlikely figure with helping to sprout this seed of inspiration: British writer Virginia Woolf, whom Lowery describes as “very influential” in his life.

“The way in which she, as a novelist, uses time in her stories has always had an impact on me,” said Lowery, whose favourite novel is Orlando, in which the characters “just exist throughout time and never age”. Just like the ghosts in his film.

He had never thought about referencing the writer in his own work until he came across Woolf's short story, A Haunted House.

“It felt so beautiful that these two ghosts, this couple, are looking for something, but they don’t know exactly what it is. They’re just rushing through the house trying to find something that mattered to them when they’re alive,” Lowery explained.

C comes back to his home to try to reconnect with his wife who's left behind and at a loss by his death.
Photo: Sundance Film Festival Hong Kong

“It’s that search, that pursuit, that headlong rush towards something you can’t quite define that mattered to me, and that’s so similar to what Casey is doing (in A Ghost Story).”

As soon as Lowery decided to bring his idea to fruition, the first actors that came to mind were Affleck and Mara, who played the lead roles in his previous work Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013).

“When we made our first film together, that movie was not meant to be a love story until I saw them on screen together,” said Lowery. “Their chemistry was just so palpable and romantic that it just turned the entire movie into a love story.”

To bring C and M's passion for each other to the screen in a way that's believable even though they only have one scene together, the director knew he had to reunite Afflect and Mara.

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While the cast sorted, Lowery told Young Post the next task to tackle was “the ghost costume, which was incredibly hard to execute."

“We did some tests and realised that a bedsheet won’t cover you from head to toe, and it’d also just look silly… So my costume designer Annell Brodeur had to spend lot of time experimenting, trying out different shapes, [and] different sizes of fabric. And ultimately the costume itself has a lot of infrastructure underneath the sheet.”

He explained that it was difficult to get the right shape because the fabric “needed to drape in certain ways”, while also communicating the ghost’s character and emotions.

“Even the face was hard, because if you just cut two holes in a sheet, they won’t stay circular. But [C’s] eyes had to convey so much emotion, they needed to stay fixed, and so there’s this helmet underneath the head to keep the eyes intact.”

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“It was very stressful because we knew if we failed, the whole movie would fail,” Lowery said.

Lowery was initially plagued by doubts about the project, and recalled feeling “very depressed” at the beginning of the shoot. He confessed:

“I just didn’t think it was going to work. I just felt we needed to stop. I felt it was a waste of everyone’s time; I felt it was a waste of money, and I felt really bad about the whole thing.”

The boost he needed came unwittingly from Affleck during a team lunch.

“Casey looked over us and said, ‘You know what, I think this is the best movie that any one of us has ever made,’ and that gave me enough confidence to keep going.”

“That was one of the most memorable moments, not only from this movie, but of my entire experience as a film maker.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge


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