Friday, July 24, 2009

Director's Q&A

Eric Espejo, writer-director for Ghosts Don’t Exist would like to share his thoughts on questions submitted for the GDE producer’s video blog.

What happened to the producer’s video blog?

I’ll just answer that with a plug about being invited to speak to film students at George Mason University’s Studio A ( It’s on Nov 6th, and I think you’ll be more interested in watching that video, than our recently recorded producer’s video blog. We plan on putting the producer’s video as an Easter egg on the GDE DVD.

How did you get Chris Cooley involved?

I sent a message to Chris’ “business development” email address listed on his blog. He seemed like the kind of guy who’d be interested in show business. In the same way I’d pitch any other producer, agent, and/or manager, I told them about 19th & Wilson and our project. Jake Stewart, one of Chris’ business partners responded positively. It was a couple of months of correspondence. Then one day I got this message from Tanner Cooley that simply said, “Call Chris he wants to talk to you, his cell is…”. I was on vacation with my wife, Sarina, and we were about to go to dinner by the beach and I made her wait 10 minutes while I called him. She’s very understanding of the film stuff, but I think she ordered the most expensive items on the menu for payback. Anyway, we finally got to meet Chris for a drink in DC (Christy was with him) and I was incredibly impressed at how nice and genuine they were. I’ve said it before, the Cooleys are a class act. Chris really liked the concept of the movie so he agreed to sign on as Executive Producer. Later we met with Tanner Cooley and immediately we clicked and felt like he’d be driving things from the Cooley side, so we added him as a Producer. Tanner has a real interest in film and was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

How did you come up with the story?

I’m a big fan of the horror genre. I’m not so excited about slashers unless the story is really done well. Story is everything, of course. Take Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” as an example; leaving more up to the imagination rather than showing a slow moving monster is much more frightening in my opinion. Also, in a horror when the concept is somewhat plausible then it enhances the fear. I’ve been pretty skeptical of shows that feature ghost hunters, so I asked myself what is something that could happen on a gig to these researchers that would absolutely blow them away. As a screenwriter, that’s your job, to take a situation and push the envelope within reason. So I took the paranormal arena and put some investigators in a pretty f’d up situation. As any writer knows, there are countless rewrites and I should mention that our other EP, James Mercurio who has a lot of experience with development, kept pushing me to not settle…to dig deeper into what was happening to the characters.

What made you choose that cast or location?

I was thrilled that 220+ actors showed up to the weekend auditions – folks from the DC/Balt area, and even Philly and NYC. A huge part of directing is casting, it’s very stressful. It’s essential to get it right. I thought I’d be able to just “know” that weekend when someone got it right. It was too tough to decide in 48hrs. We ended up having callbacks. I have a deep respect for what actors go through in auditions. One of them email’d me later and asked if there was anything he could’ve done differently. It’s a simple answer, “preparation”. It’s impressive when someone takes the time to learn the sides they’ve been given in advance. Reading off the paper makes a huge difference. What’s interesting is that two of our actors were online auditions (Philip Roebuck and Josh Davidson). They sent in videos and as soon as I saw Philip’s online submission I saw Brett’s character. He nailed it. Josh Davidson had an attitude about him and I could picture him as David Sherman, even though the role was written as a curmudgeon – I’m sure Josh will take that as a compliment. Devon Marie Burt had this great way of making you feel stressed for her, and that’s what was called for her role in the movie. Frederick Cowie secured the Richie role by just being himself. He’s got a unique sense of humor but has the range to bring that perspective to a horror. Joe Hansard is a great actor I’ve worked with a few times before, and he’s top notch. He plays creepy well. I wish I could keep talking about the rest of the cast but this blog would go on too long. I’m happy about each decision – there were a lot of comments on set praising the cast.

As for locations. We couldn’t have done it without our UPM, Kathryn Coombs. We made her scramble but she came through for us. For the main house, I searched online for rentals and I sent her a few options. I got a good idea of what the homes looked like from the net, but Kathryn did everything else. She set up the scouts and secured it.

Anything creepy happen on set?

Nope. You might want to field that question to our ghost hunting consultants, John Warfield and John Rossi of DCMAG. See the link to them on our blog. Well, there was this thing with the batteries in a certain location but I don't know...

Were there any moments during filming that really made you realize how much you love filmmaking?

Not a specific moment, but when you look at the hours you work during an ultra low budget indie production you think to yourself, “I must love this.” It’s cliché to say this, but it’s not work when you love it -- so you shouldn’t mind the hours. However, if you don’t have the right crew, then you may end up frustrated with a project. That wasn’t the case on GDE, we had great chemistry and it was a lot of fun.

What was your favorite and least favorite time on set?

Favorite time is after “Action!”. To see a script come to life on that monitor is exciting. Least favorite time is when weather doesn’t cooperate. You have to be prepared to rewrite on the fly just because an external shot is not possible. It can be stressful…I remember rewriting in Hamilton and just when I had it figured out, it stopped raining. Another dislike was our schedule. When you have a low budget you only have so much time. You have no choice but to cut out certain shots that you envisioned, but that’s just how it is. But our DP, Kuni Ohi made it work, he was outstanding, he was heavily involved from the get go – we worked many hours on a shot list. Preparation was key. Plus we had other seasoned pros like Bill Britt (sound), Don Aros (gaffer), Hektor Stockton (key grip), and Jim Choate (makeup/fx), that made the schedule work. Without them I think we would’ve struggled. Also, a director needs to surround himself with a solid team for just himself and I had incredible support from Gavin Peretti (AD), Richard Friend (2nd AD),and last but certainly not least Jean Paul Chreky (scriptie). That’s probably my other favorite part about the set – the crew. They were all exceptional.

How many famous Washingtonians were in GDE and how did they do?

From the Redskins there was Chris Cooley and Todd Yoder. From local media there was Lindsay Czarniak from NBC4 and Mike O’Meara from the Mike O’Meara radio program. They were all very professional and did really well in their roles. I know Chris was concerned about his part but he was a natural. He was very believable and I think he’s happy with it – otherwise, he wouldn’t have shown his scene nationwide on NFL Total Access with Rich Eisen. Yoder was a last minute cast and he had some improv lines that would’ve put us in a different MPAA rating – he was a lot of fun and actually added value to the scene because I was trying to find a way to setup a situation better for Chris’ character. Lindsay was a natural as well, especially since she plays a reporter in the movie. I’m so grateful for her to make it work. She had a hectic schedule with the Caps and Nascar, but went out of her way to make sure she could film her scene. I remember listening to the Don and Mike show for years, so it was a blast to have Mike O’Meara participate. He really got it right as a television network executive. His scene worked out perfect. I should also mention that our producer, Tanner Cooley also makes an appearance as his future profession…a doctor.

Are there any one-liners from the movie that you think fans will pick up on?

“Weird.” It’s not translating well for a blog because there’s a way to say it. You have to say it the way Chris Cooley says it. The 19w team quotes it all the time.

Without giving away too much of the story, will it be a “head nodding” or “head shaking” ending?

I’m not sure what you mean about this question, Liz (Liz_Kauai). If you’re asking if it’ll be an up or down ending, then I can’t say. I remember something that M. Night Shyamalan once said about his films. He said he’d like it to pass the take home test. He went on to explain that sometimes his films made you go home and think more about what you had just seen. You start to question it, debate it, and it becomes even more intriguing – the kind of film that starts internet discussion threads. It makes you want to see it a second time, looking for clues. I think GDE might do the same. I’m not saying I’m trying to hack M. Night. I’m just saying that it may be a movie that makes you question certain things, like “Do ghosts exist?” It’s an old debate amongst skeptics and those who believe in the paranormal. There are parts of the film that could support…wait now I’m starting to say too much, so just go see the movie.

What are the plans for GDE’s release?

Producer and 19w CEO, Aaron Goodmiller and I have been corresponding with Ronna Wallace, Producer Rep extraordinaire. She executive produced such films as Reservoir Dogs and Bad Lieutenant. She’s now a producer’s rep with years of experience and sales like Open Water. A producer’s rep is the first person you contact when you have a project so I talked to her when we were in pre-production. She’s waiting to see our trailer or rough cut (our great editor Matt West is hard at work), then she’ll decide where to go from there. If she reps us I’m sure she’ll tell us what the strategy is.

What are 19W’s future plans/projects?

The Cooleys have expressed interest in doing another film and we’re excited about that. While our main focus is seeing GDE all the way through, we do have some projects in development. I’m currently in a rewrite of our next one. There’s a subtle link on the new site that hints at our next project.

Thanks for all the great questions, and sorry I couldn’t answer every single one but I didn’t want this blog to take up three pages, so I picked the most frequent ones we get. Speaking of a long post, if you’ve read this far, thanks for doing so. Please keep spreading the word about GDE and we appreciate your support!

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