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'A Ghost Story' is meant to make you think, not scream

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star in
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star in "A Ghost Story."
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star in
Casey Affleck as the ghost in "A Ghost Story."
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star in
"A Ghost Story," from writer/director David Lowery, premieres July 7.

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"A Ghost Story" is, of course, a story about a ghost. But it's also a story about love, grief and the passage of time.

The movie was written and directed by David Lowery ("Ain't Them Bodies Saints," "Pete's Dragon") and it stars Casey Affleck, first as a homebody musician, and then, after he dies, as a ghost who haunts his widow, played by Rooney Mara.

Lowery began work on “A Ghost Story” right after finishing the big-budget 2016 Disney remake of “Pete’s Dragon.” That movie featured a giant CGI dragon, so you might expect that the ghost in "A Ghost Story" would be a digitally-rendered phantom.

Instead, Lowery employed a much lower-tech device: a white sheet with two cut-out eye holes.

The Frame host John Horn spoke with David Lowery about creating "A Ghost Story."

Interview highlights:

On the genesis of the idea for "A Ghost Story":

A lot of times it's a tone, it's a feeling, like something you get out of a song ... In this case, I had a couple of things that all just came together in one spontaneous burst of writing. And I wrote the script in one sitting so it's hard for me to look back on it and say, Here was the inciting idea that led to it. But one of the things was a fight I had with my wife about where we were going to live. That was a big part of it. And then I also really loved the image of a ghost haunting one house for a really long period of time. And I really loved the idea that [the] ghost would look like someone wearing a bed sheet.

On an argument with his wife that partially inspired the film:

We had moved to Los Angeles and I wanted to move back to Texas and she wanted to stay in L.A. And it was just a classic ... you know, you kind of have those moments in your relationship where you feel a line in the sand might be about to be drawn. And we saw that line forming and backed off from it because we didn't want to reach that point. But nonetheless it felt like a very frighteningly real point in our relationship where I could see a way in which things could come to a head in a negative way. And I saw myself as the one to blame in that situation. So I felt like I needed to do some soul searching and some digging and, as a writer/director, that usually means I write a movie about it.

On working again with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, who'd starred in Lowery's 2013 film, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints":

I wrote this with no one in particular in mind. But as soon as it was done, they were the first people I gave it to because, the characters, there's not a lot to them. We don't spend that much time with Casey and Rooney before Casey dies. And I wanted their relationship to feel profound and true and real in spite of the lack of screen time we're going to give it. And I wanted Rooney's character to feel like a real character in spite of the fact that we don't ever really get to know her that well. And so I knew that casting the two of them would imbue the film with a tremendous sense of loss when Casey's character passes away because, having worked with them, I know that their chemistry is absolutely amazing and that within 10 minutes they could create the notion that these two have been together their whole lives and are deeply in love, even though there's not that much there on screen.

 On the challenge of making sure the ghost in the film didn't look too silly:

You have to remove the performance entirely, and that was something we learned as we were shooting. Initially I thought that this would be an opportunity for Casey to really do a lot of physical performing and for the audience to be able to recognize him under the sheet. And that's what we did in the early days of production ... but it just didn't work. It really just felt like a human wearing a sheet. And all of his physical traits were exaggerated by the fact that he was wearing a sheet. So all of a sudden you realize he has a very specific walk, he has a very specific way of hanging his head or his shoulders slump in a specific way. And it just was very distracting from the potential that this ghost had in any given scene ... What we realized was that we had to iron out any trace of performance and it ultimately became a three-part puppet show between Casey wearing the sheet and myself calling out very specific directions, and then our costume department — if it wasn't a full-body shot — just hanging out at his feet holding the sheet and moving it in a very specific way so that the eyes would stay symmetrical or that the folds would move just so.

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.

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