Right now, as you’re reading this – in the midst of summer movie season – a peculiar little movie is coming out that is probably best known as “that movie where Casey Affleck walks around in a sheet.” Or, “That movie where Rooney Mara eats a pie for five minutes.”
David Lowery’s A Ghost Story isn’t scary. Before the film premiered at Sundance, Lowery compared it to staring out a window than anything featuring Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Michael Myers. Okay, sure, on the grand spectrum of “staring out a window” versus being chased around by Freddy Krueger, A Ghost Story might be slightly closer to the whole window thing. I mean, there really is a five-minute scene of Rooney Mara eating a pie. But, one-sentence descriptions aside, A Ghost Story is one of the best films of 2017.
“I would do a Ninja Turtles movie,” says David Lowery when we get on the topic of ‘80s movies. I put this quote up here as kind of a way of making the point that Lowery isn’t your typical director of offbeat indie projects. “I thought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze was the best movie ever when that came out. I went back and watched that and I was like, oh man, I feel so bad for my parents for having to sit through this three times with me. I bought the soundtrack on cassette.”
Lowery’s pretty obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When I ask him what he thought of the most recent Turtles movies, he admits he isn’t biggest fan of the first one, but had high praise for the sequel, “The second one actually felt like a literal recreation of the cartoon. It was so true to the cartoon. Even with Krang flying away at the end, saying, ‘I’ll be back’ – like shaking his tentacle at them. It was so goofy, but I liked it.”
Lowery made his feature directorial debut with 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which received high praise at Sundance and also starred Mara and Affleck. This led to his next gig, which at the time seemed like a puzzling decision. No one really thought we needed a Pete’s Dragon remake. Yet, David Lowery made a Pete’s Dragon remake and… it was really good. More importantly, David Lowery got to make a David Lowery movie in the studio system.
“I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop,” recalls Lowery, about his time working for Disney. “For them to tell me to make the dragon talk or make it modern, or put some cell phones in there or have some modern references. Never happened. Every step of the way, they were supportive of what I was doing.”
I bring up the fact that the optics of making A Ghost Story, a movie in which Lowery had complete freedom, does look a little like a response to just coming off a big studio movie. Lowery immediately poo poos this: “In truth, making a Disney movie was a delight.”
Then, I bring up the situation of what happened to Chris Miller and Phil Lord – let go for “creative differences” from the Han Solo movie – and that there is a growing concern that bright young filmmakers aren’t being allowed to have any freedom in the process.
“I mean, I didn’t have final cut on the movie,” answers Lowery. “Nor would I have expected it, but that never got in the way of me making the movie I wanted to make.” And, yes, Lowery would certainly receive notes, but it was never obtrusive. “They all just wanted to push in on, lean in on that tone even further. And I love that. And I really have great respect for them for that. And I want to make more movies with them, but we had such a good experience on that one that I want to make sure the next one is just as good.”
Do not make Rooney Mara eating a pie into a meme
In A Ghost Story, After C (Affleck) is killed in an auto accident, he returns to his house and wife, M (Mara), as a ghost – which is represented by Affleck just simply wearing a sheet with two holes punched out for his eyes. It’s a version of a ghost we would see in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
“I’m going to take the most childlike representation of a ghost and bring some gravity to it. I mean, this image, around the world, if you show it to anybody, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, it’s a ghost.’ But yet at the same time, they don’t take it seriously.”