Ghost Writer Interview with Heather Hale

By Joseph J. O’Donnell

Heather Hale’s dozen years in the entertainment industry span the reaches of “show” and “biz.” An independent producer, screenwriter and director, she is just wrapping post-production on her directorial debut, the pilot Ghost Writer. Her credits include over 45 hours of award-winning productions, including the $5.5 million 2000 Lifetime Original Movie she sold off of a spec screenplay after attaching Vanessa L. Williams to star opposite Diahann Carroll, Gil Bellows and Stacy Keach. Her work has garnered two Emmys, Tellys, “Best New Series Pilot” – and a list of other industry awards. Heather is an active contributor to the entertainment community, having served as The Director of Event Programming for the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE), the official script consultant for The American Screenwriters Association and has been a judge for hundreds of TV, film and script competitions worldwide. Heather is an active member of the Television Academy and Showbiz Mensans and is currently a judge for the ABC/Disney Fellowship, The Hartley-Merrill International Screenplay Competition, a trustee for the Sally Picow Foundation and a Mentor Board Member for Kids Making Movies. An in-demand keynote speaker, workshop leader and industry expert, Heather lectures and consults globally on careers in entertainment, her trademark PowerNetworking strategies and business development for traditional and new media. For more information, please visit www.HeatherHale.com.

ED: Heather, you have had quite a career in entertainment industry, especially in the television arena. Your work has received a couple of Emmys, Ace Awards, two Tellys and a “2001 Best New Series Pilot” Gold Award from the Houston World Fest, not to mention the 2000 Lifetime Original Movie that starred Vanessa Williams that you wrote that was also based on a true story. Tell us a little bit about your new adventure.

HH: It’s called Ghost Writer. It’s a speculative pilot about a rookie travel writer and reluctant medium who attracts ghosts at every historical landmark or tourist trap she’s assigned to cover. They haunt her until she sets their records straight.

It’s scary and intense but at the same time its sexy, funny and insightful. Industry professionals who’ve read the script or seen the dailies liken it to Murder She Wrote meets Cold Case but I see it more as Moonlighting with a ghost story.

ED: So this is a pilot?

HH: Yes. Our great hope is to get Bonnie Hammer to fall in love with it and help us launch it as a series on either NBC or USA and/or set it up as a feature film through Universal.

We based the pilot on a famous Hollywood Diva named Lupe Velez, who was found dead, face down in a toilet. We, of course, changed the name and spun our story off from that public domain inspiration, with the idea that instead of her reported suicide, maybe that ghost would come back to try to clear her name that she was in fact, murdered.

ED: So this “rewriting history” will be an ongoing theme?

HH: Yes. The idea is to dig up old ghost stories, urban legends, family lore – research them – and do dramatic fact-o-fiction spin offs set at locations that are as much a character as any of the recurring leads or story lines. In every episode, viewers will get intriguing true life stories, interesting regional history, unique and varied travelogue all set against wonderful recurring characters.

ED: Tell us those characters – and your cast.

Ghost Writer’s star and title character, Angela is played by Eileen Grubba. She’s the modern “every woman” we have yet to see portrayed accurately in the media. She goes from little girl giggly, playful to ballsy platinum-spine professional in a nano-second. She is flirty yet insecure. When pushed up against a wall, she’s courageous enough to leap awkwardly into the fray, even if she’s terrified and out of her league.

Unlike stereotypical images we so often see reflected, she doesn’t burst into tears at the drop of a hat or twist her ankle running through the forest of a horror film (as an excuse to gratuitously rip her dress to reveal her breasts). Like most strong women we all know in real life, this gal holds it together by a thread and waits for a safe time and place to lose it in privacy.

She’s kind of “diamonded” by four romantic options, each a version of the men who seem to present themselves in repeating patterns in every woman’s life. There’s the Bogie and Bacall “too old for her”, almost father figure, Jack, her Editor and Boss, played by the sexy, virile Carmen Argenziano. Their savvy repartee and naggingly professionally-inappropriate sexual tension is reminiscent of Moonlighting.

There’s the too-young-for-her Cougar option, Thomas, the office Tech Geek, played by Jim Van Over, Jr. Thomas is of the future: Generation Z all grown up. A digital native, he’s so connected via technology he’s disconnected interpersonally. He’s everything Jack never wants to be but is infuriatingly indispensable to him.

Then there’s every girl’s dream: William (played by Scott C. Roe). He’s the perfect man, only he’s dead. Talk about unrequited love! He’s her timeless, elusive, flawless soul mate: he’s always just almost there – but not really. They’re always out of synch.

And then there’s Albert (yet to be cast for the series). He’s the great guy who’s always there – but his romantic potential is never realized. He’s the one every woman has known, who expresses his love in myriad incomprehensible ways but never has the nerve to actually take bold initiative.

The pilot episode introduces two recurring female characters. Anshee (Kathryn J. Taylor), the ghost character inspired by the true life Hollywood Diva, Lupe Velez, haunts Angela ‘til she sets her record straight, decides to “hang around” and teach Angela how to “live a little” in the real world and stop being a ghost herself. So much of this show is about connections.

Anshee’s mother-in-law, Margaret (played by industry icon, Barbara Bain) is the “There but for the grace of God go I” foil character to Angela. She’s a Grey Gardens-esque old family money recluse who’s been tormented by the attached spirit of her failing director son, Patrick (played by Hugh Aodh O’Brien).

Nathan (Brian Foyster) plays the Irish Rogue proprietor of the historic landmark he converted into The Victorian Manor Tea House and Bed & Breakfast that Anshee now haunts.

I wish we had the space to mention each and every crew member, too – as they were all terrific! You can check them out on our site at: http://ghostwriterseries.com.

ED: What are some of the stunts and special effects?

We have some really cool ghostly stuff in this episode: ghosts walking through walls, moving things, hovering, floating, transporting for surprise and effect – characters walking through ghosts.

The climactic scene has Patrick, as a dark evil entity, swoop through Margaret’s mansion door to plunge Angela into the pool. Their intense underwater fight is broken up by Anshee, who comes to rescue her. Patrick scatters into dark dust and Anshee dissolves beautifully into the water – kind of an ashes to ashes, dust to dust (she was drowned so she becomes one with her element again) as she lets go and move on. It’s a spectacular stunt and special effects sequence.

ED: Now that principal photography for the pilot of Ghost Writer is done, what are the next steps?

HH: Brian Dickett is digitizing the footage and doing the rough assembly and special effects. We’ve got about four hours of raw footage to edit tight for our 22-minute finished piece – but that’s a reasonable ratio.

Lou Antonio, my precious Director Mentor with fifty years experience in the biz, said our toughest challenge will be figuring out what to cut because every take we have in the can is excellent. That’s a great problem to have.

I am especially looking forward to my spotting session with Emmy-award winning composer, Steve Martson and writing the lyrics for the theme song: “I can see right through you.”

Then we’ve got digital imaging (color correction) to do, sound design. The final piece will have three potential avenues. Ideally, we’ll get it sold and set-up as a one-hour television drama series but we also have plans to hit the film festival circuit with it as a short and it also serves as an investor trailer for a full feature.

ED: What other projects are you planning in the future?

HH: I’d like to see Ghost Writer hit the syndication sweet spot (five seasons out, one hundred episodes) while keeping the same team together to make full feature indie films during each hiatus. With our social media plan firmly in place, we can parlay all the true life stories into MOWs with synchronized marketing and promotion by their respective episodes.

I’ve got enough completed screenplays to keep us all busy for many years to come – and I’m a fast and prolific writer with endless ideas, just waiting for their turn at my time and energy.

ED: Heather, we believe that “Ghost Writer” will be a great hit this Fall on television. With the successful trend in this genre taking place, Eerie Digest predicts that this show will be playing for many years to come. The hard work of you, the actors, and crew on this pilot leaves us no doubt that our readers will be very anxious to see its debut. We wish you the best of luck on what we believe will be a popular television series.