By Joseph J. O’Donnell
ED: Last month’s issue of Eerie Digest featured Heather Hale Director/Writer/Producer of Ghost Writer. Heather tell us more about yourself and your career.
HH: I wear a lot of hats in the industry (you have to in order to survive). Of course, my bread and butter has always been writing. Writing screenplays on assignment, ghost writing (ironically) manuscripts and helping private clients articulate their family’s true life stories on the page – then bringing those stories to life on the big or little screen is a huge part of my work. I’m now taking my career to the next level by expanding into directing, with Ghost Writer as the critical vehicle in that launch sequence marathon! You really have to balance your creative right brain (“show”) with your logical left brain (“biz”), so I also write independent film business plans, break down shoot schedules and production budgets and I do A TON of producing. I get hired out to produce everything from films and TV to infomercials, industrials, educational DVDs, streaming media web-based campaigns, in-flight programming to events. To make ends meet in this fluctuating business, I also do a lot of script consulting, project analysis and entertainment industry career consulting – it’s all overlapping and keeps my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in all the different arenas. Perhaps most fun, I am brought to venues all around the globe to lecture at film festivals, writers workshops, college campuses. Thus, the travel bug pilot! I even parlay the glamour and glitz – and humor of – Hollywood, Wall Street and Madison Avenue to inspire non-profit and corporate retreats! Whatever keeps the lights on, you know!
ED: Tell us everything about the fabulous crew that shot the scenes for the pilot of this show and can you tell us something of the process the filming of “Ghost Writer” underwent?
HH: I couldn’t be more grateful or more humbled by the talent that miraculously presented itself for this project. Joe DeRobbio just swooped in like an angel to take care of all our post-production needs. You only need to ask Joe once – for anything – and you can just consider it done. He got his buddy, Paul Del PIzzo, to bring us four – count ‘em four – high def cameras – including an underwater one we had a ton of fun with! Joe also brought us Brian Dickett, who, in retrospect, I don’t know if we could’ve done this without (certainly, not nearly as spectacularly). Brian was indispensible as our Special Effects Supervisor. At one point, when we ran into a seemingly insurmountable scheduling conflict, I made the daring decision to promote Brian on the fly to Second Unit Director and split our four cameras up into two teams and divvy our crew up on the spot to opposite sides of the Vogelvang’s mansion. Brian more than ably took over the pool fight sequence we had so clearly pre-visualized and planned shot-by-shot with the tireless talent and speed of Glenn Thomas’ storyboarding help. We had also already thoroughly rehearsed the fight choreography weeks earlier under the incredible stunt coordination tutelage of Hugh Aodh O’Brien (who conveniently doubled as the actual “dark ghost” doing the stunt sequence), so Brian had already edited this rehearsal footage and knew precisely what we needed. So, I grabbed my right hand DP Stud, Daniel Ainsworth, and we ran around the house to set up and simultaneously shoot the heartbreaking dramatic resolution scene in the angel garden between Eileen Grubba, Barbara Bain and Scott C. Roe.
All the while, Line Supervisor, Julian Moss and 1st A.D., Joe Taranto kept everyone cool, calm and collected – and efficiently where we each needed to be – you gotta have those time- and budget-keeping Sergeant at Arms you can rely on – so nice when they have a pleasant but firm disposition to boot! To give you an idea of how grueling a day that was: we shot 29 set ups that one day! Talk about an efficient, well-oiled machine! And while I can’t compliment my fantastic crew enough, I have to bow down in awe of my star, Eileen, who taught us ALL a lesson in gratitude as to how valuable it was to have a non-Diva as our lead! One who wears her producer’s hat at all times and just gets the job done! She ran from getting her butt kicked in the pool back to the other side of the house to cry on-demand – back and forth – and knocked it out of the park over and over again. Wherever we needed her – bam! – she delivered. Each and every take. Flawlessly. It was such a physical day for all of us but it had to be tenfold for her, such a trooper, racing from set-up to set up to keep us on schedule – which we did – brilliantly. We then rewarded our whole cast and crew with a rib, tri-tip and chicken dinner, courtesy of The Rib Trader (and Eric Vogelvang’s great Orange County relationships)!
Our behind-the-scenes is as much a proof of concept as our production value in the can. Our extreme advanced planning was priceless. Our ruthlessly tight script was rewritten constantly to adjust to the multiple team location scouts and to address various production challenges, which translated into zero time wasted during precious principal photography. All of our locations (except for one) were walking distance apart and our great office location, Ricci Realty, was but a mile away. We had a very coordinated shoot with “virtually” no crew moves. The grip truck could move the equipment a block or a mile while the pool house served as our main base camp for craft services and we had only slight mobile-shifts for hair, make-up and wardrobe.
Just one example of our team pre-thinking was with Kathryn J. Taylor who was so valiantly drenched for the entire shoot as our drowned ghost lead, Anshee. The beauty of her being in the exact same (wet) outfit the entire time – with a fall we could get just get wet and she was ready to go – was that no matter what we shot of her (especially on green screen), we have the freedom to use her footage any way we need in the edit without worrying about wardrobe or hair continuity issues. Ditto our splitting up into two units – wherever she was called, she was always on the right day wardrobe and hair – and ever ready with her dialogue and performance.
ED: What progress have you made with the Pilot?
HH: We are reviewing the less than five hours of raw footage we have in the rough assembly. Brian’s working fast and furious on the special effects as two-time Primetime Emmy award winning editor, Scott Eilers does his Editor’s Cut. I will be doing the spotting session for our original score (and trailer music) with our Emmy-award winning composer Stephen C. Marston this week (around the fires). Our 22-minute pilot will do triple-duty as short film for the film festival circuit as well as an investors’ trailer for the full feature film while we simultaneously edit a three-minute “sizzle reel” to pique funding and distribution interest via in-person pitches Eileen and I are in the process of lining up. We know that every broadcast and cable entity is feeling this economic crunch and we are eager to pitch our new model to replicate this level of mobile-efficiency weekly while still delivering the wonderful travelogue locations and ghostly special effects on such a tight budget. We have a hit list of Show Runners we’re researching, determining who would be best for us to align with as we build our fan base through our social media campaign. We already have more fans than most already-funded and greenlit shows for next season and a dozen articles already written about our TV show looking for a place to call home. It’s a break-neck pace, but it feels like Christmas every day to be able to play creatively with such a wonderful team of professionals!