Ghost TV

A nasty, nasty, nasty comedy

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Nominated for Best Self-Funded Feature at the 2013 New Zealand Film Awards

“Phil Davison delivers the best “found footage” flick this century, if you love the genre this is must see stuff folks” 9 out of 10 star review on Scary Minds (http://www.scaryminds.com/reviews/2013/movie320.php)

The project is the brain-child of Phil Davison (Writer-Director of Kung Fu Vampire Killers and Belief). Phil is a veteran of low budget feature production having already shot a number of features in Dunedin, specialising in Horror films – but has spent the last few years teaching filmmaking while his children are growing – now with his youngest child starting school in November it’s time to get back behind the camera.

Plot
A reality TV crew are making a programme, ‘Ghost TV’  about the haunted buildings that are the ruins of Seacliff. As one might expect things do not go to plan. One of the crew is emotionally unstable and when she discovers that she has been used callously by another crew member she snaps and runs off into the night, only to return with violent intent. The characters progressively back themselves into an increasingly absurd situation, culminating in violence and DIY surgery.

The film is character-based – Phil says “it’s always a lot more scary when you care about the people involved, so in this script we work on setting up the characters so that when they are endangered it means a lot more.”

The film is an update on the classic haunted house movies, mixing plenty of digital technology with good old fashioned suspense and scares.

On a deeper level the film is a tale about people without a moral compass.

Rated R:16 (Note: Violence, horror, drug use & offensive language)

Cast

It’s the simple truth that, without the great cast, we would not have had such a fantastic movie!

In the shot below – from right to left… Melissa Hobbs as Kate, Harley Neville as Sam, Dell McLeod as Wendy, Adam Thompson as Clayton and Leah Carrell as Margie

Poster shot

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Above: Mel and Harley next to the Ghost TV van

Below: Adam and Leah in the morgue. Don’t you love the candles reflecting in Adam’s glasses!

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The location

We shot the movie in the ruins of the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, on the Otago coast, just north of Dunedin. Once the largest building in the Southern Hemisphere, much of it was demolished forty years ago. The building below, the old kitchen block is the largest of the remaining buildings. The place has an atmosphere. It’s as if it were not possible for a place where there was so much misery to not have an atmosphere.

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The wall below, and a couple of others like it are all that remain of the massive old building. The north wing was destroyed by a horrendous fire that is described in the movie, and the remainder was demolished when it became unsafe due to ground movement.

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One of the large spaces upstairs in the old kitchen block. The bed and chair being a grim reminder of the history of the place.

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One of the other rooms in the old kitchen block, and one of the few rooms that we did not shoot in – it would have been too hard to black out the windows to make it night during the day. There are many rooms filled with vintage car parts.

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The fact is that I’m a sucker for a good staircase! You can generate more tension having someone walk down stairs to an unknown lower level than if they just walk down a corridor. We did not need an art department to figure out hoe to get the pain to peel off the walls.

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And below – the old morgue. Probably the most creepy place in the entire site.  I’m told that students were required to stand along the wall on the right during autopsies – this is the wall opposite the door, so they could not run out.

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And lastly, a picture of Phil on the set, shutter clicked here by Steve Outram. All the other photos here are by Phil.

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Shoot notes

Here’s a press release written at the end of the shoot…
It is almost unheard of in the film industry for productions to finish well ahead of schedule, but that’s what independent Dunedin feature film Ghost TV has done. Scheduled for a 23 day shoot, typical for a low budget feature, the principle filming was completed in only eleven days.

On the first day it was already apparent that things were moving quickly when the not only were all the scenes slated for that day completed, but most of the second day’s work as well. “This created new problems,” says director Phil Davison, “keeping pace with the torrent of footage we produced became a race to keep up, and special effects that we thought we had two weeks to prepare were needed straight away.”

Despite the whirlwind pace the project generated as much footage as would be expected from a feature film “We actually shot more for this movie than we did on my last feature film, Belief, which took three weeks to shoot, says Davison. “But when you’ve shot it and it looks fantastic there’s no real reason to knock off for the day or to shoot it again.”

The shoot was completed with a marathon all-night shoot, starting at 7:00 PM and completed at 6:00 AM. By the end of the shoot the actors were exhausted and on the edge of hypothermia, but were playing playing tired, cold people. Says lead Actress Melissa Hobbs of her screen embrace with actor Harley Neville “All I could think of was that I wanted to get close to him because he was warm”.

Seacliff proved to be a very evocative place to shoot a film. “The place can be very eerie at night, especially if you are by yourself,” says Davison ” but for some scenes even with a group of people present the place can be spooky. When we were shooting the séance scene in the old morgue and Adam [Thompson, playing Clayton] said “Is anybody there?” the hair on the back o my neck stood up, even though I had written those lines in the script as was surrounded by a dozen crew members. But despite the place being spooky I did not feel unwelcome – it’s as if the place wanted its story told.” Says 1st AD Gabby Enright “Everything went so well because of Seacliff magic.”

“There were two reasons we finished so early,” says Davison “One is the technology, and the other is the people.

“The cameras we used were fantastically sensitive at low light levels, meaning that the lighting set-ups could be very simple and yet look great, and that meant we could move very fast. Also because the cameras are so cheap we were able to have more of them, and we used up to four cameras simultaneously.

“But even with the latest technology it would have been nothing if there had not been such a great cast and crew. It’s usually obligatory to say nice things about the cast and crew at the end of a production, but in this case, all the people involved were remarkable in terms of staying focussed and keeping up with the whirlwind pace of the production. It says a lot about the quality of actors and crew in Dunedin that we were able to bring the project in under budget and in only half the allotted time. Dunedin is now home to a tremendous group of talented people with top class professional film skills.”

Technical notes….
We shot the film with two Canon 550D cameras. The 550D has exactly the same video specification as the more expensive 60D and 7D cameras. While it might have been nice to have a 5DII to shoot with, the 550D does the job and we could afford two of them for less than the cost of a single 5DII.

In most situations one camera had a wide-angle zoom and the other had a 50mm prime lens.The wide-angles were a Tamron 10~24mm or a Tokina 12~20mm. Both of these lenses did great work. The 50mm lenses were vintage Pentax lenses. For very tight CUs we used a very old Tamron SP 90mm.

The use of very wide-angle lenses was essential since we were often shooting in very tight situations, such as the interior of the van.

Audio was recorded on two Zoom H4 audio recorders. Most of the audio was captured with the visible lapel mics, since the rooms we were recording in were extremely reverberant – had we used boom mics the reverb would have made the dialogue unintelligible. Surprisingly, the audio tracks recorded by the camera mics were not as bad as I had expected, and much of the background sound in the fight scenes is the audio that I found on these tracks.

Lighting was mostly done by practicals (i.e. the lights that appear in the story), including a lot of torchlight. The propane gas camping lantern is the same one used in Belief. We did have access to several “red-heads”, but these are only used in a few places. The use of practical lighting was another reason we were able to move very quickly

Process
The cards from the cameras and audio recorders were delivered to a digitising station where Production Manager Steve Outram copied them onto a Mac Laptop with several large hard drives attached. Once the cards had been copied and a second backup made the cards were given back to the crew to reformat and reuse. This process required Steve’s attention almost full time due to the large amounts of footage we were producing.

It was just as well that we had plenty of cards and camera batteries as we went through these very quickly.

The large rechargeable lead-acid torches we used put out plenty of light, but did not hold a charge for long. We had two of these, so that one could be on charge while another was being used, but this was not enough – the charging time was too long. We should have had four of them.

Unsung Heroes
There are two people I would like to mention here because they made incredible contributions, but, because they were working behind the scenes, don’t seem so visible in the finished film. In fact everyone did a great job, and it really was a team effort, but these two guys really did work that was fantastic.

Steve Outram the production manager was not even that visible on set since he was often tucked away digitising footage – but he had looked after the location each night and had the set ready for us the next day. A lot of what Steve did were the things that we took for granted – but if he had not been doing them the production would have ground to a halt.

1st AD Gabby Enright was visible (and audible) on set, and brought a fantastic energy and organisation to the project. It was largely due to Gabby’s energy that we finished so quickly.

Full Credit List…

Kate – Melissa Hobbs

Sam – Harley Neville

Wendy – Dell McLeod

Clayton – Adam Thompson

Margie – Leah Carrell

Annemarie – Holly Aitchison

Priest – Craig Storey

Doctor – Phil Davison

Written, Directed and edited by Phil Davison

Gabby Enright – 1st Assistant Director

Steve Outram – Production Manager

Cinematography: Bruce Dunn, Joe Gallagher, Phil Davison

Sound: James Burton

Second Sound: Craig Storey and Adam Thompson

Sue Marshall – Script supervisor

Holly Mackinven – Script consultant

Richard Girvan – CGI imagery, Clapper

Andy Weston – ‘Making of’ camera, runner

Wiebke Hendry – ‘Making of’ interviews

Eddie Skillander – Assistant editor

Miguel Nitis – prosthetic makeup

Van signwriting – Andrew Wallace

Catering: Kitty August, Pamela Seccombe

Casting assistance: McDaniel+Power Actor/Profile Management

Equipment loaned by

TreeFrog Video

Otago University Centre for Science Communication

Sincere thanks to:

Mac Pac Outdoor Clothing

Otago University Dept. of Design

Ross Johnston

And Richard Thomas for support in the initial stages of screenwriting

Archival images supplied by Archives New Zealand / Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwatanga

Financed by the Southern Institute of Technology

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