Using the Art of Film to Tell A Ghost Story
In case you don’t make it to the Sundance Film Festival each January, you can still watch the roughly 200 independent film projects as they are released on a variety of channels throughout the year. A handful of films are being released in theaters this month, and one of them, A Ghost Story by director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) — implemented an all Adobe Creative Cloud workflow to produce the movie. In fact, at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, 154 projects were made using Adobe tools and 97 films were edited using Premiere Pro.
A Ghost Story features a character, who recently died, in the iconic ghost costume, a white sheet. However, the directorial decisions Lowery made — and the compositing and editing tools he used — gives the ghost much more depth of character than you’d see with neighborhood trick-or-treaters.
“I just had this idea of a ghost movie in which the ghost is a guy in a bed sheet with two eyes cut out, and I just love the idea of taking that iconography and that image and playing it incredibly straight and incredibly seriously,” Lowery says. “It’s breaking from the norm in terms of how we tell a story and the tools we use to tell it.”
A Ghost Story is enjoying great reviews from critics since its limited theater release July 7. It’s the first film Lowery created using only Adobe Creative Cloud tools. He leaned on products like Premiere Pro, Lumetri, and After Effects to push the boundaries of his storytelling and to produce a film that critics have called brilliant, profound, and “piercingly emotional.”
Bringing A Ghost Story to Life
A Ghost Story tells the story of a man who dies in a car crash (Casey Affleck) and returns to his house as a ghost. He watches his wife (Rooney Mara) and all the people who inhabit the home over time. Over the course of the film the ghost learns to open doors at night, gently comforts his grieving wife, and even shoves books off bookshelves when she shares a kiss with a would-be suitor. And Lowery doesn’t stick to the typical paranormal movie conventions — A Ghost Story is no horror flick. The film is quiet, contemplative, and at times bleakly funny and unexpected.
Because the film’s ghost looks like something you’d see on Halloween, he is more human than he is haunting. To overcome the naturally absurd depiction of a man wearing a bed sheet over his head Lowery shot the two main characters at different frame rates. The living person was filmed at a normal rate, and the ghost was filmed in slow motion — 33 frames per second. Lowery then did basic compositing of the two takes of the same scene so the ghost had an other-worldly manner. Nearly every shot that features the ghost is a split screen, in which at least two images are simultaneously displayed.
Lowery says Adobe Creative Cloud was essential to create these composite shots. Many of the basic composits were achieved with masking and tracking right in Premiere Pro. If a shot with motion needed more finessing, he used Dynamic Link to move between Premiere Pro and After Effects to blend the cuts together seamlessly. After Effects also was valuable to edit things in and out of a particular shot, including one six-minute scene that required editors to paint over the actor’s tattoos.
The team also relied on the Lumetri Color panel for all the film’s rough color correction and used the tool to put finishing touches on A Ghost Story before they premiered it at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. Lowery says working with a user-friendly, integrated tools in Premiere Pro and across Creative Cloud improved his creative process.
“The things you’re able to do with this family of software is remarkable. It really allows you to quickly illustrate on the screen what is going on in your brain,” he says.
Breaking Barriers and Sharing More Voices
Lowery started using Adobe software in 2014, but A Ghost Story is the first project he’s done using Adobe Creative Cloud from start to finish.
“My favorite thing is that I don’t have to look up anything. Premiere Pro is very intuitive and I can just open everything and start working right away,” he says.
The intuitive and integrated nature of the Adobe Creative Cloud helps filmmakers focus on storytelling rather than complicated technical details. For previous films, Lowery recalls the effort required to shift between multiple software packages. But because Creative Cloud products all share a similar interface and communicate well with one another, he had a more consistent experience creating A Ghost Story.
This cohesive experience is a boon for filmmakers like Lowery — whether producing independent features or fully funded studio productions. It allows them to be more creative in how scenes are put together (while also helping them avoid costly reshoots) and gives them more freedom to create unique moments on screen that resonate with an audience.
Adobe tools help democratize the filmmaking process so that any talented artist with a camera and a story to tell can share share that story on screen. Lowery says this accessibility only will help future generations of filmmakers.
“It’s one of the best tools out there for helping filmmakers achieve their vision on a scale that has previously been off limits,” he says.