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‘A Ghost Story’ is cinematic success under a sheet

One of the best movies of the year stars a guy in a bed sheet. It so happens he’s an Oscar-winning actor but still, for almost the entire movie, he’s just a guy in a full-length bed sheet with two lone holes cut out for his eyes.

The film is called “A Ghost Story” so he’s appropriately dressed, but still, it’s a pretty daring move to cover up your lead actor so thoroughly that you can’t see him underneath the sheet at all. And as the ghost, he doesn’t get to speak either.

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The actor, in this case, is Casey Affleck, the most recent Academy-Award winning Best Actor recipient. “A Ghost Story” is written and directed by David Lowery who says the publicity-shy Affleck seemed to relish the opportunity.

“He was thrilled to wear that sheet,” Lowery said. “I think whether it’s because he’s masochist or because he loves to – I think what he ultimately loved was the opportunity to act in a movie without having to, you know, show his face. That he got to preserve his cherished anonymity and yet at the same time be front and center in a film. And that was a wonderful opportunity for him.”

The natural follow-up question is whether that’s really Affleck underneath the sheet or did they use a stand-in – literally – for most of it.

“No, he was definitely in it,” Lowery said.

And as for the sheet Affleck wore, it wasn’t as simple as one might think.

“It was a really challenging process,” Lowery said. “I want to give all the credit to my costume designer, Annell Brodeur, because I called her and said, ‘Hey I’m going to make this movie and it’s going to be a ghost movie, but the ghost is going to be a guy with a sheet over his head. It’ll be easy, it won’t be hard at all.’”

“And so she tried that,” he said. “She cuts holes in a sheet and threw it over someone’s head to see what it looked like and it looks terrible. It doesn’t look the way you think it’s going to look. And you see a kid at Halloween and it’s charming and you’re like, ‘Oh, that kid is a ghost.’ But when you think about the image, the graphic, it has the potential to be incredibly striking. But if you just put a sheet over someone’s head it doesn’t work.”

Brodeur came up with a costume concept with a lot of layers to give it shape. There’s a helmet to hold the face in place so the eyes will always be in the right spot and so that they have depth under the sheet. There are also several layers of petticoats underneath the sheet to provide additional shape and make it “flow.” Finally, there’s wire at the bottom of the sheet to keep it away from the actor’s feet.

“The sheet itself is just a traditional bed sheet,” Lowery said. “… but it had all these other bells and whistles to make it look as simple as it looks.”

The importance of the look of that sheet cannot be overstated. The thrust of the movie is deadly serious, so a goofy looking sheet would undercut the project entirely by killing the necessarily somber mood.

“A Ghost Story” is meant to be haunting without being scary, or at least not scary in the traditional sense. If you’re open to more philosophical notions like the dread of existence or the fleeting passage of time, I suppose “A Ghost Story” could be pretty frightening.

Imagine a ghost story from the point of view of the ghost – that’s the essence of Lowery’s movie. What’s “life” like for a ghost?

“I imagine it’s pretty boring,” he said. “… I thought it would be really funny to do a traditional scary movie, like ‘Poltergeist’, and basically remake ‘Poltergeist’ but have the ghost be a guy in a sheet … And just make the movie as scary and as literally sincere as possible in terms of being a scary movie, but always have a guy in a sheet. And I was thinking about that … as soon as you see the ghost you start to like wonder ‘what’s going on in that character’s point of view, and their mind?’ And then you think like, ‘Well, what’s going on when there aren’t people living there?’

“And once you start thinking about things from that perspective, it gives you an entirely new idea, a new insight into if ghosts do exist – and I believe they do – but if they do and if they are the spirits of people hanging around the earth, that’s probably not the best existence,” Lowery said. “You get to scare people every now and then, or reach out and connect with people every now and then, and the rest of the time you’re just waiting.”

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