Tuesday 31 July 2012

The Making of THE ATTIC - Part 4 - The Ghost

As Susan Hill so rightly put when developing The Woman in Black, a ghost cannot exist in a ghost story without a solid motivation to carry out its hauntings. There needs to be a decent and believable backstory to this spooky entity to enforce why it is so evil, so scary, so horrifying in appearance. When The Attic was first being developed, The Ghost did not even exist, instead being a suggested demonic presence reinforced by the supernatural capabilities of the necklace and its communication via notes.

The original idea was that a supernatural creature had returned after death, unable to move on, due to an obsession with a cursed object that magnetizes it with a supernatural force. We aimed for as little explanation as possible, hoping that the enigmas would create suspense and mystery. We also felt that the more backstory we revealed, the more potential we had to totally screw it up (and add a lot of cheesiness and plot holes). As you may know if you've been following along with these posts, the necklace was originally the star of the show in the first drafts of The Attic and The Ghost was not put forward as a physical presence until much later. It was around October 2011 when I came up with ideas of showing black, cloaked figures throughout the film and eventually this expanded into the full inclusion of a pale, malevolent spirit.

The design is not just inspired by the eponymous woman from The Woman in Black but also the conventional designs of ghosts and demons in fiction. Film such as The Devil's Backbone, The Exorcist and The Ring are just a few examples that portray ghosts/demons as pale with rimmed eyes, their skin resembling that of a corpse. I feel this approach to ghosts gives them a more tangible and as a result a more threatening and frightening appeal as opposed to a translucent, floating humanoid drifting through corridors and walls. Also, when it comes to visual effects, The Attic had nowhere near the budget, crew or software involved to produce translucent spirits anyway, so this physical approach was our only effective option. The decision to use a black cloak also stemmed from The Woman in Black, in which the titular ghost is dressed from head to toe in a jet black funeral gown which gives her a very prominent and scary appearance when juxtaposed with her pale white face, and this same effect is conjured here.

Nathan Carr in full ghost costume and make-up.
We wanted to create fragmentation for The Ghost, so that its appearance would be teased and hinted and its presence always felt in each scene. Small glimpses and sounds of its activity were used to create such fragmentation, such as the scene where Joseph catches sight of its cloak from the corner of a door frame, and exits the room just in time to see it slam the door at the end of the corridor. The cloak used for these small glimpses was actually part of a Scream Halloween costume my brother purchased in late 2011 for a university party. When he was finished with it, I tore the mask off and used the hood and a cloak to portray small glimpses of The Ghost, and even its full body when Joseph sees it in his dark attic. However, the costume was extremely light hearted and comical, not to mention cheap. The material was thin and easily tearable and its design was not apt to show The Ghost clearly in light; the arms had frills that drifted down to the feet and it was not quite a cloak, but actually a suit with sleeves which I didn't like the look of. It was okay when showing glimpses and the full body shot in the attic (as that was a very dark shot, making the cloak appear as just a black figure) but as we planned to reveal The Ghost's complete appearance in the ending, we decided that a better looking cloak was necessary.

I searched about for some nicer black velvet cloaks to use, taking inspiration from a red velvet cloak my girlfriend wore for Halloween outings. I eventually found one on Amazon for about £11 (which was probably the biggest expense for the film) and purchased it toward the end of May. Being composed of a sturdier and better looking material, not to mention possessing a better hood and sleeveless cloak design, made this a much more appropriate costume for The Ghost's full appearance. The make-up for The Ghost was, as previously mentioned, inspired by the conventional designs of ghosts in fiction, with a pale tone to the skin and sunken eyes rimmed with a deep black. My cousin, Amelia Beecham, crafted the make-up herself onto Nathan, who portrayed The Ghost in the film. The make-up was applied on June 2, 2012 when the last few scenes for the film were shot. We decided to devote a single day to filming the shots that required The Ghost's full costume and make-up so to avoid hassle of constantly reapplying the facial paint. This made for some interesting and equally embarrassing public walks, which featured a lot of weird looks from curious pedestrians.

Creating the sound for The Ghost was also pretty challenging, as I wanted it to have a staple frightening scream that didn't sound silly or melodramatic, but very ear piercing and unnerving. The Ghost has two screams in the film; one was found on the internet (can't remember the specific site, but it was one about comparing horror screams) and the other is the scream heard during the pony and trap sequence in the 1989 television adaptation of The Woman in Black (yeah, I'm aware of how many times this film/book has been mentioned). Both of them had reverbs applied (the latter only in specific scenes) to create a more eerie and powerful sound. The whispering associated with the necklace is also tied to The Ghost, and usually sounds during its appearances to further link the two.

This scene became renowned amongst audiences as one of the film's scariest moments.
We needed to have a backstory for The Ghost, albeit a very discrete and almost unexplained one in order to maintain its mystery and fear factor and, as stated, prevent us from ruining its effect by adding a bloated amount of cheesy and unnecessary plot elements into the film. From the start it was decided that a demonic creature of some sort would lust after the necklace and refuse to die because of this, but when The Ghost came to fruition, we expanded on this concept to suit the addictive influence the necklace exudes and The Ghost's menacing persona. So essentially The Ghost was once a human being, who fell to the addiction of the necklace in such a massive way that its life became twisted and itself emotionally unstable. It died from its insanity and mental health decline, but refused to move on after death, instead returning as a malevolent spirit to keep beside the necklace it so truly desires and prevent anyone else from laying their hands on it. Think Gollum meets...you guessed it, The Woman in Black.

The only details explained in the film were that The Ghost fell victim to the addictive influence of the necklace and that it never completely died because of this; also that it kills the people that try to steal the necklace away from it. How it exactly died was not explained because this was, to me, unnecessary and irrelevant, but I decided later on that it dying from its addiction and subsequent decline in stability and health would be more effective to the story and thus have added it in here as a sort of expansion to the plot. The history of the necklace was left unexplained in order to keep its mysterious essence intact.

The pattern on the bathroom window gives The Ghost a slightly distorted look, which I felt was more effective than showing it outright.
That concludes Part 4 of The Making of THE ATTIC series, look out for Part 5 which will conclude the series by discussing the release of the film!