It’s a Winchester Family Business exclusive! Since we’ve been honoring Ghostfacers recently and their bid for an Emmy nomination, Ardeospina was able to get a list of her burning questions answered about this innovative web series. We are most honored to present some great answers from the core members of the production and creative team. The following questions have been answered by these members involved in Ghostfacers:
AJ Buckley (“Ed”, co-writer, co-director)
Travis Wester (“Harry”, co-writer, co-director)
Patrick J. Doody (producer, co-writer, co-director, editor)
Chris Valenziano (producer, co-writer, co-director)
Todd Aronauer (co-director, producer on Supernatural)
Drew Thomas (director of photography)
Niki Azevedo (production designer)
Were there any specific challenges you faced writing for the webisode format since you only had three or four minutes at a time to tell the story?
(Travis Wester & AJ Buckley)
At first we had no idea how we were going to be able to communicate a viable beginning, middle and end to the episodes but as we began breaking down the story we began to see how we could arc each individual component. The challenge was in rethinking everything we knew about television and inventing a new pace and act structure. Ultimately I think we turned the limitations into a solid foundation of up-tempo storytelling… without that challenge we might’ve spent more time on certain moments than was necessary.
(Patrick J. Doody)
One of the mandates from our executive at Wonderland, Jeff Grosvenor, was that each episode had to end with either a joke, a scare or a dramatic shift in the story – a cliffhanger. So we had to work within those rules.
There were MANY challenges facing writing for the webisode format. I believe the most challenging was learning to edit ourselves. We were tasked with scripting 3-minute webisodes, each with its own setup and payoff. Three pages is a tiny amount of space to convey that much story, so we really had to be sure to cut anything that we didn’t absolutely need, while maintaining enough breathing room to allow the characters to develop.
Was all the dialogue scripted or was there room for a lot of improv?
Being that Travis and AJ were two of the writers, often what I thought was improv they were pulling from bits that were in rough drafts of the scripts, but those guys are at their best when they improv. There was some of that in the original Supernatural episode too. All the Facers, even Mircea who was new to the group, worked great together and played off each other really well. There’s a lot of great material that we had to cut because we often just kept the cameras rolling so they could go off script and go with the moment.
The dialog was mostly scripted… there was some room for improv but our schedule prevented us from getting too loose or crazy. Also, the format dictated we nail down certain plot elements so even if we had all the time in the world we would still be trimming it down to more or less the beats we designed in the writing room. I had a whole bit walking up the stairs that I thought was quite amusing, for example, but we had to cut it for time.
Did the Ghostfacer style of using footage from handheld cameras and having granier, fuzzy footage make it easier or harder to film? It seems like it would make it essential to really ensure certain visuals came across through the fuzziness and didn’t get lost in the background.
That was a really difficult part of the production. Our goal was to have a small crew, small footprint, but still maintain the quality, look and feel of the original episode. We shot the webisodes with some of the same cameras used for the Supernatural episode and we knew early on that was it was going to be difficult because we didn’t have the budget, stages or resources used for that episode, so we decided to take some liberties and make it our own while still maintaining the original vision. Drew, our DP, had the difficult task of lighting and cinematography and he did a great job in keeping us dark and moody but still being able to see the action. Because of the nature of Ghostfacers, the fuzziness, out-of-focus shots and sometimes choppy cutting style was intended. We actually got some notes on rough cuts to dirty it up and make it not look so polished.
The unique way that Ghostfacers is filmed is certainly more difficult than a typical scripted series. Most fiction series are filmed with one to three cameras ““ Ghostfacers was filmed with as many as nine. Additionally, most of these cameras were operated by the members of our cast. Where a typical show can count on exactly what their cameras will see at a given time, our shots often varied wildly from take to take. This meant that all of the technical gear (lights, grip, etc.) that is required to make a show, had to be hidden from cameras that could – and often did – look in any and every direction at any time. However, these challenges made the series even more rewarding to film. The characters often delighted me with the decisions they made with the camera. In film and television, the person operating the camera should always be a storyteller. In Ghostfacers, the people who know the characters the best are also the ones who are using the lens to tell the audience their story. I think that this style makes the series far more personal and gives more insight into the characters and their situations.
(Patrick J. Doody)
Once the scene was blocked and rehearsed, everyone except the actors had to completely get out of camera range. In some cases, we would leave the room and all crowd around the monitor and listen. It took a lot of hard work to get it right. Funny enough, it was supposed to feel very raw and “in the moment” – as if Spruce (Austin) was just capturing stuff at the perfect times. But it was very much thought out and rehearsed. The look of the show is really a testament to our D.P and camera crew as well as the skill of our actors to be able to stay in character WHILE shooting a show all at the same time.
Loved Kelly Carlson as Kimber on Nip/Tuck. I read she became involved with the project because she shared a manager with A.J. Buckley. How excited were you when you found out she wanted to work on the series?
(Patrick J. Doody)
When AJ suggested Kelly Carlson, I said, “yes, of course, you don’t even need to ask me, just tell her what time to be there!”
But even though she was a big marquee name for our series, I realized how lucky we were the day I watched AJ direct her in the Janet Meyers’ screen test. That beat in the series is SO important to Janet’s story – it’s the only moment that she has any humanity before we turn her into a razor wielding psycho. She gave Janet that humanity.
By the way, if you hunt around on YouTube, you can find an extended version of that screen test.
I have to credit Kelly’s decision to come on board the project as one of the highlights of our writing careers. To have an actor of such caliber agree to do a low-budget web series solely based on what you and your fellow writers have put down on paper is an enormous ego boost.