Spotlight: An interview with LAFA winner Anisha Savan ("Ghost Me")
Anisha, congratulations on winning Best Horror for Ghost Me! Before we chat about the film, we'd like to know a bit more about you. Please tell us a bit about your background, and share what made you interested in filmmaking?
Thank you! I've had interest in filmmaking since I was very young, I had always considered myself a storyteller, and spent several years pursuing traditional publishing before diving into the world of film. Not having gone to film school and breaking into it a bit later than my peers, it definitely was a bit intimidating, but I am proud of myself for taking a leap and going for it!
What were your first steps into the film world?
I bought a Canon XA11 and would just film very small pieces and string them together with some of my favorite music. My sister is a singer songwriter, and I got to storyboard and direct a music video with her. From there, I went on to film my first short He Comes From a Good Family, which got some festival traction as well as a release on Film Shortage in 2020.
Before Ghost Me, you directed one short and two music videos. Was this film different from previous directing experiences you've had? How did you prepare for this shoot?
It was quite different and I was absolutely so much more prepared. There was so much learning I had to do with those first couple of projects, as well as learning what my directing style really was. I absolutely over-prepared for Ghost Me, from shot-lists to extensive notes for each scene that I'd use as a lifeline on set. This was mostly a result of my anxiety, but it actually really helped my confidence and overall experience on set.
In just 10 minutes, you managed to create a haunting film that manages to intrigue, frighten and surprise the viewers. What attracts you to the horror genre, and what do you think about horror movies in general? Are there any films or filmmakers that influenced your directing style?
I'm attracted to the horror genre because it's really the only genre that you feel with your whole body. Horror is something that you can experience, and because of that, it can really allow you to tell a compelling story. For this film in particular, I was going for classics such as The Sixth Sense and The Others, which you can see most apparently through the color and classic / beautiful musical score.
A man goes on a first date with a woman, in her house, and finds out the house is haunted. What a great concept for a horror (and paranormal) movie! We particularly loved the way the story Joe's character developed. How did you come up with the idea, and how did you develop the plot to make the story intriguing and surprising throughout?
I wrote through the lens of a 2020 world. I knew that if I was to shoot anything that year , it would need to be in one location with a very small cast. The concept of the at-home date was so common in the dating world during the thick of the pandemic, so I think that just sparked that aspect of it. Any young person today would probably tell you a story of how they've been ghosted, or how they perhaps ghosted someone else, I thought that a horror film on this very common experience would be an amusing take.
The entire short is filmed in a single location (a house), and using only 2 lead characters. This makes the story ideal for a low-budget independent short film, especially nowadays, when the world is still dealing with covid-19. What are the challenges of minimal use of sources, and conversely, what are the benefits and how has this minimalism helped you get the best out of your story?
Yep, the entire thing was filmed in my apartment in New York City, so that definitely alleviated a great deal of stress in terms of finding the perfect location. I'm also a huge fan of keeping things as simple as possible, especially when you have a scary story that takes place in one night. I knew the most challenging aspect on set was going to be that "ghost box" opening by itself in every take, but this was achieved in the simplest of ways: a fishing line string that was masked out in post.
We loved Joe's scene with the "ghost box" - where he chats with the ghosts. He seems to enjoy this at first, but then he gets a frightening message from the box. How do you write your plot twists? Do you usually outline the entire script before you start writing it, or do you prefer to let ideas pop up along the way, and surprise yourself as well?
As I was writing the first draft, I actually didn't even know the truth about one of the characters (to avoid spoilers, I will be vague here!). In the best state of writing, the story is just coming through you, and not from you, and I was lucky enough to get that nice twist without really putting much thought into it. It flowed out quite seamlessly, and tied in very well into the social commentary of "ghosting" in the world of modern dating.
For the haunting score of the film, you've worked with composer Marc D. Giguere. Can you talk about your creative process together, and what musical references have you used to communicate your vision?
I feel very fortunate to know Marc, who also scored my first short He Comes From a Good Family. We went in a very different direction for this one, even though they're both horror films. I wanted the audience to be just as thrown off as Joe was at the beginning of the date, having Marc's music beautiful and romantic, like we're watching a classic romance film. I really wanted the audience to feel like they were witnessing a date going really well. I also knew I wanted a very prominent and recognizable theme that interchanged throughout the course of the film. Marc is absolutely a joy to work with and we're so aligned in our love of film and horror that he really just got everything I wanted to say with the film. Some of the references used for this were The Others and The Haunting of Hill House, some of the romantic score is a bit reminiscent of La La Land.
What was your biggest takeaway from working on the film?
That some of the most spontaneous story ideas can be the best.
How was the film received so far by audiences and/festivals?
I've had the privilege of getting to watch it with an audience a couple of times, and each time was a very surreal experience. The film does have quite a few comedic moments and it always feels good to hear folks respond to it. Each audience I watched it with were incredibly interactive with the film, you felt the buzz in the theater, which I couldn't be more grateful to have felt. We also had the honor of getting nominations and winning awards at several festivals in just a few months.
What would be your advice to young Anisha, when she just started out?
Pursuing film is not a far fetched dream. It's a valid dream. Don't be intimidated. Just go for it.
What's next for you, and what's next for Ghost Me? In the long term, where do you see yourself in ten years? Are you planning to stay in NYC or possibly move to Hollywood?
I'm currently in the process of pitching my feature script to producers, one that's based off my first short, He Comes From a Good Family. I'm also in the early stages of developing my next horror short. I've always said I'll be a lifelong New Yorker, but I'm 100% open to the possibility of moving to LA if the opportunity presents itself.