AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug talks found footage, hookah horrors, & Oliver Stone ghost stories with Sean Stone, director of GREYSTONE PARK! Plus a review of the film!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around, I talk with Sean Stone, son of director Oliver Stone and director of the new found footage film GREYSTONE PARK. I had a chance to check out the film which is available this week and my review can be read below the interview. Enjoy!
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hi Sean!
SEAN STONE (SS): Hey Mark, good to talk with you.
BUG: You too. Let’s get right into the interview. How did the film first come about? What made you decide to want to start out your film career with a found footage film?
SS: It came about very much the way you see inside the film itself at a table conversation with my father, Oliver, and myself and a couple of friends. We were sharing stories and Alex, who I hadn’t met before that night, he’s been working for a few years actually exploring haunted places in Jersey and Greystone to him was the pinnacle. He thought that was the scariest location he had been to and he described it kind of like THE SHINING hotel, where it’s just like a world that transforms. Every time he said he went in there he said he would get lost. He said he didn’t recognize the walls, so it was almost like a maze, you know? He made it all sound so very interesting, and I’ve always been a horror fan. Since I was a kid I’ve loved ghost stories and anything that’s frightening, because it’s almost like the primal feeling of “fight or flight” and I thought “This is my chance to have a ghost hunting experience.”
So literally, just like in the story, I took a girlfriend of ours and went inside the hospital, broke in, and we went ghost hunting and just had this interesting experience that first night, which translated to the basis of the story, which was Alex would see something and he thought it was a lady, a demon lady, and he reacted to it and kept getting deeper inside. We did get a little lost, because it’s hard to find doors that are open and luckily we all got out that night in one piece, but we speculated for the purpose of the story “Well, what if we hadn’t found the door to get out? What if we had gotten lost inside?” We kept going back to this place and exploring the haunted rooms and having experiences with possessions and shadows and most of the stuff in the story are based on things that had happened to us. So I just thought it was a great story, so I just started writing the script and then was like “Who knows if it will be three years before GREYSTONE comes out with a whole host of found footage films?” The intention of making a found footage was the intention of telling a story that happened to us.
BUG: Yeah. I just noticed that this film is not your typical found footage film, because it does have edits. It has a little bit of a soundtrack. It also has some other clips of other footage that you’ve put in there as well, which is reminiscent of your father’s style. Is that something that you intentionally did to separate yourself from the found footage stuff?
SS: Absolutely. Listen, at that point there was only BLAIR WITCH, which had come out years ago when we started shooting, so for me I was trying to say “What is the reality of the ghost hunting experience or the paranormal experience?” It’s very interesting how you take a video camera and it’s like the eye of the viewer and as you go through it though you become more and more unsure that what you are seeing is actually happening, “is the ghost coming through another dimension?” You are losing a sense of your grasp of the physical reality that surrounds you as an audience, because that’s what the characters are going through.
I wanted the audience to have that same feeling that the characters are. When you face supernatural phenomena, you do kind of lose your mind. It’s very similar to madness of being mentally ill, because you just don’t know “Am I going crazy? Am I cracking up? Is there a shadow there? Is that shadow moving? Is it a person?” The lines really start to blur between reality and madness and that to me is the truth of it, so that’s why I went to go shoot this film and in this manor. We never said it’s found footage like “They all died in the end and this is their film.” We said, “This is our experience.” And I think that’s the style I like, that we are going for, which is the mixture of the guys have a camera inside the story, but there’s also a camera outside. It keeps that authenticity like you’re really with them and that’s all we were going for, to keep you wondering “What is this journey like?”
BUG: Very cool. I don’t know if this is just me kind of seeing things in the darkness, but early on in the film there are a lot of, it seemed like, there were some subliminal things going on as well as some shadows that he investigators didn’t even notice. Is that just my mind playing tricks on me or was that actually happening in the film?
SS: You are very astute and that was actually probably one of the most fun things about making this movie, being able to position sound people so they look like shadow men and we put them in almost every scene in the background. Even ghosts, we even had a few of those in the film, like when they are walking around.
BUG: Yeah, and it definitely did add to the creepy factor in it. Are you a fan of the ghost hunting films or TV shows?
SS: I watched a lot of them when we were in the process of preproduction and writing, because I just wanted to get a feel of how the hunt went down, what kind of phenomena they experienced, but I never really watched them before, because to me I wanted a visceral experience. We were literally going through this stuff and wanting to see my friends get possessed or hearing things screaming or laughing in the abandoned place and eerie music playing and you’re just like “Am I tripping?” We would look at each other as things were in front of us or we’d hear something in the back and I’d be like “Did you throw that?” Alex is like “What? I didn’t throw anything.” These were the kind of experiences we were going through and so when you watch the TV shows or horror films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, it’s like “I lived that.” I lived almost everything that happened in this film, so you don’t really get scared by movies anymore once you’ve had to deal with it in real life.
BUG: Very cool. Well I did also want to talk about those dinner scenes. I found those to be really fascinating as well where you guys were sharing the stories and just to have your father there telling ghost stories in front of the table, I could have almost sat there and watched an entire movie focusing on that. What was it like directing your dad? Or was that more of a candid conversation that you guys had that happened to be filmed?
SS: It’s funny, because when he first looked at the script, he said “What’s with the dialog” and it’s a long scene, so as a director of course he’s like “This is a long scene.” It was ten pages of script and so it was a ten minute scene, scene. He was like “I’ll just tell the story,” because it was a story that he told me as a kid about this crazy old lady in the mountains. He told me that as a little boy and it always has stuck with me and then of course because in the film, in GREYSTONE, you have these experiences that are kind of similar looking ghosts. I thought “Well perfect, just tell your story” and he’s a great storyteller. He has a great voice and whenever you have dinner conversations with him, he really does dominate the discussion. So there was not really much direction as far as me. I just maybe just give him a few indicators here and there, but ultimately he told the story that he knew very well and we knocked it our fairly quickly, so there wasn’t much direction there.
BUG: Cool, is that a typical night at the Stone house where there’re a lot of people around and you’re smoking the hookah and just kind of telling ghost stories? Is that common at your place?
SS: It has been. Obviously through the years it changes. The hookah was a little touch, just because I like the effect of the smoke and hookah kind of creates a relaxed atmosphere of sharing, but we definitely have good conversations with red wine and sharing stories and having friends there. Yeah, I think that’s typical.
BUG: Was there much setup in making the hospital look creepy or was most of that stuff already there as far as the dolls and just all of the creepy stuff that’s going on?
SS: It’s funny, I remember one critic in the UK said “We were watching this and could tell that this is all staged” and I’m like “Hey man, I’m not saying this is real footage. I’m saying it’s based on a real experience.” The locations, we spent six months looking for the right location. The hard part was we would go into these places in Jersey for example with these old hospitals and we would go exploring and they would say “No, sorry they are condemned” or… we literally were going to shoot in Queens and a building that hadn’t been touched for thirty years. We explored it and were told we could shoot there. The day of production our crew was getting ready and we got a call from the state saying, “You better stay out of that property. It’s condemned.”
We had a lot of issues getting locations, but the one we did get I think worked tremendously well. There was very little dressing. It’s the decay of paint and the decrepit look with the paper on the floor and furniture just lying around. We didn’t bring that stuff in, we just found the right location. We found the right place with the right production value an then the other factor was some stuff was in the script where we wanted to keep a certain story, but running around in the cemetery with Alex, those were real, like we didn’t script some of those reactions where Alex got possessed. You should see the stuff on camera and you may think I’m making it up, but look at it for yourself and you tell me. I thought they were possessed. (Laughs)
BUG: Well what do you have coming up next for you? You said this was filmed about three years ago. What else is coming up for you?
SS: Well next up is a martial arts comedy called ENTER THE FIST and that’s going to be a great throwback to the seventies and eighties. You can actually watch the auditions… The ENTER THE FIST auditions are on YouTube and it gives you kind of a feel for what we are going for, a throwback with the idea of characters.
BUG: Do you have a star for that film yet?
SS: I’ll be playing in it.
BUG: Oh you will? Cool.
SS: I’m working on lining up the actors now.
BUG: Very cool. So what about horror? Is this a genre that you plan on revisiting at some point?
SS: Oh yeah. I love horror films. It’s always a question of having real experiences and towards that, Alex and I wrote a script that’s based on other experiences we’ve had during the making of this film and so I think we are working on that for him to produce it and me to direct it.
BUG: Did your father offer any advice going into this film?
SS: The interesting thing is it’s not so much advice. I mean I’ve been around him… I directed a documentary on him directing ALEXANDER and I was with him and he would give off at times some good advice. I think one line that he said that I loved was “It’s never as bad as you think it is and it’s never as good as you think it is.” Towards this film I mean I don’t think he believed I would get it done. (Laughs) I really think he thought it was going to collapse at any point, because we were obviously very close to failure throughout. So he was always realistic and he had that mentality of realism, which is “You’re going to fuck up and blow it” all through preproduction and production, but I think he was very surprised and happily so that we got through it.
BUG: Well congratulations on it. I’ve seen a lot of found footage films over the last couple of years and this is definitely one of the better ones. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today and best of luck with the film.
SS: Thanks! Bye!
BUG: GREYSTONE PARK is available now On Demand and on DVD/BluRay this week! Check out this exclusive "Making of GREYSTONE PARK" clip below!
GREYSTONE PARK (2012)Directed by Sean Stone
Written by Sean Stone & Alexander Wraith
Starring Sean Stone, Alexander Wraith, Antonella Lentini, Oliver Stone, Bruce Payne
Find out more about this film here!
The problem with found footage films from here on out is the fact that there’s been so many of them, people automatically discount them upon hearing about a new one. Much like zombie films, the found footage film immediately incite a moan from Talkbackers as soon as one appears in the story above. I think that’s a mistake, since for every throwaway zombie film, a WALKING DEAD or a JUAN OF THE DEAD is made. And for every forgettable found footage film made, a film like GREYSTONE PARK runs the risk of being overlooked because of the abundance of this type of films out there.
For the most part, GREYSTONE PARK is your typical Ghost Hunting film. A lot of stuff you see on ScyFy’s GHOST HUNTERS, GHOST ADVENTURES, and all of the other shows appears here as there is a set up, an approach to the scary place, and then the investigation itself. What differentiates GREYSTONE PARK from the rest is the fact that director Sean Stone takes a page from his father’s (Oliver Stone) films in incorporating all forms of film media in this film. Stock footage of bizarre medical procedures and strange goings ons are intermixed with the telling of the history of Greystone Park, an abandoned mental hospital which has been rumored to be haunted. The story shifts perspectives and becomes much more cinematically narrative than its found footage counterparts. A feint soundtrack can be heard at times. All of these things are often missing from your typical found footager, making GREYSTONE PARK a bit of a different monster.
On top of that, Stone seems to be experimenting with subliminal and corner-of-your-eye scares that aren’t all together obvious if you aren’t paying attention. Early through the film, as the three investigators make their way jokingly through the hospital, one will be able to see shadows move in the corners and appear in windows. I also could swear I saw a few flashes of bizarre images on occasion in order to cause even more unease for the viewer. In doing so, Stone has created a world where we can’t really trust what we are seeing, but we know something is definitely off. Stone does a fantastic job of conveying a feeling of dread and tension as they venture deeper into the hospital.
Things get somewhat weird by the time the final moments of the film come to pass. A story referenced at the Stone dinner table about a mysterious ghostly woman begins to manifest. A shadow man attacks one of the investigators. And all of them seem to be experiencing moments of dementia and insanity. In the above interview, Stone attests that a lot of these moments, particularly the bits where the investigators disappear and seem to go mad, were real. I’m not sure if I completely believe that as the performances don’t feel as genuine as other moments of the film.
The effects of this film are pretty fun. From blood stained chairs and walls to ragdolls lining the corridors, this is definitely a place filled with creep. A lot of old standbys are used here, making GREYSTONE PARK feel a bit redundant, especially to a fan of the GHOST HUNTERS TV show, but Stone, his partner in crime Alexander Wraith, and their female friend Antonella Lentini keep things interesting by alternating from being brazenly challenging to the spirits of the hospital to scared out of their wits. Guilty of having quite a few scenes that are way too similar to stuff we’ve seen before, GREYSTONE PARK saves itself with some cool subliminal scares, nice ambiance in the decrepit hospital, and a dinner scene focusing on Oliver Stone that I didn’t want to see end. Though one would think bumping around in the dark would be scary enough, seeing Oliver Stone smoking a hookah and telling ghost stories is something the actual investigation in GREYSTONE PARK struggles to beat.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.
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Oct. 17, 2012, 10:38 a.m. CST
...to think Sean and Alex are a little off?
Oct. 17, 2012, 10:43 a.m. CST
by Darth Busey
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