It was just a year ago that Bridey Elliott was in Sundance with her directorial debut, “Affections,” a lovely slice of romantic wanderlust that served a great showcase for her sharp comic instincts as an actress, as one might’ve expect of the scion of a legendary family of comedians, as well as a distinctive auteurist voice, as one might expect of a former clerk at the late, great Kim’s Video in New York. However, the positive reception to the film, which the actress/writer/director pushed herself to do on her own on a shoestring budget, came as a surprise to Elliott.
“There can be so much chatter around filmmaking that doesn’t have to do with the creative process itself and in the past, that kept me from feeling like I could produce anything until all these elusive ducks were in a row,” says Elliott. “But when you have an idea and find a way to do it for nothing, there’s a lot of freedom in that. ‘Affections’ was super intimate for me. Once I was able to get that side of myself out there, it naturally precipitated personal growth and more confidence as an artist.”
That growth extends to Elliott setting plans to direct her first feature, “Clara’s Ghost,” which is currently raising a part of its budget on Kickstarter before a January 15th deadline. The film is a family affair, featuring Elliott, her sister Abby, her mother Paula and her father Chris as the Reynolds, a showbiz family that bear more than a passing resemblance to the actors playing them — albeit far more boozed up and egotistical — who spend an evening concerned their New England home may be infiltrated by spirits, though it may be relating to each other that’s scarier than any paranormal activity. (In fact, the family’s matriarch, bugged by the greater notoriety of the brood likes the idea of having at least someone – or something – in the house she can relate to.) With plans to shoot in the family’s real-life home in Old Lyme, Connecticut, the comic thriller is in the mold of New England-set ghost stories where anxieties run high, though producer Sarah Winshall insists one shouldn’t expect the same vibe behind the scenes in making it.
“We definitely want to maintain a similar on-set culture to what we developed with ‘Affections,’ a communal trust and a relaxed quality, so the work is central and everything flows easily,” says Winshall, who has already secured the services of “Affections” editor Patrick Lawrence after having so much success the first time.
Already, “Clara’s Ghost” has a strong foundation as the culmination of many ideas Elliott has been thinking about for some time. Long wanting to share the screen with her parents, once acting opposite her mother Paula in the 2013 indie “Paper Anchor” and going so far as to write a pilot that would’ve paired her with her father, Elliott was inspired by her observations of how her own relationships to her parents and sister evolved as time and distance have intervened. Like “Affections,” the plan is to embed big ideas amidst the big laughs, exploring how the family is chasing ghosts of more innocent times and sometimes stubbornly clinging onto the past. And as ambitious thematically as the film will be, one can also expect it to be as daring stylistically, employing Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa to compose the score and for Elliott and crew to build upon the experience on “Affections” to create strong visuals.
“I am particularly excited about digging into the cinematography and production design in ‘Clara’s Ghost,’” says Elliott. “With ‘Affections,’ we had zero money or time, and very little experience, so the cinematography and production design were mostly a result of necessity or ingenuity from our [director of photography]. Because in ‘Clara’s Ghost,’ the house, built in the late 1800s, has to be its own character, to succeed requires detailed storyboarding and way more planning in terms of creating a strong supernatural presence, and tracking through the home’s maze-like layout.”
Beyond navigating the logistics of such a grand old location, Elliott is challenging herself in other ways as well, aiming to shoot in the winter should the production meet its goals on Kickstarter, so that the cold winter can make things inside the house even more tense. But for those who invest in “Clara’s Ghost,” the return will be in seeing an assured and wholly original new filmmaker heating things up – and it’s quite likely those who sit on the sidelines will end up being haunted by their decision not to get in on the ground floor.
To back this project and watch the filmmakers’ personal pitch video, click here.