A Ghost Waits has been delighting audiences over on ARROW and now we're all getting excited about the announcement of the Blu-ray edition due out for release on May 3 with a long list of fantastic extras including audio commentaries, interviews, video essays and more. One man who features heavily of course is lead actor, co-writer and producer of the film, MacLeod Andrews. We caught up with MacLeod to discuss his performance in the role of Jack as well as talk more about his career and the world of independent movies at the moment.
How did you get involved in A Ghost Waits?
Adam and I had been conspiring over making a movie together for years. Over that time we also became very close friends. Adam managed to scare up a little funding based on a script concept and he wrote A Ghost Waits in a mad dash with me in mind for Jack. We knew it would be a DIY labour of love but having worked on They Look Like People and The Siren I was more than comfortable in that realm and excited to dive in. It’s been so long much of the early days escape me but I became increasingly involved beyond acting as the project progressed. Adam shouldered the lion’s share of pre-production working with Plum Street Productions to get things going and if memory serves I did a bit of location scouting with Adam. During principal photography I started taking on a bit more responsibility and after Adam finished an assembly cut and we went a few rounds of notes and revisions it became clear we would need reshoots and at that point I was pretty well shoulder deep in the trenches with Adam. When we no longer had a budget to enlist professional help we learned how to do whatever was needed as best as we could ourselves. Thus me doing the sound design. We knew we had something good if we could just manage to keep chipping away and polishing. In working on TLLP and The Siren I inherited a “no excuses” ethos of DIY filmmaking. Find a way to make it worthy of people’s time despite, and in some cases thanks to, your production limitations. So we just didn’t stop until we had something we felt was worth people’s time, backed up by copious test screenings and revisions.
A Ghost Waits fills an interesting niche being billed as a Horror Rom-Com. What is it about the fusing of these two genres that makes such an intriguing combination?
Well I guess it’s ultimately up to the viewer to decide how effective the genre mashup is, but personally I think what’s attractive about playing with genres at this production scale is the freedom it affords you. You won’t have impressive set pieces to keep the audience’s attention so you have to try to keep refreshing things, approaching from unexpected angles. When you blend genres you broaden the set of tools at your disposal to tell your story and make room for yourself to express multiple sides of your experience. Not just what scares you but what makes you laugh, what makes you sad, what you long for. That freedom creates space for a very personal and unique product to emerge
For a large part of the beginning of the film, your character Jack is the only one on-screen. Did you find it challenging to effectively act alone?
I suppose I wasn’t acting alone really, I was acting with Adam. Much of the Jack-solo screen time is from reshoots and reshoots were literally just Adam and I. So it’s actually pretty freeing just being with a dear friend who you know will listen and has your back. That intimacy and isolation relieves a great deal of the pressures that can often impair delivering a good performance. Sometimes the stakes of having a full set and needing to honour everyone’s time, attention, and labour can be really energising and useful, but it can also shut down some subtler exploration and experimentation.
Did you find it easy to sympathise with your character and his motivations?
I did. There’s a lot of Adam in Jack and a lot of MacLeod as well. Adam’s a dear friend so my sympathies are pretty well baked in, and Adam likes me I’ve been told so there wasn’t any resistance to what I inherently brought to the character. I’ve always felt that Adam’s dialogue flies off the page so it’s not too hard to let his words hitch a ride on your soul and just ride out the wave. I identify with Jack’s earnestness so my job was largely working to drop as many barriers and defence mechanisms as I could and just meet each scene with simplicity, sincerity, and good humour.
What has been your favourite part of the project so far?
Tough to say. I’m a glutton for creative tinkering and collaboration so in a vaguely masochistic way my favourite part has been all the problem solving and crafting, whether it was working with Adam on the edit, conceptualising and executing our reshoot material, building the sound design, building the website or submitting to festivals…I enjoy the creative process. Have you ever heard the phrase “don’t stop digging, you never know just how close to gold you may be”? I personally get more philosophical traction from “enjoy the digging cuz that may be all there is”.
You’re also a producer on the film, how does that change the collaboration process for you compared to projects where you’ve solely been an actor?
On the most basic level it changes the dynamic simply in terms of what issues you’re being asked to address. If I’m hired on just to act, no one’s going to ask me what I think about locations or scheduling issues or Union compliance or props or set dressing or sound or often even what I think of the script. You show up and do your job and do your best to make everyone else’s job easier. However, I’ve appreciated having the broader perspective of being a producer in my acting. It grounds me firmly in a holistic mindset. What is best for this story? What is my place in this scene? What is being asked of me and what can I do to deliver that? Which you should ask yourself even if you aren’t producing but those questions take on a crystalline sharpness when you’re invested in the project as a whole. Sometimes, what’s best for the story is for you to turn off all concerns other than the scene you’re about to act in because it requires that kind of focus. But more often than not I find producing gives me a profound sense of value and belonging on set that allows me to relax more into my performance, execute some of the basic building blocks of story telling with more natural simplicity and less vanity. I like to think my experiences producing have helped me become a better actor. I’ve developed a fairly good sense of set awareness which helps a lot. I understand why a shot is taking longer than expected to set up and to be patient, I understand why these four people are scrambling around in my line of sight or fussing with my clothes or waving a hand in my face to check the lighting or pull focus, I understand why production wants me on set for fourteen hours only to never get to my scene. Which allows me to stay focused on what matters: telling the story.
Your credits include They Look Like People and The Siren, do you particularly enjoy working in the horror genre? And why do you think it remains such a popular genre, especially for independent films?
I enjoy telling stories. It matters to me what the director/writer is trying to say, their level of sensitivity to and nuance within the material and their vision for what and how they’d like to execute. So while I have very much enjoyed working in the horror genre I’m not necessarily particular to it. I am rather particular to the horror community though. There’s an open-heartedness that you might not expect from the outside. The horror films I’ve made, in all honesty, have skirted the edge of what most might deem to be horror, but the horror community has embraced them with open arms. Sure, our gentler fair isn’t for every horror fan but even those folks usually don’t exclude us from the genre. It’s proven to be a big tent which we’ve been welcomed into again and again with lots of love and positivity. Which, again, might seem antithetical to horror from an outsider’s perception but I think horror draws warm-hearted and compassionate people. Because the beating heart of horror is vulnerability, sharing what frightens us. And that requires a person who can let their guard down. I think that’s what makes it such an attractive genre for indie filmmaking: the essential building block for horror is psychological and therefor accessible to everyone’s experience. Action movies have some pretty firm requirements and those requirements are usually very, very expensive. But with horror, as long as you can effectively communicate something that scares you it doesn’t matter if it was inexpensive. It can be expensive too and that’s fantastic, who doesn’t love a terrifying monster and some big name stars, but it’s not a requisite. That’s why it draws a lot of filmmakers with limited resources: you can make something great in horror based largely on the merits of your storytelling, creativity, and vulnerability.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that independent films face?
I honestly can’t begin to answer that with any kind of authority and I can only conjecture from my experience making micro-budget features. Having thus qualified my answer: I’d venture to say the biggest challenge to indie filmmaking is the same challenge facing every medium of visual storytelling, there’s so so so much content. It’s easier than ever to create a great looking film. And there are so so many platforms and ways to find an audience but likewise there’s a good chance you’re going to be playing to a very small room. Which, at the risk of being a bit crass, means you’re probably not going to make much, if any, money. And that kind of brings me back to my point about digging. You can’t be in it for the gold. If you’re clear on that, I think it’s never been a better time for independent films or creative output of any kind. One could possibly argue the greatest threat to independent film is the shortened attention span of the social media age, but social media is also a gateway for people to discover independent art so, you can’t really be mad if folks would rather scroll TikTok than watch your film. Just means you didn’t make it for them. I actually get pretty upset when I hear artists blame the audience. There’s a sense of entitlement there that really irks me.
What do you think is the best way for an independent film to stand out and find an audience?
I’d love to know the answer to that but here are some guesses: Specificity, personal, “quality” sure but that’s a nebulous term, festivals, a great distributor with sharp, accurate marketing, word of mouth, a strong social media presence, willingness to put yourself out there and talk about your film and other people’s films (Adam is great at this), but also there’s a whole lot you can’t control. Sometimes a film just meets the moment and that’s mostly luck because it takes years to make a feature. If you try to chase what’s relevant to society from the outset you’ll never stop running and you probably won’t make a very honest, specific or personal film, if you even manage to finish your script at all.
What makes you most excited about a project?
The script and then the filmmaker, the spirit with which they are making the film and what they want to say about the world, and then the sense that I’m a valued collaborator.
How much of independent film-making relies on finding a strong team of people to collaborate with to help get projects off the ground?
In my limited experience it’s everything. Again, to go back to the digging metaphor, there’s so little chance of success, at least if you define that in terms of financial reward or notoriety. So you have to surround yourself with people and work on a project that you can look up from three years later when you’re still not done or let’s say five years later when the film is actually out, or maybe it isn’t, maybe it never went anywhere, and you still live in your one bedroom apartment, still working your day job, all of that and you can still look at all the time you spent and the relationships you built and whether it ended with a good movie or not you can say to yourself, all of that was worth it. The act itself was the success. It’s too much effort and time to just be an angle in your scheme to make it to Marvel. Make your movie like it’s the only chance you’ll have and do it with the people around you who you respect and learn from and who support you, are kind, patient, talented and hard workers. Yes of course making more movies and with more money is a healthy goal but you’ve got to make THIS movie now and make it as good as you possibly can. I guess really all I’m trying to say is everything Mark Duplass said in his 2015 SXSW Keynote speech: “The cavalry isn’t coming.”
Which films, actors and film-makers inspired you to get into the film business?
It’s tough to boil down a lifetime of interest and exposure to film and television and isolate some catalytic work or person. Theatre was an important part of my life for many many years, since I was very young. So I’ve always been taken with the notion of professional story-telling. I seem to remember in my late teens trying actively to watch lots of “important” films to craft for myself some sort of iconic taste by which I could identify myself. Watching Breaking the Waves and The Unbearable Lightness of Being among others in my basement. Then taking film courses in college and watching Scorsese films and Citizen Kane and Kenneth Anger and various classics and interestingly a focus one week on The Wizard of Oz. Writing a paper on The Matrix’s mise-en-scène. I guess now that I’ve more or less stopped worrying about allying myself to a taste or an artistic identity, I think I naturally come down somewhere closer to The Wizard of Oz side of things. The films of my youth that stand out to me, that I quoted and riffed on and cosplayed are The Princess Bride, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Willow’s probably up there too. I idolised Braveheart and Wolverine for many years as a teen and into my 20s but I no longer identify with those over-puffed odes to some violent, stoic, masculine ideal. I spent my fair share of time looking up to De Niro and Pacino etc. etc. as the north star, watching The Deer Hunter - but it took me time to realise that’s not me. I’ll take Billy Crudup, Gene Wilder, Cary Elwes, Jesse Plemons, or maybe Joseph Gordon Levitt, that’s probably more my lane.