“A combination of aesthetics and logistics”

UPDATED: Lovett’s behind the scenes short film The Making Of: Ghost of Old Highways is now available online here. In a newsletter, Lovett announced today that that film has “just gone live on the Ghost of Old Highways website, and as the AOL Video of the Day on Spinner.com.

Read Xpress’ interview with Lovett, below.

Last week, Xpress reported on the online debut of local musician/actor/filmmaker Ben Lovett‘s short film Ghost of Old Highways. Lovett and his crew have also completed a behind-the-scenes film called The Making Of: Ghost Of Old Highways, which will be released in the near future. (There’s a place holder for it on the Ghost of Old Highways website.)

Lovett explains that the making of Ghost (which had a budget of $0) took a total of seven days of shooting, and then a year in post-production for the digital effects, music, color and editing. “But that seven days felt like a lifetime of its own,” he says. “I’m usually behind the scenes. I’m usually on the other side of the camera or not at all.” That might account for his desire to capture the effort, the out takes, the crew and the landscape that all went into creating the hauntingly violent and beautiful world of Ghost.

Here, Xpress talks to Lovett about the forthcoming film The Making Of as well as the artistic process behind Ghost and the importance of setting the film in Appalachia.

AM: So, The Making Of ends up actually being about a minute longer than Ghost of Old Highways.
BL: Yeah, but I don’t know what I would want to cut out of it. There are still aspects of the bigger picture that aren’t covered at all, like the art shows and the festivals. That was the The Making Of thing itself, and that was long enough. I was happy with how it turned out, though.

AM: In the future, do you hunk you’ll show the two of them together as a package?
BL: I would like to. When we did the art show at Atlanta’s Midtown Art Cinema, we took over the lobby. We had two of the theaters. We showed the film on a loop all night in one theater and we showed The Making Of on a loop in the other theater, and people could go from one and watch the other one. It was an earlier version, it wasn’t as polished, but people did seem to really like getting to peek behind the curtain, which I thought was really neat.

AM: In this age of instant gratification, it’s an interesting statement to really dedicate yourself to the process of a project that takes days or months or years to complete, even if the end result is just 15 minutes long.
BL: It’s kind of like getting a tattoo. It’s not really about having the tattoo, it’s about getting the tattoo. That’s the case with projects of this size. By the time it’s done, you never want to see it again. You’re done with it! I feel that as a result of the shrinking attention span — things are more and more about how quick and painless we can make this for people to consume — the process is completely changed. Most of the time you’re not likely to have a cathartic experience on any level.

On contrast, with Ghost of Old Highways, there were lasting relationships made. There were tons of people who’d never met. I never knew Brian McGee before the project started. Brian McGee, Fox Watson and several Asheville-based people who I’ve gone on to have lasting friendships with were recruited by people on production. I don’t know what we would have done without Mary Ellen Bush, the time and commitment she put in behind the scenes, connecting the dots.

Even at the time, I had no idea what I was asking of people in terms of time. Especially the soldiers. Those guys had to run up and down that mountain with dangerous weapons in their hands over and over. It gets to a point where you just accept that you’re in this long, tough experience, but you know you’re sharing it with all these other people. Something comes out of it that’s unique to a process like that. I feel really, really fortunate to have had that many people come together for that project. Because it was hard. It kicked everybody’s ass.

AM: You mentioned the mountain — Why did you pick Black Balsam to film Ghost?
BL: The director, Dan Bush, grew up in Charlotte and spent his youth going on summer hiking trips with his parents. They would hike up there. It was a life-long dream fulfilled for Dan to film up there.

Where you choose for something like this is a combination of aesthetics and logistics. I had never been up there and it blew my mind. The challenges was, how do you make the modern world disappear with no money? You’re trying to work in a time period, but everywhere you point a camera these days, there’s a car or a road or a telephone pole.

We decided to go through the State Park and get permits. The people were really great. I’m sure that we probably exaggerated downward of the scale that we were doing. It was definitely interesting for hikers who were walking by, to see a guy hanging from a tree. When you’re far away that’s kind of creeping thing to see. And there’s be lots of people walking by with me laying there with an axe sticking out of my chest. That was a brilliant prop — a real axe sawed off and welded to a metal plate. There were seat belt-style straps to strap it to my chest and then I could walk around with my shirt buttoned over it, and the shirt dressed with blood. It was fun to interact with kids like that: “Don’t run with sharp objects!”

AM: What else about Appalachia spoke to you?
BL: There were actual battles all around there. Cold Mountain was nearby. There’s just a lot of the landscape that was specific to the time period we were borrowing from. When you’re playing in the world of ghosts and you point the camera at some ghosts, maybe they’re in there. Maybe you see them and maybe you don’t.

You’re always looking for free production value. One of the reasons this is written this way is because we knew we could exist on natural light. “Let’s write this thing where this guy is running around in the mountain because then we can just use the sun and we don’t have to worry about where we’re going to get lights.”

That area, specifically, there was a contrast between this stylized violence and grim imagery that we wanted to set against this picturesque landscape. There’s something about the Appalachian area that’s Americana. It’s a very specific part of the American cultural zeitgeist. All of that came into the cocktail of influence we were working with.

AM: You’ve said in interviews that the film wasn’t really set during the Civil War, but I feel like that works as a metaphor.
BL: I think we chose the Civil War because it’s the best example of becoming your own worst enemy. When we stumbled into that, the road opened up in front of us in terms of ideas. Dan and I will chase an idea down until we catch up to it. Then we figure out how to make something.

AM: You kind of came at this backwards — like scoring a film in reverse, where you made the film based on the song and then rewrote the music to score the film. I realize this came out of a series of happy accidents, but do you think it could be a viable formula for you to create?
BL: It would be amazing. It was something I’d never done before — to revisit an existing piece of music and use it as a reference point. To take a banjo lick and turn it into an orchestral, sweeping thing — it was really fun and an interesting challenge.

The road that led here was where you find that an accident provides you with a choice and you go, “Well, that would be a lot harder. I guess we could do that,” [laughs] which I find myself doing a lot. I naturally gravitate toward the shadier corner of the room. A lot of times I’m really, really curious to explore what I haven’t done yet. But if I started to see patterns or develop a formula, I would probably want to go away from it.

There’s a new kind of medium that seems to be emerging and no one’s really sure what to call it. You can’t call this a music video because categorically it doesn’t follow any of the rules that implies. It’s a sort of experimental narrative, in a sense, but it’s also its own thing where the music kind of is the dialog and kind of does inform you of the story. It seems like a very natural thing, yet no one is quite sure exactly how to describe it.

I think any opportunity to get into a different kind of medium, I’m really interested in that. There’s just this wide-open possibility to start throwing out any of the restrictions of anything you’ve done formerly.

AM: What do you think about the film industry in this area?
BL: I don’t have much of a sense of it here. What I can say is that we screened in more film festivals in North Carolina than any other state, but I also applied to more here because we wanted to keep a certain consistency to what we were doing. Most of everywhere that we applied to was in the south. It was important to me to keep this in the south — I felt it reinforced the bigger aesthetic of what we were trying to do. A lot of times the south gets overlooked in terms of artistic cultural relevance and I don’t agree with that at all.  We did every state in the old south — everywhere from Jackson, Miss. to Sarasota, Fla. to here to Charlotte to Richmond, Va. to Memphis. We mapped out the south and we’re just really happy that we were received well everywhere.


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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