“I joke about it sometimes like yeah, it’s been five years and a couple of health scares and I’m never doing this again, Oh my God.”
Adam Stovall is talking about the tumultuous journey of making his first film, A Ghost Waits, which is currently screening at the virtual edition of FrightFest. Having conceived the idea in November 2015, the film quickly went into production in August 2016 and after a series of pick-up shoots in 2017 and 2018, the film finally premiered at FrightFest in Glasgow in February 2020.
Centering around maintenance man Jack (MacLeod Andrews) who suddenly finds himself at the mercy of a ghost (or “spectral agent” as the film puts it – portrayed by Natalie Walker) who is tasked with running him out of the house he was hired to refurbish, A Ghost Waits is a charming, fresh and subversive take on the haunted house movie. “I like to call it a haunted house love story,” says Stovall. While the film explores many different genres, including horror, drama and comedy, the film’s main selling point is the romance between its two leads, who have so much chemistry it practically bursts off the screen.
After premiering to a full house back in February – “We had 400 people! We filled the [entire] room between FrightFest pass holders and then me, just like talking about it if I went and got coffee. I don’t sound like I live in Glasgow obviously. So people would be like, ‘Why are you here?’ and I would just tell everybody and so people showed up. We sold out the house,” recalls Stovall – the film received unanimous praise from audiences and critics alike, with Love Horror branding it “unmissable”, The Horrorcist calling it “one of the best films of the year” and The Hollywood News praising it for its “uplifting and heartbreaking” nature.
Stovall – who says his trip to Glasgow was his “first international trip” and his first experience at a festival as a filmmaker – couldn’t have been more elated at the response. “I listened to [the audience] laugh and I listened to them cry and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, this shit works!’ I didn’t know the movie would be good when I first started [making it]. Yeah, I hoped so, but to see and hear it land with people who knew nothing about it and to have [them come up] afterwards and just say really beautiful things about what it meant to them. I don’t think I could have asked for a better first experience,” he says.
Thanks to a sharp, witty script written by Stovall and Andrews, who landed a co-writing credit after improvising much of the film’s first act (“McLeod was such a big part of the writing process. He and I were on set in that house figuring it out!”), the film managed to perfectly capture the hearts of audiences thanks to a heartwarming tale of two lonely people attempting to find their purpose in the world and eventually finding it in each other. However, it could have been a very different movie if Stovall stuck to his first version of the ending. “MacLeod doesn’t like it when I [talk about the original ending],” laughs Stovall. “The concept of a ghost is that it’s a spirit stuck here due to unfinished business and in the original [ending], Jack helped [Muriel] resolve her unfinished business and then she left because everyone leaves Jack. And he is once again alone.”
That ending is a sharp contrast to not only the film’s actual ending but the events that precede it as well. After spending most of its runtime appealing its viewers to Jack and ensuring that they would be able to empathise with him and his predicament, the original ending feels like it would be a gut punch to audiences instead of the warm, reassuring hug the actual ending represents, a notion that Stovall himself recognises. “My favourite [type of] art is transcendent art. Art that pulls me out of myself, [like] Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House,” he explains. “That original ending would not have been the transcendent ending that I wanted. Two people coming together is probably the most transcendent thing that happens in the world, and I wanted to reflect that.”
In a post-COVID world, a lot of filmmakers have shunned the idea of a virtual film festival, citing piracy concerns and the “lack of a theatrical experience” as reasons why. Asked if he felt any trepidation about screening his film virtually, Stovall responds in the negative. “We’re really happy that this is happening,” he exclaims. “Obviously we would prefer to be able to be there with everybody and screen it in person. I don’t think anybody prefers this [experience] because filmmaking is so collaborative. I don’t think anybody makes a movie to be left alone. Except maybe Lars von Trier, who is probably thriving now because he doesn’t have to fly anywhere and he does everything virtual anyway! But yeah, obviously we would prefer to be there but no there was no hesitation [about screening the film virtually]. I just hope people put their phones away!”
A Ghost Waits is also prime material for a possible franchise, with the “spectral agency” that assigns ghosts to haunt houses seeming like the perfect material for a backdoor series or spin-off. “I do have an idea for a sequel,” confirms Stovall. However, he is focusing on developing several other projects at the moment, including a true crime story and a sci-fi movie. “I originally wrote [the sci-fi movie] as a pilot but then decided to develop it as a feature,” he says. “So we’ve actually been developing that and I’m currently working on the second draft and it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked on a script. I think by the time it’s done, it’ll be the thing I’m most proud of that I’ve written. it’s a really fun time travel road movie. Who knows what’ll happen with that? But that is what I’m working on right now and I hope we get to make it.”
Unique, fresh and profound, A Ghost Waits has cemented Stovall’s status as an exciting up-and-coming genre filmmaker and one to definitely watch in the future.
by Ahmad W.
Currently based in the UK and the UAE, Ahmad W. is a poster designer, budding screenwriter and journalist from Boston and the (self-proclaimed) #1 Robert Eggers stan. His favourite films include mother!, The Witch, Black Swan, Hereditary and Scream. His claim to fame is a DM he got from Ari Aster (who has since left him on read) and his favorite pastime is spending the day in a cold, half-empty movie theater. You can follow him on Twitter at @ephwinslow.