Do you hate found-footage horror movies? Do you hate them because you spend less time being scared and more time wondering why the characters are still holding a camera and filming instead of getting the hell out of there? Then you might just love Ghost Team One, because it has possibly the most inspired found-footage setup of all time.
Ghost Team One is about Sergio and Brad, two average slackers who throw a huge party. Sergio decides to strap a camera on his head to film the whole thing, and drunkenly records what he thinks may have been a ghost. The next morning he's telling Brad about what happened, when Fernanda, a stunningly beautiful girl leftover from the party, tells the boys that she's actually really into the supernatural. So Sergio and Brad respond in the most logical way possible: They lie and tell her they're ghost hunters making a movie about their haunted house, all in a ploy to keep her around just so they can each try to hook up with her.
Of course their house actually is haunted, but by the time they realize it, they've both already put in too much time with Fernanda to back out, so they keep making the movie. And things keep getting weirder and weirder. And this isn't a spoof, either. Ghost Team One is an R-rated sex comedy that happens to be mashed up with Paranormal Activity. It's crude and crass and kind of creepy, but also very funny. It hits theaters, VOD and digital today, and we spoke on the phone with directors Ben Peyser and Scott Rutherford about how they ended up making not only a solid horror comedy, but a found-footage movie that actually made sense as found footage.
Movies.com: How did you two come to this project in the first place?
Scott Rutherford: We were asked to make a found-footage horror comedy, and the most important motivation for us was that this be grounded. If you want the audience to stay with you, then they have to believe that these characters have a reason to stay in the house. And if the characters don't, then this movie doesn't have any reason to exist. Knowing that, in searching for our motivation in putting the project together, we sort of realized a few things. One, we had to watch horror movies to do the research and we both realized that we are total pussies. Watching those movies we were like, "Well, what are you doing in the morning? There's some good light outside, you can come over and hold hands and we can watch these movies together."
Usually in a horror movie the characters behave like idiots and it's the audience who is going, "No, don't go upstairs! That's a terrible idea," and so we were like, wouldn't it be funny if we made the characters true to ourselves. So it's the characters who are going, "Go upstairs? Tha'ts an awful idea! I don't want to go upstairs!" But then this beautiful woman comes in... Even when we first met Fernanda, 30 minutes after her audition, people were like, "I can still smell her. Can she come back? We love her." And then we realized that's why we wanted to make the movie-- to spend time with hot chicks like that. Well, that's why the characters should be making the movie.
The only thing that can compel a man to confront his fears is a beautiful woman. And a scared, scared man will walk to the ends of the Earth for a beautiful woman.
Ben Peyser: And just jumping off that, of course there are bad found-footage movies, and there are good found-footage movies. Just like with any style or genre, and what we loved about found footage is that it really gave us the opportunity to tell an authentic story with these characters. It really helped to put you in the shoes of these guys, and it makes the whole thing feel a lot more believable. We did not want to make a spoof. We are not spoof guys. We grew up loving grounded comedies, and more recently stuff like The Office. What's great about the found-footage genre is that it allows you to get these really naturalistic performances. Obviously there's a lot of improv, so having that camera style lets us get to a place where these characters can really have these reactions. In a spoof movie, when you get to a scare, it's like,"Ha ha, that's a funny gag" but in our movie you're like, "Oh, this is actually kind of creepy." You're with the characters.
Rutherford: Authenticity becomes the most important part for a movie like this, and that's why found footage makes it feel like a very real experience for both the comedy and the horror. Is that response genuine and that's why we're laughing? Great, keep it. Is that response genuinely scary? Great, keep it.
Movies.com: Would you say you took more cues from a show like The Office than a movie like Paranormal Activity?
Rutherford: We just kind of used it as reassurance that the viewer would stay with us. The viewer has had enough experience now watching shows like The Office that we felt like it was reassurance that we could use this style to go after the laughs and the scares. They've seen found-footage horror movies, but they've also seen these documentary-style comedies, too, so they actually have the cinematic language of both sides of the coin, they just haven't seen them put together before. So that was really fun.
In terms of guidance, also, I worked on a show called Workaholics on Comedy Central and the style there was to write and write and write to get the script as strong as you could so that when we get on set you can let these extremely talented improvisers work and you know you have the scene, you know you have the joke on the page, so you're free to get weird on set. We tried to use that same tone for this movie.
Movies.com: When it came to casting, what were the descriptions you gave to each actor as they came in?
Rutherford: Well, they had pages, but what was happening was that most of the actors were coming in and reading really bratty, to the point where you were like, "I don't like these people. I don't want to spend time with them." And then these guys came in, and they'd say the lines and it just felt genuine. There was nothing they were trying to show off. J.R. Came in and we thought, "He's as genuine and innocent a pervert as we're going to find." And then Fernanda came in, and she really is... everybody falls in love with her the second they meet her. We met with lots of pretty girls, but she's so charming in a way that you couldn't really put in a character description. It was just once she showed up, we saw it and we knew it. We had the gist of the characters, but once these guys came in, they really gave us the characters.
Movies.com: And since things do get often silly but dead serious, did you guys have any trouble maintaining the balance between improv and script?
Rutherford: That always seems to be the issue the first few days, of just setting that tone with the actors. You want it to be loose enough they feel free to be funny, but also real enough that it feels authentic. But basically everyone just sort of gets the tone, and it's amazing to watch these guys work at that point.
Peyser: It was the most ridiculously entertaining I think a set could ever be. People were laughing from the P.A. to us and the producers. Everyone was having a blast on set because these guys are just hilarious. And we have so much material. We shot in three weeks, but we took months and months to edit, because there were so many great bits that we just didn't have space for in the movie. It was really a lesson in killing our darlings, because we left a lot out to keep the pace of the movie going and feeding the characters, instead of having moments that weren't really for the story.
Rutherford: But that's the great thing about being with someone like Paramount. We'll have a DVD release in time for Christmas, and on that DVD and Blu-ray finally all these bits that were hilarious but that didn't quite fit the story will be available as bonus features.
Movies.com: Has the movie already started to open doors for you?
Rutherford: Yeah, it's exciting because it's opened doors for us, but I also just feel like we were blessed with this lightning in a bottle, with this cast and this crew. We want to keep working with them. We're developing other feature projects with them, and some television stuff. The new ideas it opens us up to are great.
Peyser: One note I want to hit before we have to wrap it up is that this is still a small movie. It started as a labor of love, we were lucky enough to get picked up by Paramount, which is amazing, but we're still a small movie. People going to theaters really helps us. It really helps the movie get a chance to be seen by even more people. We're still a small movie at heart.
Rutherford: Yes, tell everyone to bring their friends. Get drunk, get stoned, get high on life, just enjoy the party that is Ghost Team One.
Ghost Team One is now out in select theaters and available On Demand and digital.
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