Dark Side Magazine at FrightFest 2022 – James Whittington chats to Paul Wilkins, director and co-writer of The Ghost Writer

There’s only a handful of paranormal movies at FrightFest 2022 so we decided to chat to Paul Wilkins, the director of one of the best ones, The Ghost Writer.

DS: It’s been a decade since your last feature, what have been up to since then?

PW: Good question! Well, I’ve been developing other projects both to direct and others to produce and the truth is, it takes time to find and develop good material. I’ve also had 2 other films that came extremely close to being greenlit that fell down at the last hurdle – a familiar story in this industry sadly.  My first film was also not really ready, and I don’t think I was either, so it was not as good as it could have been or certainly not as good as I’d make it now – so that didn’t help.  My third film will be my masterpiece I just need to convince someone to finance it!

DS: Where did the inspiration for The Ghost Writer come from?

PW: A variety of areas and influences really but the main catalyst was around the notion of how we are compelled to create or strive for success, sometimes at all costs and how that can have detrimental repercussions for your sanity! Not unlike being a writer or filmmaker in this industry! I am a big fan of so called ‘elevated horror’ and this film was certainly influenced by a bunch of them as well as the classics such as ‘Repulsion’, ‘The Innocents’ and of course ‘The Shining.’

DS: It’s a bold combination of psychological and paranormal horror, did you write it with a cast in mind?

PW: Thanks, hopefully my next one will be even bolder. I co-wrote this with Guy Fee, so you’ll need to ask him for his thoughts on that, but personally, I write with a type of personality in mind, generally someone with a character flaw, like we all have, and a desperate need to fill a void or hole in their lives. Once you have the cast or have access to certain actors, then you can start to tailor the script accordingly. In future, ideally, I would also like to workshop the scripts with actors to really help embed the characterization.

DS: The movie has a complicated narrative, how much planning did it take to ensure every shot was taken?

PW: The DOP Robin Whenary, and I, spent months on and off, really thinking the approach and aesthetic of this film and planned the shots meticulously. We thought hard about how best to articulate the subjective POV of the character as well as ways to convey dislocation and discombobulation – sorry I love that word and just had to squeeze it in there.  I also worked hard with Nigel Galt the editor, to re-shape the material so that it is as compelling as it can be, with careful consideration given to the spine of the story, the different timelines and the balance between exposition, mystery and suspense. 

DS: You put Luke Mably who plays tortured writer Gilliger Graham really through the mill as it were, how did he cope with such an intense role?

PW: I think the role was extremely demanding and it is easy to forget how much pressure a lead actor or actress is under – they are ultimately carrying the weight and potential success of the film on their shoulders and that can be all consuming. Luke was extremely dedicated, and I think his excellent performance is testament to that.

DS: It’s a stunning location, was if difficult shooting the movie there?

PW: Yes, the Cotswolds is a beautiful part of the world! Shooting any movie anywhere is challenging but being in the middle of the countryside certainly helped!

DS: The score is striking, very atmospheric and emotive, will it get a physical release.

PW: Rachel Jamieson did a wonderful job, and she is still so young and has a fantastic career ahead of her. I’m not sure if this will get an opportunity to be released as a separate entity but perhaps if we can get a petition going?!!

DS: Will you be nervous when the movie has its world premiere at FrightFest 2022?

PW: Yes! It’s been a long time coming. I’ll probably feel more a sense of relief / release when I finally see it screened on a big screen with an audience. Very exciting. 

DS: Do you believe in paranormal events?

PW: I believe that the mind has an untapped capacity to create and connect, and I think the power of a collective conscious or unconscious can initiate extraordinary events.

DS: What’s your cure for writer’s block?

PW: I think it may have been Picasso that said ‘Inspiration finds us working’ – I’ve deliberately avoided googling that, so I might be misappropriating but I think this is true.  But…dragging yourself to your desk is not always easy…I like to listen to music…read…. the read some more…then walk….and try to avoid eating too much.  Getting lost in something else can often encourage those latent thoughts and ideas to come a knocking.

DS: So, what are you up to at the moment?

PW: I’m developing several Feature projects to direct including ‘Welcome to the Party’ about a destitute man who cons a young wealthy couple in to signing over their house only to realise that he and his family have been drawn into a macabre and treacherous game. I also have more of a dark drama called ‘Hi’, about a middle-aged family man whose life gets turned upside down when he commits a seemingly innocuous faux pas. I am also producing a fantastic horror from the talented film-maker Marcus Shepherd about a young couple who are asked to trade their baby in order to get on the property ownership ladder.  Always looking for bold, intelligent and edgy writing talent or material to turn into great Features or TV series!

DS: Paul Wilkins, thank you very much.

PW: Thank you!