Ghost Lake Production Notes

This film was done without a safety net of any kind. Young Wolf Productions raised the money, made the film, and then and only then set out to get it distributed. It is also the most widely released film I’ve ever made, being available in close to 30 countries at this point. It’s neither the largest nor the smallest budget I’ve worked with, but we did manage to have a longer shoot and longer post production time than I’ve had on any project I’ve directed other than Titanic. I think that certainly helped make it better.

This also allowed me, as the composer as well, to record the music as the film was coming together. I often times wrote music for a scene that was not yet edited. The music was done more as a stand along and usually melody-driven piece and then brought to the film. I’ve found however, that especially on films I edit and compose that my guess/sense of pacing and scene length is often close to the final version. I can arrive at this without actually playing the music against the locked edit. This comes in part from having to compose music that way years ago before there was a way to lock them together frame by frame as there is now.

Ghost Lake

I’d wanted to make this movie since at least 1986 though nothing approaching the final form of the film really existed until 1988. My family roots are in the area where the film was shot, and I thought I had seen everything the location had to offer. Making the movie led me to discover surprising new places (and people).

This first treatment for this film came about during the last stages of work on my first feature, Beyond Dream’s Door. This story is a reaction to that treatment. The principal character in Beyond Dream’s Door is an isolated boy/man, the principal character here is a girl/woman. The two stories deal with impending adulthood and the need to deal with childhood demons. The demon in both these cases is really isolation. The characters lack, through their circumstances, the ability to communicate with others. These are both what I’d call existential horror movies.

In Beyond Dream’s Door I avoided getting religion involved in the supernatural events. In Ghost Lake, religion is tied in and I know complicates matters. But hey, I wanted to tell a more complicated story. As I always do I like to tell stories that you don’t know how they will end when they begin.

Ghost Lake

An off hand comment from a friend I was pitching Ghost Lake to while I was writing it, led me to research the number 13 and suggesting, not picking, various reasons why the dead are rising in Ghost Lake. My goal with this type of story was to make a film you can follow from start to finish and understand. If you care to go back and watch it again other things will become more obvious or you can dig into the layers, but you don’t have to. I know some viewers have gotten involved in trying to figure out the timeline of the deaths of the various ghosts in the film. This to me is like getting into your car in a rain storm, turning on the windshield wipers and then forgetting to drive anywhere because you’re watching the motion of the blades.

But here are some details for those who are interested.

Ready? Every 13 years on a month with a Friday the 13th someone, or sometimes several people at once, has drowned in the lake and not been found. Those paying too much attention may notice a newspaper dated on a Friday the 13th. The question then might arise how could the paper appear the same day of the deaths? The answer: many small town papers in that area of the country do not come out in the morning, they are afternoon papers. Other deaths, like the one that climaxes the film happen in the dead of night. The dawn of the 13th day or still the night of the 12th would be reported on the 13th even if it was a morning paper.

Ghost Lake

This all starts in 1928. The dam floods the valley and claims its first victim. The film never reveals who this might be but hints it has something to do with THE OLD FISHERMAN. The back of some video boxes state that the whole town was drowned. That’s nice, but that’s not what happens in the movie. A deleted scene featured as an extra on some releases makes fun of the idea that the whole town was drowned as being the “real” story of why the hauntings are happening.

I assume going into the movie that people have a passing understanding of numerology or at least enough to grasp the idea that numbers have a certain power and or that numbers control everything. From superstition I take the idea that 13 is unlucky and generally bad, even Demonic, number. So then the more 13s you have, the worse it gets. Following a principal of pessimist philosophy I take the idea everything gets worse and worse until the worst of all.

As the lake reaches its magic number of 13 victims, the cycle starts to accelerate. Something happens then 13 months later it happens again, then the next is 13 weeks, then 13 days, ultimately it all comes down to the last 13 seconds until the end of the final Friday the 13th.

Ghost Lake

The idea being taken from one scientific theory that once an event happens it is more likely to happen again. Or let’s say you punch a hole in a boat (since we are dealing with water) you can patch the hole but there is now a weakness there, or around the patched area, it’s more likely and vulnerable to get punctured there again. I think on a personal and personality side this is true in real life. Life tends to press on our weak points and those who succeed in life manage to deflect these things or repair our weaknesses.

The little girl who drowns is described as being the weaker of the two sisters. She arrogantly thinks she can “beat the lake” by swimming across it and dies trying. (That was a sign of adulthood, growing up around the real life Rushford Lake where we shot the film, and we dated each other to swim across the lake. Both of my brothers did it, I never did.)

So aside from the numbers game there is a theme, if you will, in the lake killings, that is typical of ghost stories. All the victims are somehow connected with murder, suicide, or family crisis. This is a potential victim’s Achilles’ heel that the lake finds and uses against them. Rebecca, the main character, is the right person at the right time as far as the lake is concerned. 13 people have now died since 1928 and having hit that magic number they all return to claim new victims all at the same time with Rebecca being the prize and final victim if they can get her to kill herself.

Ghost Lake

I’ve screened this film a number of times in large rooms with 200 people or so and probably the most popular question has now become something listed on the IMDB as a mistake.

The question is; “Did I see something moving in the doll house in the library?”

The answer is; yes you did. A toy bear slowly rises up through a window in the roof and watches what is going on, then starts to sink from view as the scene ends.

Bears and toys, like the green bouncing ball, are associated with the little girl ghost throughout the story. I put the moving bear in the library scene wondering if anyone would ever notice it. In fact many people on first viewing especially on a big screen, have to my surprise, picked up on it right away.

Ghost Lake

The idea is that the ghost is actually affecting the environment around it. There is an instance earlier in the film where a painting of Rebecca’s cottage starts to glow light through one of its painted windows. Same thing there as in the library and a hint as to who is the ghost in that scene as well.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that Ghost Lake has, for reasons that make no sense to me at all, been released in a number of countries in a full frame version. In these versions in order to preserve the split screen sequences the frame has to change size in order to show the whole image at the proper dimension of 16 by 9. This happened about eight times during the course of the film. I’m frankly surprised by people who review the movie but don’t understand why this is going on. While I’m griping about format let me also say that the full sound mix of the film was one with 5.1 channels of audio. I’ve noticed myself that some releases don’t use this mix and a few of the releases actually seem to be in monophonic sound. If you watch the film in this way and think it doesn’t sound right, well, you’re right, there are sounds you just aren’t hearing at all.

Ghost Lake

Finally there have also been questions of a sequel, perhaps because of some of the unanswered questions the film raises. A sequel if it is ever made, would address some of the back-story questions raised in this film. I don’t make films in order to make sequels to them, but a number of ideas have floated up during production and since then. Who knows? Ghost Lake II?

But a thing about real life mysteries like Ghosts is that though there are things that seem like answers the ultimate truth is unknown, at least to us living.