Since he posted a mysterious photo of a clapper board online in 2021, we'd been waiting to find out just what Christopher Landon's "We Have A Ghost" was all about. Back then, the director, who scripted several "Paranormal Activity" movies and helmed the "Happy Death Day" movies, gave us just a morsel of info, insisting that this was not going to be a horror movie. We did know, however, that the movie was likely going to have a connection to the previously announced adaptation of Geoff Manaugh's short story "Ernest." And that turned out to be right on the money.
With "We Have A Ghost" finally almost upon us, we now know the Anthony Mackie and David Harbour-starring project is Landon's version of a light-hearted, family-friendly, '80s Amblin film. Also featuring comedian Tig Notaro and Jennifer Coolidge, the Netflix movie sees Mackie's Frank and family move into a new home, only to find it haunted by a ghost — the aforementioned Ernest (Harbour). But their otherworldly house guest turns out to not only be harmless, but the family's ticket to social media stardom. Unfortunately, as Frank's son Kevin starts to investigate the mystery of what happened to cause the initial death of his new ghostly pal, the CIA gets involved and things go sideways.
As the trailer for "We Have A Ghost" showcases, the movie involves a lot of Harbour's lovable specter hanging out with the kids and generally interacting with living characters throughout. And given the advances in technology in the past few decades, you might think such an effect would be pretty easy to pull off. But it turns out that Landon had a very specific way of shooting in mind, which meant he had to film every scene with Harbour four times.
'I Didn't Want The Actors Acting To Nothing'
/Film's BJ Colangelo attended an early screening of "We Have a Ghost" after which Christopher Landon participated in a Q&A. And it seems that filming the scenes with Ernest were a lot trickier than you might imagine, mainly due to Landon's insistence on having David Harbour physically present in every one of them.
As the "Freaky" director said during the Q&A, "I didn't want the actors acting to nothing, or David in some kind of crazy mo-cap suit. I wanted him there and in his wardrobe, hairpiece and all." That meant the crew had to make some special accommodations, which slowed down production significantly. To be specific, every scene with Harbour's ghost had to be shot four separate times. As Landon explained:
"We would shoot all the actors together in the scene, in the shot, and then we'd pull David out and just shoot whoever else was in the shot with him. Then we'd pull them out, put David back in, and shoot just him, pull him out, shoot a plate. Four times. Every time. So it just felt like you were making four movies instead of one."
Unsurprisingly, this time-consuming approach extended production time, as Landon watched his capacious shooting schedule disappear, much like Ernest himself, before his eyes. "We had a really good schedule at the start of pre-production," he said. "I was like, 'Oh my god, I have so many days!' And then it just vanished."
We Have A Ghost Needed Harbour To Be Physically Present
Considering David Harbour (who, incidentally, thinks his massively popular show "Stranger Things" should come to an end) has such a significant role in the film, it's pretty incredible that the crew had to shoot every one of his scenes four times over — and that's without taking retakes into account. Harbour also doesn't really speak as Ernest, so much of his character's emotion had to be conveyed through body language and expressions, which the actor reportedly found an intimidating prospect. As Landon told /Film's Ben Pearson:
"I remember when I had my first meeting with David, I think one of the first things he said to me was, 'I'm kind of terrified of this.' And I loved that the challenge excited him. So I knew he was the right guy from day one."
Thankfully, it seems the actor settled into things as production went on, no doubt helped by the fact that Landon insisted on keeping him in full wardrobe and having him present in every scene. Even if it did take an inordinate amount of time to shoot, it's nice to know that a film which relies so obviously on family/friend relationships and camaraderie wasn't shot using a bunch of green screens and tennis balls on sticks. A film that's so indebted to movies such as "E.T" was always going to need that human touch, and it seems Landon took that seriously enough to throw his shooting schedule completely out the window. Now let's hope he gets to work on "Happy Death Day 3."
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