Humor and Fear Combine in the Comedy-thriller “Clara’s Ghost”

Featured in Creativity
Image by Markus Mentzer
Humor and Fear Combine in the Comedy-thriller “Clara’s Ghost”

Clara’s Ghost is not the kind of ghost story you’re likely to hear around a campfire. Written and directed by Bridey Elliott, the 2018 Sundance Film Festival feature is a caricature of Bridey’s own family. Her father Chris Elliott and sister Abby Elliott are both SNL alumni, and star in the film alongside Bridey and her mother Paula, who makes her debut as the film’s protagonist. Clara’s Ghost offers a rare glimpse into the sometimes-amusing workings of a showbiz family — and their haunted mom.

It was precisely this combination of comedy and thriller that attracted Editor Patrick Lawrence to the film. “It was one of the best scripts I’ve ever read,” he says. “The characters leaped off the page at me. The juxtaposition between comedy and thriller is what made this film so much fun to edit. The tone is constantly shifting between scenes where you’re laughing one moment and terrified the next. Representing that visually was a great challenge.”

Image by Markus Mentzer

The film was shot in Bridey’s family home in Connecticut in September 2017 in just under four weeks. Patrick, who had worked on Bridey’s 2016 Sundance Film Festival directorial debut Affections, began editing on site using Adobe Premiere Pro, turning out scenes for review on a daily basis. After flying back to Los Angeles in mid-October, he and Bridey edited for two weeks straight and turned out a director’s cut that was submitted to the festival.

Patrick is no stranger to this pace. After graduating in 2011 from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a degree in television and film production, he wasted no time making a name for himself among studio and production executives. He cut his first feature film in 2014 and has worked on a total of nine independent features.

Premiere Pro has been his editing tool of choice for years. “The ability to edit natively with so many platforms is incredible,” says Patrick. “I can just throw footage in and start cutting without having to bother with transcoding. I’m working on a project now that needs to be exported to DPX. I can do this directly from Premiere Pro, which makes my life very easy.”

Adobe Premiere Pro CC timeline for “Clara’s Ghost” courtesy of Patrick Lawrence

Patrick also relies heavily on Adobe Media Encoder, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Photoshop within Adobe Creative Cloud. He particularly appreciates the seamless integration between applications and automatic sync-ups. “I value integration and smooth workflows when I’m in the middle of a project,” he says. “They save me a lot of time and effort.”

There was a VFX team for Clara’s Ghost, but for some of the more straightforward work, Patrick did some of the visual effects himself in After Effects, including replacing license plates and cell phone screens. Patrick also used Photoshop to create fake social media feeds. “There is a scene where Clara is scrolling through Facebook and feverishly clicking ‘Like’ on photos,” he says. “All of that was created in Photoshop. In another scene, the sisters are on a train when a fan takes a picture of them and posts it online. We used Photoshop to create the Instagram feed, using the sisters’ real photos.” This work was then sent to the visual effects team for animation.

Although Patrick worked with a colorist, he leveraged the Lumetri Color panel in Premiere Pro to change scene tones and alter backgrounds. For example, a sequence of footage shot in mid-afternoon was made to look as though it was dusk. Likewise, much of the footage in another scene was very blue, but as the scene ended the tone had changed. Patrick adjusted the tone to feature the same shade of blue throughout the entire scene.

“There are so many great features in Premiere Pro,” he says. “Even though I’ve been using the software for years, it feels like I’m still scratching the surface of its capabilities. There’s always something new and improved to learn about.”

Clara’s Ghost premieres on January 19, 2018 in the NEXT category at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

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