Andy Nyman • Director
“We had to take the play apart and put it back together again in a new way”
by Kaleem Aftab
- Andy Nyman reveals how he and co-director Jeremy Dyson adapted their hit West End horror play Ghost Stories for the big screen
Ghost Stories played for two years in London’s West End. The play used the tropes of horror films – cars driving through woods and haunted houses – and put them on the theatre stage. Nods were made to William Castle, George A Romero, Dario Argento and Milton Subotsky, amongst others. Andy Nyman, co-writer, co-director and star of the film version of Ghost Stories [+see also:
interview: Andy Nyman
film profile], explains the evolution of the film from stage to screen. The movie is released in the UK today.
Cineuropa: What were the main challenges of adapting the stage play for the silver screen?
Andy Nyman: It’s been an incredible journey taking Ghost Stories from stage to screen. One of the things that made it so exciting was that Jeremy and I have been obsessed with horror films since we met when we were 15 years old. When we wrote the play, part and parcel of what we did was to take the tropes of horror cinema that we loved and put them on stage. I think one of the things that have helped to make the play the phenomenon that it became was seeing things in the theatre that you normally only see in the cinema. The challenge of putting it back onto the screen was to stop audiences from thinking, “Oh, I’ve seen all this before.” That meant that we really had to take the play apart and try to put it back together again in a new way, and it was a really interesting challenge that we actually didn’t finish until right at the end of the edit.
Did how you work with co-director Jeremy Dyson change between the stage play and the film set, given that it’s such a different medium?
It is totally different, but it’s also the same, which is the glib answer. On paper, neither should work – the play nor the film – because you have these two best friends who are co-writing and co-directing, and one of them is starring in it: well, it’s a recipe for disaster. We tried to head off any awkward conversations that might happen on set or in rehearsals because the last thing you want is to get on set and have something as simple as who calls “cut” become a problem. If one person asks, “Why did you cut there?”, that could cause the downfall of everything, literally something as simple as that. You have to have those conversations, and you have to work incredibly hard in prep – we storyboarded everything. But of course, none of that means that you are actually prepared.
Who spoke to the cinematographer?
In terms of the nuts and bolts of it, we sort of pre-decided what our shots would be. Then we worked with Ole Bratt Birkeland, our brilliant DoP; he was a great collaborator and our third brain, really. If it was a scene that I was in, I would have a stand-in who was sort of my height for when we were framing shots and lighting, then Jeremy would performance-direct. It was very organic.
In terms of your character, Dr Goodman, did you change your performance?
I did change the performance because you have to, really, and also the story is different. The play had a real rollercoaster-like fun element to it, and I think the film still has that, but – and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying this – there is a sort of sadness that runs through the film, and that affects the performance. It also affects the look of the movie: part of what we wanted to capture was that feeling of an out-of-season grey day out to the seaside, which is as British as the stuff you see in The Crown, if not more so.
In terms of the structure of the play and the film, they are both divided into little story segments. Was that something you wanted to keep to link the play with the film?
We love that structure – we love portmanteau films. We also want it to emulate what is, for us, the very best of them, Dead of Night. It’s the best of them because it’s actually the protagonist’s story that is the best story.
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