It was an ironic twist of roles; for years my father had directed me in cameos in his films, from "The Doors" and "JFK" as a child to "W." and "Savages" as a young man. Now, the camera would be turned on my father as he recounted a ghost story he had told me as a boy - the story of old Crazy Kate who lived in the forest, stalking and killing young campers. My father told the story as though he'd actually seen Crazy Kate one night in the woods; and as a child, I was uncertain if he had actually seen her, or if he was making it up to scare me. Perhaps that is the fundamental curiosity that drove me to explore the paranormal realm - are these ghost stories people recount true; or are they fantasies created by frightened imaginations?
I'll give you an example. We were filming one night in Letchworth Village, an old mental hospital for children in upstate New York. No one in the crew particularly liked this place; even our toughest grips wouldn't wander off alone without hearing footsteps and whispers. We were working on recreating Alex's reaction to first seeing the ghost of a crazy old lady, whose appearance was creepily reminiscent of my father's Crazy Kate story. Alex was psyching himself up for the scene, going to a place of intense fear. When he'd first seen the old lady ghost in Greystone, he was on the cusp of vomiting in disgust. And as he recreated that experience in Letchworth, I could see he was reliving the terror... and moments later, he wandered off into the dark corridors of the hospital.
A pang of unease shot through me; where was Alex? Antonella Lentini, my co-star, and I walked through the corridors, continuing to record, as we shouted his name to no avail. It was like a game of hide and seek. We slowly opened the door of a darkened room, and found him, standing on top of a TV in the corner, with his back to us and his hands covering his face. As I called out to him, I could only hear his whimpers; or were they laughs? I was literally chilled to the bone, unsure if he was possessed or method acting! I got closer and closer, trying to reassure him with my voice, until at last I saw his face. He had the wickedest, weirdest grin I'd ever seen. He nearly fell on top of me as he pushed me away and started yelling at me to get away from him. I kept directing him through my commands to tone it down, thinking he was only acting. But it was more than acting. I couldn't tell if he'd lose control and attack me at any moment. So as I gave him his space, he disappeared once again, this time running outside into the dense forest. I called 'cut,' knowing I'd captured a great moment on camera; but simultaneously, I was terrified that he was truly possessed and might do something to hurt himself.
Without an actor to keep shooting, I called for a lunch-break while our production assistants trudged into the forest, looking for Alex. After about twenty minutes, he popped out of the shadows, his gaze distant, and marched out of the forest without really looking at anyone. The assistant later told me he was terrified by the look in Alex's eyes and believed he was possessed. Personally, I agree with that assessment, and when you watch the scene in "Greystone Park," you can judge for yourself. But that is the fine line between the paranormal and madness. Perhaps Alex was possessed. Or maybe he only tricked himself into believing as much, in order to act-out a powerful moment. It is not my place to tell you that the paranormal is real. The phenomena I have experienced were real enough; but the reasons for it are far more elusive. We as filmmakers did our best to document and recreate our experience into a very dark world of phantoms, demons and insanity. In the end, it is not easy to draw a distinct line between 'reality' and 'hallucination.' I can sit here now and tell you about the shadow, the demonic phone calls, the photographs of ghosts, the possessions I've witnessed... but these are only my stories. You will have to answer the question for yourself, do you believe in the paranormal? All I can do is caution you, when walking amongst the shadows, that way madness lies...