Your outfit for the afterlife comes two ways: either through the mail, rushed to you and arriving after less than 24 hours after you’ve placed your order online, or picked up from a small stack in the bright backroom of a storefront in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown, where a white-clad worker hands you a neatly folded bag before asking you to fill out a probing questionnaire. Either way is easy, but the get-up — a sheet, a big one, very long, designed to cover the whole body and then some — is heavy, so it’s perhaps best to hit up the small stack in the small store.
Time, however, is of the essence (death waits for no man, and all that), so I ordered online and toted my own “A Ghost Story” branded sheet to the Chinatown store, appropriately named A Ghost Store, for a personalized fitting. You want to look in the next realm, don’t you?
Producer and distributor A24 is known for ambitious marketing ploys, but this may be its most ambitious one yet. Last year, the company launched a full-scale marketing blitz for the unique stoner comedy “Swiss Army Man” that included mailing out actual bongs to members of the press, alongside beach towels that included star Daniel Radcliffe’s dead body emblazoned on them. For horror hit “The Witch,” the company put on events in tandem with The Satanic Temple, while also loading up social media with accounts “run by” evil goat Black Philip. A24’s materials are always fun and interactive, but A Ghost Store goes to a new level.
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“A Ghost Store” is designed to appeal to both fans of David Lowery’s Sundance hit and random passerby who are eager to see what could possibly be inside a store that advertises that “Eternity Awaits” on an appealing clapboard sign out front. It’s weird from the start, but also oddly soothing, much like the film it has been designed to market to the masses in Chinatown and beyond.
On opening day, a small table loaded with Morgenstern’s ice cream sat inside the front foyer, smushed between two life-size mannequins wearing their own sheets. The ice cream was billed as “Ghost Ice Cream,” and was a dark gray, thanks to its coconut ash flavor. Not coconut, coconut ash, which the Morgenstern’s slinger explained was made from the charred husk of a coconut. At A Ghost Store, even the fruit has moved on to the next realm of existence. You will soon, too.
Lowery, however, has most certainly not moved on from the kind of filmmaking that put him on the map. “A Ghost Story,” which premiered at Sundance, returned the “Pete’s Dragon” helmer to the small, intimate indies he was best known for before jumping into the studio system. Inspired by the larger questions of his own life and eager to re-team with his “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, Lowery quietly filmed the feature in Dallas, Texas during the summer of 2016, unsure if he had even made what amounted to an actual film. He did, and then some. A24 picked up the rights to “A Ghost Story” just days before it bowed at Sundance, where the meditative and unique feature about a man (Affleck) dealing with his own afterlife and the woman who loves him (Mara) became the toast of the festival.
The ever-inventive A24 cooked up the concept for A Ghost Store early, and when Lowery, mere minutes after walking into the store for the very time, explained its origins to IndieWire, he still seemed dazed that it had panned out.
“They were like, ‘Okay, this is going to sound crazy, but what do you think about A Ghost Store?’ and I just laughed,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s amazing, but surely you’re not actually going to do it.’ I couldn’t quantify the cost-value benefit of actually going the distance with something like this. But they went for it.”
The marketing team worked in tandem with the digital marketing agency Watson Design Group for months to craft the store, a total experience unto itself, but one that serves as an ingenious addition to the world of Lowery’s film.
“I knew they would embrace the challenge of marketing this movie, and embrace the challenge in a very unique fashion,” Lowery said. “This never crossed my mind, but I was so delighted by it. It just amused me to such an immense degree. I couldn’t wait to see it come to fruition. It was going to be a real brick and mortar store in New York City!”
The film is now gearing up for a mid-summer release, the perfect time for audiences looking for counter-programming at the blockbuster-glutted box office. The film’s heady, homespun feel is on full display at the newly launched Ghost Store, where anyone can pop in to get their own personalized sheet and a literally ghostly experience to boot. Move past the ice cream and mannequins, and the narrow storefront unfolds to reveal something of a waiting room, complete with a wall of forms to be filled out before you can step inside a curtained-off room to be fitted for your very own sheet.
The forms get personal — first asking for specs as seemingly benign as if you’d prefer a pima or sateen sheet, before giving way to queries about your first memory — and a hush fell over the attendees as they struggled to write down the most honest answer (“you could lie,” I whispered to a friend, who seemed vaguely offended by the notion). Nearby, a sewing machine hummed, churning out personalized embroidery on the sheets of those who had already filled out their forms, people who had decided to kit themselves out for the afterlife in a sheet that bore their name, or a tiny hourglass and flower (I opted for my name in blue, all the better to be able to recognize my own sheet, and a little sewn interpretation of tiny Casey Affleck ghost peering out a tiny window).
“Why are you here today?” the sheet-fitter hired for the event asks each participant once they’re finally granted entry into the curtained-off room, as another employee moves to pull the curtains ever-tighter, all in service to the privacy such a personal endeavor requires. An answer is not required, but it helps to have something to talk about as the sheet is fluffed and flounced around your body, two tiny eye holes providing the smallest of windows into the rest of the world. Outfitted in your sheet, perhaps a little heavier and caught up in the kind of otherworldly concerns that are so easy to push aside when you’re not pretending to be dead in the middle of a hot Friday afternoon, the fitter moves you further back, eyes closed, and positions you before you can look.
Eyes open, and an mirrored infinity room expands out, reflecting back both your be-sheeted look and those of other mannequins near you. Everywhere you turn, ghosts, and you.
A picture is snapped, a quickie memento of the experience, before you’re pushed back into the land of the living. The sheet is hard to get off, and it’s even harder to leave it behind to finish its embroidery. It will be delivered, again, in less than twenty-four hours. They promise.
Although Lowery had been party to constant updates, even he was unprepared for the full force of entering the store for the first time. “I’m very moved by it,” he said. “I can’t get over it. This is extraordinary. It is so playful, and yet engages on the level that the movie engages on at the same time. It’s a different experience, but so complementary.” As I left, Lowery had completed his own form, and was handing it over to a staffer and stepping behind the curtain to see for himself what lay beyond. Even he didn’t know. It could be anything.
The store will remain open for limited hours until the film’s release (Thursday – Sunday from 12PM – 5PM) and interested parties can check out its website for more information (and yes, to order their very own sheet).
What are you waiting for? Move on to the next realm. And then see “A Ghost Story.”
A24 will release “A Ghost Story” on July 7.