Author Topic: Ghost Rider  (Read 4339 times)

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Offline The Lurker

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Re: Ghost Rider
« Reply #15 on: November 06, 2013, 09:12:21 PM »
From archive.org:
I'll follow the example of The Real Kevin and write about working on "Ghost Rider."

In 1982, I was a producer/director with Penn State Public Broadcasting when we signed a contract with the PA Department of Transportation to make a school bus safety film for middle schoolers. I came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay, which was originally titled "Cliffhanger." I also produced, directed, and edited the film.

Instructional films like this can be boring, so that's why we added a ghost, a bus crash, and romance. It's the last of these, I think, that makes the movie different. We turned a bus safety movie into a love story.

The school bus was donated to Penn State by a bus dealership in Lebanon, PA. It was used - almost a junker, really - but it ran well enough for our purposes. We filmed on it for weeks and on the last day we crashed it. It was pushed off a cliff by a front-end loader, and it didn't go willingly. It took a lot of nudging to make it drop. I wanted it to explode in flames on impact, but we had to work with Penn State's safety department on this and they wouldn't let us. We had to crash the bus "safely" (!), and this meant draining all the leftover gas from the tank and replacing it with water. We also had to remove the battery so the acid in it wouldn't be a hazard to the crew that salvaged the bus.

The cliff was in an abandoned limestone quarry that, as luck would have it, had become an auto recycling center, i.e. a junkyard. I told the owner, Ron, he could have the bus if we could use his cliff. Because the bus landed on its roof, the transmission and tires weren't damaged. Ron said he could sell them, and I was glad he got something for helping us out.

Right away I got in trouble with Penn State for giving away university property. Penn State has a salvage center for disposing of stuff it no longer needs, and I was chewed out for not using it. But they cooled down when I told them it would cost ten times more to drag the bus from the quarry to the salvage center than they could ever make selling it.

There are tons of actors in and around Penn State and its home, State College, but for the longest time we couldn't find the right person for the role of Kevin. Shooting was only weeks away, and every open audition had been a bust. Then someone suggested we contact Doug Edmunds, who they'd seen in rehearsal for a local production of "On Golden Pond." He read maybe half a script page for us, and we offered him the job. He was great to work with, as was the girl who played Tracy, although she was so embarrassed she wouldn't come to the premiere. Doug was in every scene, and he could make even bad lines work. ("Ghost Rider" has its share of bad lines.) He gave up lots of weekends in return for very little money. Part of his pay was driving lessons in my truck on the university test track where we shot most of the film, even though he was only 15.

The test track was miles from the quarry. The last thing I wanted was a bunch of kids running around a quarry with 40' cliffs, so we shot those scenes separately and joined them in the editing room. The crash happened on a cloudy day and the evacuation on a sunny day, and the shifts back and forth still bother me.

The scene in the kitchen with Kevin and his mom was shot during a real thunderstorm (not by choice) and we had to do lots of takes. The actors kept breaking up because after the line, "She died last year in a school bus accident" there'd invariably be a clap of thunder.

Here's some technical stuff for those who are interested:

We shot the bus going off the cliff with four cameras, and two of them malfunctioned. The main camera - the one that just had to get the crash from beginning to end - had a serious light leak. When I got the film back I saw huge flashes of light coming in from the left and right sides of the frame, and I was ready to jump off a cliff myself. We decided to fix the problem as best we could by projecting the film and shooting it with a lens that was zoomed in past the light flashes. (We did this on an Oxberry animation stand.) This magnified the grain pattern of the film, and so this footage looks a lot grittier than the stuff shot with the other cameras. But there wasn't much else we could do.

Also, the super-slow motion camera had a shutter problem, and the footage shot with it sort of flutters. Ironically, the stuff shot with our best, most expensive cameras turned out worst, and the best footage came from a cheap-o Bolex with a windup motor.

The major problem shooting on busses is that it's too dark inside and too bright outside. Film sees contrast like this very differently from the way your eye would see it, and it doesn't look good. So what we did was cut and tape filters to the outside of every bus window to reduce the amount of sunlight coming in. (For the techies reading this, they were neutral density gels, N.D. 6's with an 85 built in.)

To reduce the contrast even further, we lit the inside of the bus. Movie lights inside + reduced outside light did the trick. But lighting the inside of a moving bus wasn't easy. Where do you plug in? The cinematographer, Ned Faust, came up with a solution. We welded a trailer hitch to the back of the bus (which you can see during the crash. Real busses don't have trailer hitches, but ours did.) Then we attached a U-Haul trailer, inside which we put a gasoline-powered generator. It was noisy, but the noise of the bus engine covered it up. We then ran extension cords from the generator into the bus through open windows in the back. And that's where we plugged in our lights. I think we got the difference down to less than two f/stops, and this meant you could see detail both inside and out.

The special effects in the weight room were very low end. We used compressed air to make the curtains move spookily and to send the pamphlet flying through the air, and we shot both in slow motion. We used stop-motion photography to move the pliers down the bench. And to make the barbell rock back and forth by itself, we attached twine out of sight and pulled it one way and then the other.

The sad music at the end came from a music library. All TV stations have these so producers can find the kind of mood music they need quickly. We couldn't afford a composer.

I agree with most of the criticism on this website. I also cringe at some of the dialogue - and I wrote most of it. And I don't think we were imaginative enough in running the bus off the road. But I'm really happy that some viewers like "Ghost Rider," and that they took the time to say so.

Chuck Ungar

Offline Road_Element

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Re: Ghost Rider
« Reply #16 on: February 12, 2014, 03:57:27 PM »
Both ICWXP and Rifftrax version  of the short were really good. But I think the highlight of the ICWXP version was the Morgan Freeman Impression at the end.

Offline BathTub

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Re: Ghost Rider
« Reply #17 on: April 11, 2014, 08:02:25 PM »
Weeks? how the hell did this take weeks to film?

Enjoyed it, but totally saw the Nick Cage gag coming haha.