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Friday, June 11, 2010

True Stories: Part Three

The Haunting in New York

Film is the most deceptive and artificial of mediums. Still images flash twenty four times a second to create the illusion of movement - images that are mechanically processed and digitally enhanced; images cut, spliced and juxtaposed to give the illusion of continuous time;
images shot of carefully crafted sets and talented actors ignoring hundreds of film technicians surrounding them as they pretend to be afraid of ghosts; images married to unnatural sounds and unsettling compositions, all designed to trick and manipulate the emotions of the gullible viewer. What can it possibly mean, then, when a movie claims that these fabricated images are based on something "true."

I recently finished a screenplay for
The Haunting in New York. The film will be part of the franchise that includes The Haunting in Georgia, which begins shooting this summer, and The Haunting in Connecticut released in 2009. The first in the franchise made 76 million at the Box Office based in part on the bold claim that its uncanny imagery and atmosphere of dread were "based on true events" – events experienced by Carmen Snedeker as portrayed by the author Ray Garton in the book In a Dark Place.

This caused some controversy, as some critics found the claims to "truth" absurd. Some elements in the film, such as the operatic climax and the backstory of seances and occult, were obviously fictional. And the veracity of Carmen Snedeker ‘s story itself was called into question by journalists and professional skeptics.

Never the less, after Carmen Snedeker saw the film, she burst into tears and told the producer, "that's my story." Despite the fabrications, exaggerations, and re-imaginings that where necessary to make a Hollywood movie, she felt the film was "true" to what happened to her. (read her illuminating interview HERE.)

Whether you liked The Haunting in Connecticut or not (critics for the most part didn't, but audiences for the most part did) it represented the "truth" of Snedeker's emotional experience, and did so in a way that, whether you believe in ghosts or not, maintained the dignity of her family, who honestly believe they encountered something supernatural.

This is the kind of truth I dug for when writing the third installment. There really was a beautiful but mute teenaged girl in a wheelchair who saw visions of angels and demons;
there really was a family harassed and stalked by a presence that seemed drawn to her, and these “events” really did culminate in a disturbing exorcism. What matters to me, in adapting this story, is not whether it can be scientifically proven to be “true,” but that the people themselves believe it was true and that the experience changed the course of their lives. The universal fears that are exposed in such a situation are so raw and authentic that they speak to archetypal “Truths“ that, for me at least, transcend skepticism.

So as I continue to write I will be aiming for "Truth;" not the journalistic truth of eyewitness reports and fact checking, and not some scientific revelation of what really happened because ultimately we can never know what
really happened, but rather a simulation of emotional and psychological trauma as it was experienced by real people - a small "truth" that may reveal deeper Truths...

... and of course, scare the living shit out you.