When does the pursuit of a life-long dream slip from being a laudable ambition into an unobtainable mission of self-deception? And for those who share their lives with these dream chasers, is it ever reasonable to ask them to walk away? This tension between the future possible and present practical plays out in Manes Duerr’s high octane drama Ghost of a Chance as a couple expecting their first baby clash over their differing priorities. A story which will resonate with anyone who’s questioned the sanity of pursuing a passion, Duerr explains how he and his Vienna-based collaborators brought this film across the finish line.
We started working on the script for this project in Spring 2018. I collaborated with my fellow Vienna-based friends and colleagues Jakob Pietsch (AD) and Michael Schindegger (DoP) to create a snapshot of a crucial moment in a couple’s life/relationship. The constant moving of the race car in circles on the oval track became a metaphor for chasing a dream while also being stuck at the same time. You can easily swap the racing with any other job where people want to fulfil themselves – sometimes at any price. In the end, the story became a kind of a mixture of our personal experiences.
After a quite intensive start, we had to let things slide a bit due to our jobs. Also, we weren’t sure where to shoot. We definitely wanted to set everything in a rural environment and let the story play in this (for us) exotic world of amateur stock car racing. During a commercial job in LA, I had time to scout a race track in Willow Springs and immediately fell in love with it. I pitched the project to Slim Pictures, my US representation and they were ready to support me, which was super exciting and of course motivating!
So, Michael, Jakob and I, together with my sister who was a PA on this project, went to LA last January to prepare the final steps together with Vanessa Elliot the local producer. The final casting decisions, costume, the race car and finding all locations but the race track were still to be determined. And I remember us working on the script until the last day before the shoot…
The right stock car was especially hard to find. It was just before the start of race season and many owners were afraid that it would get damaged during the shoot. Those cars are mostly built by the owners themselves over many long hours and they often put a lot of their own private money into them. This meant that lots of them insisted they would only do it if they drove the car themselves. Due to insurance, legal but also professional reasons, this is almost never possible in film as a precision driver is needed to drive the car. Finally, we were able to convince the owner of our hero car to hand his baby over but only because we were lucky and coincidentally the hired precision driver was his ex-father-in-law.
Finally, we had three shooting days – one at the race track and two days in the house, respectively around it. On the race track day, we wanted to generate as many shots as possible so we used two cameras. Michael Schindegger, the DoP, was doing hand-held B-Roll stuff with the male actor as well as static shots and pans of the race car, while I was with another camera operator in the pursuit vehicle doing the car shots. This way we were also able to get the most out of the beautiful evening light which clearly doesn’t last too long.
The constant moving of the race car in circles on the oval track became a metaphor for chasing a dream while also being stuck at the same time.
Our only studio location was the hospital as it turned out to be impossible to find a real hospital or doctor near the house location which would allow us to shoot. But this was LA and so we found this almost ready to shoot hospital studio set-up. The house was situated in the middle of an almost desert-like area but with lots of green right next to it, almost like a little oasis. This way we were able to have some location variations without moving or travelling too much. Nevertheless, our schedule was tight but the crew was super dedicated so we managed to shoot everything we had planned and even more. I think almost everything ended up in the film, we only had to kill one scene.
I remember this little shock-moment when the whole crew arrived at the race track on the first shooting day and saw all these workers tarring and fixing the tarmac. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding with the dates but eventually we convinced them to leave the track. I loved the run-down look of the track so fixing it was the last thing I wanted, much less on the day we had to shoot. We shot on Arri Mini with Todd AO anamorphic lenses and for the race track day, we also had a camera pursuit vehicle just to be faster as it would have been impossible without it.
The post production happened in NY and Chicago. Editor Alvaro del Val (who I had worked with before on various commercial projects) is with WAX New York where we were also allowed to work. They all were super helpful and supportive as was Maria Carretero who was remotely grading in Chicago where she was based then. The rest of post (sound design and music composition) happened in Vienna. We wanted something unusual for the music score, nothing too dull and especially nothing too exaggerated. Composer Arnulf Rödler used this old zither from his grandmother as the basic instrument for the whole score and I think there are also some glasses he was hitting and recording.
This was a very challenging project but also one with lots of freedom so I really loved working on it, especially together with this committed team and some of my dear friends.