Ghosted is a story about a girl in love, but it’s not a love story. It’s a story about the pain of fluctuating between early hope and ultimate despair, the intoxicating revelation of love and the slow, crushing realisation that it’s not reciprocated. Based on her personal experience, Morgan Gruer’s Ghosted follows Grace, a twenty-something who has to deal with a broken leg and a broken heart. Perfectly performed, simultaneously serious and light, the short mixes live action and animation to find just the right scale and tone, never trivialising nor overstating the delicate feelings it explores. The result is a compelling and nuanced work of art. We were delighted to chat with Morgan about her inspiration, process and plenty more.
Was there a specific story or experience that sparked the idea for the film?
Ghosted was quite personal! After an unfortunate cliff diving accident (a story for another time…), I found myself on bed rest at my parents’ house recovering from hip surgery. Within the first week of recovery, I was ghosted by the man I loved. His sudden and uncharacteristic disappearance led me down a path of overthinking that escalated as the months dragged slowly on. Ghosted expands on this, as Grace’s circumstances slowly test her sanity and her well-being.
The animation brings the story to life by adding fun flourishes throughout, and that rotoscoped scene at the end is superb! Why did you decide to blend live action and animation, and how did you land on that particular style and design?
Animation has the ability to express a story in a way that is not possible with film, as it can show the way our minds ‘think’ and ‘feel’. Actions can be hyperbolized without the plausibility being questioned. As the film progresses, Grace’s isolation drives her to the deepest, darkest corners of her mind. We wanted to visually show this retreat as a place that felt far from reality, and animation felt like the perfect way to do this.
The animated phone language was actually decided just a few days before the shoot. While our Cinematographer Dustin Supenchek and I were drafting a shot list, we concluded that there was simply no artful way to film an iPhone. Dustin came up with the idea to execute the texts in hand-drawn animation, which ended up being the perfect precursor to the animated scene.
Animation has the ability to express a story in a way that is not possible with film.
Memory sequences are often too cheesy and overdone (a rather off-putting combo!), but you’ve cut together a dreamy montage which feels fresh, sensual and authentic. How did you go about shooting and editing these scenes?
The goal was to visually dissect the accumulation of different memories when our brains overthink. When describing the tone of this scene to our Editor Chad Sarahina I referenced the childhood game of “broken telephone”. If you’re not familiar with the game, you gather a group of people around in a circle and try to whisper the same sentence from ear to ear. The first person may start with “my ear hurts”, but the second person hears “my beer spurts”. The next person hears something different, and by the end, the final sentence is so unrecognizable that you’re not sure how you got there. This seemed like the perfect analogy to over-thinking.
Memories have the ability to bend toward our preferences, unconsciously but selectively choosing what we want to hear or believe. When diving into my memories, I realized that all of the signs of the situation were, in fact, there – I had just chosen to ignore the parts I did not want to hear. The goal with the montage was to peel away the layers of Grace’s selective consciousness and explore what lay underneath.
Grace could be seen as weak and even anti-feminist, yet her vulnerability makes her disarmingly charming and compelling. How did you shape her character to achieve that balance?
We didn’t want to portray Grace as a saint and Nick as a villain. Despite Grace’s affliction over being ignored, she subsequently does the same thing to the people in her life who care about her. After all, life is not black and white; people are not just good or bad. I am more interested in exploring the in-between moments, the grey zone that makes us human.
Our culture often tells us that “strong women don’t need a man”. While capable women don’t necessarily ‘need’ a man, is it anti-feminist for a woman to simply ‘want’ a man? One can be strong and independent but still crave companionship and connection. I don’t think it should be perceived as weak to admit that.
Grace deals with the physical pain of her broken leg as well as the psychological pain of being broken up with, and there are common threads tying the two (feeling trapped, angry, frustrated) into the ultimate parcel of misery. Why did you want to explore this?
During my recovery, I learned that the longer my body was sedentary, the more hyperactive my mind became. It’s ironic, almost – with a physical injury, one is prescribed clean plans of action for recovery. However, when the pain is psychological, there are no doctor’s orders of how to heal; there are no heartbreak pills or routine check-ups. It is harder to admit when you’re hurting, and even harder to learn how to move past it.
I am more interested in exploring the in-between moments, the grey zone that makes us human.
I wanted to explore the relationship between physical and psychological pain as I found it fascinating that their correlation has the ability to work both directly and inversely. I think this relationship is something to keep in mind during our self-isolation amidst the pandemic and remind ourselves that we need to treat our mental wounds the same way we tend to physical ones.
What’s next for you?
I recently completed another short film called Da Sola, that I plan to release in the coming months (a fully animated one!). In the meantime, I’m keeping busy with freelance work, building out my creative studio, and enjoying quarantine with my current man, who has previewed the film and wouldn’t dare ghost me 😉
Ghosted is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.