Coming to Sundance two years ago with her first short film, Affections, writer/director Bridey Elliott graduates this year in her return to the festival with Clara’s Ghost, her feature directorial debut.
The supernaturally-tinged drama follows actor Ted Reynolds (Chris Elliott) and his homemaker wife Clara (Paula Neidert Elliott) who welcome their twenty-something daughters (Abby and Bridy Elliott)—a pair of former child stars—back to their Connecticut home. There, dysfunction and strange happenings prevail, as a specter only Clara can see urges her to confront her self-centered family.
Clara’s Ghost is an unusual piece in a number of regards. A contained piece shot in the real family home of the triple threat talent, the pic was a “family affair” in every sense, with Bridey directing her own father, mother and sister for the first time. Secondarily, there was an element of meta-fiction, with the film’s commentary on life within a show biz family, a reality Bridey knows well.
While Bridey’s father and sister—Saturday Night Live alums Chris and Abby Elliott—are well known for their onscreen work, the filmmaker’s mother had less experience. And yet, hers was the character the film centered on. Knowing the unpredictability of show business, Paula didn’t expect the film to get made. But “as it got closer and I realized it was going to happen, I gave [Bridey] complete permission to fire me if I sucked,” Paula explains.
Appearing with Paula at Deadline’s Sundance Studio yesterday were Bridey, Chris and Abby Elliott, as well as co-star Haley Joel Osment—a de facto adopted son during the length of the production. Bridey explained the genesis of the project, which emerged from the fusion of several ideas. “I was working on a pilot that I had in mind for my dad and I to act in together that was sort of based on Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal and their kind of strange, weird relationship,” the director said. “It was kind of a fuse of that idea and this idea I had for my mother, who’s a very proud Iowan, and sort of has another life in Iowa that we don’t really know about.”
For more from Deadline’s conversation with the Clara’s Ghost ensemble, click above.
The Deadline Studio is presented by Hyundai. Special thanks to Calii Love.