The Frighteners: Production Notes

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"The Frighteners" has a very non-Hollywood pedigree in that it was conceived and produced entirely in New Zealand. The physical production lasted over six months and was necessitated by the enormous number of bluescreen set-ups needed to incorporate more than 400 computer-enhanced effects.

"It stretches the bounds of computer graphics and storytelling," says Zemeckis, noting that this was the first time, a film with state of the art visual effects was completed outside of Hollywood.

Headed by Special Effects Supervisor Wes Takahashi, the team spent more than a year creating the tools that helped Peter Jackson to tell his story effectively using both human and supernatural characters.

Zemeckis became involved with the project after Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh pitched him a two-page story outline. Zemeckis loved the concept and described the subsequent screenplay as "wildly scary and funny" with an inventive combination of horror and humor.

Says Jackson, "Bob was very supportive of the project and has been there every step of the way. He was attuned to the kind of film I envisioned: a supernatural thriller slash black comedy. We wanted to make sure we had the right amount of balance between the shocks and laughs and the result was a roller coaster ride of a movie that audiences can just jump on and enjoy."

It was Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures" that helped lure Michael J. Fox, who saw the film in Toronto after being approached by Zemeckis and Jackson to star in "The Frighteners".

"After I saw "Heavenly Creatures", I told Peter, 'Yes, yes, I'll do whatever you want,"' recalls Fox. "I was really attracted to the weirdness of "The Frighteners" script and it seemed too tempting to pass up. It presented a lot of challenges because I'm interacting with elements that aren't there. Most of the pieces of the puzzle come together later through special effects."

Commenting on Fox's performance, Jackson says, "Michael has a really interesting edge to him in this role that I find fascinating to watch. I think audiences are going to be quite surprised. He has been a collaborator during the whole creative process, from start to finish."

The physical demands of the shoot put Fox out of commission briefly with a foot injury, which the star shrugged off with, "Pain is temporary, film is forever."

Fox's co-star Trini Alvarado reveled in the film's action scenes, saying "I really enjoyed being a woman who gets to throw a punch. Lucy's not passive - she goes for it."

Says Jackson, "Trini was involved in some very intense and physical sequences and she was quite proud of showing me her bruises from the previous day's work. She also has many scenes where she watches Michael's character relate to ghosts she can't see. I was impressed with her skill in responding to his reactions and establishing empathy and emotional attachment between their characters."

Extensive make-up effects were required to prepare the ghostly actors for each day's filming; John Astin, best known for his role as Gomez on TV's "The Addams Family", spent five hours in the chair each morning receiving make-up effects designed by Rick Baker, an Academy Award-winner for "Ed Wood".

Says Astin, "The Judge is an Old West character who's definitely seen better days. Even ghosts fall apart eventually. Riddled with worm holes, the Judge's old bones protrude from his tattered clothes. But, it's not easy to look that dilapidated. When the Judge appears on screen, it's a 40-person creation from wardrobe to make-up to special effects. In all my years in show business, nobody's ever done anything this elaborate to my body before."

According to Jackson, one of the film's other highlights is the work on Jeffrey Combs as FBI agent Dammers, an unusual man who possesses an extreme dedication to his job.

"Dammers is somewhat twisted, even for an FBI agent," says Jackson. "Jeffrey's performance captures his eccentricities in a powerful fashion. Suffice to say, you would think twice about breaking the law if you knew the consequence was having Dammers in your face."

It's no picnic having Cyrus, the ghost with attitude, in your facial vicinity either. Being dead is a lifestyle adjustment he's still having trouble with.

"Cyrus is a sarcastic complainer who has found just as many things to bitch about as a ghost as he did while a human being," says Chi McBride, who cut his comedic bones on The John Larroquette Show. "Cyrus died in 1975 and is not too happy about still being draped in those clothes. Remember that the next time you put something on. If you die in it, you may be stuck wearing it for a long, long time."

For Peter Jackson, bringing this nightmarish vision to the screen is a dream, and scream, come true.

"Working with Bob Zemeckis and the caliber of this cast in my home country in New Zealand has been an unbelievable experience," he says. "We're making a ghost story that takes so many twists and turns you begin to believe anything is possible. And everything is scary. Fear, like your imagination, has no limits."

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