Director's Chair: Dexter Fletcher directs <I>Ghosted</I> for Apple TV+
Issue: March/April 2023

Director's Chair: Dexter Fletcher directs Ghosted for Apple TV+

Over the past few years, British director Dexter Fletcher has seen his career get turbo-charged, thanks to such acclaimed global hits as Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. His new film, Ghosted, streaming on Apple TV+, is a romantic action adventure starring Chris Evans and Ana de Armas that takes audiences on a wild ride around the world. The multi-faceted Fletcher started as a child actor, appearing in such films as Bugsy Malone, The Elephant Man and The Bounty before graduating to adult roles in both film ( Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Layer Cake) and television (Band of Brothers). He made his feature film directorial debut in 2012 with Wild Bill, and has since made a diverse slate of films, including Eddie the Eagle

Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, I spoke with the director about making the film, editing, dealing with the visual effects and his love of post.

Was this a nice change of pace from films about gay British glam rockers?

(Laughs) “Yeah, it was. I’m not saying that door’s closed, but I wanted to try something very different.”

So what sort of film did you set out to make? 

“Something big and brash and a lot of fun that was engaging and entertaining. I think I also wanted to get into a project that had a lot more visual effects that I could mix with practical and special effects, and I liked the idea of doing something on a very big scale. I always wanted to do an action movie, as I love films like Indiana Jones and Close Encounters, which really fired up my imagination back in the day. But it didn’t have to be fantasy-driven, just away from the music genre and biopic stories, and this afforded me that opportunity. It mixed it up, and there’s a good role reversal in it and a couple of good surprises along the way.”

Casting the right leads must have been crucial?

“Right, and Chris Evans and Ana De Armas are so good together. Evans isn’t so Marvel-ed out, not so Captain America. He’s far more down-to-earth. And she emerges as something wonderful, and I found all that really interesting and exciting.”

How early did you integrate post and VFX?

“With these kinds of films you have to start planning all the visual effects and post workflow right away, and it was all going on as we were shooting, as all that had to be integrated with our sets and all the locations. We built some very big sets, such as the market at night in Afghanistan, and then we had to add a lot of VFX to it to extend it and surround it. It was the same with the restaurant scene at the end. You can’t actually spin a restaurant, so it takes a lot of visual effects and practical stuff, and it was a nice marriage of the two. Same with the big bus chase — we tried to do as much of that as possible in-camera without injuring our movie stars, and then did the rest in post.”

Did you do much previs?

“We did, and that was all pretty new to me, as I didn’t really need it in most of my other films. We did do some visualization and drawings for Rocketman, but not previs per se, and I did some previs on some projects I developed that ultimately never got made, so actually getting to use previs on this was really enjoyable for me. I really like the process and would have liked to have done more. Not getting it all done made it all more difficult for sequences like the restaurant, for example. We had no previs for that and could have done with it.”

Talk about how you collaborated on the look with DP Salvatore Totino, as before you’ve worked with George Richmond, who’s shot all your films up until now.

“George wasn’t available, and I’d met Sal when I directed a couple of episodes of The Offer, the streaming show on Paramount+ about making The Godfather. He was the DP, and it was a great collaboration. When I got offered Ghosted, I talked to him about it. He got excited, and I ended up bringing him with me to shoot this. So he gave me a fresh set of eyes on this.”

How tough was the shoot?

“Very tough. We had script changes, actor changes — Ana took over when Scarlett Johansson had to drop out — lots of locations, and just 12 or so weeks to get it all shot. We prepped as much as we could, but there’s never enough time to prep or shoot or edit. The mantra I live by is: ‘You never finish. You just run out of time.’ But once we did the assembly, we had no pickups or reshoots, which is amazing for a film this complex and so full of action. I’m very proud of that.”

Where did you post?

“All in LA. We had offices on Sunset Boulevard and set up all the editing there [Pivotal Post provided the Avid systems], along with all the postvis effects team. That was great, as we had a very tight post schedule, so I could just move back and forth, and we could see how all the visual effects were shaping up, give notes and keep them moving forward. Because of all the work out there and not enough places that can do it, it’s not easy getting all the VFX done. We ended up using over a dozen vendors all over the world, including Labyrinth and Pixomondo. That means in post you end up with several VFX houses handling a series of shots that may not match and marry up correctly, so you need really good eyes watching all that. We also did some of the sound work there, and then we did all the scoring and music in LA too.”

Do you like the post process?

“I love it. As an actor, you never get to see that whole side of filmmaking, and now I can’t wait to get in the edit, and I’m very involved with every aspect of post. I’m there every day.”

Talk about editing with three editors — Chris Lebenzon, Jim May and Josh Shaeffer. How did that work?

“I got Chris Lebenzon to edit it, and I’m a huge fan of all his work. He’d just come off Top Gun: (Maverick), and he was the main editor. Josh was on during the shoot and doing the assembly, and then he went off to do King Kong, and Chris came on. But then he had to leave for a bit, so Jim came on to cover for Chris, and Jim and I worked together for a while until Chris was able to come back. So I had different editors for little bits of time, and it was a bit like keeping spinning plates going, but you need more than one editor with all the action stuff and set pieces in a film like this. It all went pretty smoothly in the end.”

What were the big editing challenges?

“It’s always about pacing and tone, and telling the story the best way you can. Our initial assembly was just two hours and ten minutes — not too long, and it was all working, which was great. There were all these moving parts — the action, the romance, all the locations, the twists and turns, and it really helped that this was the third film Chris and Ana have done together. They’re really good friends and they just have this wonderful chemistry on-screen. But dealing with all the action was a big challenge, because I didn’t have enough time to always previs it. 

“For instance, the restaurant sequence was the bulk of our shoot and the longest time we spent on any one set — about ten days. A lot of it, I was building as we went. I had a lot of shots and stuff planned, and sometimes they worked, but sometimes they didn’t. We had this big, long, elaborate Spidercam shot we did that just didn’t work in the edit. Chris took it out and cut into it, and created a whole other bit with the B-camera roll. It’s something I really love now, the moment where they start working together. And we have that great music track ‘Uptown Funk’ by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson. Fixing stuff like that in the edit is the big benefit of having such an experienced editor as Chris. He was like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s there, and I’m going to be able to find a version of it that’s maybe not what you initially visualized, but we’ll work with what we’ve got.’ And we had a great 2nd unit, led by Garrett Warren, who works a lot with James Cameron, and he shot the hell out of everything. I basically gave him carte blanche to go and shoot whatever he thought was fun and dynamic and interesting, so he gave me a wealth of material and really good extra coverage we could cut in as needed.” 

All the VFX play a big role. What was involved?

“There were a lot more to deal with than on my other films, and I like working with them, but I’m always aware of how you can lose authenticity and honesty in your film if you’re not careful with the visual effects. I had a great VFX supervisor, Mike Wassel, and we did all kinds of things, like reference Indiana Jones in the bus chase, and then use VFX to complement what we shot. I love the fact that we shot the whole Khyber Pass sequence in a quarry outside Atlanta, and then created all the Afghanistan mountains and landscape with VFX, and it’s totally seamless.”

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?

“We did it here in LA at Company 3, with colorist Sean Coleman. Sean did the DI with Sal on The Offer, so they already had a working relationship. The DI [is] very important to me, and Sean had to walk me through a lot of it this time, as I’m so used to doing it just for a normal theatrical release. But as this is a streaming movie, it’s a very different beast, and you have to bear in mind that people may be watching it on their phones or at home, so we did various versions of it with different definitions so I could understand how it'd look. I wanted it to look very cinematic and big-scale right from the start, and Sean did a great job in dialing in really rich colors, and the blacks are really dark and crunchy, and all that helps give it that edge and mood I wanted. I’m really happy with the way the film turned out.”