Sean Stone Talks Greystone Park, on Blu-ray and DVD October 16th
Anyone who listens to Alex Jones knows that Sean Stone is a very interesting and outspoken individual. He started acting in his dad Oliver Stone's films at a very young age, and has since grown into a prolific documentarian, director and writer who makes his fictional feature debut with Greystone Park, on Blu-ray and DVD today, October 16th.
While Greystone Park is a scripted thriller based on a true story, quite a few of the scares we see on screen came from actual events that took place during the shooting of this found footage hybrid. Sean not only writes and directs, but he also stars as himself, one of three filmmakers who set out to investigate the real life Greystone Park, an abandoned insane asylum located in New Jersey.
We recently caught up with Sean to talk about the film, and he regaled us with true stories of the Satanists that followed his co-director Alexander Wraith home after shooting at the actual Greystone location. Our phone line was interrupted by a demon of some sort. And we discovered that found footage is not a likable genre.
Here is our conversation.
How does a New Jersey asylum differ from your average lunatic asylum?
Sean Stone: (Laughs) Well, I guess because we are inside it! That's what makes the difference! (laughs)
(Laughs) You have your dad in the movie, and while I don't want to focus on your father, this is a found footage movie. I never hear anyone reference Natural Born Killers, which came before Blair Witch Project...But does Oliver acknowledge that he pretty much kick started this whole found footage movement with that film?
Sean Stone: You know what? I basically hate the whole found footage concept. It's meant to be this video that people found. But this is handheld, documentary style...
Okay, so Greystone Park isn't considered found footage?
Sean Stone: Yeah, but I think it is like Natural Born Killers. When we were working with one of our original investors, his take on the script was Natural Born Killers meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I never thought of it that way. Until we started cutting it, and I was like, "God, this is like Natural Born Killers." But does my dad realize he started the whole found footage concept? I don't know...In some ways he does. He knows that he is avant-garde, and that he pushed the limits of film styles. In a similar way, we didn't want Greystone Park to fall into the found footage category. That's why people didn't know where to put us. It's more like End of Watch than it is Paranormal Activity. Because it gives you the documentary style, base on actual events. But they are at a meta-reality level. Where, at the end, you are not quite sure if this is real, or a hallucination. Are we in the shadow realm? Are we in reality? (Laughs) Where are we?
Meta-realism. I like that term. Is that a new genre you guys are kicking off?
Sean Stone: Yeah. That was the word I used when we first started shooting the film. The DP kept asking me, "What is going on." My response was, "It's meta-realism, man. It's meta-real." Its handheld, it feels like a real film, with some recreations, but then it goes beyond that. We have a couple of third person points of view that are snuck in there. We call them shadow cams. You can see outside the characters, but where did that come from? Is that supposed to be the shadows looking in on our world? That is what we were playing with. Most viewers probably won't get it...
Loud static interrupts our phone line...
Do you hear that noise?
Sean Stone: Yeah, what is that?
bold It's not coming from here...I don't know what that is...
PR: What does it sound like guys?
Sean Stone: It sounds like someone being chain-sawed!
It's a weird noise I haven't ever heard before...
PR: I had you on speakerphone. I'll put you back on mute if there are any problems...
Now, to follow up on this concept of meta-realism versus found footage, I recently watched this movie that looked like it was "found footage", but we are never told the whose behind the POV of the camera operator. It's more of this omniscient eye looking in on the whole scenario, but you definitely feel the presence of the camera. It's almost its own character. Like the shadow people, maybe it's the POV of one of the victims...But watching that, and maybe you will agree or disagree, I realized that the audience is really becoming conditioned to this shooting style, where they accept it without explanation, on different levels.
No, actually, I was talking about this low budget horror movie called Rites of Spring. But End of Watch works that way too on some levels...
Sean Stone: There are news ways, we are seeing more handheld cameras in cinema, and there is a breaking down of the walls. Found footage has broken down the traditional walls of cinema. That is where we are now. People can make a movie on their iPhone. Cameras are readily available. So you have to find different means of telling your story, and being creative about it. The laws are changing. To me, it's a little odd. If you can't be classic in your approach, it makes no sense. Like End of Watch, why does the guy have a camera? But then we also have the camera inside, that is shooting the actual movie? The cameraman is not in the movie, so they create this third person, first person back and forth. What motivates that, right? There isn't a point of view that abides by any rules. But we are beyond rules. Now it's become, "Whatever it takes to tell a story."
That is why I brought up Natural Born Killers. I just watched it a couple of weeks ago. I hadn't seen it since it came out in 1994. But what you are talking about is what happens in that movie. We have Robert Downey Jr. with his camera, and we are seeing that POV through a great deal of the climax. Yet we also have the third person, omniscient camera eye looming about the action as well.
Sean Stone: Yeah, yeah, exactly. That's right. I mean, that's when the whole post-modern era kicked in. It became no-holds barred in the sense of how far you want to take this to tell a story. Even with Greystone Park, I think we were blurring the lines. The story follows a script in all the scenes, but in the course of shooting these scenes, things would happen inside the asylum while we were shooting. We would see an actual shadow person, and we would go running after it. The next thing you know, we are just rolling on this, and the actress is really crying. This wasn't scripted. This happened in the moment. We are capturing it. There is a documentary style to the film. But it fit perfectly with what we were going for, anyway.
I watched this with a couple of teenagers, and they never questioned anything that happens in the movie, in terms of that shooting style. I think the younger audience is just accustomed to this style of shooting nowadays. At this point, my point of view is that you no longer have to explain away the POV of the camera. The camera is what it is. I think the younger audience just accepts that without question...
Sean Stone: Yes, exactly, that is why the rules have changed. I hope the younger audiences enjoy this. We didn't necessarily want it to be a found footage movie, but we do want it to feel like you are going on a ghost hunt. Unless you have actually gone on one, it is a pretty cool experience. You do get the feel of what is going on inside this asylum. It is dark, you don't know what is going on. You are trying to react to things with the camera, and sometimes you don't realize what you are seeing.
The younger people I watched it with did enjoy that aspect of the film. You know, I find that when kids watch a movie, and they are still talking about it the next day, it is good. It did resonate with them in some way.
Sean Stone: Yeah, exactly. I hate it when you walk out of a movie and go, "That was great." Then you walk away, and it never comes up again. That is not a great movie, then!
Well, these kids were talking about Greystone the next day, so I think you did hit a nerve. Now, did you actually go and shoot this in the real institution upon which the film is based?
Sean Stone: Um...I can't say that we ever shot in Greystone. Maybe we broke into Greystone. We could not get the permits or permission to shoot there, so we had to find other hospitals. We shot at about five or six different haunted hospitals.
What about the old footage we see throughout the movie? Is this recreated footage, or is it archival footage? Because if it's recreated, it's outstanding...
Sean Stone: We did find that stuff in the archives. That is all archival footage, yeah. I don't think recreations ever match what you find in the archives. The irony is, if you pay attention, you will see one of the patients, Antonella, from the footage later on in the movie. That is the kind of detail that we put in. If you think about it, was Antonella ever really there? It's that whole The Shining concept that comes into play, but we kept it very subtle. We didn't want to be heavy handed about it. She is a ghost, but we also had that idea, that she is one of the patients shown amongst the archival footage.
Did you shoot any extra footage to help flesh out the real story behind this? Will we be seeing more of that on the Blu-ray?
Sean Stone: Yes, of course. The Blu-ray has some really cool features. The Blu-ray has our commentary, where we talk about what was real, and what actually happened to us during the filming of the movie. Which scenes inside the movie are actually happening, as opposed to what was scripted. You also need to watch the documentary, which shows a lot of the locations we went to, and you get a real sense of what actually happened to us. There is also an alternate ending, which explains what really happened to (co-direct) Alexander Wraith and I after we left Greystone. We decided to keep the film contained within the hospital. It leaves it to the audiences' imagination. But after we left, and finished shooting, Alex started to see Shadow People outside his house. I think they were actually Satanists. We played upon that at the end.
And you are telling me that this really happened?
Sean Stone: Yes, this is what really happened. He had a bunch of guys outside his house. Real shadow people...
When you say Shadow People, you are talking about these inner-dimensional beings who appear in our world as shadows, right?
Sean Stone: Exactly. Yeah.
This is something you believe in?
I often talk to filmmakers who make these types of genre movies, and they are quick to dispel that idea, and they make it painfully clear that they don't believe in such things. It's refreshing to hear you say you do believe in that...
Sean Stone: Yes. What makes this movie different is that we lived it. We didn't just go and make some found footage movie, then go, "Haha!" No! We actually went and explored, and experienced some stuff. I want to make it clear. This is a movie. We are telling a story, but some of this stuff happened. We're not just looking for some empty box, or some shit.
I need to go watch this alternative ending. Now, you think these people outside Alex's room might have been Satanists. Why would Satanists be coming to Alex's house?
Sean Stone: Because they worship at Greystone, and I think they may have been there that night. I think they saw our divers' licenses.
This is kind of creeping me out.
Sean Stone: I'm telling you, we have so many stories about our experiences, I could tell five more movies out of it. That was the hard part about making the movie, because which story do we tell? There was a scene in the script where we do run into Satanists, and we thought it was too much. So we decided to tailor it down, where there was just the fear of Satanists worshipping there, in the background. But yeah, in truth, Alex had run into Satanists at Greystone, and another one of the hospitals we were shooting at. Both of those are very active places. You see remnants of their presence. You see their markings, you see blood. The evidence is there, that they are having rituals. The first night, because it was October 13th, which is a Satanic holiday, they were inside. We heard footsteps, which gave us some indication that these people were inside. If they were inside, they would have known what we were doing. And Alex had been there before. Either they knew him, and looked him up from that, or they looked up his license plates, or they followed him. God, they were there for the next two weeks. He showed me this video of these guys. At first there were two guys, and then there were four guys, and they are standing on the lawn, chanting. It was like they were trying to cast a spell on him. Maybe they weren't even human. It was really strange.
And you have this all on video tape?
Sean Stone: Yes, he sent me the videotape he recorded in his room. One time I was with him. He was freaked out. Wouldn't you be if you had four guys chanting outside your room.
I haven't seen Satanists since I lived in Ashland, Oregon back in the mid-through-late 90s. What does a Satanist look like in 2012? Have they changed their decorum much?
Sean Stone: I've heard everything. Obviously they like to wear cloaks. On video, we only saw the shadow people. We couldn't see what these people actually looked like. As far as I understand it, Satanists can be anyone from 18-year-old kids to 40-year-old guys. I'm sure there are also businessmen and lawyers who also practice Satanism. But we can't tell which ritual they are trying to perform. There are the hardcore ones that go and worship at a place like Greystone, and then there are the ones that do it in more comfortable positions.
Going back to Ghost hunts, is that something you did as a kid?
Sean Stone: No, I never did it as a kid. That is why I was so curious to do it when we came up with the concept of this film. I was like, "Finally, I have been waiting for this all my life!' (Laughs) To go on this ghost hunt, we had our video camera, which was essentially our voice recorder, so we did try to pick up sounds, or whispers. But now, they straight up call us. I have gotten calls from 666 numbers so many times. I have voices that sound like demons talking to me. Who knows, it could just be Satanists or Sorcerer's messing with me.
This is all fascinating to me. It makes me want to go back and watch the movie again.
Sean Stone: Yeah, exactly. The more you know about what actually happened, you realize its such an incredible story. Some people think we are just crying wolf. But no, these are our experiences. It's true.