I was recently given the opportunity to interview the Ragsdale brothers, Rich and Kevin, director and producer of Ghost House, the 2017 paranormal horror flick that’s been receiving a massive amount of fan interest.
Rich Ragsdale graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston with degrees in both composition and film scoring. After completing his graduate studies at USC, Rich went on to score some of television’s most popular sitcoms including Will and Grace, According to Jim, and King of Queens, plus many commercials and video games for FOX Interactive, EA and Vivendi-Universal.
In 2005, Rich directed a horror film, The Curse of El Charro, which was bought by Paramount/Showtime. Rich has directed over twenty music videos for artists such as Sean Lennon, Blues Traveler, 311, and Avicii with Lenny Kravitz. Rich continues to compose for movies including music for David Mamet’s Edmond, the Sundance award-winner Big River Man and Tribeca Film’s release The Giant Mechanical Man. Most recently, Rich has been able to combine his talents in a big way by both shooting the original pitch pilot and writing the theme song for AMC’s reality title Freakshow.
Kevin Ragsdale is a producer and an actor from Nashville, Tennessee, and holds an MBA from Chapman University in Orange County, CA. Kevin co-founded Pretty Dangerous Films in 2003 and produced ten motion pictures including Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of David Mamet’s Edmond starring William H. Macy and Julia Stiles; Paramount/Showtime’s horror release, The Curse of El Charro; and Asia Argento’s adaptation of J.T. Leroy’s The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things with a cast that included Peter Fonda and Winona Ryder.
In 2006, Kevin founded KNR Productions with his brother, Rich, and continued producing music videos, commercials, web content and feature films. KNR has since visited the Sundance film festival twice with the films Phantom Love and Big River Man. Kevin is also an Executive Producer on Amy Heckerling’s latest film, Vamps, starring Sigourney Weaver and Alicia Silverstone. Ghost House is the second feature film he has created in collaboration with Rich
How did you get into filmmaking?
Rich: I began my career as a composer, working mostly in television and video games. In my spare time I began studying photography which ultimately led to me creating these weird little experimental films. One short went on to win several awards and screen in a bunch of festivals, so I decided, what the hell, I’ll give this filmmaking thing a go.
Kevin: I got into filmmaking not long after I finished my MBA at Chapman University. While at Chapman, I met some film students and helped out on a couple of their short films and was like, “Why am I not doing this instead?”
Rich, you mentioned working on music videos in your past… do you miss that? Are you still involved in that industry?
Rich: Yeah I still direct music videos, though our output has fallen off a bit due to the movie. In the last year we’ve managed to do videos for 311, Chevelle, as well as indie bands like Hotel Sex and Echo Park Social Club. I love videos, they give you a place to experiment with different techniques and looks and get PAID for it! Also Kev and I are both musicians so we like working with bands – they are our people.
Is this your first feature, and first co-directing debut?
Rich: Technically it’s not my first feature as a director, though I think of it as kind of my opus 1. Being a self-taught filmmaker, I feel like I’ve gone to film school in public. Most filmmakers get to make all their mistakes and develop their skills in school and nobody ever sees their work after the graduate, but my earlier efforts still haunt the internet and late night cable. Ghost House in many ways is the culmination of everything I’ve learned up to this point.
Kevin: Rich did the directing. His first movie was a million years ago called The Curse of El Charro. I’ve produced and been involved with a lot of different productions over the years. I certainly like it the most when it’s a straight up KNR production, though.
Ghost House is a pretty amazing piece of work. How long did filming take, and did you envision the final outcome?
Rich: I think we shot for twenty-four days in Thailand. It was tight as almost every day was a new location, and if we didn’t make our day even once, we wouldn’t have a movie. To insure we could pull it off, we had to plan things out very meticulously. I storyboarded almost everything. Despite our very low budget, we tried to be very ambitious with the scope of the film and it’s look.
Please tell me about your previous projects.
Kevin: I’ll give you some highlights: The Heart is Deceitful (which was shot primarily in our home state of Tennessee) was the first film I worked on that premiered at Cannes. Rich and I worked with one of our idols, Stuart Gordon, on David Mamet’s Edmond. We went to Sundance with Nina Menkes’ Phantom Love and then again with the documentary Big River Man about a hard-drinking man from Slovenia who swam a large section of the Amazon river. As mentioned, Rich directed The Curse of Charro which was released by Showtime and Paramount (and had Lemmy from Motorhead in it!). Got to work on Amy Heckerling’s film Vamps – shot in Detroit… very cool. Too many music videos than people want to hear about… and it all leads up to our latest KNR production: Ghost House!
Is horror your favorite genre?
Rich: Of course, we love horror. I don’t know if I can pick a favorite genre, but I am drawn to dark material. The great thing about horror is it allows you to pull in dark, often surreal stylistic elements and no one bumps on it. Even in a very mainstream horror film there is room for strange ideas, weird visuals and techniques.
Kevin: Yes, we pretty much grew up on horror movies and read all the cool old horror and monster magazines. As I got older I began to appreciate silent films and foreign films. Like Rich, the stranger the better for me. Nowadays the genre doesn’t necessarily matter as long as you incorporate some magical realism in there somewhere.
If you could choose anyone in the world to work with, who would that be?
Rich: We’ve already gotten to work with so many cool people! As a composer I’ve worked for greats like Stuart Gordon and Kenneth Anger. Hell, we once put Lemmy in a movie! If I had to pick someone who I’d love to collaborate with it’d be co-composing a score with John Carpenter, or maybe getting coffee for David Lynch on one of his sets.
Kevin: Yeah, John Carpenter for sure.
You obviously American, but filmed this in Thailand… I’ve noticed a huge following for Thai-filmed movies. Was there anything specifically that led you to create this movie over there?
Rich: There were number of things that informed the decision to shoot in Thailand. We’ve spent a lot of time over there and are very familiar with the culture. It’s a beautiful, magical place with a very cinematic landscape. Kev’s wife is Thai and has a huge extended family over there. It’s also a big hub for production in South-East Asia, so the crews and film infrastructure is really strong there. Besides it’s so much more interesting than shooting a movie in Burbank. And the food is great!
Kevin: My wife has a family home in Bangkok so from a producing standpoint I was like, “We’ve got a free place to stay” – that was a good enough jumping off point for me.
The Ghost House theme is based upon small shrines that require offerings to ward off evil spirits. It is so convincing – who came up with this storyline?
Rich: Ghost houses (or spirit houses as they are often called) are ubiquitous in Thailand. We were visiting Thailand several years ago, staying out near the jungle, when I took my girlfriend for walk to help her get over her jet lag. she and I came across a clearing where the locals had thrown away all their old ghost houses. It was like a graveyard for these broken, weathered little shrines! We began taking pictures and poking around and it occurred to us that this was maybe a bad idea (but maybe a great idea for a supernatural horror flick!) Once we were back in the states, Kev and I used this experience as jumping off point for our initial concept, and since ghost houses haven’t really been featured in any American films, we thought it was a really cool mythology to build a story around. We also based a number of things in the film on stuff that happened to us and people we met over there.
Kevin: Rich had the initial idea of a tourist couple in Thailand discovering the ghost houses and we sat down and shaped the story and it’s structure. Like Rich said, we based a lot of things on our experiences over there and we also were constantly consulting Leela (my wife) and her family about historical and cultural things that we wanted to make sure were right.
What’s your favourite scene in Ghost House (without giving away any spoilers)?
Rich: The end sequence is a personal favorite. Besides the ancient temple we shot in, we got to do a lot of cool practical effects. We built a prosthetic puppet head version of our ghost that we could manipulate in inhuman ways and then we set it on fire. We also have a brief little psychedelic interlude in the middle of the ritual that really reflects the kind of DIY stuff I like to do. It combines animation and macro shots if things like cut up chicken hearts I bought at the Japanese grocery store. It was our attempt to show an exorcism from the inside of Scout’s character.
Kevin: I like when Jim meets that handsome, drunk tourist and tries to get him and his wife to go see the ghost houses…
Tell me what a day-in-life of a Ragsdale brother is like?
Rich: Right now it mostly consists of trying to get our next project going.
Kevin: Hustle. Argue with Rich. Hustle. Argue with Rich. Go see a movie. Pick up my kid from school. Watch cartoons.
How well did you two work together on Ghost House? Brotherly love?
Rich: Mostly brotherly love… occasionally brotherly fisticuffs!
Kevin: When Rich would do exactly what I would tell him to, we were generally good. Unfortunately, that wasn’t very often. Actually, being in such a cool place like Thailand made it pretty easy to get stuff done because we both knew that we were getting to do something extremely cool and that we were lucky to be doing so.
Who are some of your influences in film? (actors, directors, producers, stuntmen, cameramen, etc.)
Rich: That’s a hard one! As a filmmaker I’m influenced (or maybe I should say inspired) by everyone from Kubrick to Carpenter to David Lynch to Tod Browning to Sam Raimi – really too many to mention! These guys are giants! If I had to pick a favourite stuntman, I’d probably say Buster Keaton.
Kevin: So many. Starts with Dreyer and Lang for me and goes from there. Of all movies, Escape From New York had the most profound effect on me because it was the first R-rated movie I saw in the theater when I was arguably too young to watch it. I got lost in that world Carpenter created and, much to my detriment, was in awe of and tried my best to adopt that “President of what?” attitude Snake Plissken had. Never quite worked in my favour…
Please share your proudest moment in your career.
Rich: Ghost House is a really high point for us. Despite having very little money to make this movie, we went half way across the world with a small cast and crew of dedicated, talented people, and with the aid of a great group of Thai artists and technicians we put together a little movie that has exceeded everyone’s expectations. We’ve opened wide in theaters all over Asia, often topping the box office. It’s been a crazy, magical ride!
Kevin: The proudest was just recently when the Thai distributor let us know that they were giving Ghost House a wide theatrical and Rich and I went over for press. We got to hang with some of the other producers and crew and then came home for a screening with a lot of the L.A.-based cast and crew. That was all awesome. I’m very proud and grateful to have worked with a lot of great folks and made something that we think is cool. Oh, and then we found out we came in #2 in the box office over there on opening weekend behind some haunted doll movie.
Rich: Hard to say. In pre-production we were trying to put Ghost House together and had very little interest or support here in the States. It was very demoralising. That was a real low point, but we soldiered on!
Kevin: Oh, man…there’s a couple of movies I’ve been involved with that I would like to forget or at least take a mulligan on. For example, when a director decides that the ancient mummies in the film are going to be proficient in kung fu…you know you’re kinda fucked and it’s time to start drinking.
What is up next for you?
Rich: I just shot a little secret horror project I can’t talk about yet! But you’ll be the first to know! Other than that we are developing several projects, but it’s a little early to discuss them.
Kevin: Looking for money. Shopping projects with zombies and werewolves and demons. If anyone is interested in seeing Ghost House 2 come to life, hit us up!
What advice would you give to a young filmmaker just starting out?
Rich: Go big, or go home. Oh… and make sure you rent Ghost House!
Kevin: Hurry up and figure out how to make whatever the f*ck it is you want to make because that whole thing about time being the most valuable commodity ain’t no joke.
Thank you both for your time, candidness and above all… your great sense of humour. I love Ghost House and can’t wait to see your next project!
Interview by Meredith Brown, HORRORPEDIA © 2017
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