Sean Stone (son of Oliver) makes his feature directorial debut with Greystone Park, a found-footage flick inspired by his own experiences in an abandoned mental hospital. In this exclusive interview, Sean talks about haunted hallways, ghosts, and his famous dad.
Greystone Park is “based on a true story.” Of course, I need to know what that true story is.
The true story is really the one you see on-screen. You see the dinner table scene - that was the catalyst for this whole event. When my father was in New York shooting Wall Street 2, we all had dinner: my dad, Alex Wraith, me, a couple of friends. Alex was talking about Greystone, this haunted hospital. He had been exploring it for three years. He had taken his camera with him; he had been arrested a couple of times for trespassing. He was trying to document what was going on, trying to make a movie about it because he felt like it was such a rich location. He really convinced me it was worth exploring. The next night, he and I broke in. When we first went, I invited Antonella [who also appears in the movie], but she couldn’t come. As soon as we went through this first night of exploration, Alex saw a ghost, reacted to it, he appeared possessed, he kept taking us deeper inside... what happened was the groundwork for the story we wanted to tell. Then we wrote the script, but we kept going back and exploring, seeing more and more things happen: getting phone calls from demons; having things fly at us from nowhere; seeing people get possessed... the list goes on. What’s fun about the film is there is a script, but we are shooting in real locations that are actually haunted, so you’ll get things that happen, like Alex getting possessed on camera. I think that was real. That wasn’t part of the script. His behavior was beyond ordinary acting, and I think that translates.
Did you film in the real Greystone Park?
We couldn’t get permission to film there because the building is condemned. We ended up shooting in Letchworth Village in New York, which was a mental hospital for kids. We shot in Creedmoor in Queens, Snug Harbor on Staten Island, and Linda Vista in LA. All those are notoriously haunted locations.
What are some of the other events in the movie that are real - that were not scripted?
There is a sequence where Antonella and Alex are in front of me, in the basement. We are supposed to be reacting to sounds. They literally heard a scream for nowhere. I didn’t hear it, but they heard it. They started running and I caught up to them and they looked completely panicked. They go through ahead of me through a doorway, and they both take off screaming and running. I catch up to them, and Antonella is on the floor, crying. She saw a giant shadow that crossed her vision, and that is what made her run. Alex saw the same thing. Some may say their imaginations were acting up, but those are the kind of moments we have in the film that were not scripted that makes it fun to watch.
Is it safe to say you believe in ghosts?
Yeah. I believe in other dimensions.
You mentioned that this all began because Alex was trying to document the real Greystone Park. Will that ever make it to film?
Yeah. The problem we are having is that this film was a very difficult film to get made, across the board. It took three years. We started the process, we lost financing multiple times, so to get distribution is already a great triumph for us. Eventually, when I can get enough money together, I would love to take the real footage we have of the actual [Greystone Park] and turn it into a documentary. But that requires a certain amount of time, and right now I am focused on developing a new feature film, which takes away from my ability to work on the documentary. But yes, eventually I want that footage out there.
Maybe include it in the DVD extras?
Well, on the DVD extras, we already have some pretty cool stuff. There is a commentary with Alex and Antonella and I all talking about the film, what was real, what was staged, what it was based upon. We have two little featurettes on the real ghosts and hauntings and locations. So you’ll get some really cool footage.
What is the response you are getting from audiences? Do they believe it is real?
I don’t think anybody thinks that it is real documentary footage. I think we are at a point now where it’s “the boy who cried wolf.” You have The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, which were fake found-footage. Now you have a slew of wannabe found-footage films. So by the time a film comes out, they say, “e are not found-footage; we are based on actual events.” Everyone goes, “yeah, sure, whatever.” At the end of the day, I can’t convince every blogger that we lived this, that this is our story, but I think the film will stand on its own. If you watch it, and you feel creeped-out by it, you end up walking out of it and jumping at your own shadow, then it has done its job. It has activated something in you that is fundamentally afraid of the paranormal.
Why was this the right film to be your directorial feature debut?
There is a reason for everything. I have faith that there is a reason this became my first film. It wasn’t my intention. I had two projects I was developing, one of which was a surveillance footage film - like where you use surveillance camera footage to tell a story. The two films I was developing were nothing like this. I met Alex and we broke in to the hospital, and I knew this was a story I just had to tell. The location sold me. I was fascinated. That fascination drove me to making the film.
Was there anything about directing that took you by surprise? Anything that was more challenging than you expected?
That’s hard to say. Growing up with my father [Oliver Stone] who has made 14, 15 movies, and I’ve seen the hardship of it. I’ve seen him work on movies that fell apart in the process of preproduction, even just a few weeks before production was supposed to start. There is no guarantee you will get a movie made until it is done, and it has been released. The difficulties were really more financial, location, and strategical. Some of the buildings that we really liked were condemned, so we were limited by that. We spent a lot of time exploring, going from mental hospital to mental hospital to try to find the place that work for the movie. I think that was the biggest challenge.
Going to all those institutions did you feel a little mad by the end?
Oh, not by the end. By the beginning! But there was definitely a point where I could have cracked up. You’ll see that in the documentary. I almost lost it. It wasn’t just the film, it was the fact that we picked up energies along the way. We went to places where Satanists were worshipping for a reason. When Satanists open up a portal and practice black magic, you’ve got to know there is a dark energy there, and it’s going to follow you. Places like Letchworth where children died. There are stories of children being murdered in one of the houses we explored. That place actually ended up burning down. I can’t wait for the documentary - you can’t really fake a documentary, as much as skeptics will accuse us.
Growing up with Oliver Stone as your father, is that pretty much the best film school one could hope for?
Yeah, it is. The best experience was Fight Against Time [the documentary Sean shot about his father filming Alexander.] When I worked on Alexander, I was there for three or four months of filming, on location every day, just living it with my father, by his side with a camcorder, talking to him, seeing what a director goes through, the decisions he is making in the moment... that’s as good as they come.
Greystone Park is ow available on DVD and VOD.