SDCC 2017: How Do You Win ‘Ghost Wars’?

If cast chemistry was an indicator of a TV series success, then Syfy’s “Ghost Wars” will be a hit. The panel and the round table interviews were studies in character comedy with Vincent D’Onofrio and Meat Loaf leading the way. The “Ghost Wars” team “want to make America scared again.”

Some audience members were surprised at the high level of special effects on the trailer, especially since there was very little CGI. The first 13-episode season will premiere this fall on Syfy in the US and on Netflix globally. 

The Saturday early evening panel featured D’Onofrio, Meat Loaf, Avan Jogia, Kandyse McClure, creator/showrunner Simon Barry, writer/executive producer Dennis Heaton, executive producers Chad Oakes and Mike Frislev. The premise will make you think twice about traveling in Alaska. Set in a remote Alaskan town that is only reachable a few months a year, the small town claustrophobia heightened by paranormal forces and prejudices. Local boy Roman Mercer (Jogia) sees ghosts and the ghosts are eager to make the acquaintance of the other residents in the least friendly way possible—by embodying everyone’s worse fears.

Meat Loaf said,  “Vincent has always deep down inside wanted to play a priest. In ‘Ghost Wars,’ he gets to play a priest. He gets to play a naughty priest and he likes that.”

D’Onofrio quipped, “I should take note of that,” but he also pointed out that he had previously played a priest (in the 1993 “Being Human”). 

Meat Loaf also claimed that D’Onofrio was his father in the show, but that apparently isn’t true  and while he didn’t have time to reveal it, Meat Loaf claims he has an hour-long backstory for his character Doug. What he could tell us is that Doug is angry with himself and this makes him seem angry at everyone in the town. More importantly, Doug is not afraid of the ghosts. 

Meat Loaf had long been a fan of Simon Berry and he felt that his character was written to well. “It’s on the page; it’s your job to find it,” he added. He further noted that if he reads a role  and “If I go: ‘How in the hell am I going to pull this off, then I take it.” His character spends a lot of time in jail. 

D’Onofrio was attracted to this project because of the psychological aspects. “It’s a social comment on a small town and all the relationships—where they were and where they get to because of these ghosts.” D’Onofrio explained, “With a small town in Kansas, you can still get to Kansas City, but we can’t get to Anchorage” at all times of the year. These people “are not weak; they are strong” because of they live in Alaska and just the weather, the ocean and the economy has forced them to be so. 

“Everybody changes; everybody’s affected. Good people get really good; bad people get really bad and a few people break through and surprise us.”

Jogia explained that he plays a young man who can see ghosts and when a “huge rift between the worlds” develops, his power then becomes a positive attribute and burdens him with a big responsibility. 

McClure admitted during the panel that she was flustered when she auditioned for a different part, but that on set everyone calls her “Kandyse Landis” since the plays Landis Barker. Landis is someone who isn’t exactly together and “We kind of catch her on her back and she’s finding her way out of a hole.”  McClure missed the Battlestar Galactia reunion panel. 

Jogia explained that Landis is “someone pining for answers, looking to find out what I know about the paranormal. I’m begrudgingly letting you know. I think he’s tired of it.”

McClure added, “We’re both marching toward the same destination, but from totally different sides” but as the series progresses they “align more and more” to face the ghosts. Of her character’s relationship with Jogia’s Roman, she said, “I also give you insight into who you are.”

Both expressed gratitude that they get to act with real people as opposed to “having to act with air or a ball on a c-stand,” McClure explained. When asked if the ball had a face, Jogia smiled and said, they “have a little smiley face for some scenes or a sad face it it’s a sad scene.” 

Because of the budgetary considerations for special effects, they noted that means more involvement with post-production crew members to talk about composition and framing.  

During the press round tables, Heaton noted the series is more like an anthology combined with a regular horror series because “each character gets their intimate haunt.” Both Heaton and Meat Loaf mentioned they had paranormal experiences, so the show is coming from a place of belief. Given the setting and the diverse cast, the show will deal with native culture. Heaton commented, “Definitely, when we’re dealing with First Nation aspects” we “involve them in the stories” as technical advisors to make sure they give realistic representations. Yet Heaton also noted that after the panel where one audience member expressed displeasure at the name of the series you can’t please everyone. 

Recalling a series he worked on where the lead was making a maiden voyage into directing and was worried about upsetting someone, he noted, “If there’s one thing the internet has taught us is that you are going to anger at least one person, probably a group and they probably have a Reddit channel.”

Best intentions are what this show is rolling on, but as for the end game, don’t expect a happy ending. Heaton said, “For myself…they are all going to die.” Now that may seem like a spoiler, but Heaton continued, “It’s kind of like ‘The Game of Thrones’ spoiler: They’re all going to die; it’s kind of written on the wall.” The question is, after all, “How do you lose a ‘Ghost War,’ or conversely, how do you win a ‘Ghost War’?”

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