How ‘Clara’s Ghost’ went from Kickstarter darling to Sundance standout

Patrick Lawrence Clara's Ghost
Patrick Lawrence
If you meet a woman named Bridey Elliott and notice she has a lot of photos of actor Chris Elliott around her home, there’s probably a connection you should make.

“Later when I found out that that was her father, it blew my mind, and I was so embarrassed,” film editor Patrick Lawrence told Digital Trends. Awkwardness aside, Lawrence went on to help Elliott with her first feature film, Clara’s Ghost, which debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

The project started as a Kickstarter campaign and stars Bridey; her father, Chris (Schitt’s Creek); her mother, Paula Niedert Elliott; and her sister, Abby (Odd Mom Out, Saturday Night Live). Set in the Elliott’s home in Old Lyme, Connecticut, the film follows the Reynolds family as they deal with their relationships and mother Clara becoming possessed by a ghost.

“The film because at face value, you’re thinking this is a Chris Elliott vehicle, and it’s really not. It’s Paula’s movie,” Lawrence said. “There’s the misconception that this is just a comedy. But it’s not. It’s also a family drama, and it’s also kind of a thriller.”

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Lawrence found his way to Los Angeles after taking a detour from college to tour with his band, Nothing Still.

“We were like The Killers before The Killers happened,” he said. The band was doing a radio interview, when the DJ played The Killer’s “Somebody Told Me” for them. “They beat us to the punch.”

After he finished his degree, he edited some short films, reality TV shows, and a feature film before moving to L.A. That’s where he met Bridey Elliott, on the set of her short film Affections — a.k.a., her apartment filled with photos of Chris Elliott. The film’s producer, Sarah Winshall, asked Lawrence to edit the short, which made it to Sundance in 2016.

He next met up with the Elliott family at their home during shooting for Clara’s Ghost. Chris and Paula stayed at a hotel while 25 members of the crew took over the home. For Lawrence, who had a bedroom in the house to himself, it was intimidating being around Chris Elliott, whom he’d grown up watching in Get a Life and Groundhog Day.

“He has had a huge presence in my life, so being around him was very nerve-wracking for me,” Lawrence said. “He’d come in the room and he’d start rubbing my shoulders…I loved every minute of it but even so, yesterday we were hanging out and I’m still just completely nervous around him.”

The film was on an incredibly tight deadline. They began filming in September 2017 and wanted to submit it for this year’s Sundance. Lawrence was editing on set but sometimes got distracted while working alone in the room.

“I constantly felt like somebody was standing behind me. I would turn around and nobody was there — and like I said, sometimes Chris would be there. But I would turn around and nobody was there,” he said. According to Bridey, the Elliott home might actually be haunted.

“They say write what you,” Lawrence added. “Bridey definitely wrote things that were based off of things that actually happened.”

The Elliott family home may actually be haunted, and it definitely was once a nut museum.

In the film, Clara’s ghost is named Adelia. She’s the daughter of the ship captain who built the home. After she had an episode and walked through town naked, her neighbors had her committed, and her father committed suicide. The house changed hands several times and at one point became the Old Lyme Nut Museum. This is all based on the Elliott home’s real history.

“You could go and there was this old lady that opened up her doors and you could see different types of nuts,” Lawrence said. “This is 100 percent true…That was an experience for me as an editor, working with possibly a ghost in my room watching the over the cut of the film that was somewhat based on her life. Or it was the ghost of the lady that owned the nut museum. Maybe I’m just completely wrong.”

For Lawrence, the tone of Clara’s Ghost can be summed up in a scene where Bridey, Abby, and Chris’s characters are in the basement holding a séance, while Paula’s character, Clara, is upstairs, possessed by Adelia, and trying to seduce family friend Joe, played by Haley Joel Osment.

Elliott family home

“Everything upstairs is really tense and spooky, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, and then I cut to these scenes in the basement where they’re just getting drunk and having a good time and making jokes about Mel Gibson,” Lawrence said. “The whole movie has to be tiptoeing on this line of, it’s a comedy but it’s also supposed to be kind of spooky.”

In addition to Clara’s Ghost, Lawrence was also at Sundance for another film: the short, Men Don’t Whisper. Originally airing on the Jash Network, the film was directed by Jordan Firstman, who wrote it along with his partner, Charles Rogers, the co-creator of and writer for Search Party.

The real-life couple also play one in the film. In the wake of an awkward moment at a sales conference, the pair decide to prove their masculinity by sleeping with two women. “As you can imagine it turns into a mess,” Lawrence said. “Being able to sit in a room with these guys and get into their heads and see how they were picturing the film, it was an incredible experience. They’re just amazing writers.”

This article is part of a series of reports from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Digital Trends was a guest of Adobe Premiere Pro during the event.

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