Just about 2 years ago, in winter 2014, I was scouting locations for AVA’S POSSESSIONS, a film I wrote and directed about a girl recovering from a demonic possession, who attends a support group for victims of evil spirits. I was meandering alone around Brooklyn, taking photos of storefronts and alleyways near the main location we had secured to use as Ava’s apartment. One block away, I passed a “metaphysical boutique.” It was the perfect spot to shoot the black magic store that Ava visits in the film. There, the main character, Ava, played by Louisa Krause, purchases a spell to summon a demon from a witch played by Carol Kane.
Months later, on the day we filmed that scene, I heard that the owner of the metaphysical boutique had warned several of my crew members that the demon we were portraying, Naphula, was angry because he was not being respectfully represented in the film. I found this ironic, since I specifically chose Naphula because there was very little written about him online. So if a viewer googled “Naphula” after watching the film, they’d find that he exists, but not much more to contradict anything we had shown. And considering his lack of visibility, (in the unlikely event he is real) I would have thought Naphula would be grateful for the attention.
Needless to say, the owner of the metaphysical boutique had the credibility to spook everyone on set. No one wanted to tell the director that they were beginning to actually believe that the film we were making was somehow leaking into real life, but the warning spread through the crew fast and inevitably made it back to me.
A series of accidents followed. A grip banged his head on a C-stand and had to be taken to the hospital. A guy in the art department cut his hand while making a prop, resulting in stitches. Soon, a can of soda spraying everywhere or gum sticking to someone’s shoe would set off whispering: “It’s the demon.” I noticed people in the camera department passing around little bundles of sage. When I questioned them, they looked at each other apprehensively until one of them spoke up. “It’s for Naphula. So he won’t hurt us.”
The injuries and unfortunate mishaps continued. I alone seemed immune, as people fell off bicycles, tumbled down stairs, broke up with boyfriends and girlfriends. One of my most trusted producers on set eventually asked me to change the name of the demon. “Just make something up— something fictional.” But we had already filmed the actors saying Naphula’s name—and on an 18-day indie shoot, there is no time for do-overs.
I found myself assuring everyone: since I had written the script, then I alone was responsible, and that Naphula would come after me, if anyone. I didn’t really believe this myself, but it seemed to comfort the worried, weary-eyed film crew. I didn’t really believe any of it. Every low budget shoot is plagued with mishaps and disasters. From my point of view, we’d actually had tremendous luck during this production—bizarre coincidences that had allowed us to get some amazing shots that we never could have planned for. I argued that since the message of the film is ultimately quite respectful towards demonic forces, that maybe Naphula was in fact helping us make the film better, not hindering us. Maybe Naphula was protecting us from worse accidents. After all, when a crew member fell off his bicycle and got side-swiped by a taxi, wasn’t it kind of a miracle that he walked away with only a bruised elbow?
As writer, director, editor and producer, I’m used to being the first to show up and the last man standing. A year after production is over, I’m still focused on finishing the film, finalizing contracts, following up with state tax credits, arranging test screenings, negotiating distribution, handling insurance policies. And on this film, particularly, there have been some tense, scary moments. In the back of my mind, whenever something went horribly wrong, or when disaster seemed imminent, I wondered if maybe the demon is real after all, and that Naphula is taking his time with me, not through physical injuries during production, but through psychological torture in the form of contracts, lawyers, agents, lenders, auditors and censors. Or maybe, he’s the one who helped such a small indie film get made against all odds, with a great cast, a great crew and global and theatrical distribution.
Either way, I would say that making this film turned me into a believer.
-- Jordan Galland, NYC. 2016