The making of “Backward Like a Ghost”

When I was asked to participate in the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest my husband and I were going through a difficult business transaction. The three-minute film was in response to my raw emotion at the tension that arises from a corporate culture which, on the one hand, tends to treat people as if they are unimportant throw-away items, and on the other as consumers who they want to woo and understand how to sell more to in the future. The film explores a brief roller-coaster ride, which reflects what I see as the sometimes hollow promises that humanity can make in the name of economics.

From a production standpoint, the clips that I used to compose the piece include some of the earliest moving images I shot, but never knew what to do with. My shooting spans as far back as ten years ago, to a week or so before editing the film.

The haunting water images that seem to appear as a canal were actually shot in Istanbul on a ferry ride. My husband, a Turkish native, introduced me to the ferry on my first visit, and we took it again on numerous subsequent visits. The Bosphorus is a huge, engulfing sea where tankers are as close as your nose, and the only other place I’ve experienced this is sailing in New York harbor. On one of my trips I finally had a camera to capture the birds that follow the ferry back and forth. I was always mesmerized by how close the birds came to the boat, as if they were repeatedly trying to tell the weary travelers something important, yet no one listened. The juxtaposition of the large tankers and the very tiny boat going backwards at the beginning of the film represent my feeling about the David-and-Goliath experience people have with the corporate culture they experience, but try to show a blind eye to until they personally rub up against it, sometimes with devastating effects.

Some of the push-pull tension in the abstract portions of the film and the sound effects provide bridges, that are what I used to transition from my feelings of getting the “run-around.” The balloons, also shot in Istanbul, were used as my celebratory image of finally being over with the ordeal, and the very first and last shots are representative of those firing synapses that we feel when we go shopping, but more often than not prove to be brief, illusory happiness until the next fix.

The people in the piece were shot on 14th Street in Manhattan with a small Flip camera while I was waiting to meet a client for dinner. I was standing against a wall outside Whole Foods, and was amazed that while I was holding up a camera and shooting, people were standing and passing by without even noticing me. I was shooting without interruption for about 10-15 minutes and felt like a fly on the wall. A young guy with his back towards me was less than two foot away, waiting for his girlfriend. A few minutes after they met up, another woman came gliding in between us. I placed her with footage that I shot of a kid’s jungle gym that softens the blow by being “pretty in pink.” I feel these shots eerily represent how we bump up against each other, yet unwittingly don’t realize or care about the damage caused.

It is interesting to find that Amy Miller’s winning poem is not that different from what I was trying to explore myself. Often immigrants come to America, the land of opportunity, for its great economic benefits, yet for some it promises little. Do we live in a world where money is more important than we are? It’s a subject I wrestle with, but have no answers.

Watch the finished film at Moving Poems (and read Amy Miller’s own, fascinating process notes). —Ed.


  1. Reply

    […] (15 Nov.): Read Ersolmaz’ short essay “The making of ‘Backward Like a Ghost’” at Moving Poems […]

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