Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Art film set in 1950s captures ‘ghost’ of years gone by

Matthew Mandarino’s film ‘The Ghosts’ appears to have been shot on grainy, black and white 16mm reversal film, however the film was completed with his crew, self-titled The Teenage Head, a mere two years ago.[/media-credit]

They say there’s no better way to learn something than to try it yourself.

That’s what University of Wisconsin senior-turned-film-producer Matthew Mandarino discovered firsthand when he and his childhood friends – a group self-dubbed “The Teenage Head” – decided to make a film.

The final product would be “The Ghosts,” a nearly 15-minute long “teenage fever dream” that tells the story of a girl who falls in love with the leader of the new, cool gang in town: The Ghosts. Told from the point of view of the girl in question, we witness a brief, highly stylized story featuring ’50s imagery, black and white footage, dreamy music, leather jackets and a sinister plotline, all of which come together to “tell a full narrative story in a short 15 minutes,” as Mandarino said.


The inspiration for the film came from a drawing created by Mandarino’s friend, Eddie O’Keefe, who attends graduate school at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and would direct and appear in the film as a non-speaking member of The Ghosts. The doodle was of a pile of trash with a hand coming out of it.

“He envisioned that hand being of a guy in a leather jacket,” Mandarino said. As it turned out, that very image would appear in the film, and it would indeed be the hand of a greaser emerging from a pile of trash. From that idea a script was born, which would be finished in the summer of 2009.

Mandarino described “The Ghosts” as a film full of Americana, especially ’50s and ’60s material. And while that resonates with him, it’s also the rebellious nature of the film that stood out to him.

“I think everybody once upon a time wanted to be in a gang with their friends and cause ruckus in the neighborhood,” he said.

One of the distinguishing marks of “The Ghosts,” one that has been getting publicity from the LA Times and blogs around the internet, is the music in the film. The team asked the help of friends, including Luke Lukas and Greta Salpeter of Gold Motel, to write original music for the film. The result is a juxtaposition of modern yet eerie-sounding indie rock against retro imagery. And as it happens, Mandarino and his friends acquired all the music before filming began.

“That was huge. … The music really helped us envision and move forward with the shoot,” Mandarino said.

Essentially anyone can get that far in the filmmaking process – it’s the money that stops them from going further. But Mandarino and his friends went to Kickstarter, a website that hosts artistic endeavors and allows people to pledge funding for them. Through Kickstarter, Mandarino and his friends raised $4,000. With the help of friends and family, the budget went above five figures. As producer, it was Mandarino’s job to maintain that modest budget.

“We were able to get a camera from a friend and get a really great deal on lighting equipment,” he said. “We had a lot of extras that were family and friends, so it was a big, big summer of asking favors and having everyone you know sort of supporting the project.”

With money in hand, The Teenage Head took to Mandarino’s hometown of Elmhurst, Ill., for the 17-day shoot in the summer of 2010. “The Ghosts” is shot digitally in high-definition, though you’d never know looking at it. Initially, the team hoped to shoot on actual film, 16mm film in particular, but its budget didn’t allow for it.

“We ended up aiming for 16mm reversal look. … It’s a lot of grain and filters on top of HD film, which just looks awesome,” Mandarino said. “There’s a lot of scratches and imperfections added in.”

Saving that kind of money allowed the crew the luxury of footage surplus. By the time shooting wrapped, the crew had more than 30 hours of footage – which, again, would be whittled down to just 15 minutes. However, once Mandarino and his friends finally had their film in hand, they realized: What now?

“It’s sort of hard to market a black and white, grainy film nowadays when everything else is super crisp, super high definition,” Mandarino said. “People want action sequences, and we sort of took it the other way.”

The solution: Take it to the internet. The crew put the film on its website and submitted it to blogs around the web to resounding success: Within the first two weeks, the film had 30,000 hits. In a month, almost 60,000.

However, this is a risky proposition. While putting the film online exposes it to a wide potential audience – Mandarino said they have hits from around the world – it closes the door on other opportunities, like film festivals. Mandarino said he encountered some film festival organizers who refused to take “The Ghosts” because of its availability online. Yet, Mandarino and his friends see it differently.

“The internet is going to be so crucial in the future of films; with Netflix and streaming online, it’s going to be so important,” he said. “We just wanted to throw it up there and see what would happen, and it’s definitely exceeded our expectations.”

Given the importance of music among The Teenage Head – members have drifted in and out of bands – and in the filmmaking process, it makes sense that Mandarino explains the appeal of “The Ghosts” in musical terms.

“It’s a three-chord movie, meaning it’s simple – you don’t need to be all that technically crazy … just simple, raw, rock n’ roll, punch-you-in-the-mouth kind of feel to the film. I think we’ve captured that in a certain sense.”

“The Ghosts” was screened last night at Union South as part of the 2011 Hollywood Badgers Film Showcase. You can watch it anytime at

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *