Entertainment Magazine

White Noise

Production Information

Electronic Voice Phenomenon—EVP—is the process by which the dead, through sound and image, communicate with the living through the static and white noise of modern electronic devices.

Raymond Price (IAN McNEICE, standing) plays a recording of Jonathan Rivers' (MICHAEL KEATON, seated) deceased wife in the paranormal thriller, White Noise.
Photo Credit: Chris Helcermanas-Benge.

By modest estimates, there are nearly seven billion audio and video recording devices in homes around the world...and every one of them is a portal. For two decades now, a quiet worldwide movement has gained momentum among the growing number of people who believe in EVP and who themselves have captured extraordinary recordings of communications from the dead.

These transmissions, recorded with simple household electronic devices, force us to question our basic notions about life and death and seem to confirm what many of us have dared to believe: it is possible for the dead to communicate with us. All we have to do is listen.

Now, for the first time, this otherworldly occurrence stands at the center of a motion picture paranormal thriller—White Noise.

Until the sudden and mysterious death of his beloved wife, architect Jonathan Rivers (MICHAEL KEATON) considered himself a decent, rational man, one who would not ordinarily subscribe to any theories about communicating with the dead. But now, a stranger, Raymond Price (IAN McNEICE), has entered his life, claiming to have heard Jonathan’s wife, Anna (CHANDRA WEST), through EVP.

Fueled by his grief as much as curiosity, Jonathan soon finds himself swayed by Raymond’s claims, validated by the recordings of Anna as well as the testimonial of Sarah Tate (DEBORAH KARA UNGER), who herself has found closure with her deceased fiancée through EVP.

Jonathan comes to believe when Raymond says of the dead, “I can hear them, I can see them and I can record them.” Then, the unthinkable—Jonathan himself captures Anna’s voice and image through recordings he has made; she has established direct contact. Anna’s message: for Jonathan to save the future victims of the brutal psychopath who took her life. But his dead wife’s communications are often fuzzy, challenging to decipher.

And Jonathan, in his growing obsession with reaching Anna, fails to notice signs of impending danger, summed up by Raymond’s assessment of the souls who cross the divide from the other side: “They can’t all be nice.” What Jonathan hopes to be true is, in fact, possible: our departed loved ones can reach us... but if they can come through, who, or what else, can also come through?

White Noise marks the American feature film directorial debut of distinguished British television director GEOFFREY SAX (Othello), from an original screenplay by NIALL JOHNSON. PAUL BROOKS (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and SHAWN WILLIAMSON (House of the Dead) produce, with NORM WAITT, SCOTT NIEMEYER, STEPHEN HEGYES and SIMON BROOKS serving as executive producers. Behind-the-camera talent includes director of photography CHRIS SEAGER, B.S.C. (Ashes and Sand), editor NICK ARTHURS (Othello) and production designer MICHAEL S. BOLTON (Final Destination 2), along with costume designer KAREN MATTHEWS (They). The music is by Cirque du Soleil music director turned film composer CLAUDE FOISY (2001: A Space Travesty).

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

When the writer Niall Johnson first set out to create the story that was to become White Noise, he started with the idea that if it were possible to contact someone you had loved and lost, the average person would pursue these avenues even at great personal risk.

The further he delved into background for his writing, he discovered that a fairly significant culture of EVP enthusiasts has existed for quite some time and is highly organized and scientific about its findings. Albert Einstein professed an open-minded view of the possibility that life has echoes through time and space and Thomas Alva Edison believed that electronic impulses could be passed on from generation to generation.

This basic premise took on a much more resonant life for the writer once he began to elaborate on it, surfing the Web and meeting some of the EVP gurus like the Butlers and Sarah Estep, whose research and findings helped Johnson as he constructed his script.

Producer Paul Brooks is no stranger to a compelling script, having executiveproduced the phenomenally popular My Big Fat Greek Wedding and been on the ground floor of what was (up until recently) the highest grossing independent film ever made.

Brooks remembers, “My brother brought me the script for White Noise around Christmas two years ago and I had planned to read a few pages after dinner and pick it up again the next morning. But I changed my tact once I opened it and began reading—I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so disturbed reading a piece of material. It was fascinating. And I immediately saw it as an audience member would—it was a great page-turner and had a shot at being an intriguing movie. The particular landscape of the story was just so extraordinary. I have to admit that I became obsessed with it, which is my nature once I get into a really interesting script.”

Already in “terrific” shape, Brooks and Johnson spent a few months fine-tuning the script of the paranormal tale of Jonathan and Anna Rivers—during which time, the producer had caught the beginning of a contemporary re-telling of a towering Shakespearean classic.

Says Brooks, “I saw the first seven minutes of Geoffrey Sax’s Othello, made for British television. I say seven minutes because I was so blown away by that first part of the movie that I hired him at the end of that first part of the film. We still have a running joke that I haven’t even seen the rest of the film!”

When he first read Johnson’s script, director Sax was not aware of any of this scholarly research—he just thought it was a good plot device.

“Jonathan Rivers’ obsession comes from a quite simple premise,” he says. “What would you do if you were given the chance to contact somebody that you’ve loved and you’ve lost? That was the notion that really drew me to make this film, because what would you do? And I think that probably 99 out of 100 people would say, yes, give me more.

“Even if you knew, whatever the cost, say, to spend 30 seconds with that person whom you’ve lost, might you give a year or life? I mean, I don’t really know how far people go, but I certainly would do that for anyone I’ve lost. If I had a chance to contact them again, I would grab it.”

Sax was pleasantly surprised when he congratulated Niall on his invention of so enticing a hook in his screenplay. “I had no idea that EVP actually existed as a phenomenon. I praised Niall at one point for coming up with it. I said, ‘Electronic Voice Phenomenon is really, really a great idea and concept. How did you think it up?’ And he said, ‘Well, actually I’d found it in my research. There are sites. Go and have a look.’ And I was astonished how many sites there are, how many images you can see. Some of it is questionable, but some of it is very, very scary. And that’s what makes it really interesting.”

One of Johnson’s pivotal scenes—in which Jonathan visits a clairvoyant to compare notes about the contact he has made with his late wife via EVP—is taken directly from his the screenwriter’s experiences. In that scene, Jonathan consults with a psychic counselor, who happens to be blind, and the medium recoils at his spiel, delivering a withering warning which he does not heed.

“EVP is not good,” she says, jumping up. “We spend years with our guides so we can protect you. It is one thing to contact the dead. It’s another thing to meddle, and you are meddling!”

“And that was taken from Niall Johnson,” says Sax. “He actually went to see a clairvoyant, during the research phase, and the clairvoyant did say those words...‘Don’t meddle with this stuff. You don’t understand it.’ And that’s what kind of gave him the whole idea for the story. If you meddle with what you don’t know, you could end up in a lot of trouble. And that’s precisely what happens to Jonathan Rivers.”

Deborah Kara Unger, cast as a woman who contacts her fiancée through EVP, agrees that there is a dark side of this phenomenon, that it’s not all light and hope.

“What is fundamental to this story is the truth that people do pass over ‘as is.’ And, you know, we don’t have a lot of halos running around the streets as we speak—there are a few tarnished ones on the other side as well. So, unfortunately, in our attempts to access our loved ones, those that we care about on the other side, we meet a few people along the way who are terrifying.”

* * *

For the leading role of the recently widowed architect who begins a surprising journey into the unexplainable, Brooks knew the actor he immediately wanted upon reading White Noise that previous Christmas: “I have always been a huge fan of Michael Keaton. I remember particularly his performance in Pacific Heights, which is a superb exercise in measure and balance. We had mutual colleagues and friends in the business, and so I sent him the script. And fortuitously, he came back straight away and said, ‘Yes, I want to do this.’ It was a bit of a blessing from the start, because I was completely convinced about the script, the director and the actor. Geoffrey and I had one meeting and we just shook hands and were making the movie two months later. It all came together brilliantly.”

Keaton, who admittedly had not given the subject of communication with the other side much thought prior to reading the script for White Noise, recalls a conversation he had Brooks and Sax: “It’s something I had never really given much consideration, but as I talked with Paul and Geoffrey about making the film, they were telling their own personal stories about losing their fathers, how close they were to them, and what they would do to be able to somehow be in contact with them again. And they said they wouldn’t think twice, even if they only had three seconds, they would jump at the chance. I was kind of fascinated by that, and as I started to think about it, I realized that this is probably a universal response.”

“I think it’s something that has to be taken seriously, despite any skepticism, some of it mine. Certainly, though, one has to wonder that if even one percent of the reported cases are true then something clearly extraordinary is happening,” comments Sax

. Producer Brooks observes, “My thinking was, what if EVP is actually a step beyond the Ouija board phenomenon—a sophisticated portal to another plane? This is particularly disturbing when one reveals the countless examples of seemingly authentic and terrifying encounters on the Ouija board over the years.” Unger doesn’t offer a specific opinion on EVP as a means of reaching out to those who have passed over, but does state that she thinks it’s “reductive and maybe a little bit arrogant of us to assume that we know as much as we think we do, to make that kind of conclusion. I think we’re very naïve about energy and mass and about time and space and consciousness.”

Unger, a confessed sentimentalist, can relate to Keaton’s assessment of the desire we all have to stay in contact with those we love, even after they’ve died. “I hate saying goodbye. It’s horrible. I never say goodbye to people. I’ll make up any scenario in my imagination where I may potentially see them again. As foolish as it may sound, my mind is happier there.”

While Sax, Keaton and Unger all have a deep and complete understanding of what drives people to attempt communication with the other side, their opinions on the methods they employ, specifically about EVP, differ slightly.

Keaton categorizes himself as open-minded and says that EVP is “without doubt, extremely intriguing.” In addition to the makings of a gripping, chilling paranormal thriller, Keaton saw within the White Noise script the chance to tell the rather timeless story of an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey, searching for answers in uncharted and potentially dangerous territory. What made this character especially compelling to him was the deterioration and almost complete destruction he faces once circumstance sets him on his path.

“One of the initial reasons that I wanted to do the film is because it’s such a pageturner,” he says. “I like the genre, the supernatural thriller anyway—and that is now a genre, the paranormal thriller. When I think of a horror film, I think of something else. This is scary, but it’s smart scary. And it gets into speculation.

“But what really attracted me to it is that it’s about a character that you see degenerate throughout the piece and become more and more obsessed with something his architect-trained mind cannot come to terms with, yet he knows it to be a reality. And it was this journey that really drew me to it.”

The slow but steady decline of Jonathan Rivers was a character arc that intrigued Keaton, and he knew that an audience would be compelled as well.

“You have this guy starting a new life after the demise of his first marriage. Now he’s found the woman he’s meant to be with, he’s at the start of a happy second marriage, and just when things are starting to work out, his wife passes away. So it’s a second loss to him in not a very long period of time. He’s living a pretty normal life when it happens and you see his degradation through what he’s willing to do to not take that big hit again, that second loss. That’s when it slowly starts to unravel and that’s where the terror begins—as he fights to gain access to the next world while clinging to the last vestiges of his sanity.”

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2005 Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org