Nancy Shields: Ghostlight’s Executive Producer



By Judy Carmack Bross



Ghostlight, a Chicago-made movie receiving raves across the country

Ghostlight was the very first film shown at Sundance 2024. I had seen rough cuts but wanted to see it first on the big screen. Walking into that packed theater, seeing our directors, was incredible. We had rushed to get it in the Festival and what we showed wasn’t even a final edit.” Chicagoan Nancy Shields, an Executive Producer on the Chicago film bound for Indy film glory.

Nancy Shields

Filmed in Waukegan and featuring Chicago actors, including stars Keith Kupferer, Tara Mallen, and Katherine Mallen Kupferer who are a real-life family as well as local theater actors, Ghostlight was chosen as Sundance’s opening film by Festival Director Eugene Hernandez who said it centers on a family and a community brought together by a tiny theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet, the same kind of communal experience that Sundance is all about.

No matter that it wasn’t a final cut, Sundance provided a huge success. From that first showing Ghostlight, which recently premiered at both the Music Box in Chicago as well as in New York and Los Angeles, has been described as a comedy-drama predicted to receive major awards. Written by Kelly O’Sullivan, it is directed by O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson, both Chicagoans. Keith Kupferer plays a construction worker roped in to play Shakespeare after a woman from a tiny theater troop observes him in full throttle anger after a traffic altercation. She urges him to
come inside to escape life for a little while. What happens connects him to his family, divided due to a tremendous tragedy, in lifesaving ways. Not to mention one of the most heart-rending final scenes in Romeo and Juliet.

Nancy Shields with her mother, Pat Curran, in Cincinnati at showing at the Mariemont theater

We spoke to Shields just after the movie was picked up by IFC which distributed it to 500 new theaters across the country, with more to come. She had worked with O’Sullivan in post-production on a previous film St. Francis in 2020.

“At our Music Box premiere the directors and cast had a great talk-back sessions with Chris Jones who has been so helpful to all of us in the theater world for many years,” Shields said.

“Talk Back” led by Tribune Theatre critic and columnist Chris Jones with Kelly O’Sullivan and cast

Shields told us:

“One of the things I have been hearing is that it all just looks so real. People who know Waukegan recognize the downtown. We filmed at a local high school and its students were extras in the movie. Lincolnwood’s Bunny Hutch with its golf and games appears as well and I loved recognizing that hot doggy spot.”

Cast reading in Ghostlight

“My first love has always been theater and I was a member of the board of the American Theater Company for many years,” Shields said. “It was a fabulously successful company which operated for 33 years on a shoestring budget. Kelly O’Sullivan and Keith Kupferer were both members of the cast of a play there called The Humans in 2015.

“What I love most about Ghostlight is the weaving of the plot—the play within the movie. It is the play, being part of that production, of Romeo and Juliet that allows Dan, our construction worker, to transform. The movie is really about healing. The fact that they are mom, dad and daughter in real life offers a different dynamic to the family relationship, and I think they took bits and pieces of their own life to add to the movie.

“To me the title is a little foreshadowing of the plot, a lingering ghost that haunts the family. The stage light signifies healing, a catharsis that occurs as the family works through the pain they are suffering.”

In the theater parlance, a ghost light is an electric bulb on the stage that is left on when the theater is dark. Superstitions abound about how these lights appease visiting theater spirits.

We asked Shields, who lives part time in Las Vegas, about being an executive producer:

“It is a role which is mostly in the same category as an investor. I really was very happy to go beyond and play more of a part in its development and I enjoy post-production.

“I am very proud that we did all the funding on our own without studio backing. Independent films can truly showcase stories writers want to tell. We have appeared in several other festivals and are delighted now that IFC picked us up and made this larger distribution possible.”

Shields is currently working on another collaboration of O’Sullivan and Thompson which will begin filming this fall in North Little Rock, Arkansas which is O’Sullivan’s hometown. She is greatly anticipating being on the set of the new movie.