A medium visits the murder site of a woman’s brother to uncover clues of his death and… maybe inadvertently out him.

Based on characters made famous by Michael Benjamin on TikTok, ‘The Paranormal Communicator’ is a clumsy and hauntingly whimsical short film directed by Tyler Miguel Mercer. While the premise remains on the light side, the subtle humor and the hysterical energy brought by Michael Benjamin and Alex Song-Xia really bring in a life of its own. We checked in with Tyler who told us a little more about the film:

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

I initially approached Michael about working on something together, and he’d already been kicking around this idea based on a few viral TikToks he’d made with a similar premise. We wanted to see if we could take a joke made for TikTok and turn it into a properly produced comedy short. The first draft was brilliant of course, and we just expanded from there.

As a director are you open to changes or suggestions when you start shooting or do you like to stick to what has been written?

I think you’ve got to be open to anything when directing comedy or it’ll feel too planned. But exploring on-set can only take you so far if you’re not starting with a solid script. Michael worked through several drafts before production, just finessing each idea until we were sure we had the funniest, tightest thing on paper. Then of course you get there, and he’s on fire, and everyone’s having such a good time, and Alex Song-Xia who plays Veronica shows up to remind everyone with their performance that perfection is attainable… and it evolves.

Which groundbreaking tricks did you use for the ghost movements?

Is this a read? lol. We all have some sort of stage background so we used good old-fashioned theatre tricks. Fishing wire and tape, baby! And sometimes I’m crouching in a weird position on the ground to move something with my foot.

Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow filmmakers?

When I start working on an idea, I try to think “what’s the most that can reasonably be done given the scope”. If I’m thinking both of those parts at the same time, it results in something creatively interesting and well-done for what it is. The end product will feel right. That’s so key in the overall illusion of storytelling.

What are your favorite short films that either inspired bits of this film or just got you into short filmmaking?

Comedy is so dependent on invoking other styles, I’m all over the place with what I use as inspiration. For this one, I really fell in love with the visuals from David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story.” Out of context, there was something kind of funny about how wistfully haunted they made those sets look. Plus it gave my DP, the terrific Jenn Gittings, a chance to go crazy with filters and lens flares. More broadly, sketch comedy is what got me into short filmmaking — Portlandia, SNL, even The Amanda Show (remember that?). I love becoming a mini-expert in different genres while also having a good time and that’s really what sketch filmmaking is all about.