2014 SXSW Filmmaker Profile: Shawn Christensen (Writer/Director: ‘Before I Disappear’)

Taking place over the course of one sweltering night in New York City, Richie (Shawn Christensen), a seemingly hopeless introvert, has decided he has had enough with life. But as he is attempting to end it all, he gets a phone call from his estranged sister, Maggie (Emmy Rossum). Though they haven’t spoken in years, Maggie has found herself in a sticky situation and needs Richie to pick up her daughter from school.

Richie reluctantly cancels his dark plans and goes to pick up his precocious niece, Sophia (Fatima Ptacek), and escorts her home. But when Maggie doesn’t return as scheduled, Richie is forced to take care of Sophia for the night. However, as the night progresses, Richie finds himself caught in a battle between his two bosses Bill (Ron Perlman) and Gideon (Paul Wesley) and soon figures out that baby-sitting is the least of his problems.

Anticipating the WORLD PREMIERE of ‘Before Disappear‘ at 2014 SXSW Film, we profile the film’s Writer/Director Shawn Christensen. ‘Before I Disappear‘ screen on Monday, March 10, Tuesday, March 11 and Friday, March 14 in Austin, Texas.

Find More Information & Tickets for ‘Before I Disappear’ at SXSW FilmHERE

As the film is based on a previously produced short, what aspect of ‘Before I Disappear’ as extended feature came to you first in development?
The dynamic between Riche and Sophia was what I would be hanging my hat on.  I knew I had to expand their journey and widen their arc.  There were many iterations of the script, but as long as I was true to those two central characters, I knew I would have a strong foundation.

With a Directorial background in short film (as well as other artistic ventures), how did the construction of the feature length ‘Before I Disappear’ script, as well as its ultimate execution differ? How did it remain the same?
I wrote about 200 pages of back story on Richie, Sophia and Maggie, with flashbacks and non-linear storytelling and even an ensemble surrounding cast, at one point.  Then, after months of exploring numerous dead ends, I wound up right back where the short film was — a simple story of two people’s paths crossing over the period of a night.

SXSW_Before_I_Disappear_Narrative_CompetitionFrom a visual perspective, can you explain what you wanted out of the Cinematography for the film?  What was your first conversation like with its DP Daniel Katz?
Since the feature was going to contain more surreal moments than the short film, it was important to me to attack those moments with a certain sense of realism, so that we wouldn’t be tipping the audience as to what might be fact or fiction.  I still wanted a naturalistic approach with anamorphic lenses.  Our first conversation was actually about how we were going to shoot the film without Panavision lenses.  The budget was too small to afford them, and we immediately started testing out Hawk lenses as an alternative.

On a personal level, what was your first introduction to film that made you want to explore the medium?  Having found success as a musician, how would you describe the execution of putting together an album and, now, putting together a feature length film?
I was always smitten the movies, growing up.  My dad would bring me to every science fiction film that came out, all through my childhood, and I was hooked.  But I think the thing that pushed me into writing was when I first saw “Chinatown”.  That was the movie that made me want to write screenplays and get into filmmaking.  As far as putting together an album and putting together a feature film, that’s a very interesting question… they’re both tremendous beasts.  Cutting a record, at its heart, is a fairly simple procedure — if you already have the music written, you lay down the drums and bass and keep building your music from there until you have what you want and then mix.  Whereas with the feature, it felt like there were literally hundreds of moving components, from wardrobe to cinematography to casting, etc. and not everything happening in any certain order, including which days you shoot at which locations and editing the film’s dailies as we were shooting.  With an album, there’s really just the band and the Producer, but with a feature you’re responsible for 50 or 60 people, and they all need answers from you, many of which you will answer but then second guess yourself on.  I think making the feature killed a bigger piece of me than any of the records I’ve recorded.

In your opinion/impression, why is SXSW a natural destination for ‘Before I Disappear’?
This is a music-driven film, and SXSW is one of the best music festivals in the world.  I played SXSW twice with my band in the past, and for my first feature to premiere there… it’s perfect, honestly.  It feels like I’m able to represent both my love for film and for music at a festival that supports those arts in a major way.  It’s exciting.

SXSW-Before-I-Disappear

About Shawn Christensen
SHAWN CHRISTENSEN is a filmmaker, musician and painter. He formed indie rock band Stellastarr* in 2002, signing with RCA Records. In 2011, his short film, BRINK, was an Official Selection at the Tribeca Film Festival. In 2013, he won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film for his short film, CURFEW.

Facebook: /BeforeIDisappear
Twitter: @B4IDisappear

 

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