Filmmaker, Shawn Christensen, won an Academy Award (Oscar) in 2013 for his short film, CURFEW, making way for a feature length rebirth of the movie. Here, he shares that journey, including how he forgot he won the pinnacle of film awards.
“Before I Disappear” actually started as the short film “Curfew”. Can you tell us where the idea came from?
I was looking for something to act in, and wanted to explore the relationship between a jaded person at the end of his rope and younger purer person who had their whole life ahead of them. No one seemed to be interested in directing it, and when I had a little money to make it, I decided to direct it myself.
Turning a 19 minute short into a feature is quite the achievement. How difficult was the process of writing “Before I Disappear”?
It was difficult only when I wasn’t staying true to the short film. I wrote many pages involving flashbacks, flash-forwards, non-linear arcs, ensemble casts, alternate subplots, etc. I had to throw it all out and just tell the story of these two people over the course of an evening.
While watching “Before I Disappear” I noticed moments that recreated dialog, and scenes from “Curfew”. Was that intentional?
It was necessary. I tried to maintain the things that worked in the short film, while altering some of the dialogue a little, to accommodate the fact that Sophia was slightly older.
Everyone knows Fatima Ptacek as the voice of Dora the Explorer. Can you tell us how Fatima was first cast?
She wasn’t Dora the Explorer yet. She booked Curfew and Dora at around the same time. I saw her on a morning talk show and was stunned by how well she handled herself on it. She was 8, but had the poise of a 30 year old. When she came in for the audition, she nailed it.
Paul Wesley plays the role of dark mannered crime boss Gideon. Is that character based off a real person?
It’s based off a combination of young club owners I’ve run into over the years. Guys who come from money in the first place and run clubs that seem hip and dark, but really are kind of softened versions of how gritty the scene used to be many years ago.
The most memorable scene from “Before I Disappear” has to be Fatima dancing in the bowling alley. Did you work with a choreographer?
I worked with Allison Plamondon, who was in my acting class. She worked with Fatima and all of the extras on set. She was great, especially considering she had no professional dancers to work with on the short film. That’s part of what makes the scene shine, is that they’re just normal people who suddenly gain rhythm.
You wrote Sophia, So Far for your music project Goodnight Radio. Have you always had a passion for writing lyrics?
There are technically no lyrics in the short film version – just me mumbling some words to get the point across. For the feature, I fleshed out the lyrics and finished the song (it never had an ending). I was in the band Stellastarr* for many years, and wrote lyrics for a living, up until recently.
“Curfew” won the Oscar for best short film in 2013. What was the experience like attending and receiving the Oscar from Jamie Fox, and Kerry Washington?
I don’t remember being on stage. I remember our name getting called, and then being backstage taking pictures with both of them, who were very nice. Later, I bumped into Jamie at an after party and we had a couple laughs about the fact that the envelope had somehow disappeared during the proceedings. I guess I just forgot to take it from him on stage and the Academy found it a few days.