Absence is a film that challenges the audience to find its own truths. Not just within the plot, but in the basics of family dynamics.
Opening theatrically on July 5th, Absence is the story of Evan (Ryan Smale, Damage). A young college student whose sister Liz (Erin Way, “Alphas”), has had her unborn baby disappear. To coup with a suspicious town, he and his brother in-law, Rick (Eric Matheny, J. Edgar), take her away to a secluded mountain community. As Evan attempts to document his sister’s recovery, strange things begin to happen which will test their family bond. Someone or something clearly wants more.
Shock Till You Drop recently spoke with writer/director Jimmy Loweree about the challenges of creating his first feature, crafting the perfect characters, and engaging the audience.
Shock Till You Drop: How did you come up with the idea for the film?
Jimmy Loweree: The idea initially came from a weird mix up of UFOs, war, and all that stuff. One of the very specific stories I read about as a kid, and I became obsessed with, is the concept of a woman’s pregnancy being terminated or in some way being interrupted by external or outside forces. That concept was so disturbing that I couldn’t get it out of my head and I wanted to explore the “what if” concept.
Shock: In regards to the characters, they are very relatable people. Where they fully scripted or did the actors bring something to the table?
Jimmy Loweree: Awesome. The actors were fantastic and they absolutely brought stuff to the table. I spent a lot of time on these characters before going into rehearsals with the actors. I gave them a pretty thorough breakdown of my own in terms of who they were, how they related, and how they thought about that kind of stuff. And then we just sat down and talked about it. No one was surprised by a directing choice because we were all on the same page.
Shock: Were any of the characters based on people you know?
Jimmy Loweree: Yes and no. With the actors, who happen to be friends of mine as well, I was able to riff and pull off people we had been around, just when I would think of bringing out certain qualities. However, I did name Liz after my sister, because there’s always been a Liz around, growing up. My sister saw it for the first time, two nights ago and was like “Hey that’s my name”. Yes it was. (Laughs)
Shock: As far as dealing with the post pregnancy aspect, how did you get Erin prepared for that?
Jimmy Loweree: Erin Way, is just a super talented actress and one of the best that I know personally, if not the best. She had a very strong reaction to the concept and a very visceral response to it. So it wasn’t so much preparing her in specific ways, she, I think, has her own history and background. Her mother works heavily with adopted children, taking in foster children for lengths of time until they find a proper home. She has very much been around that motherly instinct so it was very easy for her to get the idea of what this would be like.
Shock: The relationship between Evan and Rick is pretty tense. How did that come to be?
Jimmy Loweree: That was definitely a conscious choice. You spend a lot of time trying to make sure these people are real people. I’ve experienced, especially with genre films, not much attention is on the people, making sure that they were real and engaging. So with Rick and Evan, it was a matter of figuring out why Evan would have this response and for us, the back story was clear. Evan and Liz are pretty close, and for most of their lives, he was the man in her life. I think he honestly is very insecure and is not comfortable with himself, his age, what he’s doing, and what he wants to do. So, with Rick coming in, now he tries to pull off this humor, but now he’s a very insecure person. What I like about it is that we really get to see that. He starts off kind of abrasive and cocky, and he is sort of that way through out, but as the movie progresses, he gets the shit kicked out of him quite a few times which is funny.
Shock: From an effects stand point, how difficult was it to achieve the infestation scene?
Jimmy Loweree: It was probably the only effect that I knew we had to get right. We first talked to the person we were looking to hire and got an idea what they would need and saw what they could do with the test footage and then we went up on set and shot it off in the cleanest way we could for him to do his job. Once we had it laid out, we spent a good 18-20 hrs. fine tuning it till I was really happy with how it looked. It had to be subtle enough, but realistic enough, otherwise it would just take you right out of the movie.
Shock: As far as dealing with the UFO’s. Was there anything that you wanted to do, but couldn’t do, either visually or what have you?
Jimmy Loweree: Sure. There is a little bit and it just comes down to the money or economics of it. If I had the resources, I would have loved to do a really intriguing thing like Close Encounters. Something where you play with the mind a little bit and you say; “Oh, this has happed before.” Give the audience a “What is that?” sort of moment but we didn’t quite pull that off with the resources, but next time…
Shock: As far as Meg, It seems that she knows more than she voices. Is there more going on there?
Jimmy Loweree: You’re not the only person to have said that. I’ve just left it a little vague and I think it’s interesting. I’ve gotten it both ways. That she knows more than she’s letting on, which is compelling because…she might.
Shock: She struck me as being an abductee.
Jimmy Loweree: We always wanted to explore her world a little more. We were hoping to do it in the marketing but we had so many other things going. We think she’s a very interesting character especially with the ferocity that she reacts to things and the run-away aspect. I think at the end of the day, she’s the one that feels responsible somehow because she quit and they didn’t make it.
Shock: As far as this being your first feature. How difficult was it to jump into something with this level of emotional complexity?
Jimmy Loweree: You know, maybe this was a complete lack of comprehension on my part, or just sort of going for it, but it was surprisingly not difficult. When it came to the characters, I spent a lot of time making sure I understood them before working with the actors. That part was easy. We definitely spent some time crafting the story. I had to make sure we got the parts we wanted and we had a pretty thorough 60 page treatment we worked off of. I guess I would say that a short and a feature are not that different, either way, you’re doing a lot of work. We kind of just decided on doing a lot of work on a feature rather than a couple more shorts. Plus I had the right people. I surrounded myself with the kind of people that could really execute at a high enough level that it wasn’t going to as big of a risk trying to pull off a feature.
Shock: If you were to do another one. Where would you like to take the story?
Jimmy Loweree: I thought about that only a little bit. For some reason, I’ve never been compelled to go into sequel land. Only because the original idea struck me like a rock in the head. I was very intrigued by the initial concept and I wanted to tell that story, and I haven’t really been hit that same way by this particular world yet, but if there is anything, it would be in Megan’s world, in that space and that town. Very interesting.
Shock: What is it that you want people to take away from this film?J
immy Loweree: I don’t know if I have a specific want, other than I hope that the audience engages with these characters and are affected when they are taken away, because that would be a real compliment.
Absence opens at the Quad Cinema in New York, and the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, OH on Friday, July 5th.