Amidst a gloomy batch of nominees – addressing themes such as lost love, sacrifice and coping with death – “Curfew” springs forth as a welcome jolt of energy to the live action shorts. The premise is fairly simple: a dejected young man gets a call from his estranged sister, asking that he look after his 9-year-old niece for a couple hours. What transpires is a droll, heartfelt and often tender story that explores forgiveness and discovering a renewed sense of purpose in one’s life.
“Curfew” is directed, written by and starring Shawn Christensen, who has had a hand in a few major motion pictures but is making his first big splash here. A graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Christensen has scooped up dozens of awards at film festivals worldwide, and in doing so, has cemented his status as one of the most promising filmmakers of his generation.
In the frenzied week leading up to the Academy Awards, Christensen took some time to chat with the East Valley Tribune about “Curfew”, his favorite film of 2012 and how he learned of his Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short.
Q: So to begin with, could you tell me about the inspiration behind “Curfew”?
A: Well, I was interested in telling the story of a sort of down-on-his-luck uncle taking care of his niece for the night 2 years ago as an actor but nothing really came of it. Then I started to become more interested in the dynamic between someone who’s really, really at the low end of their rope and someone who’s really at the top of their life, as far as how alive they feel. That’s when I decided to just direct it and that’s when we started making it.
Q: How long did it take for you to shoot, and what were some of the challenges you faced directing, writing and starring in your own film?
A: The big challenge for me was the writing part because at that point, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my writing when I was writing it; it was one of the things I wanted to get out of the way. Then when we shot, there were a few complications being in front of the camera and behind the camera – one of them being, I had the flu for the entire shoot. I think if the character wasn’t somebody who was drained of blood and sort of, you know, physically weak, I’m not sure I could’ve shot the movie because it’s kind of how I looked in real life. [Laughs.]
Q: One of my favorite parts of the film was the dance scene in the bowling alley. Could you tell me a little about the idea behind that?
A: Well I wanted to get across the idea that when people are really dealing with depression, they have this sense that everyone else in the world or everyone around them isn’t depressed or has a great life or is “in rhythm with the music of life” or just something like that, and the idea that the lead character wasn’t able to move. He didn’t feel the rhythm and he wasn’t that alive. It was only a couple paragraphs in the script and I think more dramatically written, but my producers Damon (Russell) and Mara (Kassin) loved it. We went to go shoot it and there was a bit of a sense of humor that we had about it as well, which we decided was more apt if we shot it that way.
Q: Were there any films or filmmakers you looked to for inspiration in terms of the style or look you wished to achieve for this short?
A: Sure, there are many. It’s a New York film and I wanted to have two sides of New York. I definitely wanted that Scorsese side of the city…a little bit of “Trainspotting” I guess, too, in there. For Sophia’s side of New York, I wanted a little more of a Woody Allen side, you know, those sort of high-rises for intellectuals and so forth and so on. I guess that’s just for the look of New York City. Just generally speaking, in the talks that (cinematographer) Daniel Katz and I had, we needed to figure out how we were going to make the film anamorphic and stuff, with anamorphic lenses, but make it feel gritty and grainy as well, because we really wanted to shoot on Panavision lenses.
Q: Where were you when you found out about your Oscar nomination and what was your reaction?
A: I was with some members of the crew and some friends. We were watching the live broadcast that Seth MacFarlane was doing – thinking he was going to announce the short films, which he wasn’t. Then we heard our phones ringing in the other room and realized that, you know, it had already been online for 10 minutes and we were just sitting there like dopes watching the live broadcast. [Laughs.] We got on the Web, scrolled down to the bottom and there was “Curfew.”
Q: To wrap things up, what were some of your favorite films of last year and why?
A: “Searching for Sugar Man” is probably one of my favorite films. I just thought it was beautiful and the pacing of it and the story…it got me a little bit emotional, which is more than I can say for a lot of films. I think that I’ve become jaded a little. I’d say that’s the one for me…I don’t know, there’s a few others, but I can’t really think of them off the top of my head. That one struck me, though.
"Curfew" and other Oscar-nominated shorts are now playing at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale. The film is also available for purchase on iTunes.