‘Absence’ dir. Rob Savage

A short film about the grieving process starring Paul McGann.

Director: Rob Savage
Writers: Rob Savage & Jed Shepherd
Producer: Douglas Cox
DOP: Ollie Downey
Key Cast: Paul McGann, Carolina Giammetta

C8: How did Absence initially come about and how long did the script writing process take?

RS: The idea really came out of me and co-writer Jed Shepherd wanting to collaborate on something. Jed’s probably the biggest horror fan I know (he wrote the infamous Slashed, a horror film starring Ash, Coldplay & Foo Fighters) and had been talking about making something for at least a year. Everything we were coming up with was quite ambitious, and weren’t possible without proper funding, so we decided to go in the opposite direction, calculating how much we could afford to finance ourselves and then writing for that number.

We came up with the idea over the course of one night, but spent a lot longer determining the exact beats, clues and details we were going to build into the film. We wanted the film to feel simple and even over-familiar on first viewing, with sinister details peppered throughout, and then, after the final scene, we wanted people to be able to go back through the film and discover a new, richer meaning in the images.

C8: At what stage did Paul McGann come on board and how did you work with him to develop his character?

RS: Paul was our first choice for the role. We knew that for the mostly silent lead character to command the audience’s attention, we needed someone with his inimitable presence. Withnail & I was one of the films that first made me want to pick up a camera and start making films, and so I had plenty to say when we approached Paul. I wrote a three-page letter to him, which my agent sent on (luckily he’s signed to the same agency as I am), explaining the film, his character and why I thought the collaboration could result in something special.

We had no money to make the film, but Paul graciously agreed to come on board on the strength of the letter. We didn’t have very much time to shoot, so a lot was fleshed-out via email so that we were on the same page by the time Paul arrived on set.

C8: What obstacles did you face on set and how did you overcome them?

RS: Absence was made for pennies, which wasn’t an obstacle as such because it meant that everyone took extra care to be totally prepared. Every problem was identified and tackled way ahead of the shoot and the film was meticulously storyboarded and designed around our budget constraints. The film was shot in two locations, both flats belonging to crew-members, which we chose because of the claustrophobic arches and doorways – another choice necessitated by budget, but one that ended up shaping the aesthetic of the film.

C8: You cut your teeth as a cinematographer. Were you more involved with those elements throughout production?

RS: I always like to be very involved in the cinematography when I shoot, but full credit here to Ollie Downey who has been my go-to-DOP for the last couple of years now. An early decision we made was to shoot in 4:3 aspect ratio, as we wanted the frame to feel both claustrophobic and lonely at the same time.

Absence is a bit of a departure for me, cinematography-wise, as I usually shoot a lot of handheld, opting for a raw, spontaneous feeling in the camerawork (particularly true when I was my own DP). In Absence, however, we really wanted to focus on strong, striking composition and slow, developing master shots that allowed for minimal editing. For this we referenced a lot of 70′s stuff including, yes, The Exorcist.

C8: Do you have any advice for emerging filmmakers or cinematographers embarking on a career in the industry?

RS: Keep busy. Always be making stuff, trying new things and following your curiosity. The more hours you put in, even on your own self-funded stuff, the better prepared you’re going to be for when you get your big break.

C8: What, in your opinion, makes for a good collaboration?

RS: It’s cliché, but I think the most important thing is finding collaborators who are on the same page as you creatively. Your ideas are not going to be best served by someone who envisions the film differently to you, even if they are incredibly talented, so it’s key to make sure that you share a common goal. In film it’s relatively easy, as most of us are cinema-nuts and our taste in film will be a good indicator of taste. I tend to put together lists of films to watch before we make each film, as well as my thoughts on what to take from them whilst watching. You need to be clear with your team about what you’re aiming for, and then allow them to input their own ideas about how to get there.

C8: What’s on the horizon for Rob Savage? Any exciting projects?

RS: The big project at the moment is Seaholme – a feature film about a bunch of fucked-up kids who discover a mysterious, wounded creature and, in turn, fuck it up when they try and raise it back to health. We’re just finalising the script and – touch wood – should be shooting either this year or early next. The film is being produced by Salon Pictures.

I also have two short films that are currently playing the festival circuit: Healey’s House, a revenge-thriller, and Dawn of the Deaf (also written with Jed Shepherd), a horror about an apocalyptic infection that only leaves the Deaf community unaffected.