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Meet Shawn Christensen, Writer-Director-Star of Oscar-Nominated Short 'Curfew'

Thompson on Hollywood By Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood February 15, 2013 at 3:11PM

Leading the pack in the race for the best live-action short Oscar is Hollywood screenwriter Shawn Christensen's gritty 19-minute "Curfew," which stars the multi-hyphenate as suicidal New Yorker Richie who babysits for his nine-year-old neice Sophia. Safe to say we will be hearing from this actor-writer-filmmaker again: he's currently expanding "Curfew" into a full-length feature. (See the short on iTunes.)
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Curfew - Images three

ML: How did you find the dynamic between the tough and mature kid and her immature uncle?

SC: Nothing specific, when it comes to writing things I have most fun investing in characters -- and the dialogue.  I know roles -- Sophie could tear Richie down verbally all day long, seven days a week, and he would just take it because he loves her.  Strangers it would be another thing, but for his family, he'll let them.  I kept that dynamic throughout.

ML: Tell me about the flip book from Richie's childhood?

SC: My dad taught me how cartoons worked by drawing them on ten-page flip-books, and my Mom bought me 100-page pads and I drew my own.  The idea came to make it part of the movie, but sadly, I didn't have any of the books from childhood that would work in the movie so I had to redraw them.

ML: You drew the flip-books in the movie?

SC: Well, you'll see there is only one I show in the movie and the other one underneath, I didn't get to finish.  I would do them overnight when we were shooting.

ML: In these flip-books, there is a cartoon character named Sophia, who is shot by an arrow, and then has an anvil dropped on her -- but still survives.  This is a Phoenix theme paralleled by Richie, who tries to kill himself, but bounces back.

SC: I think he's a fatalist at every level.  He wants to be needed, he wants people to pay attention to him, he wants someone to come look at his flip-books.  He hopes his niece Sophia is named after the cartoon character he drew.

ML: What's going through Richie's head when he says "okay" -- both at the beginning of the film and at the end?  Do you see a difference?

SC:  These are slightly different "okays."  In the first one, he felt needed for the first time in a long time, he was flattered.  In the second, the "okay" was similar but now it was saying: "I'm not going to end my life."  It's  a dark sense of humor, you know: "I gotta check out of this place, but I can't because I need to look after Sophia next Friday."

ML:  The music in "Curfew" is also really engaging.  How did you you choose the specific pieces?

SC: Our music supervisor, Brienne Rose selected the type of music.  She would give me about thirty choices, I didn't like any of them, she would come back with ten or twenty more.  She was looking for things that were really fresh, and cool, and also affordable.  I had the Vera Lynn song in the beginning and the Alexander song at the end credits, those were the two I had in mind.

ML:  Do you have a favorite song in the film?  One that you were listening to a lot at the time?

SC: The Alexander song, "Truth" -- I fell in love with it when we started shooting.  It wasn't out on the radio, but it was in my head and I was playing it all the time.  It happened that the management said we could use it, because they could have just as easily said no or given us a really high quote.  At one point we went after a Rolling Stones song and they gave us a quote [laughs].  And it was a good quote, but it was just too expensive.

ML: What song was it?

SC: "Playing with Fire." But it was good that we went with a song that was more fun, so the audience knows they could laugh a little.  With something dark, they might not have known they could loosen up.

ML: What's next for you?

SC: What I'm mostly working on now is trying to get a feature length version of "Curfew."  

ML:  Will this be a sequel or extension of the evening?  How will you expand it?  

SC: It will still take place over one night, but with more depth about Richie and about Maggie [Richie's sister] and what she's going through, and more about Sophia and Richie.   I wasn't sure about it at first, though now that I have a draft I feel better about it.

This article is related to: Academy Awards, Shorts, Short Film, Curfew, Tribeca Film Festival


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