Sage Bannick is the director, producer, and cowriter of The Absent, a new thriller set in the sordid world of a Washington high school. He has also worked as an actor, writer, and producer on Ari Bernstein’s 2004 film, Just Hustle.
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EI: You’ve worked as a producer, writer, actor, and now, director. Did you always plan on wearing so many hats in the film industry?
SB: I have always enjoyed every aspect of entertainment, when I was younger I worked as a radio DJ, a journalist and a studio photographer. So after all my studies in college were done it was natural to write and act. Directing film is really the culmination of all arts.
EI: What was it about The Absent that made you decide it was the film to make your debut as a feature length director?
SB: We wrote "The Absent" specifically for the locations we had available. We didn’t have much money but we had some great resources, like lumber to build sets and a high school that granted us full access. In our first feature "Just Hustle" we had trouble with production sound so we tried to keep the scenes short and sweet. We also knew their was a good market for thrillers so "The Absent" was a good project to helm.
EI: What are some of the benefits and challenges of shooting a film without studio backing?
SB: No backing usually means less problems but generally any film has it’s fair share of conflict. People who work in the medium only do it because of their passion to tell stories. I look forward to doing a studio film if the opportunity presents itself until then I will continue to make little thrillers.
EI: The Absent is set around high school characters, but the story feels much more mature than your average dead teenager movies. Was it your conscious choice to play with genre expectations?
SB: We really wanted to pay homage to David Lynch. You can see several references. We wanted to create a film that would appeal to the horror hounds, the teens and the movie buffs like me and my co-writers. I love the genre and want to continue to work in it doing different things. The next project will focus more on character.
EI: Your cast had a unique and believable chemistry onscreen. How did you develop that during production?
SB: Several of the cast members were friends or had worked together on previous projects. We flew them up early to have time to bond. They were all extremely close by the end of the shoot.
EI: It seems like you drew a lot of inspiration from the Washington state landscape in filming The Absent. How did your setting influence the tone and look of the film?
SB: I love Washington and I really wanted to take advantage of the beautiful Methow Valley. I really paid homage to "Twin Peaks" and Northern Exposure" which were also filmed not too far away.
EI: The practical gore effects really stand out compared to so many modern horror films that rely on slick CGI. What made you choose this route?
SB: We wanted the blood to feel as natural as possible.
EI: There are quite a few scenes set outdoors in The Absent. How do you handle the added challenge of time constraints when you have to deal with losing daylight?
SB: We shot all our outdoor stuff during "The Magic Hour" so the sunlight was perfect for shooting. We also had a couple of guys with reflectors. Then in post we had a great color timer at Laser Pacific dialing everything in to match perfectly.
EI: You were one of three screenwriters credited for The Absent. From your experience, what are some of the benefits and drawbacks to collaborating on a screenplay?
SB: I love to collaborate and I was really fortunate to be able to work with two good friends on the script. They both had strong ideas and the best ideas always got on the page. I hope I can work with Ari Bernstein and Damon Abdallah again.
EI: Do you plan to continue working in the horror/thriller genre?
SB: Horror and comedy are the best places to cut your teeth for young filmmakers. I hope I can continue to add to the genres.
EI: What and who are some of your biggest influences as a filmmaker and writer?
SB: I really pull from my friends Lucky Mckee, Scott Spiegal and Boaz Yakin.
EI: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
SB: I am working on three scripts right now hopefully one of them attracts some money and I can get the team back together to do it all over again.
EI: When can we expect to see The Absent on DVD?
SB: We have a few offers for distribution but we are still waiting to hear back from 2 companies. We should have our final plan by the end of the month.
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To learn more about The Absent, visit the film’s official website at www.theabsentmovie.com. More information is available at the film’s Facebook page (Absent Movie) and on YouTube at The Absent OMP.