Robert: Absence is, on its surface, about the emptiness that can follow the loss of a loved one. After all the drama and the tears, you find yourself waking up with the alarm clock and still carrying out your usual routines—doing so because that’s just what you do, and because carrying on as though everything is normal might be the only way to make it so, eventually.
The film offers a snapshot of a man mourning someone very close to him, and over the course of the film we get some clues as to the sinister cause of his grief.
What was it like working with Paul McGann?
Robert: Paul was our first choice for the role and it was incredible to work with him. 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.
What challenges did you face writing and directing the film?
Robert: 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.
What do you think you learned from each aspect of writing and directing?
Robert: The film was my first opportunity to write something with my good friend Jed Shepherd (writer of the legendary “Slashed” starring Ash & Coldplay) and we’ve since gone on to collaborate on another short, which is just being finished up now. We definitely took a lot from making Absence onto the next film, especially the economic storytelling – Absence was made for no money and on a tight timescale, so we had to boil every scene down into one or two key images, which helped to make the visuals very striking. This is definitely something that I’ve taken on board: better to tell the story in a handful of striking images, rather than go overboard with coverage and find the film in the edit.
Where do you hope to see the film going in the future?
Robert: The film has had a lovely film festival run, playing at both horror festivals like Frightfest and prestige festivals like BFI London Film Festival. It’s really nice to finally have it online for the world to see, and our only hope is that it reaches as many people as possible.
What other projects are you working on?
Robert: The big project at the moment is “Seaholme” – a feature film about a bunch of f**ked-up kids who discover a mysterious, wounded creature and, in turn, f**k 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.