In Disappear, Frank Prendergast plays Charlie, a young man whose life has been destroyed by anxious thoughts. He has recently come to a new and frightening conclusion about his condition, fearing that he may literally disappear into thin air. His psychiatrist, Lorraine Butler (George Hanover), tries to reason with him about the improbability of these fears. But Charlie’s deep convictions lead Lorraine to worry that this may be more than just another passing notion.
Writer/Director Shaun O Connor tells us about the evolution of the project – from idea, to radio play to short film.
Structurally, I love the idea of a story playing out within a restricted space, building suspense and narrative drive with dialogue alone. I was inspired by old episodes of The Twilight Zone, where short stories with huge implications would play out in small spaces with limited effects.
The idea for the film came from my own experience. In my mid-20s, I suffered from chronic anxiety and panic attacks for two years. I had a particularly frightening symptom called ‘depersonalization’, which is a constant feeling of being cut off from reality – like you’re watching life from behind a pane of glass. This, combined with anxious self-analysis, can lead to frightening conclusions, like thinking you’re in a dream you can’t wake up from, or that you’re going to disappear, which is what Charlie is convinced will happen.
Thankfully I recovered but the research, conversations and ideas I had during that time still fascinate me from a healthy perspective. With Disappear, I wanted to explore the idea of pain driving someone to believe an impossible concept, and if, and how, they can be helped.
The story began life as a short radio play that I put together with Half-Light Audio in Cork.
I was really happy with the results and developed it into a short film script. I gave it to George Hanover and Frank Prendergast, two amazing actors whose work I’d admired for years. Disappear was my first dramatic script so I was initially nervous about rehearsals, character discussions, etc., but working through it with George and Frank was a joy.
Both actors were training under a fantastic coach named Tom Kibbe so they approached the characters with similar techniques, which was fascinating to observe. George developed a calm, authoritative tone befitting an experienced therapist. Frank’s performance was particularly demanding as he had to physically portray someone who’s been suffering from an anxiety disorder for 15 years and all but given up on recovery – but who is still clever, engaged and eager to interrogate his condition.
Visually, it was a challenge to bring a cinematic feel to what is essentially a seated conversation but our cinematographer, Justin MacCarthy, did an amazing job. In terms of lighting we developed a theme that Charlie is in darkness, literally and metaphorically, and Lorraine is trying to coax him out of it. We also planned out some camera moves that would heighten specific moments, like Charlie’s recounting of ‘disappearances’ throughout history.
We didn’t have a budget to speak of but thankfully there’s a incredibly supportive film community in Cork and people were willing to help out for free or next to nothing. We found a perfect ‘home practice’ location and shot all the interiors in one day, and the exteriors for Charlie’s walk were done in an afternoon. Our makeup artist, Arlene Keating, did an incredible job of accentuating Charlie’s despair by giving him a gaunt, haunted look. In fact, after we wrapped on the outdoor shoot in Cork city, people who spoke to Frank on the street asked if he was genuinely sick.
The score was composed by Brian Lane (aka Dissolve Audio) and it really makes the film. I wanted a single theme that could be varied slightly and used at different points in the story. He created this beautiful Tangerine Dream / Brian Eno-esque track that’s both mournful and mysterious and captures the tone of the piece perfectly.
The film played Irish and UK festivals before being picked up by Berlin-based distribution agency Aug & Ohr, who brought Disappear to festival audiences around the world. Most recently it screened ahead of Kissing Candice in the Triskel Cork, and is now available to watch online.
Shaun’s latest short, Mary, premieres at the Galway Film Fleadh as part of the Irish Talent: New Shorts 6 (Fis Éireann/Screen Ireland World Premieres) programme on Saturday, 14th July at the Town Hall Theatre @ 12:00
When he manages to destroy the town’s beloved Virgin Mary statue, Charlie O’Connor does the only thing he can do; frame his older brother.
Director Shaun O’Connor
Producer Sharon Cronin