Congratulations to Shawn Christensen for winning the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film at Sunday night's 85th annual Academy Awards presentation.
Shawn Christensen plays the lead in his Oscar-nominated short film 'Curfew,' which won the Christopher Reeve Award at last fall's Williamstown Film Festival.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In his short film "Curfew," Shawn Christensen's protagonist has his life changed by a simple phone call.
Christensen had his own life-changing moment via the telephone earlier this year.
"The way we found out ... we watched the telecast announcing the [Academy Award] nominations, and we started getting phone calls from family members," Christensen recalled recently. "Little did we know [the nominees] were released online. We woke up at 5:30 in the morning only to find out 15 minutes after everyone else."
Anticlimactic or not, the news that "Curfew" is up for an Oscar for Live Action Short Film moved the indie filmmaker into the big leagues.
"There's a lot of work involved," the Upstate New York-raised Christensen said in a telephone interview from his office in Los Angeles. "There's interviews and press kits and other things that you don't think about.
"As a short film, you don't do that stuff. You put it out and hope someone, somewhere, even one person, enjoys it.
"Then you get nominated, and you get actual attention, which is interesting."
"Curfew" drew plenty of attention at last October's Williamstown Film Festival, where it won the Christopher Reeve Award as the audience's pick for the best short film at the 14-year-old festival.
Christensen's second short film focuses on the encounter between Richie, played by Christensen, and his niece, Sophia. The film begins with Richie at a crossroads of despair; his suicide plans are interrupted by a phone call asking him to babysit for Sophia, with whom he has no prior relationship.
It is technically Christensen's third short, though only one other, 2010's "Brink," made its way onto the festival circuit. "Curfew" heads into Sunday's Oscars with a bevy of awards already to its credit, including Best Short Film at the Stockholm International Film Festival and a trio of trophies — Best Director, Best Actor and Grand Jury Prize — from the Seattle Shorts Film Festival.
Part of the film's appeal is the performance by Fatima Ptacek, an accomplished young actress whose credits include roles on television's "Body of Proof" and "Royal Pains" and as the voice of Dora the Explorer in 17 episodes of the animated series and a TV movie featuring the character.
"I had seen her on a national morning show where she presented herself really well for a 9-year-old," Christensen said. "She came in to audition, and she just nailed it. That was it. There wasn't too much to think about after that."
Another memorable element of "Curfew": a highly choreographed dream sequence that no doubt is part of the reason Christensen refers to the film as a "money pit."
"I poured a lot of money out of my pocket into it, never expecting to see anything out of it," he said. "I thought it would be a calling card. Our producer urged us to submit it to more than a couple of key festivals."
Since the film's nomination, Christensen said he has gained a new appreciation for how expensive short film making can be.
"I've seen the other nominated shorts, and all year long I was thinking ['Curfew'] was expensive," he said. "Now it looks like one of the cheaper films. They're all like $200,000 or $300,000 each. Our budget was under $50,000."
A win on Sunday night, and it's likely Christensen's next budget will be significantly more than that. Of course, the nomination alone opens some doors.
'Curfew' is available on iTunes.
"I've written a feature [version of] 'Curfew,' and we're setting up financing now," he said. "I think — win or no win — being nominated helps. We'll see if we can set it up."
Before he started making films, Christensen was a musician in a band called Stellastarr*. The Pratt Institute graduate has sold several screenplays, and "Brink," which he also wrote and directed, was an official selection at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
He wrote the screenplay for "Curfew" with himself in mind for the lead role, and he describes himself more as a writer and actor who directs than a director who cast himself.
"I started out as an actor before I was doing anything," Christensen said. "Directing is a new thing I feel very encouraged by."
His callback for an acting gig created a scheduling a conflict that kept him from attending the WFF last fall, but Christensen still cherishes the Reeve Award. It holds special significance because the "trophy" is work of art by Williamstown artist Stephen Hannock.
"We got it in the mail and it's beautiful," Christensen said. "It's up in our apartment in New York right now. I hope to go [to the festiva]) next year. I've heard from a lot of people who love the festival."
And local cinephiles who love "Curfew" can cheer on Christensen on Sunday night either in their living rooms or at Spring Street's Images Cinema, where they are hosting an Oscar party starting at 7:30 p.m.
Christensen does not want to tempt fate, but he did admit he will go to the ceremony prepared to win — just in case.
"I've been told to write a speech, and I will, eventually, probably the day before," he said. "I'll write a list of people I should thank. I feel it's too presumptuous to write anything in stone. I'll probably just write a list of people. I need to think and figure out how to do it under 45 seconds.
"If I forget to thank my mom, I'm in trouble."
"Curfew" is available on iTunes.