Award of Excellence – “Disconnected” (USA)

Title: Disconnected
Runtime: 12 min
Country: USA
Director: Daniel Sheahan
Placement: Award of Excellence + Best Actress (Danielle Joy Foley) + Best Editing (Angelica Gonzalez)
Competition: June, 2021

Synopsis: Kathy receives a text from her daughter that there is a shooter at her school, then the line goes dark. Kathy will spend the next few hours desperately trying to contact her daughter, or she may never see her again.

FILMMAKER Q&A – Daniel Sheahan – Director

OR: What was the inspiration for your film?

DS: I was inspired to create this story after I received a text from my brother that there was a shooter at his school. He brushed it off like it was no big deal, but even so I was shaking. It made me wonder, how would someone feel if their relative was actually in danger? And for me it was a brother, but what if it was a parent faced with the fear of losing a child? After several months of research and communication with Parkland families, I created Disconnected to try to show what a family member goes through when faced with the possibility that their loved one may have been hurt.

OR: When did you conceive the idea for your film and how long did it take before it was realized?

DS: I had the idea in early 2020 after my brother texted me, but then Covid hit so everyone went indoors. Film productions were put on the shelf, and it seemed like this project wouldn’t be possible. However my cinematographer, Vicky Rattanavipapong, realized that the limitations Covid posed could actually be an opportunity to tell the story in a more intimate way. We could take the difficulty of virtual filmmaking, and use it to really emphasize the claustrophobic and tense feeling of being alone, feeling like you’re losing your loved one. Vicky researched methods to be able to share camera footage live on screen via a Zoom call, and helped make me realize it was still possible to tell this story. After a few months of testing, we decided to go forward with the project in Fall of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. We actually completed the film without any crew members or cast physically interacting with anyone on set, since all our communications took place virtually.

OR: What was the most challenging aspect of working in a short film format?

DS: There are so many additional layers to any story you always want to explore, like showing the whole town of Parkland and their reactions, or adding further development to the Mother/Daughter relationship. But ultimately in a short film, we had to limit the size and scope, so as to still create an emotionally impactful, logically consistent short, without trying to bite off more than we can chew. 

OR: What was the most challenging aspect of your production?

DS: We filmed it entirely over Zoom! During Covid lockdowns, we weren’t able to leave our own locations, so I was in Sacramento, Vicky was in Thailand, and Danielle was outside of Philadelphia. I auditioned actors all around the country, entirely remotely, with the understanding that the location of the film was going to have to be the location of whoever we casted to play Kathy. We ultimately found Danielle, who gave an incredible performance, but more than just acting, between every take she had to set up the camera and tripod, attach the lenses, and then use an HDMI cable to connect the picture back to a Zoom call, where she could share her screen with Vicky and I, who would tell her where to move the camera. 

Vicky rented a similar camera over in Thailand, so that she could shoot test footage, and then screen-share that with Danielle to help show what the shot was supposed to look like and make it possible to set framing. She was getting up in the middle of the night at 3AM Thailand time in order to be part of our shoot halfway around the world!

OR: Do you have any advice for first-time filmmakers?

DS: Embrace your limitations! They will force you to come up with creative solutions. There’s no way this project ever would have happened had we not been forced to come up with unique ways to tell the story. Hopefully it communicates the emotion and the important social message we wanted to convey, despite being made entirely virtually, for almost zero budget.