On Friday afternoon I had the grateful opportunity to talk to the director of a great new thriller called She’s Missing, Alexandra McGuinness.
The talented Irish filmmaker talked about her project giving a fantastic insight into the world of filmmaking from originally shooting this project in 2013, which was scrapped and reshot to the film we have today.
Shaun Wren – How did the idea of the story come about?
Alexandra McGuinness – “It was a lot of things but it started maybe four or five years ago when I moved from Ireland to California and I was driving around the Californian desert quite a lot and there was this one town I drove to that had a lot of missing posters in it and one poster, in particular, I looked up the women and it was a very sad story.
“This woman had been missing for 12 years and her mother was leading the search through Facebook groups and there were some weird things about her disappearance. The movie doesn’t borrow too much from that story, it wouldn’t be recognisable to anyone who knew her but it started off the idea.
“Then I was interested in this sort of female friendship that is kind of unhealthy and co-dependant and I wanted to involve that and around that period of time was the first time I went to a rodeo and saw a rodeo queen events. It was all these elements that came together.”
SW – What was the idea of for making Heidi and Jane friends, but polar opposites of each other?
AG – “I think both these girls in this town that they’re probably not going to identify with and be friends with. I think Jane (Gonzalez) in particular, she’s probably the most exciting thing going on in this town and Heidi (Fry) is just drawn to her.
“I think the friendship is a type of friendship that a lot of girls experience in their late teen/early 20s where its slightly obsessive and it’s the main thing in your life and there’s a power struggle element to it. It’s the building blocks for future friendships but with these two girls they don’t get that far I suppose and the drama is asking the question is the relationship worth saving if it can destroy you.”
SW – So were the characters based on any people you knew growing up?
AG – “Yeah, the Jane character is based on girls I’ve known before, who can turn a friendship into this power struggle or use it as currency in that way but she’s also a complete invention and Eiza Gonzalez had a lot of to do with bringing her [Jane] into reality and we changed the character a bit, once she was cast.”
SW – So were the actors able to bring their own input into the characters, similar to Lucy as Heidi?
AG – “Yeah. Once they were all cast we talked about certain things that they felt the character would more do or things that didn’t seem right like I remember in the script Heidi was a smoker a lot of the time when she was wandering around outside the BBQ restaurant.
“But Lucy Fry’s has this wonderful, innocent fairy in a way and it totally wouldn’t make sense for her to smoke cigarettes. So we got rid of that and it made sense for her version of the character to be wandering around in places but more exploring rather than being there for a reason.
“Josh Hartnett (plays Ren) had a lot of ideas about what sort of cult leader he would be playing and he wanted to visit [cults] (there’s actually a scene that didn’t make it into the movie but he’s in sports gear and he’s drinking smoothie or like a sports drink which was an interesting idea he had).”
SW – How did the cult idea come about? Was it researching online or stories in newspapers?
AG – “That idea came about when I was initially researching the film and driving around the desert there was a house that I saw that was built into a volcano. It seemed like this place where the cult came that you wouldn’t even know that there was a house there.
“The idea of a drug that makes you feel powerful, that you don’t have any power in your life came about and the cult stands from that.”
SW – How long did the writing process take and did you have ideas of actresses to play the part whilst writing? Or was it just a blank slate?
AG – “I wrote the script in 2013 and it changed all the way up till we shot in 2017, but we initially started shooting the movie in California in 2013 with a totally different cast.
“That version of the movie fell apart. It was recast in 2017 with a different cast and I think this version, not only because great actors were attached, worked better and is more successful.”
SW – How did you feel when you had to basically restart your film?
AG – “I mean whenever anything like that falls apart, it feels awful because of so many peoples time and energy and money that has gone into that  version of it. You just feel like you’re letting all these people down. It was tough but, in the end, it was the best thing for the film.”
SW – I was looking up and saw there was an eight-and-a-half-week schedule from pre-production to shooting, how were the stress levels working on a project you were directing and writing and possibly rewriting?
AG – “Yeah there were defiantly things being rewritten as you were shooting it’s the bonus things you get or don’t get that makes the script change as you’re going along or locations or actors that fall apart along the way.
“The shoot itself was, I think, five weeks and I think it was two months of pre-production in New Mexico because we were there for quite a lot but it never feels like it’s going to be enough time. The more time you have in pre-production, the better because people shoot movies so quickly these days, the more prepared you are the better.”
SW – Do you remember what you were doing two years ago during this stage of the pre-production?
AG – “I had a call with different composers about the score. We initially had another composer attached a friend of mine in a band and they decided they can’t [do it] because of their touring schedule.
“So there was this scramble to find a new composer [and we found] Dave Harrington, I had a call with him and he’s in a band called Darkside. He had never scored a movie but he was so brilliant to work with and during the edit, he would adjust things and he would also compose through our cut and we would cut to his music.”
SW – Was music an important part of the movie for you?
AG – “Yeah, it was. My first film Lotus Eaters [starring a fresh-faced Johnny Flynn] had a lot of sync tracks like 26 pop songs that were in the film.
“With this film, I wanted to do an entirely original score and soundscape that was unique to this film with a mixture of composer Dave Harrington and the sound designer Kieran Lynch, I think they created that and when there’s not music there’s this atmospheric sound that Kieran did.
“There’s one piece of music that isn’t Dave’s during Jane’s wedding an extra when we were location scouting and his mother was like ‘I have this son who’s going through Juilliard from this town in the middle of nowhere and he’s a classical guitarist.’ He was 17, very nervous and played the guitar live at the wedding and it sounded beautiful.”
SW – Is there currently anything you’re working on that you can talk about and is filming back in Ireland something you want to do?
AG – “The next film I’m supposed to do is going to shot in Ireland and it’s called Lucia.
“It’s about James Joyce’s daughter who was a modern dancer in the 20s and 30s and that is a project with an actress Antonia Campbell, she’s at the end of the film she plays Heidi’s aunt and she was the lead in my first film.
“So hopefully next year it’s due to shoot and Lucia was a modern dancer who suffered from mental illness and spent 50 years in an institution and her recovery didn’t need to be that long.”
SHE’S MISSING is released on iTunes and On Demand on Sky Store, Virgin Media, Google Play, Youtube and Amazon