Don’t Save (2015)

A writer is forced to face a question she’s been dodging for 20 years when she is confronted by her past. Can she find a way to move on from the moment that haunts her?

Directed by: Rob Bowen
Written by: Rob Bowen
Starring: Stephanie Schlis & Erica Erickson

epilogue – Thrift’s Heroine (music video)

Director’s Notes

This film is actually quite the personal one. This is probably evidenced by the dedication at the end of the short. On May 5th, 1995, Christina Sickler was killed in a car accident in Blytheville, Arkansas. She was my friend. Someone I loved. And the first person who would introduce me to loss of this nature. At the beginning of the school year, I was a junior in high school, Christina, a sophomore ended up in my Spanish class and we were assigned to the same group. We became fast friends. And before the school year was out, I would lose her forever.

Christina would be the first person I would lose that was of my own age group. The supposed indestructibility of the teenage years we ignorantly live with (if we are privileged enough to have this bubble of naivety undisturbed by the oft destructive nature of life itself into our teens), came crashing down around me in such a heartbreaking way. She would also teach me about regret. About losing someone after being given a chance to express how much this person meant to you, but not taking that chance. For twenty years I have carried this guilt, and after numerous poems written in honor of my dear lost friend, I decided it was time I made a film for her. To give me the chance to say what I did not the day I saw her last.

After a memorable Cinco de Mayo party in our Spanish class, and as the school day ended, I was on my way to work when I stopped for gasoline around the corner from the school at a little shop and gas station called Cherrytree. It was here I would cross paths with and speak to Christina for a final time. As we parted ways, she yelled out of the window of the vehicle that would ultimately take her life hours from that moment, saying “I love you, Rob!” and instead of returning the sentiment that I most certainly shared for this dear friend, I answered with a smart ass “I know”. Channeling my inner Solo, I guess. When I would get word later that evening about the accident and her death as I stood in my family’s driveway having been flagged down by Josh Moody (another member of our Spanish group in class), I was lost.

Needless to say, I didn’t process or deal with this loss as healthily as I could have. However, I took away from that day the lesson of always telling those close to me how I feel about them when I have the chance. To create the opportunity if necessary. But I was forever determined that those I loved would know it. This is something I have failed at numerous times still in my life, and as other losses have come, they too have carried these regrets. The first person to come into my life that would nearly leave without knowing my feelings for them after experiencing this loss in the late Spring of 1995 was the person who would turn out to be my soulmate and partner for life. And it is because of Christina that I found the courage to speak my feelings for Angie when faced with her possible leaving town. But that’s another story.

This film was a story it took me twenty years to be able to tell, and I could not have picked two better actors to take this journey with me and bring this story to life in such an effective and moving way. After numerous delays in the shooting, I was moved to recast the role of the writer in the film which initially I was set to play myself opposite Erica as Tina. These delays turned out to be a blessing, because I managed to get Stephanie to agree to work with Whatsabudget Films for the first time (having seen her stage work at the University and missed an opportunity to work with her briefly on Lather Rinse Repeat). This also created a very weird bit of cinematic chemistry with the project and my life as it is based almost entirely on me and my experiences in dealing with this loss.

When I wrote this script originally, I gave Tina the line “I’ve been in 15 of your films, isn’t that enough”. Now when I wrote the script for Don’t Save, and intended it as my next immediate project it was set to only be the thirteenth short film in my body of work. When writing the line I even joked with myself that this created a bit more distance between the project and the reality of my life. But as the delays happened and I realized it would not be able to be shot and released by my intended May 5th, 2015 release date, I put the film on the backburner temporarily to work on other projects. Two of which I finished in the Spring and Summer of 2015. When Erica’s schedule became free again, and Stephanie was signed on to do the film, we started working on shooting and I was hit with the realization that Don’t Save was now film 15 of the set. Tina’s line was now eerily true as Christina’s memory has fueled so many of the characters I have written into films over the years as writer’s tend to do.

So many things made this film more than just a narrative blended with elements of an essay film (as I was informed it was by a respected friend and fellow filmmaker whom I showed the film ahead of its release), but instead a cathartic experience of grieving through the artistic process. But in the end, it was also one of the films I am most proud of creating. Not only because it memorializes a dear friend, but because of the spectacular work that everyone involved put into it, giving rise to a beautiful film. I was also lucky enough to be granted permission from the band Thrift to use their song Heroine in the film which really added to the tone and emotional punch of the piece.

I really enjoyed playing with the power triangle in this piece this way I did. Quite a lot actually, considering the length of the film overall. Also in this piece, I played with threading an idea throughout the narrative in the visuals that connects with how much this situation that Lera (our writer) faces in the film is very much of her own design. In fact, if you pay close enough attention, and are able to pinpoint the various dots to connect, you will see how this very idea has enveloped her throughout the narrative. Almost creating its own virtual and unseen power triangle that contains the majority of the film’s sequences within its boundaries.

Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased to have worked with the small group of exactly four individuals to put this film together (given that this was the number of people in Christina and my Spanish class group in high school), it really added another layer to the cinematic chemistry the piece ended up carrying. I only hope that the film resonates and touches others a fraction of the way that it does with me.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Save (2015)

  1. Its taken me 21 years to find out where my very first best friend was. Last I heard she was in Texas. I have searched and searched. It was only today that I have learned of her death so many years ago. We were neighbors in Wentzville, Missouri. Our lives went in separate ways when my parents divorced And I had to move. I never forgot her though. My heart has been breaking all day. Thank you for this beautiful piece dedicated to her.

    • Wow, Allison, I am at a loss for words. I cannot imagine how heartbreaking your day has been after all these years just learning of her passing. I am further shocked by you finding my film, but I am so glad that you did. She touched so many lives in her brief time on this Earth, and I truly think that is evidenced in the fact that her impact is still felt to this day. I am so sorry for how your search ended.

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