Verge Interviews – Director: Alexandra McGuinness

Thanks to the lovely team at ar:pr, I was able to interview Alexandra McGuinness who is the director and writer behind the film She’s Missing.

If you have the time, you can check out my review for that here: https://vergemagazine.co.uk/verge-reviews-shes-missing/

Alexandra McGuinness was born in Dublin, Ireland. She graduated from the London Film school, her graduation film SHE OWNS EVERYTHING was chosen to represent her graduating class. Her debut feature film LOTUS EATERS premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival before being released theatrically in the US and Europe by Curzon, and Pathe. She has directed commercials, short films, and music videos for artists and brands such as The Voice, Clinique, Samsung, Sony, Universal records and Chanel. Alexandra was named one of Variety’s 10 Brits to Watch and featured on the cover of the magazine (despite being Irish). She also wrote and directed the critically acclaimed RIDERS (2016) Web Series starring Nora Kirkpatrick for Super Deluxe.

Synopsis for She’s Missing: Heidi and Jane are best friends living in a small town in the desert. When Jane, a Rodeo Queen contestant and military wife goes missing, Heidi, now alone in the world, must begin a search across the desert for her friend. She digs up secrets and encounters the violence of life on the road, crossing paths with a series of unusual men and women in her search for an honest connection in a dishonest world

Verge: What inspired you to create a film like this? Where did the idea start?

Alexandra McGuinness: I think the idea started when I moved to America in 2013. I was driving around the desert in California a lot and I came across this town that had quite a lot of missing posters in it. There was this one in particular that I did a lot of research on. It was a woman who had been missing for 12 years, her mother was still looking for her but the police had not really been involved in the investigation. There were some really weird things, all the search was kind of in Facebook groups. There is not anything recognisable in the movie that is directly linked to this woman. The family would not recognise it or anything but it was the first idea of the story.

I think then it was just being in America, being in the desert as I had never been before. Being in a desert like that was an alien kind of environment for me. I knew I wanted to make a story about a friendship that was not very healthy, an obsessive/co-dependent friendship that a lot of girls have in there early twenties. I wanted it to have a greater power struggle to it as well.

V: It must have been weird to come across that sort of missing poster experience.

AMG: I think it is, especially along these interstate highways that cross America. There is just a lot of missing women because people will go missing in one state and show up in another without anyone knowing.

V: Partially based on that sort of information, was there anything you decided not to include in the final version?

AMG: I mean there is a lot of scenes we shot that I really liked but just did not work. One scene, in particular, involves Heidi looking for Jane and is told she is in this place and when she goes there it is like a ghost town but it is actually just full of men. There are only men in this town and they start chasing her down the street, it was quite extreme and at the end, there are maybe 50 men chasing her in a circle. She manages to get back in her truck but they are just surrounding her. People were like this is too weird and I really tried for as long as I could to keep it in. Then I had to finally admit that maybe it was a leap but maybe it will be an extra at some point.

V: How did you find the experience of filming in a desert? Was it a challenge or a unique experience?

AMG: The heat was pretty extreme both in New Mexico and where we shot the final scenes in California. That was incredibly hot, it got to like 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people went to the hospital, we always had to have a medic on site who was needed a lot because of heat exhaustion. We shot a lot at night, which was actually a relief from the heat.

The other thing is at that time in New Mexico it was storm season. So at least once or twice during the day, there was a lightning storm and a lot of rain. The thing is, you are not allowed to shoot during a lightning storm because it is really dangerous. If someone on the crew sees a flash of lighting you just have to stop filming if it is in a certain distance. You have to shut down until it passes, so we actually lost a lot of time because of that. There is one flash of lighting in the film which we managed to catch on camera though.

Eiza Gonzalez in “She’s Missing” © Ripple World Pictures, TW Films 2018

V: So, how have you found showcasing this at the Edinburgh Film Festival recently?

AMG: Well, I was not able to go there because I had a baby at the same time. So, unfortunately, I was not able to go but we had already premiered it in Dublin and we showed it at a festival in Newport beach in America. The audiences there were responsive and it was really nice to see different peoples responses in both Ireland and America. I also heard it was a full house in Edinburgh so people seem to like it.

When you spend so much time on it, it is always interesting to see the different audience’s responses to it. It is in the UK next week and has a theatrical in America soon as well, so fingers crossed.

V: Did any of your previous works inspire you or help you produce this? Was there something you did differently or made sure you did this time around?

AMG: There were quite a few people who I worked with on my first film Lotus Eaters who I worked with again this time around. I think with my first film it had a lot of pop music, whereas with this one I wanted it to have its own original sound that was unique to the film.

I worked with the composer and all the music is designed and created by hand so that was a new experience. I also had worked in America but not made a film so there is a lot of different rules and processes.

V: Recently there has been more of a driven force focused on highlighting women filmmakers in the industry. As we know the equal representation currently is not great but is getting better. Did any thought of that cross your mind when making this film? What are your thoughts on this? 

AMG: At the time of making the film, there was a lot of talk about people wanting to work with female directors and make more female-driven content, but to be honest I have not really noticed that much of difference. I have a lot of women friends who have movies on the festival circuit and that is great, but the larger opportunities that come after your first or second film, it still seems to be mostly men who get those. There is still quite a long way to go.

V: What do you want people to feel or take away after seeing this film?

AMG: I think that it says something universal about loneliness and the need to connect with people. The questionable relationships that follow that and I would like them to retain some of the imagery of the film as well. It is special and it tells the story well. I suppose I would like them to think about the film in regards to their own relationships. I am just excited to see any kind of responses to it really.

V: My last question, was there any sort of scene you really enjoyed creating or directing?

Eiza Gonzalez and Lucy Fry in “She’s Missing” © Ripple World Pictures, TW Films 2018

AMG: The opening of the film we shot in a Native American reservation and I really wanted it to be shot in visually striking place and we found this really amazing location.  We filmed it the first week we were shooting, it had a horse and we had the two girls and I feel it just really shows there dynamic in about 3 minutes. It was tough to shoot because it was so hot and out in the open but it was the first time I had the two girls doing a big scene together in that visually stunning place. When we did that, I kind of knew that the film worked in a way.

Thank you again to Alexandra McGuinness for that great interview and to the people behind ar:pr for giving me the opportunity. 

Check out the trailer below for She’s Missing:

SHE’S MISSING will be released 1st July on iTunes, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin Media, Google Play and Youtube

Film Title SHE’S MISSING

Production Companies TW Films / Ripple World Pictures

Writer-Director Alexandra McGuinness

Producers Dominic Wright, Anna O’Malley, Eamonn Cleary

Executive Producers Jacqueline Kerrin, Graham Appleby, Adam Stanhope, Lesley McKimm

Cast Lucy Fry, Eiza Gonzalez, Josh Hartnett, Christian Camargo, SheilaVand

Director of Photography Gareth Munden

Production Designer Carol Uraneck

Editor Mairead McIvor

Composer David Harrington

Based on Original screenplay

Genre Drama / Thriller