The music swells as Sasha jogs through trees, the bird’s eye shot revealing a vast green field before she falls to the ground, clutching her ears and head. Sasha has explained to us: ‘Tonight I’m going to die… or go away.’

Director Mike Smith cites his first inspiration for this woman’s last day on Earth to be a sci-fi, symphonic score that he fell in love with before penning a word. “Stage Five’s genesis is in its music,” he begins. “About a year ago, I randomly discovered an artist/composer named Paul Baudler. His music was very Brian Eno-esque and I was drawn to how it would shift from ambient smoothness to more spacey symphonic styles…. So I decided to write a short film around the music itself, using the pre-existing tracks and their beats to sync with the narrative of the story. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever attempted to do. I reached out to Paul, told him of my plan, and got his blessing.”

As Smith’s story evolved from page to production, he began to pull from his very near surroundings to find his next influences for “Stage Five”: cinematographer Brandon Roudebush and lead actress Sarah Jacobs. “As the director, my most important decision was ‘staying out of their way’ and letting their talents shine,” Smith recounts. “With Brandon… he used stage direction and lighting in very particular ways to sync with the emotion of a given scene, and used tools like the Ronin Gimbal and drones to capture terrific shots. With Sarah, she was able to humanize Sasha in a way that added emotional weight to a story that otherwise would have been too focused on technicals. Her performance is amazing to watch – in a very short period of time, she has to hit every possible emotion on the human spectrum in exploring the five stages of grief.”

Amongst familiar problems like rain days and scheduling conflicts, unique challenges presented themselves in this particular film: syncing the footage to the already chosen score. “While one would think that is largely a post-production/editing issue,” explains Smith, “in order to properly hit certain ‘beats’, our shots had to be timed perfectly in certain instances to ensure that these dramatic ‘beats’ hit the exact moments that we wanted. Ultimately, in order for the score to work and not be distracting, it had to seamlessly blend into the narrative, which affected every shot in the film. That was very challenging.”

Throughout his interview, Smith finds a common thread through the successful aspects of “Stage Five”, “As a writer/director, I love taking stories I’ve created and collaborating with extremely talented individuals to help bring them to life.” Smith speaks about his previous film in Indie Oaks 2016 and acknowledges how successful collaboration makes even a film festival that much more enjoyable. “We had the pleasure of screening “Gala” at seven different film festivals in Pittsburgh, New York City and Los Angeles. The Indie Oaks was by far the most organized, enthusiastic and enjoyable of the bunch. The selections were all top-notch and there’s a real sense of camaraderie among all of the filmmakers.”

Spend Sasha’s last day on Earth with her, April 15 at Indie Oaks Film Festival.
Buy tickets to the film festival.
Say “I’m going!” on the Facebook event.