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The Absence is
Always Present

a deeply personal dramatic feature film

by Jason Charnick

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Log Line

After an inexplicable tragedy results in the stillbirth of their daughter, a pair of would-be parents take opposite journeys processing the loss as they struggle to find meaning and purpose in their lives.

“(And here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.”

JOAN DIDION

Story

Doug and Shelley Hensley are a happily married couple in L.A. expecting their first child. On a routine obstetrician visit, they receive the devastating news that their daughter no longer has a heartbeat. Forced to endure the stillbirth of their first child, Doug and Shelley embark on conflicting journeys of grief and healing as they slowly drift apart.

 

Doug lets his mounting anger shatter every relationship he has. He becomes estranged from his brother Zach, a small-time comic, leaving him unable to maintain a relationship with his young niece, Amy. Shelley meanwhile finds support from Laurie Samuels, a popular online figure in the infertility and baby loss community. Laurie, with her own story of loss, encourages her to start a foundation for similarly suffering families. Shelley bristles at the idea, but promises to consider it.

 

Doug is unable to function at work and with Shelley uncomfortable around children in large crowds, the couple take a intimate train voyage to Seattle to visit Doug’s parents and reset their relationship. When that fails miserably, Doug’s outbursts become increasingly violent, leading to his incarceration after nearly killing a home intruder. Left with a permanent disability from the incident, Doug descends a lonely, self-destructive spiral, while Shelley returns to her childhood home in Massachusetts to spend some time with her mother.

 

With Laurie’s help, Shelley finally decides to start a foundation dedicated to her daughter and supporting others experiencing all forms of pregnancy and infant loss. Using humor to inject himself back into his brother’s life, Zach eventually gets Doug to confront the depths of his despair.

 

Sharing one final moment together before her first large-scale foundation event, Doug possibly finds a path toward peace while Shelley continues to flourish with her newfound purpose in life.

 

Why now?

The primary driver in the timing of this project has been the personal journey of writer/director Jason Charnick. There’s no doubt, however, that there is currently an urgent maternity crisis in the United States of America. One in four women will lose a baby.

 

While improvements in medicine since the turn of the century have helped drive a significant reduction in stillbirths overall, more than 20,000 cases a year are reported domestically. Furthermore, maternal mortality rates since the Covid-19 pandemic began have risen significantly, primarily along racial and socioeconomic lines. This national emergency has revealed deep-seated inequities in access to quality prenatal care for soon-to-be parents that simply demands action.

 

Combined with the continued assault on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S., the time is right for a deeply personal story to help ground the national conversation, and inject some humanity back into what is one of the most pressing and consequential human issues of our time.

 

Director's Statement

I can’t tell you how difficult the development of this project has been. Each step an unfathomable journey in and of itself. Every keystroke, every Google search, even something as innocuous as a free web site trial, brings me back to that day in 2017, a gloomy June day much like today as I write this.

A week earlier, they were having trouble finding her heartbeat, she had gotten turned away from the ultrasound. But on that day they couldn’t find one at all, and life as we knew it evaporated in an instant.

 

That was only a few months before the world premiere of my first feature Getting Over at SXSW 2018. In the interim, the path to peace has been anything but straight. I knew I needed to tell this story of a club no one wants to join, and I knew it would be an important aspect of my healing process. And another personal documentary was out of the question.

 

It took me 6 years to start, 6 months to write, and the loss of my maternal uncle to give me the perspective necessary to finish. I am beyond grateful to all those who have supported me to this point. After a ton of anxiety and anguish, I’m delighted, and a little nervous, to share the next stage in the evolution of The Absence is Always Present. For Shelby.

The Buzz

@madeline marlowe
Decentralized Pictures Review
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I was instantly drawn into the details of each moment and the roller coaster of emotions felt by each character. These stories are important, considering what is being stripped from women regarding reproductive healthcare. I also appreciate seeing the vulnerability through the father's lens.
@alain_alfaro
Decentralized Pictures Review
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This seems like a deeply personal story that can only be told by the author. While complex in nature, I believe that Jason can add the type of heart and nuance that will make this project great!
@filmfreako
Decentralized Pictures Review
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The power of telling stories that are close to your heart; a kind of power strong enough not only to connect deeply with an audience but also to heal the filmmakers in the process. I think this film is gonna go places and deeply impact the heart of the audience, no doubt.
@caro
Decentralized Pictures Review
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Excellent writing with a very real approach to life, it delivers not what the audience wants, but what reality actually feels like.
@rubiehavoc
Decentralized Pictures Review
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I was immediately engrossed in the script; despite its complex subject matter, it's written with elegance, and filled with Jason's genuine life experience.
@julian_flores
Decentralized Pictures Review
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This film is beautifully written and has strong commercial viability as both a standalone short and a full length feature.
@democratese
Decentralized Pictures Review
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Parents and couples will connect with this in ways that are as painful as they are uplifting. There's lots of great moments in this script I'd love to see on screen.
@tarana_cinema
Decentralized Pictures Review
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This piece resonates with such personal depth and sincerity. It's masterfully written, always engaging without becoming tedious, reflecting just how essential this story was for Jason to convey—his passion is evident throughout.
@allie10
Decentralized Pictures Review
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The story brings to light notions of how we each deal with grief differently. It's refreshing and unique to see this story told from a male point of view as we often only hear women's in situations of loss. I definitely feel for the characters Doug and Shelley, and isn't that what art is supposed to do? Make us feel things?
@patrick
Decentralized Pictures Review
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Well-written script that deals with sincere and affecting themes. The characters are well drawn and I'm hooked into knowing more about them and their story. These are the kind of movies we need to see being made.
@saradance
Decentralized Pictures Review
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Takes a lot of strength and bravery to dig deep inside and tell a story that deals with such a loss. A story that needs to be seen.
@bcw
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Such an important subject to give a real vision towards. These moments are so carefully hidden in so many lives. Bringing a light to these tragedies can be a gift to so many.
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Team Absence

Production Timeline

Young Orson Welles at Typewriter

DEVELOPMENT

Work on story structure, character development and complete first draft of feature length script.

June 2023 – December 2023
Old Orson Welles at Typewriter

WRITING

Make the script shine! Relaunch new web site. Apply for grants and fiscal sponsorships.

January 2024 (ongoing)
Orson Welles on Telephone

PARTNERSHIPS

Extend outreach in the infertility and baby loss community. Work with non-profit organizations to increase project visibility. Find investors and donors. Raise funds.

February 2024 (ongoing)
Orson Welles Directing

PRE-PRODUCTION

Continue outreach and fundraising. Start crowdfunding campaign, begin casting process, attach cast and crew.

Q4 2024
Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovitch

FEATURE PRODUCTION

Roll cameras and ACTION!

Q1 2025
Citizen Kane Premiere

WORLD PREMIERE

Complete post production, apply to film festivals with an eye toward a world premiere in Q1 2026.

Q3 – Q4 2025

Donations

If you’re interested in supporting the project before the launch of our crowdfunding campaign, we accept donations in both fiat & cryptocurrency. As with a purchase from our gallery marketplace, a portion of your donation will go to Forever Footprints, a non-profit organization in Orange County, California whose mission is to assist families who have suffered a pregnancy or infant loss and increase awareness and education on this deeply important issue.

 

If you are interested in contributing a larger amount, need a tax-deductible option, or are looking to invest in exchange for equity in the film, please contact jason@upstartfilmcollective.com.

 

You can send direct donations to any of the following wallet addresses:

Ethereum Coin LogoETHEREUM: 0xfD72a2642a2D62badAcDDa10bFd6bE6F273f3b43 or niftyfilm.eth

Tezos Coin LogoTEZOS: tz1cBiEqnbzUkXvB79yhntnemWt8TzG7Qxdy or niftyfilm.tez

Bitcoin LogoBITCOIN:  bc1q4txqn38x3v5hq0mnxxw6fdxghrycnhsgn3sg5n

Solana LogoSOLANA: 4zBCjb9GpvhMz8RSUoyrr6zVB9izHj4kkcKXmV9v3hwC

Polygon Coin LogoPOLYGON/MATIC: 0xfD72a2642a2D62badAcDDa10bFd6bE6F273f3b43

PayPal Coin LogoPAYPAL: https://paypal.me/charnick

Venmo Coin LogoVENMO: @UpstartFilmCollective

 

FAQ

Who are you again?

My name is Jason Charnick. I've been working in the Hollywood studio system as an editor and post supervisor for over 25 years. My first feature, Getting Over, had its world premiere at SXSW 2018.

Why are you making this film?

My daughter Shelby was born still in June 2017 at only 24 weeks. It was the turning point in my life. My worst moment on the planet was watching my wife having to deliver our deceased child. Coming only months before my greatest professional accomplishment, the last few years have been spent mourning and grieving and discovering the best way for me to deal with the situation is to help other people in the same club better deal with their situation. I feel this film can be the starting point for that help.

Will you be adding more questions?

Yes.

Thank you.

For more information, please contact: