Peter Facinelli is best known for playing Dr Carlisle Cullen in all four instalments of the Twilight franchise as well as multiple other acting roles over the past few decades. In 2018, Facinelli made his directorial debut with Breaking & Exiting where a newfound love for directing was formed.
His latest directorial feat is titled The Vanished, which Facinelli wrote, directed, and acted in alongside a reputable cast that includes Thomas Jane. The Vanished is a story of a child going missing while on holiday at an RV park and the parents who must navigate a mystery to find their kin. It is very much based on Facinelli’s personal experience with the fear and panic that is resultant of the thought of ever losing a child. With such heavy involvement in the entire filmmaking process, Facinelli continues to prove that his talents stretch further than just his acting.
Following the release of The Vanished, it was a pleasure to sit down with Peter Facinelli for an exclusive interview. We talk all about his inspiration for the story as well as learn more about what it really takes to be an actor turned director in the film industry today.
You are best known for acting but have now directed two feature films. What skills have you learned working on set as an actor which you’ve taken into your directing?
PF: Being able to work with actors, getting to collaborate with them and knowing their shorthand helps tremendously. And it’s fun, I really love acting because I know what it takes to stand in front of a camera and be so vulnerable. Often we’ll show them what we’re doing with the cameras so they can help and push themselves further to expose these emotions in front of the whole crew, and ultimately for the audience. So I tend to approach directing from gentler angles than some directors, that I’ve worked with anyway.
Let’s talk about your new movie The Vanished, which you directed and also acted in. What made you decide to tell this specific story?
PF: Well, the film is about two parents who go to an RV park and their daughter goes missing. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, the idea of your kid going missing and trying to figure out who took her or where she went. I have three kids myself and I know the feeling of losing your kid peripherally even just for a second and having a panic attack. When my daughter was about 5, I went to an RV Park with her and as I was paying at the front desk there were some gunshots and the lady behind the desk said, “Oh don’t worry, there’s a prison a couple of miles down the road that is probably doing drills, 2 to 3 gunshots is normal. If you hear anything more than that come running to the front desk”.
So I got so nervous and didn’t sleep at all that night. I started thinking what if one of the convicts gets out and what would happen if my daughter went missing and how would I find her? It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. It would be a horrific thing to happen against such beautiful nature and that is where the idea of this family vacation turning into a horror came from. All of these ideas started racing through my head for The Vanished. Originally, I wrote it with myself to act as the lead but after directing Breaking & Exiting 2 years ago, I thought that this would be a great follow up film to direct. I didn’t want to take on too much with doing directing and acting, so I gave myself a smaller role and cast Thomas Jane to play the lead, he is the husband in the couple. Jason Patric plays the Sheriff and I play the Deputy, we try to help Thomas’ character find his missing child.
You briefly mentioned your writing process. Could you tell us a bit about what sources of inspiration you looked to when developing this screenplay?
PF: So that RV trip was actually that first spark and then I started asking myself all these questions, figuring out where to focus the story and then I started gravitating more towards the relationship of the parents. The movie is more about how the parents are dealing with their kids going missing. It’s more weighted and more focused on that aspect than on the kid missing. It’s more of an exercise into seeing these two parents who are unprepared to deal with a situation like this. I read some articles and books during the research process and it happens that a lot of time, the marriage suffers and starts to crumble because they start blaming each other. So I started to think, what if they didn’t blame each other and instead teamed up?
So ultimately, it’s more about how the parents deal with the situation on their hands. Having kids myself, I know it’s hard for parents to watch movies about missing kids, but what I tried to do with this film was make it more of a psychological thriller than a heavy drama. Because as an audience member watching a film, you are taken on a ride as if you’re seeing this film through the parents eyes as they make these decisions. Then you try to figure it out with them because you start thinking, “Well, did he take the kid?” It becomes this kind of mystery movie, almost a whodunit, which I think is more fun than just a drama about a kid going missing, which is very heavy and hard to watch.
The Vanished has a strong cast that includes Thomas Jane who you briefly mentioned before. What was it like getting to collaborate with him and the rest of the cast?
PF: Originally, I sent the script to Tom [Jane] as I thought he could play the dad and I was very fortunate that he liked it. So I sat down with him and we started to think about who could be the actress to play his wife. Tom had mentioned Anne Heche because he had worked with her on a show called Hung where they had played husband and wife. It can be difficult to throw two actors together and say, “You need to have this relationship and create this marriage on the spot.” I liked the idea that they knew each other, that they had worked together, that they had some history and most importantly, that there was chemistry between them already from previous work.
I thought that would create a deeper married couple instead of having two actors who had just met on the first day and are now creating it on the spot. And it worked out, they were really fun to watch together. As a director, I’m a big fan of setting the frame and letting the actors play in this space instead of having too many close-ups. I feel like there are so many close-ups in modern day film, so pulling back a little bit, allowing them a chance to use their bodies and space to keep the actors in frame together, I think makes the movie more interesting because now you’re watching these two actors who have this chemistry react off each other. I try to create interesting blocking within those frames, and then I let them play in the space.
Music is a big part of the Mystery/Thriller genre and the music in The Vanished really elevates it overall. How was your collaboration with the composer and the process of developing the soundtrack?
PF: Yes! In my first feature Breaking & Exiting, there is a mix of songs and score. I worked with a great composer on that who I really liked and I got to work with him again on this because he really liked the script. We work really well together because I’m not a huge musical person, so I have to use a whole other language to try to describe what I’m looking for. With Sacha Chaban, my composer, he kind of knows how to read my mind or sometimes I’ll tell him stories about what I’m going for and then he’ll create music based on the feelings that I’m trying to express to him. I can express feelings well because I’m an actor, so being able to express those feelings and have him translate that into music is such a beautiful process and collaboration. I felt really fortunate to be able to work with Sacha again.
I have a shorthand with him, I remember doing this one scene where the child actually goes missing and I was trying to explain to him that I had a moment in my life when my daughter went missing for like 10-15 minutes and it was terrifying. All the things that happen: first the panic sets in and your heart starts, then you get all these thoughts in your mind and there’s fear and chaos. So it had to have this arc and rhythm to it. Not knowing how to speak in terms of musical notes, I had to give him that arc of feelings. Then he watched the scene and just created it, started playing the music as he was watching it and he did it all in one take with this three-minute scene. After it was done I just said, “That was beautiful, don’t touch a thing at all.” He said he felt like some parts could have had more rhythm and I told him that’s what was so beautiful about it. This chaos is happening so the notes aren’t meant to be perfect. I’m so proud of him because he won the best composer at the Mammoth Film Festival for this film and it really made me happy because he put a lot of work into it and I think the score really helps create the tension that I needed for this film.
To wrap up, with so many films going to VOD and opting out of the theatrical approach due to the ongoing pandemic, why do you think audiences should watch The Vanished?
PF: Personally, I’ve been quarantining for so many months that last week I couldn’t find anything that I haven’t seen. So I’m excited that this film is coming out right now because I feel like people have exhausted a lot of things that are already on and it’s exciting to have something new and fresh to watch. It’s a psychological thriller, so you become part of the film because it’s this mystery and you get to solve it – extra points for anybody can figure out who took the kid!