After wrapping up a festival run this fall at our own hometown DC Shorts film festival, we are excited to finally debut our short film Dry Drowning to a wider audience online! A short psychological thriller filmed on location in North Carolina's Outer Banks, Dry Drowning was a collaboration between Cassandra Clare, who originated the concept and stars in the film, and Mike Powell, who developed the treatment into the script that the two then co-directed in the summer of 2022.
Without further ado, here is the movie for your viewing pleasure (to read a few thoughts from our directors, keep reading below):
MIKE: In our short films, since we’re trying to create a cinematic experience with limited resources, we often focus on how location can tell a story. From the first draft Cassandra shared with me, I was drawn to its vivid sense of place – minimalist scenes of a haunted woman moving wordlessly through a quiet seaside town that, like her, feels a bit detached from time. We worked to keep that vivid-yet-dreamlike sense as we developed the film. The settings are visually rich but strangely empty, the story fixates on flashes of traumatic detail then retreats into silence, the character moves urgently but trance-like through this liminal space while fleeing both the menace chasing her and a reality that keeps calling her. On a less-rarified note, I was also drawn to the idea of just making a movie again, period. Ironically for a film about trauma and isolation, the actual real-world making of Dry Drowning was an experience of community, of our artistic friends and collaborators coming together to make narrative film for the first time after the many months of pandemic isolation. Launching a film project can be daunting, but I knew everyone was just as eager to get back into it as we were, so Cassandra and I just started working as if we had a full crew, trusting that the necessary talent would join in. And they totally did.
Jacqui Ris, our cinematographer, was essential to realizing the lyrical tone of the film – her attention to detail extended beyond lensing the film to lighting the sets herself and even drawing the storyboards. From stretching out a tripod and balancing her own camera precariously over a full bathtub to staying up all night to troubleshoot the underwater camera case ahead of our last available shoot day, Jacqui put it all out there repeatedly to make this film come to life.
Mike Young, our Lifeguard and safety officer, kept us from getting sucked into the Atlantic Ocean.
Funny story – the beach at our shoot location of Oak Island, NC is south-facing, which is great if you have a climactic scene happening at magic hour (as you can shoot on the water at both sunrise and sunset), but less great if there is a gale watch, high surf advisory and rip current risk alert simultaneously during your shoot (as the current is already hitting the shore at a weird angle). Having a local guide to tell us when and where it was safe to shoot--and going into the ocean with us--was a lifesaver, and the fact that he had prior experience with filmmaking was a bonus.
Colin J. Mason, our editor, helped find the climax of the film—twice. The moment the movie decisively came together for me was when we first watched a cut of the contemplative, fade-intensive sequence he designed for that scene. But before that, he had already stepped in to guest-direct the reshoots that produced that climax, after our first attempt at the scene in principle photography didn’t succeed. (Shooting in the ocean is, uh, tricky.)
Also, shoutout to our longtime colleagues at Digicore, Jacob Schwartz and Anthony Pilon, who generously took a break from doing VFX for Hollywood studios to lend a few last-minute effects to the film (we did try doing that underwater writing practically, but it wasn’t looking quite right and after a day-long bathroom shoot we didn’t want to dehydrate Cassandra any longer in the tub to work on it).
CASSANDRA: The initial inspiration for the film came from the original text of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”. There was something captivating about the “loss of voice” sometimes felt in deep grief, and the liminality of the sea. From there we began to introduce experiences of derealization and dissociation to inform our often eerie and otherworldly locations. As a first time director, I truly enjoyed the challenge of conveying the narrative primarily through visual storytelling, taking advantage of the minimal dialogue. This not only served the story but pushed us as filmmakers to convey maximal information within each frame.
Despite the rewarding creative process, the shoot presented plenty of practical challenges. Filming in the extremely cold ocean with an underwater camera rig proved to be an incredibly demanding experience. Navigating the rough sea conditions and adapting to new equipment became essential skills, and could not have been accomplished without an amazing and dedicated team. However, the challenges yielded significant rewards. The breathtaking sunset sky in the film's climax was entirely authentic, leaving the entire team in awe. So much of Dry Drowning was born from raw emotions, bold experimentation, and “happy accidents”. We take immense pride in the final result and are thrilled to embark on new projects and continue our creative journey.