Sci-Fi Shorts: In The Pines Explores A Haunting Close Encounter…Or Does It?

The truth is out there.

By David Wharton | Updated

Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Chris Carter’s The X-Files may have put UFOs and stories of alien abductions front and center in the pop culture landscape, but creepy tales of little green/gray men have haunting the zeitgeist for decades. Perhaps just as fascinating as the tall tales and sketchy videos is the mindset of those who claim to have been abducted. Some live in fear that their experiences will recur, while some embrace the possibility that they are special — that they have been “chosen” by strange visitors from another world.

The short film In the Pines serves up a story from the latter category: the tale of a young woman who believes she has been taken in the past, and who desperately hopes to be taken once again. Her story unfolds as a final message to her mother, accompanied by haunting footage as she ascends to the moutaintop — both figurative and literal — where she believes she will be snatched up one final time. What happens next…is left to you to decide.

As the subject of our latest installment of Sci-Fi Shorts, we contacted the filmmakers behind In the Pines, which was written and directed Shep Films’ Zeek Earl & Chris Caldwell. Here’s the story of In the Pines, as told by Earl.

How did In the Pines originate? Was there some core element or idea that you then expanded upon?

I read an article about the statistics surrounding people claiming to be abducted and the main thing that stood out to me was that for a fair amount of people it was a positive experience. We went from there.

How did you develop the concept once you had the basics hammered down? Did you write a script first and then go from there, or were multiple elements already in the works before you finished the script?

We never wrote a script, just the words of the phone call. We came up with a loose structure surrounding her hike to the mountaintop, and then just spent several days shooting with Jessica and shooting with insects. We revised the phone call doing multiple recording sessions playing back and forth with the edit.

How did the concept change as the project advanced? Is the final version pretty much what you initially intended, or were there some major alterations along the way?

The concept didn’t change along the way because it was always pretty vague to begin with. We just shot all sorts of things and a lot of the creativity happened in post.

Zeek and Chris, since you guys work together, how do you divide the work? Do you both do a little of everything or are the roles more divided than that?

Chris and I both have our hands in everything. Generally I’m more visual and technical and he takes the lead on writing, but the line is pretty blurry.

I love the dreamlike quality the short has thanks to gorgeous close-ups of various natural elements. Where did that choice come from?

The insect/nature photography came from a few places. Thematically wanted to create an alien feel before the viewer even knows she’s trying to get abducted. But it’s also a product of the DSLR filmmaking revolution — now I have a camera small, but powerful enough to get these images hiking through a forest.

Jessica Martin does an amazing job with a role that’s pretty much silent (aside from the voiceover). How hard was it to find the right actor for the job?

Jessica responded to a casting call and was hands down our favorite; it was no contest. We took our time finding the right voice.

What do you think worked better than you could have hoped? What do you wish had worked better?

We got lucky with the insects. We had wanted to film in August, but were delayed until September. Most of the insects we shot were dying at the end of their life cycle, which meant they held very still for our cameras. I can’t say there’s anything I wish had gone better, the reception of the film greatly exceeded our expectations. It was an experiment so we weren’t sure what to expect.

Finally, what appeals to you most about working within the genre of science fiction?

I love science fiction. I think a lot of the innovation in the genre tends to follow innovation in CGI and filmmaking technology, but what interests me more at this point is trying to add a psychological and visual grittiness to the genre that I feel is missing. Our next short film Prospect is technically scifi, but it more closely follows genre plot lines of a western.