Dalton Okolo dabbled with filmmaking in college, but his first short film has the trappings of a longer feature.
“Missing You” indeed is brief – 6 minutes 2 seconds long, including a minute and a half of credits – but it packs in plenty of angst, tart dialogue and high production values.
The film starts off with protagonist Brian (Max Johnson) in a bathrobe smoking a cigarette and sipping a drink outside his suburban Northern Virginia house at night. He talks to a former lover in a voice-over as an instrumental version of “You Are My Sunshine” plays in the background.
The protagonist turns on the radio, where a newscaster (Annie Gill) is reporting about protests in Washington, D.C. A protester (Wain Jenkins) in a voice-over then discusses societal anger and the need to ask tough questions, even though the answers might be ugly.
Brian sips whiskey and then ill-advisedly calls his ex-girlfriend Ellen (Karisa Quinn), getting a profane response and scolding. The writers must have been through some awful breakups, as the dialogue here is painfully sharp and true-to-life.
Okolo, who lives in the Falls Church area near Arlington, directed the film and co-wrote its screenplay with Buck Bloomingdale.
Okolo is a 2011 graduate of Westfield High School in Chantilly and holds a bachelor’s degree in media studies from Radford University. He now is a project manager for media services at Freddie Mac in Tysons.
Okolo runs his own private production company, 1108, which is named after his address on Clement Street in Radford, where he made his first film foray for a college competition.
He always had loved film and constantly was in studios, but until “Missing You” never had the chance to direct his own narrative project.
Okolo came up with the idea for “Missing You” in the spring of 2020 and finalized the script in July last year. The film originally was about a man who consistently calls a girl, but has nothing to say, but that story “didn’t have any sort of gravity,” he said.
The crew shot the movie on video at the Chantilly home of Okolo’s parents, who received credits as executive producers.
Okolo said he wants to tell fictional crime stories with non-chronological sequences, as exemplified by “Pulp Fiction.” He likes the work of directors Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Brian De Palma and Steve McQueen and the acting skills of Cate Blanchett, Denzel Washington and Robert De Niro.
Okolo’s next project will be an action short film about an assassin who bonds with the dog of a couple she has killed. The production should go into principal photography next spring.
Okolo hopes to show “Missing You” at festivals and leverage it for future projects. Key lessons learned from the film: Get as much help as possible during pre-production, as those myriad tasks are hard for one person to manage, and stick with ideas in one’s head, but remain open to the creative process.
Okolo found the performers through a service called Backstage. As the film’s only on-screen actor, Johnson said he had to learn to be comfortable not interacting with another performer. His character, Brian, makes life choices based on apathy, he said.
“His relationships, world-view, and life choices are guided by what he believes is easiest rather than what he believes is right,” Johnson said.
“I hope that this film might help to reveal to the audience that not making a choice can be just as damaging as making the wrong choice.”
Jenkins, who played the protester, called Okolo’s direction “impeccable.”
“He is not only gracious but he knows what he needs from his actors and knows how to bring it out,” Jenkins said. “He sees aspects of actors’ abilities that we may not see in ourselves.”
Gill, the film’s newscaster, recorded her lines, with coaching from Okolo, at her home studio in Baltimore. She did not base her performance on any one reporter, but studied the tone and delivery of several correspondents on “The Today Show” and CNN.
“I hope, when we all watch this film and look back on this time in history, we see how very broken our country has become, and the hurt and pain that we all feel in seeing the change that needs to happen,” Gill said.
Quinn said her ex-girlfriend character is stuck in her own ways and loath to give others second chances.
“I wanted to portray Ellen as someone who is very headstrong, aggressive and unapologetic,” she said. “She barely lets Brian speak and her questions are almost rhetorical. She doesn’t care about his answers because in her mind she has all the answers.”
Daniela Rodriguez Martinez, the colorist on “Missing You,” said she worked with the director to achieve the film’s final appearance.
“Dalton had a clear idea of the sort of look he wanted for the short, but he also was open-minded once I showed the look I had developed for each scene,” she said.
Composer Mark Saltman said he and Okolo developed the film’s tone, mood, contrast and subtlety, including places where music was and wasn’t needed.
“I definitely hope folks watch the film and just come away with the feeling that really, they can relate to where the main character is coming from, and maybe even find a bit of humor in it, too,” he said.