Stefanie Abel Horowitz’s second short film is a quiet and internal story about a woman whose fantasies about dying are interrupted by an office romance.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Stefanie following sometimes, i think about dying’s premiere at Sundance Film Festival.
Q: sometimes, i think about dying’ is based on Kevin Armento’s play ‘killers’. What are your memories of directing the play in 2013 and why did you decide to revisit it as a short film?
A: It was such a lovely process. It was the first time Kevin and I had worked together, and actually very early in what has now become a very long friendship.
The play actually came to me as something closer to prose – lines without character names. So, we actually had to do a few workshops just to figure how many actors we were going to use!
And then in the staging of it, we wanted to create an intimate experience. I often looked for ways to focus the audience’s attention on very small things – someone’s hand moving, someone’s eye looking left. It was a lot like trying to create close-ups for the stage.
So when I moved to LA and Katy and I started talking about working on something together, it felt really exciting to both of us to revisit killers in movie form.
Q: How does the short film differ from the play?
A: The biggest difference in the play is that Robert had an entire backstory. The play was actually two parallel stories – Fran’s present story and Robert’s childhood story. We ended up cutting his childhood out to focus fully on Fran and her journey (who didn’t even have a name in the play!).
Q: I think this is a film about connection and internalised angst that many people in the modern world will relate to in some way. What is your understanding of Fran and the way she is trying to navigate the world?
A: I think of Fran as someone who is very afraid to live. And in place of getting involved in the messiness of life, she’s instead created a fantasy world for herself that feels much safer.
Even though those fantasies are about dying, I don’t think of her as someone who wants to actually die so much as someone who wants to know what it feels like to be and feel nothing. She’s very self-protective. And I think we all find ways to self-protect and avoid connection. Especially when deep, vulnerable connection is on the table.
Q: The film is a quiet, intimate and internal experience. Can you talk about creating this atmosphere (through colour and voiceover etc.)?
A: Those qualities are central to the film because they are central to Fran. Everyone on the team was working towards sort of getting inside Fran’s head. And therefore, we all had to find ways to use the subtlest versions of our crafts. Which includes the way Matt shot it, the way Arianna colored it, the way Stephanie edited it, the way Katy performed it – everything had to fall in line with a character who lives deeply inside of herself and nowhere else.
Q: Was this atmosphere reflected on set? How was the shoot?
A: Well, the team was a lot of new and old friends. Jim Sarbh, who plays Robert in the film, is a friend of mine from college. He lives in India now so, when he said yes to coming across the pond to make this movie with us, it inspired a lot of my other college friends to join the team. All said and done, seven of us working on the film studied theatre together over a decade ago at Emory University. So, it was kind of like a college reunion in that sense. And I think making work with people you love always creates a kind of intimate experience on set.
That intimacy extends to everyone working with us. It spreads throughout the team and helps create comfort and trust that in turn creates a safe space for ideas to be shared and vulnerability to be offered. I don’t think that’s a necessary part of making good art, but I do think it helps.
Q: Katy Wright-Mead is tremendous in the lead role. Can you talk about working with Katy and how she tapped into this character?
A: Katy’s incredible! Both as a human and as an actor. She acted in it, but we also adapted the material together and co-produced it. So, she’s really my other half on this project. As far as our actor/director relationship, we had worked together on this material already, so by the time we got to set we knew the character of Fran really well.
And truly, somehow Katy had always known this character, I can still remember when she auditioned in 2013 and Kevin (the playwright) and I were both blown away. She brought so much intelligence and humor to a role that could possibly be played too dark, or too depressed. I also know that this role was very personal to Katy and I’m sure she used a lot of her history to create Fran.
Q: Can you tell us more about your background and the factors that have shaped you as a filmmaker?
A: My background is almost entirely in theatre. I worked in the theatre for almost a decade working as a freelance director and running a theatre company. I learned everything I know about directing from that time in my life and I really believe that so much of it translates to film.
Of course directing actors was a big part of that work, but also learning how to work with and lead a team, learning how to trust myself and my instincts, and learning that if you know what’s at the core of your story everything else should fall in place around that.
Q: ‘sometimes, i think about dying’ premiered at Sundance Film Festival. How was that experience?
A: It was amazing! It’s such a surreal experience to be sitting in a theatre at Sundance watching something you made premiere on the big screen. Highly recommend. Would do again!
Q: What are your hopes for the future?
A: I want to make more movies! Right now I’m developing a couple of series and a few films, including the feature version of sometimes, I think about dying.