If the romantic comedy is a dying genre, Hannah Marks (best known as an actress) and Joey Power are hoping to revive it with their fresh new film, After Everything. Yes, the film focuses on a young man diagnosed with cancer and has plenty of emotional moments, but Marks and Power add a levity and twist (particularly in the second half) which may challenge expectations in a film as much about Millennials as it is about illness. Jeremy Allen White and Maika Monroe, in a winning combination, have earned critical acclaim since it’s premiere at SXSW this year (under the name Shotgun) and ignited the partnership of Marks and Power as ones to watch.
Lesley Coffin: The film’s been really well received, but I think people were almost surprised how funny the film would be considering the description. We you always pitching the premise as a romantic comedy?
Hannah Marks: We did, we both really love romantic comedies. We’d like romantic comedies to have the comeback they deserve. I think the film will be described as a dramedy by some, because of the cancer element, but we both wanted the film to be embraced as a romantic comedy first and foremost.
Joey Power: That’s a big part of the reason the fate of what happens to Elliot we see in the middle of the movie. We’ve all seen movies about cancer or illness where the “will he or won’t he die” question is the entire issue and they wait until the very end to resolve it. We were more interested in exploring what happens to a relationship that’s gone through an experience like that?
Lesley Coffin: Did you look at any of those films you mentioned to see how to adjust the way films deal with disease or why those films can be labels as schmaltzy or manipulative?
Hannah Marks: We pretty much looked at every film about disease we could; Terms of Endearment, 50/50, The Fault in Our Stars. We didn’t want to unintentionally copy any of those films and try to avoid the tropes we’d seen before that rubbed us the wrong way.
Joey Power: I had a couple of friends who’d been sick in their teens and early twenties and we spent a long time talking with them. This is an original idea and isn’t based on anyone’s real-life experiences. But we wanted to know what ideas stood out to them and what aspects of their experiences hadn’t been conveyed in films they’d seen. What was it like to be so sick at such a young age.
Hannah Marks: We also felt there were so many untapped areas we hadn’t seen in movies before. Like the sperm bank scene, we don’t see that in most films because it seems a little blunt or embarrassing, but it is true to life.
Lesley Coffin: Did you show the screenplay to some of those friends you spoke with?
Hannah Marks: We did, we also sent it to doctors and surgeons because we were afraid of getting the medical jargon wrong.
Joey Power: And during pre-production we met with a support group of cancer survivors to talk about how things had been portrayed on films before and what they felt those films had missed.
Hannah Marks: I lot of people mentioned the bald cap lines, how much they hated seeing that. But also how many of these films focused on crying. People with cancer don’t suddenly lose their sense of humor.
Joey Marks: They talked a lot about the humor that comes out of having to talk to people about being sick, especially at that age. People are rarely well equipped to deal with that and it can get very awkward.
Lesley Coffin: We have such little time to get to know Elliott before we find out that he’s sick, and then the second half focuses on how this has changed them. Did you and Jeremy talk about how to give a glimpse at the life he’d been living before we find out he has cancer?
Hannah Marks: We spent a lot of time while writing the script talking how to pass time in the film, we go through about two years in the film. But Jeremy’s such a wonderful actor, he immediately knew how to show this character’s life in New York
Joey Power: He’s like a lot of the guys that age who are just aimless and only thinking more than a few days ahead. The thing that’s interesting about the character is he’s undergoing this profound change but the experience of having this illness means he still only needs to think a few days ahead and has to think of the repercussions of leading his life that way later on.
Lesley Coffin: Did you know Jeremy and Maika before you started working on the film?
Joey Power: We didn’t know either of them beforehand, but we knew their work and were fans of theirs. First and foremost we felt it was important we cast actors that are the age of the characters. It wouldn’t work to have someone in his early 20s played by someone 29 or 30. So when they both said they liked the material we just felt incredibly lucky?
Hannah Marks: It was also important that we have two actors who felt like they were in the same movie. It’s not uncommon to cast two great actors but they don’t feel like their in the same movie and working on two different levels tonally. Not to mention how important it was to find two actors with chemistry.
Lesley Coffin: Did you do chemistry reads?
Hannah Marks: We didn’t, we just lucked out that they have great chemistry.
Lesley Coffin: Hannah, I know you’ve talked about being aware of the dominate male gaze as an actress. On this film, did you feel it was especially important to have a male and female director to give both perspectives of the characters?
Hannah Marks: Definitely, we felt very lucky to be directing a film we wrote with a male and female lead, because we could always ask if she would say that or he would act like this. I don’t think we would have wanted this movie to been made by just a female director or just a male director. We had a lot of conversations about the push-pull of the characters and making sure audiences understood each of their sides. I think, regarding the female gaze, one of the biggest mistakes we make is the sense that we’re obligated to show women as heroes, to avoid showing them as victims. It’s just as important to show that she can be flawed, because that makes for a more interesting characters.
Joey Power: And you don’t want a female character to be the catalyst for a man’s change. At first glance you might think this is Elliott’s story, because he’s the one whose sick. But really, Mia is the character who travels a further distance. She feels like someone who has changed a lot and matured more than him during the course of the film.
Lesley Coffin: It feels like the issue of age is an aspect your really wanted to explore in this film. How it reflects in their relationship, their friendships, not feeling like they have careers yet. What aspects of life did you want to explore for people in that age group at this moment in time?
Joey Power: We were definitely interested in looking at two characters just becoming adults. We talked a lot about their apartments. We’ve all seen the romantic comedies set in New York where people work at magazines and live in these amazing lofts that would cost millions. That’s not realistic for most people, but especially people in their early 20s. There is a subtle class difference between Mia and Elliot. Elliot’s parents are clearly helping him pay his rent. He couldn’t live in that apartment just working at a sandwich shop. And I think their support has sort of zapped some of his ambition. He’s not super motivated because he has that safety net of support, while Mia is clearly motivated to start a career.
Hannah Mark: I was 23 when we started filming, their age, and I turned to a lot of my male friends to get a sense of what life was like for them. And I heard a lot of them talking about building apps. Maybe that aspect will date the movie but there is a universal desire for young people to create something new that everyone needs.
Joey Power: And using it to hit on girls.
Hannah Marks: Exactly. What else are you going to say when you meet someone at a bar but talk about the thing you’re trying to create and sound cool?
Read FF2 Media’s review of After Everything.
(C) Lesley Coffin (10/13/18) FF2 Media
Photo credit: Good Deeds Entertainment