The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of She Dies Tomorrow.
Can you talk about the origin of this project?
Amy Seimetz: I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and I realized that to alleviate the anxiety I was talking to my friends – namely Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams – and I felt like I was burdening them with the anxiety. In addition to that, I was watching a lot of news. Every few days there was some idea that would spread like wildfire and then a few days later it would be a new thing that was spreading. This began leading up to the 2016 election and then I continued to watch because of the times we’re in, that was sort of the idea.
I was also developing for television and I just needed to shoot something. I wanted to touch on this idea of what I was going through, so I called [Cinematographer] Jay Keitel and Kate Lyn Sheil and we starting shooting these images of Kate moving through my house trying to capture to this visceral feeling I was going through. Then I was like, who would Kate (who is playing Amy) call? Jane! Because that’s who I would call. So that was the impetus of how it started, and then we began building this narrative together. Then I wrote the rest of the movie after we shot these initial scenes to work towards the tone and the humor that Kate and Jane bring to the film, but also the overwhelming aspect of the feeling I was trying to get to.
We were able to experiment with the visuals together and corral it into what made sense for the movie.
How did you develop the visuals where your characters have their moment of realization, and how was that communicated with your actors before shooting?
AS: The only boundaries I gave to everyone is that it’s a mix of fear and elation and curiosity and everything all at once. Like when you read about these near-death experiences, it’s not one feeling. Anyone was allowed to interpret what they wanted in that moment performance-wise. Because I self-funded it, we were allowed to experiment and play. Trying to push the visuals of how to get to this ecstatic moment was fun and pure joy, like being a kid again because you’re playing with lenses and colors, and microscopes and trying to find the most interesting thing. And once we realized how to control those visual and get what we wanted, that was my favorite part about making this movie, not only with the actors but with Jay [Keitel]. If we made a mistake, we didn’t put it in, but we were able to experiment with the visuals together and corral it into what made sense for the movie.
Kate Lyn Sheil: I would say that Amy came to me with the concept for that particular shot and what you [Amy] explained to me at the time was that I should convey every emotion I could think of at once. It was sort of a mash-up of elation and fear and sadness and happiness, and my main thought was, dammit, that’s so hard! And I just desperately didn’t want to mess it up. Although I’m sure what I conveyed was cool, yeah, let’s shoot it. But the hardest stuff is the most exciting stuff. Thank god that someone is tasking me with something that challenging.
The film is very funny, often. Was it essential to infuse the film with humor in order to balance out the darkness? I was particularly struck by Jane’s scene with Josh Lucas, which alternated between kind of hilarious and devastating.
AS: What’s interesting is that I’ve previously worked with pretty much everyone in the film save for Josh Lucas and Michelle Rodriguez. We were trying to figure out who was right for that part and Josh and I share an agent, so my agent said “What about Josh Lucas? He has a day off” and we were like, what’s that going to be like! We all have a shorthand so bringing him in was a little like having a live wire aspect.
Jane Adams: He was so perfect. He was going through something stressful and was talking about it to me off-camera before we even shot anything. That seemed to help us in the scene. He’s such a great actor, he just shows up in his doctor’s costume and goes to the corner, and then like Batman emerges as his character.
AS: We’ve all done supporting characters, and it is a really hard thing to jump onto a set and embody someone.
JA: Especially a set where everyone knows each other. He’s so great, really professional and smart and funny.
AS: We were so lucky that he knew it was playful and he was so ready to play. He understood the comedy of it, but also the darkness and the depth of it in the same way that I don’t need to explain it to Kate or Jane. He just showed up and understood the fine tuning of playing with the darkness and the humor all at once.
I love the “last wardrobe” of each of your characters. Can you talk about costuming?
AS: I need to give credit to Jane on those floral pajamas. I knew I wanted her in pajamas, and Jane knew what she wanted. She was in full control, she needed them to be this specific kind and it was so perfect. To give her credit as an independent artist, she was going to the store to find them and was sending me pictures.
JA: Amy has this brilliant assistant Alexandra, and I just commandeered her to find these pajamas that are difficult to find. I can’t remember the brand name but I had a couple of pairs in different colors. They had to get bloody and I just loved mine so much we couldn’t use them. They’re that really fine Egyptian cotton, they’re not heavy flannel, and they’re delicate. They’re not goofy, they’re kind of what grandmothers wore— at least grandmothers like mine from Kentucky and Indiana, who were kind of old-fashioned.
AS: But it still had to be striking in some way. We knew it need a pattern.
JA: And then Kate’s dress, my god that dress. I could’ve just played that scene for three days, looking at Kate on the floor in that dress.
KLS: The dress belongs to Amy; it’s her actual dress that she wore to the Emmys.
AS: There’s layers upon layers of meta-ness. I’d spent a lot of money on the dress and wore it to the Emmys. I’m a frugal person and I don’t buy expensive things for myself very often, so there was no way I was going to live with that dress in my closet without getting its worth. Working in film, you have these moments where you dress up and then you never wear that outfit again, it’s sort of like, why I am not putting on this dress every day?!
JA: Now that I know that it’s in your closet, I want to see more of that dress. We’re going to go on a hike and you’re going to wear that dress.