"Life After You” is a narrative feature film about a suburban family's struggle with the death of their 19-year-old son, following an overdose of heroin that was laced with fentanyl. Sarah Schwab directed and co-wrote the film, which will be screened April 23 at Memorial City Cinemark Theatres in Houston. Below, Schwab discusses the film, how it came about and life away from the camera.
A screening of your new movie “Life After You” happens at WorldFest next Friday in Houston. How exciting is this for you and your production company Cardinalflix?
This was my directorial debut as a feature filmmaker. After spending a year in hiding due to COVID, I’m excited not only watch the film in an actual theater, but to also to share that experience with other theater-goers. Also, we recently learned that my co-writer and lead actress, Florencia Lozano (“Narcos,” “One Life To Live”), is one of three nominees for “Best Lead Actor In A Feature” at the festival! We’ll find out that night if she’s won.
Without “ruining it” for our readers, can you give us a description of what “Life After You” is about?
Based off a true story, "Life After You” is centered around a suburban family's struggle with the death of their 19-year-old son following an overdose of heroin that was laced with fentanyl. The film, which explores the questions of who and what is responsible for this tragedy, is inspired by the book, “Life After You: What Your Death from Drugs Leaves Behind” by Linda Lajterman. It’s our goal to spark a much-needed dialogue among parents, teenagers, and officials who are in a position to address the heroin epidemic, which has only exploded since the pandemic.
You’re a busy businesswoman. How is “Life After You” similar or different from past projects?
The step from writing, directing and producing a short film to a feature film is enormous. Cast is bigger. Crew is bigger. Locations are quadrupled. The budget’s higher. The shoot days are longer. Everything is more. To make the adjustment from a three-day shoot to a 30-day shoot, and all that entails, is the difference between jumping into the deep end of the pool and then trying out the English Channel; you better have learned how to swim.
What type of timeline did it take to get “Life After You” from paper to film?
Linda Lajterman wrote the book in 2014. Our co-producer, Charlene Giannetti from the online magazine “Woman Around Town” (https://www.womanaroundtown.com/), published the book in 2015. She thought it would make a good and educational film and actively sought out Florencia to play the lead. My producing partner, Brian Long, was brought on as a producer, which eventually brought me in as co-writer (with Florencia) and director in 2018. We had the script was pretty much finalized in April 2019. After that it was a matter of fundraising, casting, crewing up, and finding the locations to shoot. It was a six-year process in total.
What has been the most rewarding and frustrating aspects in developing this movie?
Telling a great story while adhering to a small budget is generally the greatest frustration for independent filmmakers. While that was absolutely the case for “Life After You,” I think the greatest challenge and reward was “doing right” by the Lajterman family. Having people trust you to tell the story of the worst day of their life is a terrifying honor. The day Linda told me, “You made a great film.” Well … there’s really no better feeling in the entire world.
You’re noted as a director, screenwriter, playwright and producer. Which of those roles do you enjoy most and why?
It’s a tie between writer and director. Writers spend a lot of time alone. This can feel like heaven on earth when a story’s coming together, and it can feel like a mini hell when it’s not. What’s so galvanizing about being a writer/director is that I get to go off for half the year and create in solitude. Just about the time loneliness starts to creep in is usually when I’m amping up to direct another project, which means working with other like-minded artists. It’s a healthy balance.
What challenges have risen in your industry from COVID19?
The primary goal is to keep everyone on set safe. To do that we need to bubble housing, test cast and crew regularly, maintain union protocols (6-feet distance, mask-wearing, etc.) and have a safety supervisor on set to make sure those protocols are enforced. This puts a huge strain on the budget. If one person gets sick, we need to halt production for at least two weeks minimum. As an independent producer, the money’s generally not there to handle this kind of set-back. And if it is, it’s that much more we’re going to have to raise on the back-end.
I read that you’re a bit of a “lone wolf” who doesn’t sleep a lot. Tell our readers about that.
It’s my experience that many artists have a hard time sleeping; our brains never shut off! We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do right by our characters, our craft, the truth … but when the work makes an impact … it’s worth the bags. In terms of being a “lone wolf,” sometimes I do feel like that, especially when I’m in writer-mode. The reality is, big picture, it’s impossible for one person to do a project of this magnitude alone. You need a massive team of caring, hard-working, talented people to bring it all together.
As that “lone wolf” – what’s the one item you couldn’t live without if you were stranded on a desert island?
My favorite book, “East of Eden.” A knife and a few boxes of matches would probably be helpful too.
What’s next after “Life After You” is the big hit we know it will be?
I wrote and will be directing my second feature, “A Stage of Twilight,” this summer starring Karen Allen (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Animal House”). The story is about a retired couple – Barry and Cora - enjoying life in their 70s. One day, Barry is diagnosed with a terminal heart disease. No longer able to hide his illness, or the unpleasant side effects, he makes the decision to rent a trailer home in the middle of the woods where he can die alone. His hope for a dignified death proves to be a dispiriting struggle for Cora. As the days wind down to Barry’s departure, Cora is driven to make a critical decision for them both. What’s especially exciting about this upcoming project is that we’re bringing back almost the entire crew from “Life After You.” When you find your tribe in this industry, you stick with them.
“Cardinal Flix, Inc.”: www.CardinalFlix.com
“Life After You”: www.LifeAfterYouMovie.com
“A Stage Of Twilight”: AStageOfTwilightTheFilm.com
Screening information for WorldFest:
7:15 p.m., April 23
Memorial City Cinemark Theatres
310 Memorial City Way, Houston
For tickets: cinemark.com/movies/life-after-you
There will be a Q&A session after the film with Florencia Lozano (lead actress, co-writer), Charlene Giannetti (producer) and Sarah Schwab (director, co-writer).