It’s only been a few years since director Jenny Gage cut her teeth on her first documentary, and in the time since then, she’s tackled a TV movie, and is now releasing a new theatrically-released film in the form of After, which follows a girl’s journey into college, whose whole perspective on life gets changed when she meets another mysterious student.
Below is the official synopsis for After:
“AFTER follows Tessa (Josephine Langford), a dedicated student, dutiful daughter and loyal girlfriend to her high school sweetheart, as she enters her first semester in college. Armed with grand ambitions for her future, her guarded world opens up when she meets the dark and mysterious Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a magnetic, brooding rebel who makes her question all she thought she knew about herself and what she wants out of life.”
I had a chance to speak with Gage on the phone recently, where we dived into the difficulties of adapting a 600-page tome.
LRM Online: I have to say I personally really enjoyed it. It took me back to that feeling from watching The Notebook slash One Tree Hill.
Gage: Oh great. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, The Notebook and Say Anything and some other classic sort of coming of age love stories were definitely inspirations.
LRM Online: Oh, okay. Is there one of your favorite in particular?
Gage: Well, I would say Say Anything is one of my favorites coming of age love stories for sure.
LRM Online: Okay. So let’s go ahead and discuss After. How did you come to direct After from the After series?
Gage: Well, after I made my documentary, All This Panic, with my partner Tom Betterton, I started looking for feature scripts to direct and After was given to me by my agent. One of the things that drew me to it was these coming of age story, sexual awakening, all told love story, all told through a young woman’s eyes. For me, that was something I was really looking for in a project, a female perspective, coming of age of both Tessa and Hardin and an authentic story, a relatable story to tell.
LRM Online: Okay. So I imagine after you got this, you probably read the novel or you had read the novel. How close did you have a chance to work with the writer, Anna Todd?
Gage: So I first read the script and immediately then read the book before meeting on the project. I met Anna during the pitch process for pitching to direct the movie. So, and she was a producer from the beginning so she was involved in the process and, yeah.
LRM Online: Okay. Then so were there any like, was she like … Did she do any suggestions of something that when it came to her seeing the recording of everything? Did you I allow her to put some input?
Gage: As a producer and also the author of the series, she absolutely had input and I think it was really important to her that the essence of the stories stay true to the book and that was also very important to me. I worked with my partner Tom Betterton on adapting the screenplay, the book into a screenplay. There were a couple of writers alongside of Tom and I, Tamara Chestnut and Susan McMartin and it was great to have Anna’s ear and we could really bounce ideas off of her and we sort of would kind of go back and forth and discuss like what were the most important scenes from the book to keep in the movie. We often agreed it was always when Hardin and Tessa first meet, the lake scene, the wedding, when Hardin reveals his past of … Those are always very important to all of us to have in the movie.
LRM Online: Speaking of Hardin’s past, that’s the part where I was like, “I want a little more.”
Gage: Well, I think that the plan is is that he reveals himself more and more in the next books and movies. So this is sort of like a skimming the surface of his past and the plan is to dive deeper in the next movie.
LRM Online: Okay. Well good job and it’s just skimming the surface because you did really good. I was just like, “Well, there’s more, there’s got to be more about this kid.”
Gage: Yeah, there’s definitely more about his family, absolutely. His family becomes a larger part of the storyline in the subsequent books and hopefully movies.
LRM Online: So what were some of the challenges you had in featuring the novel to the screen? I mean, I know you guys worked together, but maybe like a particular part of the movie where it was like, “Okay this one’s got to… From the novel.” How do you put it on the screen or challenge you came across?
Gage: Are you saying what scenes from the or what parts from the books were hard to put into the movie?
LRM Online: Yes. That maybe you had some challenges or difficulty in portraying them, the way you felt them, like maybe when you’re reading the novel to putting on screen.
Gage: Well, there was definitely the challenge of adapting with a 600-page book into a hour and a half movie. So there were definitely things that we just couldn’t include because there wasn’t enough time. One of the things that was a challenge, but we were able to put it in the movie was when Hardin and Tessa moved in together and making sure that it didn’t … Even in the book, it’s rushed. It’s that sort of first love like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m saying yes to moving in together so soon.” But we just wanted to make sure that it didn’t feel too rushed in the movie, that there’s this balance between sort of like jumping headfirst into this relationship and also staying true to Tessa’s character and she’s thoughtful and mindful and intelligent, yeah.
LRM Online: Yeah. It’s funny you say that because I kind of thought the same thing after as I’m watching the movie, like, “Wait, they’re already moving in together.” But I was like, you guys just did a really good job or you did just making the movie flow, all the events that it didn’t feel harsh, like quick.
Gage: That’s nice to hear. That was definitely something that was important to me as a director and one of the reasons I really wanted Tom and I to work on the script, knowing that flow was going to be very important to the movie.
LRM Online: Yeah, it definitely did. Because I mean I was just focused on enjoying the characters. The next thing you know, it’s like you think about it like, “Oh yeah, it is quick.” But then you just go back and continue enjoying.
Gage: Oh that’s great.
LRM Online: So how involved were you with the casting? I mean, when did you know that Tiffin and Langford were perfect for these two roles?
Gage: Well, I was involved in the casting from the very beginning and the casting process was a long process. We had an incredible casting director, Mary Vernieu and Marisol Roncali from Betty Mae Casting. I knew that we wanted an English after for Hardin. So we really did in the beginning have to just cast from tapes. I saw Hero’s tape early in the process and fell in love with him immediately. He just had to me all the right elements for Hardin. He was mysterious, vulnerable, gorgeous, charming and he was an incredible actor and he performed the scenes exactly how I envisioned Hardin in the movie. So, but that was a long process. There’s a lot of people who are part of making the movie.
So, and it also was so important to find Tessa. Josephine was similar. We cast, I cast her from tape in the beginning and then she flew in for in person audition. But again, she had these qualities that I was looking for in the lead actress, vulnerability, emotional depth. She’s an incredible performer. I thought she had enough, a very authentic, relatable way of dealing with the character and that was something that was so important to me that these characters really feel relatable and authentic because I think that that’s, for a young audience, authenticity is so important.
LRM Online: Definitely. Then also I like how you kind of … The film covered the relationship of mother-daughter.
Gage: Yeah. Yeah. I think that this is a coming of age story for both Tessa and Hardin and in any coming of age story, you know how important it is to cover that time period between when a young person sort of leaves the nest and whether it’s to go to college or to start living on their own and how complicated that can be. I thought that Selma Blair and Josephine did an incredible job really showing the difficulties and the love that inhabit a mother daughter relationship.
LRM Online: Also the acceptance of a mother like, “Okay, yeah, she’s not little anymore.”
Gage: Right, right.
LRM Online: “Like yeah, maybe we just need to make her decisions to trip and fall and get up again.”
Gage: Absolutely. There’s a lot of tripping and falling and getting up again in this movie. That to me is something that’s very coming of age, very finding out who you are and stumbling along the way, but that’s all part of the process.
LRM Online: Yeah. So you spoke a little bit about the scene of the lake. Where was this all filmed? It was-
Gage: In Atlanta.
LRM Online: Okay. That lake was beautiful, I have to say.
Gage: Oh good. Yeah. We had the craziest weather for that day. It was such a big important to scene and we started filming and then it started raining for six and it didn’t stop for six hours. But in a way it worked out beautifully because we had the most gorgeous light at the end of the day and the performances were just so natural and authentic and everyone knew we had to get it fast. I mean, it’s my favorite scene in the movie.
LRM Online: Yes, those are the scenes are actually, it gets the viewer … Well, I’m going to say including myself like “Ah.” That ah moment.
Gage: Yeah, yeah.
LRM Online: Like that’s where you’re like falling in love with these characters and you just want them together.
Gage: I agree. I think it is a very intimate physical moment, but you’re also very much in their heads and that I thought the way that it was shot and the intimacy to how it was shot really added to feeling like you are inside their heads at that moment.
LRM Online: Yeah. I loved how you guys portrayed like a clean intimacy.
Gage: Oh, that’s nice. I like that term.
LRM Online: Thank you. No, I mean really. I mean, there’s this different concepts or levels of intimacy, but this was clean and pure, just seemed so natural and organic.
Gage: Oh, that’s nice to hear. Yeah, there’s a lot of talking between Hardin and Tessa and a lot of consent and we felt like that was really important, especially for a movie where the audience is going to be quite young. That that’s part of the love story is this sort of asking permission.
LRM Online: Yes. I did like that. That was a really nice part. I mean, I did not have a chance to read the novel. I don’t know how it was, but yes, you’re right. The permission part when it comes to both characters.
LRM Online: All right, well thank you so much for your time in discussing your film.