The inception of “After” sounds inconceivable: at age 24, Anna Todd opened Wattpad and started writing a fan fiction story of One Direction’s Harry Styles. Fast forward a few years and “After” has sold over 11 million copies worldwide. Now, fans can expect to see it come to life on the big screen.
After premiering a documentary film called “All This Panic” at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Jenny Gage, who received her MFA in photography at Yale University, was ready to take on “After.” In the following interview, she takes us behind-the-scenes of adapting “After” for Hollywood.
Q: How did working on “All This Panic” in any way influence you or prepare you to take on After?
JG: As a filmmaker, I’m very interested in telling authentic stories and finding an authentic voice. One of the things that compelled me to make “All This Panic” was diving headfirst into a young woman’s coming of age issues they’re dealing with, grappling with. There are similar themes in “After” that I had started to dive in to in All This Panic: coming of age, sexual awakening, learning who your friends are, who you can trust, the people and the pastiche that make up your life.
Q: The shaping of “After” on Wattpad was very much influenced in current time thanks to reader feedback. How about the movie? How do you strike a balance between catering to the fanbase and telling the best story?
JG: “After” is very special in that it has such a strong passionate supportive fanbase. It really is a family that Anna and her book series have created. It was very important that we make the fans happy and also reach out to people who haven’t heard of the book or the series. I thought a lot about staying true to the story, but also bringing new elements to it, modernizing it a bit. Casting was hugely important, cinematography, costume design, production design — all those things played a huge part in bringing the book to life as the movie.
Q: Speaking of casting — what were you looking for when casting Tessa and Hardin?
JG: the biggest aspect i was looking for in their performances when I was casting Hardin and Tessa was vulnerability. That was something very apparent in both Josephine [Langford] and Hero [Fiennes-Tiffin]. Once you have that vulnerability and that willingness to access it, I think performance comes so naturally from there. We talked a lot about the character’s development — where they start at the beginning of the movie and where they end up — the journey that they take individually and the journey they take as a pair.
Q: What was it like having Anna Todd, the author of “After,” on set?
JG: It was great having Anna on set. There’s nobody who knows the “After” characters better than Anna. We did make some changes along the way so it was really great to have her there and discuss those changes and have her on board for changes that were made.
Q: Some of the scenes I found most heartbreaking and poignant were between Tessa and her mother, played by Selma Blair. What was it like working with Selma in those scenes?
JG: Selma is an incredible actress. Funnily enough, my first job as a photographer after Yale, my partner and I photographed Selma Blair. She was the first actress we ever photographed. We had a great day. She actually introduced All This Panic when it opened in LA. We had been in touch over the years but I had not worked with her for a long time. It was such a pleasure to work with an actress of her caliber. She really brought Carol to life and made her grounded and accessible but also a little bit scary — the mom you don’t want to disappointment. I think a lot of young women can relate to that.
Q: This seems to be sort of full circle for her — from playing Vivian in “Legally Blonde,” one of the most formative coming-of-age movies of its time, to playing a mother figure in “After,” a coming-of-age for the now.
JG: That was a really fun extra to have — somebody playing those roles back then and is playing the mom down. The same for Jennifer Beals. One of my favorite movies was “Flashdance” growing up, and so to be able work with her was incredible as well. Same for Peter Gallagher who was in “The Player” and some of the best films out there.
Q: What’s on your radar in terms of future projects?
JG: My partner and I are adapting called Pages For You, Pages For her, and it’s a love story that starts on the campus of Yale. We’re working to adapt that as we speak.
Q: And finally, what advice would you give to young filmmakers?
JG: The most important thing is to find your voice. It’s not something that happens quickly. It can take years. It’s about figuring out the stories you really want to tell, following your passion and working hard. i think as an artist you always question yourself but then there’s a time when you stop questioning yourself and trust yourself. Question, question, question until you’re ready to go and make it, and then trust yourself.
“After” comes out in theaters April 12.