Although Joey Power is quick to note how peculiar it was to be on a film shoot in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania that had nothing to do with the Civil War, there couldn’t have been a better setting for him to start collaborating with Hannah Marks, with whom he’s now made two relationship dramedies in which there is often polite disagreement that’ll occasionally burst into outright conflagration.
“We were hanging in a hotel together for a month with nothing to do [because] Hannah was acting in it and I was doing some rewrites on it,” Power recalls of their own professional meet-cute five years ago. “We talked about movies a lot and realized we got along really well and liked similar stuff and that was the beginning of our relationship.”
You suspect there was a little more rigamarole involved at this meeting of the minds since there always is before a love connection is made in Marks and Power’s scripts, whether in their recent L.A. Film Fest premiere “Banana Split” where a recent high school grad spends her summer before college all ready to hate her ex’s new girlfriend before discovering they might actually be soulmates, or their directorial debut “After Everything,” in which an entry-level marketing employee named Mia (Maika Monroe) initially resists the advances of Elliot (Jeremy Allen White), a sandwich artist who works nearby her office, though he’s gradually able to wear her down with a charm offensive. Marks, who has evaded the trap of playing the ingenue over the course of her acting career in such films as “Slash” and “Southbound,” isn’t interested in that as a writer either and with Power, there’s a great knockabout energy in finding romance between those who live for the thrill of a fight, creating lovers who fall for each other only by giving as good as they get.
In “After Everything,” Mia and Elliot will need that pugnacity after the latter learns he has Ewing Sarcoma, a bone cancer that pushes him both to chemotherapy and a marriage proposal to his girlfriend of just four months. But despite the devastating diagnosis, it’s hard to say which impacts the twentysomething couple’s relationship more as Elliot’s fulfillment of various bucket list items gives Mia plenty of new experiences, but a commitment brings unanticipated consequences of a less savory kind as the two feel increasingly bound by obligation rather than passion for one another. Still, with appealing performances from Monroe and White and the always clever and playful repartee between them, you never fall out of love with Mia and Elliot and the way Marks and Power construct a test of their bond is refreshingly modern, considering their happiness not only in relation to each other but in all aspects of their lives, including their families and their professional pursuits.
It’s understandable these things are on the minds of Marks and Power, who have obviously been quite busy of late, yet show not only good humor about it but a gift for turning real struggle into entertainment, and on the eve of the theatrical release of “After Everything” following a premiere at SXSW earlier this year (under the previous title “Shotgun”), the two remarkably found the time to talk about their collaboration, the ambition of shooting a low-budget feature all over New York City, and having so much success all at once.
How did “After Everything” come about?
Hannah Marks: Joey and I were sitting at a coffee shop for the millionth time, trying to figure out something to write. We’re both pretty neurotic and always feel like we’re sick all the time, so Joey had this great idea of “Well, how would that impact our relationship with our significant others if we got [deathly] sick right now?”
Joey Power: I had a 101 degree fever a week earlier and it was like, “What if I die right now? I’m going to marry my girlfriend and that was that.” When I presented the idea to Hannah, she’s like, “A movie about sickness, like ‘Love Story’? That’s so boring. My eyes are glazing over.” Then I said, “But what if that’s the halfway point of the movie? And then the rest of the movie is their relationship beyond the sickness?” That was the animating idea that got us both excited about this.
Hannah Marks: From the start, we said this is not a cancer movie. This is a love story. This is a relationship movie, so that really informed every decision. So we wanted it to be colorful and fun and have the music be happy and the wardrobe be bright and have these fun locations to really go to because first and foremost, it’s about their love. That should be a beautiful thing instead of a somber blue thing, so that really guided us.
Are you Web MD super-users yourselves? I wondered how you came across Ewing’s as the specific malady in this?
Hannah Marks: Oh, we’re definitely Web MD superusers. I had to quit that because at one point I was looking at my veins and I thought they were too blue, which just means you have enough oxygen. But I always thinking I’m dying, so I just have to not Google anything, and I let Joey be more in charge of picking the illness. [laughs]
Joey Power: We wanted to pick something that felt honest to the character and Ewing’s was something that’s typically experienced by people in their late teens and early twenties. And we wanted it to serve the story and allow the stakes to be what they were, but allow him to get out the other side.
Hannah Marks: It needed to be life-threatening for you to believe they would get married and it needed to be rare, but still feel real.
This may be naive to ask, but when writing a two-hander like this, does one of you gravitate more towards writing for one character than another?
Hannah Marks: It was a huge benefit to be a male and female writing/directing partnership because we did have both of those perspectives, and it would be incredibly helpful to bounce things off of each other, like “Well, do you think a guy would say that?” or “Would you think a girl would say that?” Or I can be in touch with my male side and Joey can be in touch with his feminine side and vice versa. In the scene about the breast lumps, I can defer to having boobs [laughs] and for the sperm bank scene, Joey can relate to that more than I could do.
Joey Power: Though to be clear, I’ve never been in a sperm bank.
What sold you on Maika Monroe and Jeremy Allen White to play Mia and Elliot?
Hannah Marks: They’re fantastic actors, they’re the real ages of the characters [we wrote] and they just felt like they were in the same movie because some actors can be great, but they feel like they’re a part of different films tonally, so they just seemed like a great fit. We really got lucky.
Joey Power: Yeah, the movie spans a couple years we shot the movie in not that many days and they were both so prepared to move around emotionally because there’d be days when we’d shoot something at the very beginning of their relationship and then something at the very end and their ability to be present in both of those moments within one day was amazing.
Hannah Marks: Sometimes we’d have to shoot the rehearsal and we could only give them two takes and it was unfortunate, but thankfully they’re such rock stars that they nailed it. I don’t know what we would’ve done without them.
Joey Power: We would’ve had a bad movie. [laughs]
Hannah, coming from an acting background, was there anything that you yourself would’ve wanted in creating an environment for them?
Hannah Marks: It’s nice being an actor in that situation because you know how actors think and feel and what a vulnerable position they’re in, so being as kind and supportive as possible is helpful. But I’m such a fan of Maika and Jeremy, there’s nothing I would’ve done differently. I actually met Maika before – we had done a chemistry read for a movie that never ended up happening, but it was exciting to have acted with her and then years later, get to work with her as a filmmaker and to see how both of our careers have grown and changed in the time since.
Joey Power: And Hannah was amazing at talking to both of them. It was wonderful to watch and learn from her.
I was impressed with how much of New York City you got into the film. Was Jeremy shouting obscenities in the East Village a challenging day?
Hannah Marks: I do remember someone saying [to me during that scene], “Lip from ’Shameless’ just called me a c**t on the street.” That was a very real thing. [Jeremy] had girls following him to different sets, screaming when he was there. It was really cool to see how many fans he has. That was actually really exciting.
Joey Power: It was mental in retrospect. Making your first movie for not a huge amount of money in New York City is a challenge that I wouldn’t wish on my enemies, but [the film] looks way cooler because we were able to make it there and it feels a lot more honest because there are so many people at that age who live there.
Hannah Marks: Also, originally in the script, where [Mia and Elliot] are in the speedboat because it’s on his bucket list, we couldn’t afford a speedboat, so we went on the Staten Island Ferry and that ended up such a blessing because it ended up being more real and fun. It was cool that New York City has these weird surprises for you.
Joey Power: Yeah, the restraints helped us creatively. The scene where they’re smashing stuff on top of the roof? We originally scripted it as [Mia and Elliot] throwing stuff off the top of a roof and it would look really cool and cinematic, shooting it from like a low angle from beneath. But a day before we were going to shoot, the city contacted the producers and said, “If you throw anything off of a roof, we’ll change our minds and we’re going to pull your permits for the rest of the movie.” So after a 14-hour day, Hannah and I had to sit down and be like, “Okay, how do we reimagine this in the next hour-and-a-half in the same location we’ve already locked?” And keeping the idea of smashing stuff, but [keeping] it on the roof allowed us to get this skyline that we wouldn’t have had otherwise and allowed us to get closer to the characters and see their expression more. While the other [idea] would’ve looked cool, we actually ended up in a much more interesting place, both for the characters and visually.
Hannah Marks: It just looked awesome seeing them get to take a baseball bat to some melted ice cream.
Joey Power: There’s also a subway car passing in the background that we would’ve had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get, but it just happened to work out for us.
It’s crazy to be talking with you about this because I’m seeing your next movie “Banana Split” at the L.A. Film Festival this weekend. What’s this time like for you? It seems really busy.
Hannah Marks: It’s crazy because I feel like all of my dreams are coming true, so I feel like I should be very happy and excited and I am, but I’m also like I don’t want to peak yet. [laughs]
Joey Power: Yeah, you don’t want to peak too early. And it’s wild that these things have been finished for a long time, so you almost forget they exist for a while when you’re in the present working on other stuff. Then you’re like, “My God, this is really fucking cool.”
Hannah Marks: We spent so long trying to get these made that it’s actually coincidental that they’re both coming out at the same time, but it’s pretty cool. When it rains, it pours.
“After Everything” opens on October 12th in limited release, including the Los Feliz 3 in Los Angeles and the IFC Center in New York. A full schedule of theaters and dates is here.