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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Short Films in Focus: Sometimes, I Think About Dying

Stefanie Abel Horowitz’s “Sometimes, I Think About Dying” feels delicate, much like the person at the center of it. Its main character, Fran (Katy Wright-Meade), is an introvert’s introvert, a shy, well-mannered office worker who goes about her daily routine and who might even be clinically depressed, but that will have to be left to your interpretation. She lives alone, has few friends (if any at all) and, yes, sometimes thinks about dying. Don’t we all? Maybe not to the extent that Fran does, but doesn’t it cross all our minds from time to time?  How it will happen? Where? When?

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With Fran, though, her loneliness makes it easy for her to obsess over it—that is, until a co-worker named Robert (Jim Sarbh) suddenly asks her out on a date. To the surprise of both of them, she accepts. The date is made up of short, awkward exchanges, but they become drawn to one another, perhaps because of the shared silences. Should she tell him about her obsession with death?

The answer may surprise you. Horowitz co-wrote the script with Wright-Meade and Kevin Armento, who wrote the original stage play, and even with the voice-over device, the viewer can feel themselves get caught up in Fran’s worldview. As Fran, Wright-Meade finds the sadness in all the right moments, but never over-playing those moments. Even while Fran gets caught up in the possibility of romance in her life, it never feels like a betrayal of the person we met earlier. This character has clearly been created and developed over a long period of time by its authors.

And what can I say about the ending? Nothing. I wouldn’t dare. Except to say that I didn’t see it coming and I was more than satisfied. I would hope that people don’t look at the Robert character as a “male savior” for Fran. That would be a pity to take the conversations that could be had about this film in that direction. There are bigger pictures here. If you think about dying the way Fran does, it’s good to have something to interrupt those thoughts so you can get back to living. 

Q&A with director and co-writer Stefanie Abel Horowitz

I know this started out as a play, but how did the film get off the ground?

When I moved to LA and wanted to get into film I reached out to Katy Wright-Mead and she actually suggested it. She had acted in the play version and we both loved the story so it made a lot of sense to bring it back as a short. 

Did you change much of the material for the film version?

Yes and no. There's a lot of language and story that are exactly the same, but since the play had Robert as the more central character we had to figure out how to make the story complete for Fran's arc. I'd say the heart and tone and character all come directly from the play. But things had to morph and shift to make sense on film. And then, as goes with all film, things continued to morph and shift in the edit as we learned what was really necessary to tell this particular story in this particular medium. 

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What was the collaboration like between you and the two leads?

Really lovely. I've known both of them for over a decade. Jim and I went to college together and he was the first actor I ever directed. He's such an incredible performer and he brought so much intelligence and heart to the role. Katy and I had been collaborating on this project for so long that we had quite a bit of shorthand. So, overall it was really kind of delicate and sweet. The piece sort of necessitates that, but it felt like we were all stepping carefully into the work and figuring out how to bring these characters and this story to life with as much tenderness and nuance as we could muster. 

The ending is the best kind of abrupt ending. Was it written always that way, even in the play?

The ending to the play was different but it had a similar kind of suddenness. And that feeling carried over into the screenplay for the short. We did actually try an edit that sat in the final moment longer, but it just didn't feel as good! 

What's next for you?

We JUST finished the script for the feature version of the short. Hopefully, that will be the next big project!



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