In all my years of covering short films, I’ve never seen anything like what has happened with Will McCormack and Michael Govier’s animated short, “If Anything Happens I Love You.”
Since the film premiered on Netflix on November 20th, it has become an unexpected phenomenon. A week after its release, it was #2 on Netflix … worldwide! The TikTok hashtag #ifanythinghappensiloveyou spawned a viewer challenge along the lines of, “I bet you can’t watch this movie without crying.” 40 million views so far, many of them with before-and-after videos of hardened cynics, skeptical that a 12-minute film could possibly bring them to tears. Jump-cut to their reaction to the film: “(sniff-sniff) I have something in my eye.” But for many of these young viewers, the feeling is one of genuine catharsis.
Full disclosure: I know Govier. We worked together many years ago in a theater group called “Barrel of Monkeys” (now called “Playmaker’s Laboratory”). He told me last summer about this short he and McCormack made. Fast-forward to November and their film now has a Netflix deal. Normally, a Netflix deal for a short film is reason enough for filmmakers to pop open the champagne. After watching the film, I told him I would definitely love to write about it for Ebert in December.
In spite of its popularity, I’m still going to proceed without divulging too much, as I originally had planned before all this happened. There is much to talk about with this film, aside from the responses. McCormack and Govier’s animated short feels like a prayer, but to elaborate on that might mean spoiling part of the experience of watching the film, which builds beautifully to its central premise instead of laying it all out at the start.
The film starts out with an image of a couple eating dinner at opposite ends of the table, often signifying a communication gap. In this case, there is something misleading about that. They do not communicate, but are isolated within their own experiences of grief as shadows of their conflict play out over them. Is their marriage over? What is dying between them? As they wander through their house in the following scenes and observe some dried blotches of paint on the walls and a record player on the floor that starts playing after the family cat accidentally triggers it, the story becomes clearer: They have lost someone.
McCormack and Govier’s delicate and haunting film has undeniable power as the story shifts to flashbacks and moments of joy bring shape to the overall tragedy. The film will undoubtedly spark conversations, but the impact of watching it might delay those discussions as you gather your thoughts and emotions together. Again, I don’t want to say too much, except that the simple 2-D animation style perfectly suits the story, as it feels like a collection of drawings by someone younger than the couple in the film. There are layers of grief and anger within the frames of this otherwise beautiful dream/nightmare. And yes, keep the tissues handy.
Q&A with directors Will McCormack and Michael Govier (spoilers follow)
How did this come about?
We met in the most unlikely of places: an acting class in the valley. We became fast friends. And since we’re both writers, we would meet in the park for avocado sandwiches to volley new ideas, as writers do. We were both interested in writing about grief and wrestling with the loss in our own lives.
How did the collaboration between you two work out?
We both created and directed the film and were there for all parts of the filmmaking process. We both just love to collaborate. We came up in the theatre and love that communal experience of collaboration. It’s exhilarating. Artist inspiring other artists. We sought everyone’s input and created a climate for everyone’s voice to be heard. One difference was Michael was a producer on the film and ran a lot of the production elements, while Will was an executive producer and helped secure financing.
Have you heard from anyone who has had personal experience with this? What has that response been like?
So many people who have lost loved ones have reached out to us. Maybe thousands.
As storytellers, it’s been the most rewarding connection of our lives. “If Anything Happens I Love You” has been such a cathartic experience.
Music plays such a vital role in this. Can you talk about how you landed on some of the music choices here?
In a film without any dialogue, the music was paramount. One alarming statistic that our EP Robyn Klein shared with us: Only 6% of all film composers are women. Lindsay Marcus composed most of the score for the whole film. In a film that is 12 minutes long she created 8-plus minutes of music. We also had the Inner-City Youth Orchestra of LA, run by Charles Dickerson, arrange and perform the “Beautiful Dreamer” section of the film. We were thrilled to have King Princess’ “1950” in the film. It's an anthemic ballad, perfect for our story needs.
How did Laura Dern and Netflix get involved?
Laura Dern and her producing partner Jayme Lemons saw an early animatic of the film, loved it, and graciously joined the team. They both work closely with Everytown for Gun Safety, so this story was a perfect fit for them. Netflix got wind of the film and they had an internal screening. The next thing we knew, we were in 200 million homes.
So, now the film is on Netflix and has become quite a sensation, which I know you didn’t see coming. I mean, this just doesn’t happen with short films. What has this part of the journey been like for you?
Normally, if a short film actually becomes successful, it precedes a blockbuster feature.
Our film is a standalone, 2D animated story about grief. Our little film has been number one in 14 countries on Netflix’s top ten. In addition the film has been in the top ten on Netflix moves in 67 countries. It has been an emphatic declaration that audiences want to feel.
Is there anything you want to say to all the people on TikTok who have helped this movie take on a life of its own?
We are so moved by everyone’s vulnerability and their willingness to express themselves. We are watching empathy in action. We are grateful to their outpouring of support that is still growing. Currently, #IfanythinghappensiIoveyou on TikTok has over 40 million views. It has been so rewarding as filmmakers to see these reactions in real time. We don’t know if this has ever happened before. The ability to watch people watch your movie and react in real time is a beautiful thing.
What’s next for you?
We want to continue to make short films that are meaningful. We are also developing a feature animated film with the same team.
"If Anything Happens I Love You" is now streaming on Netflix.