FYIG Chats With Director/Actress Robyn Abbott

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FYIG recently had the chance to talk to director and actress Robyn Abbott. Read on to find out more about her experience filming the post-apocalyptic indie film After and much more!

Tell us a little bit about how you came to the realization that you wanted to work in the film industry.

It’s funny, I know the actual moment. I was watching Blue is the Warmest Colour, and it was amazing. It’s almost three hours long. As soon as the movie was done, I started it over again. I needed to figure out what made everything feel so real. About halfway through the second watching, it dawned on me that other people probably don’t do this, you know, watch the same movie for six hours out of their day. Until then I hadn’t thought of film as an actual job that normal people can go out and do, but I realized I was way too into movies to not give it a go. That was about three years ago.

Did you originally want to be an actress or be behind the scenes? 

Behind the scenes is definitely what got me into film. I have a lot of friends who are directing and I kept getting smaller parts when they couldn’t find anyone or they found someone but it fell through for some reason. For After, I originally looked for someone to play Cara, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for, at a point it was casting this role that was holding me up on production – everything else was good to go. I just said screw it, I’ll do it. So far I’m really loving it.

You’re currently filming a film called After. Tell us a little bit about that film and why you think audiences will enjoy it.

The film picks up years after the world has ended, as two young women are struggling to prepare for winter in the Canadian wilderness. Everything changes when they stumble upon another survivor, a man, the first person they have seen in eight years.

I hope that people will enjoy watching the film for the reasons I’ve enjoyed making it. It’s a look at humans with all the bullshit of everyday stripped away. You know, what humans can be, or want to be, without any societal structure in place. What happens when we need to tap into the more animalistic side of ourselves, and how we interact with each other after going to that raw, instinctual place. It’s also about friendship and the issues that arise when romantic love and friendship become at odds.

You directed and acted in this film. How difficult is it to juggle both roles?

So far, knock on wood, it’s gone pretty smooth. The DOP is a really good friend of mine, and also brutally honest, so he tells me when my performance is bad or doesn’t work for some reason. We worked a lot in pre-production together, going over exactly what I had pictured, and watching movies that inspired me. It’s funny, sometimes I’ll call cut during a scene that I’m in and he’s like: “No, keep going, you’re gonna love this.” And he’s right. All of my crew is pretty epic, so I trust them when I’m in a scene, they know what I’m going for. Plus Madi is such a generous actress, she gives me so much to work with. It certainly slows down the process though, because I want to watch playback after every take. There are definitely moments where I’m watching myself and saying “My eye bags are ridiculous right?” And then my DOP will be like, “Yes, but it works”.

What are the challenges of creating a film with so few characters?

Casting was really important because the film is carried by just a few people. There are only three people you see the entire film, so if you’re watching it you need to be able to bond or connect with one of the three. But so far, it’s been more freeing than limiting. There’s so much time to really get to know the characters and their relationships. And there’s more time to play with everything while we’re filming because we need so much less coverage than we would, say if there were five or six people in the scene. Plus scheduling is way easier than normal.

Tell us a little bit about your character Cara and what you enjoyed about playing this role.

So Cara is one of the two characters we start the film with, she survived the apocalypse mostly due to the help of her friend Liv. She’s probably not who you’d want to be stuck with at the end of the world. She can’t emotionally handle anything that has happened. For her, the film is about finding a reason to keep going, when there’s no real future and everything she loved is gone. She needs to learn how to support herself, instead of being carried by other people. The role has been fun in that, even though she’s my age, she stopped having contact with adults or people apart from Liv at a really young age, so she hasn’t really grown up in the way that I have. It’s been fun to try and get back to that teenage-mindset, but also play around with speech and mannerisms in the way that you would be if you were isolated. She’s not really socialized at all. 

A good portion of After takes place outdoors. Talk about the physicality of the role and what you needed to do to prepare for it.

Yeah, there’s been a lot of things physically that make this project different from other things I’ve done. It’s been cold and it’s only going to get colder. Almost all of the scenes involve some sort of manual labour, like chopping wood, carrying wood – there was a day where we were carrying big baskets of potatoes and carrots that our characters were going to preserve for winter. It was shockingly heavy, each take got a little harder. Plus there are other strange physical things like we didn’t shave our legs for weeks leading up to the first shoot. Another thing is that the characters don’t own any chairs, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but crouching beside the fire every time you’d normally sit in a chair – you definitely feel that by the end of the day. I helped build the set prior to shooting which included clearing land, and physically building the structure that the girls live in. I felt like that definitely got me in better shape for the film.

You’ve also done some documentaries like Flesh Hook Suspension and Embers of Varanasi. Do you prefer working on those types of projects or fictional films and why?

That’s kind of tough to answer. I guess it’s more that I’m drawn to a story or an idea that I think is interesting, something that I’d like to watch a movie about. Sometimes the story works better as a fictional film, and sometimes as a documentary. Embers of Varanasi, which I produced, was my first documentary and it was a crazy experience. It’s about the death industry in Varanasi, India. At the end of the film, there were eighty different movies we could have made with the footage we got. I feel like when shooting, fiction is harder, but when editing, documentaries are harder. I’ll probably make more of both in the future, I don’t know if that’s really an answer.

Are there any people in the film industry that you dream of working with?

Yeah, a ton. Almost too many to name. I’ve been working on a historical script set in Rome for a bit, and Michael Hirst is like a historical-film-God, I’d love to work with him on something, in any context, just to see how he approaches stories where we know a lot about these people, but we don’t know everything. Even though he’s not in the film industry, I’d love to make a documentary on Elon Musk, because I think that guy is going to save the planet. Or just talk to him and make something that shows his vision of what the future could be if we don’t mess it up. Those are the two that I’ve been thinking most about recently.

What other projects do you have coming up?

I’m in the midst of producing a film called Rodeo, which will be finished next year. Embers of Varanasi just showed at Go Independent International Film Festival LA. Flesh Hook Suspension, which I also produced, is in post-production right now and will be finished next year. When After is finished, I’ve got a documentary on nomadic life in Mongolia in the works called Nomad, and a yet to be titled sci-fi trilogy up my sleeve for when that’s done.

Tell the audience where they can find you online.

Instagram: @robyn_abbott

After Instagram: @officialaftermovie

Also, check out our interview with Madi Violet Graves who plays Liv in After here.

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