INTERVIEW: ‘Everything in the End’ Writer & Director Mylissa Fitzsimmons
Everything in the End is a film about Paulo (Hugo de Sousa) – a man who has travelled from Portugal to Iceland in the last days of Earth. He has encounters with various locals and contemplates life’s meaning amongst the stunning scenery.
Your film is one of a few recent films (several I saw at Sundance, for example) that were written and filmed before 2020, but could be seen as a response to the pandemic – what was your inspiration for this ‘gently apocalyptic’ story?
My travels to Iceland were the seeds planted for the film. I knew that I wanted to make a film there and had been trying to figure out what that would be. While there in 2018 I was sitting at the airport with my friend Raul (who plays Olmo in the film), we were both sad that we were leaving Iceland and it was actually Raul who suggested that we make a short film about the last day on Earth. That film never happened, but I had written this short film and decided to expand on that simple idea. I never set out to make an “apocalyptic” film. I wanted to make a film about dying and how we grieve. So that’s what the short film evolved in to Everything in The End. A film about the death of Earth, death of humanity. How as a collective we grieve and how as individuals we need each other to get through the grieving process. Having these last moments of human connections before the end.
Our readers will be interested in the financing of your first feature film – you did a Kickstarter for some of the budget, I believe? Where did the rest of the money come from?
Financing for any project is always a battle. I knew that this was going to be a microbudget film and calling it microbudget is being generous. This is my first feature and I just don’t have the network that some have. But I’ve spent the last 8 years doing short films and building relationships with people and was hoping those relationships were strong enough to get me through raising some funds. When it came time to do this crowdfunding I figured that whatever I got, was going to be the budget and I would figure it out. I actually set the Indiegogo campaign amount pretty low compared to most who had raised money for features through crowdfunding. I don’t know if that says more about me and my fear of thinking people wouldn’t like the film or me as a director. Or if it was because I was still new to crowdfunding and wasn’t convinced it was going to work out. Also, it was at a time where I think people were a little fatigued with crowdfunding. I ended up making the goal in the final days and was incredibly overwhelmed with the support from friends who believed in the film but also me.
So, from there I was fully ready to just make this film in Idaho at that point with the $15k I had raised. But John Schorg who had watched a film of mine years earlier and we had kept in touch and become friends had reached out and said he wanted in. I was a little hesitant at first, because you know, indie filmmaking isn’t exactly a money maker. But he said the magic words which were, “I’m not investing in the film. I’m investing in the filmmaker” which I think is important for filmmakers to hear and for investors to understand what they are actually investing in.
After John came in, we still hadn’t got enough money to make this in Iceland and we started looking at alternative locations again. Then I got a call from Elizabeth Harris, another person who I had connected with through friends. She had seen some of my work and read some scripts and wanted to talk. She was initially interested in a short film I was going to do and after hearing about the film decided she wanted to become part of this film as an EP. So that brought our budget up to what I like to say was, the cost of a sensible used family car. By no means a indie budget by standards of today and barely considered a micro budget but it was enough to get a crew of four to Iceland to make a film in 11 days…barely.
It got the film made, but we struggled to find finishing funds through post. Especially during a pandemic when everyone was isolated at home and not sure what was happening in the world. In the end I was lucky that people let me pay them in small payments drawn out over months, they gave me friend rates and they were very patient with me.
I know that Iceland was a huge part of the inspiration behind the film and why you wanted to make it – what is so special about the country, its people and what makes it so cinematic (in your eyes)?
Besides the obvious reason of it being one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I had asked myself this question before I started writing the script, where would I like to be stranded during the end of times?
I knew I wouldn’t want be in a chaotic environment where people went into some sort of purge mode, I knew I wanted to be surrounded by beauty, nature and quiet. I knew I wanted to surround myself with people who were kind and calming. All these things I had experienced with my travels around Iceland. And I really just wanted to make a film there. I didn’t think It would be my first feature film but I guess I like a good challenge.
Your lead actor – Hugo – is not Icelandic, but Portuguese. How did you find him and why did you want him to play your central character?
A few years back I had seen a film that Hugo was in (We Used To Know Each Other) and I knew I wanted to work with him. So, I reached out to him on Facebook through a mutual friend and told him how I liked the film and if he ever wanted to hang out and talk film. He got back to me a month later. He had watched a few films of mine and we just had a brief conversation where I asked if he would be interested in doing something together. He said yeah. We spoke briefly on the phone and at that time I didn’t even have a script just a basic idea of the film and how I wanted it to feel emotionally. He was into it and then I just kind of disappeared for a year and tried to write it. It went through so many variations before I finally got to a script I liked. I had basically written it for Hugo.
I really needed to have this guy that always looked like a deer in headlights. That his face would betray him in a way that when he said he was doing fine, his face gave it away that he was not fine at all. Hugo had that in his eyes in the way he smiles, where you’re not quite sure if it’s a real smile or forced smile through his mannerisms. Hugo in general is a very quiet person and when he started to build on the character, I think we took some of who he is already and he built upon that and really fleshed out the character of Paulo. Also, I really enjoy working with unknown actors or actors who are just starting out. There’s a real rawness there and the flaws they have really make their characters feel like real people.
What were the most challenging aspects – eg. the weather, arriving in Iceland without your equipment, or has it been the period since making the film?
I have always worked with minimal crew and no budgets so I was prepared for that obstacle. Working with only four people of course means that we all are doing all the other jobs that we could afford to take on. But the people I asked to work on this film come from the same DIY background as me, where we have had to work in many other positions. So, we know just enough to get us through. I certainly hope the next film I don’t have to do that. It would’ve been nice to have a gaffer and grip and some actual lights. But we made do with what we had. We prepped a lot on this film so everyone was aware that no matter the elements or lack of light (it got dark at 4:00pm) we would just shoot through it.
I think for me personally I needed more days. Making a feature in a different country with four people, in eleven days was just not enough time. There are things we didn’t get because we need a few more days. That is something that has bothered me, now watching the film. We had started our post process two months before the pandemic hit and lockdown happened. We had one cut at that point. I would have thought that doing post over a series of zoom calls, texts and emails would have been the biggest challenge, but in a way, I think it was good. We had something to keep us occupied and our minds off the daily doom scrolling.
I think the biggest thing that we’re dealing with that is frustrating is the lack of festivals. For a film this small with all unknowns, we really needed the extra help and benefits that comes with a successful festival run. With everything pushed and online we’re really lacking the personal connections that happen with being at a festival. We just have no idea how the film is playing, how people are reacting to it, who is watching it, how many people are watching? We just don’t have that information and the fact that this is my first feature and a festival was probably my only opportunity to see it on the big screen with an audience really bums me out.
And what’s been the most rewarding part of having written and directed your first feature and now having people finally see it at festivals?
I’ve always said that it’s never about the film. It’s about the experience making the film. The whole process from writing to finding money to shooting and finally finishing the film and putting it out there has been so rewarding for me. I didn’t have a bad experience doing my first film. It was hard and at times challenging but the experience making it has only made me realise that making films as a career was the right decision and making more is all I want to do now.
Everything in the End was recently shown at Cinequest Festival.
It will be showing at Florida Film Festival on April 10, 2021.