See You Then is the 2021 drama film about two women who spend a night catching up after a decade apart. Borrowing Tape interviewer Nace DeSanders spoke with the director and co-writer of See You Then (Mari Walker) during the 2021 South By Southwest Film Festival.
Watch See You Then Now
Hi everyone and welcome to Borrowing Tape. My name is Nace DeSanders and I am here with Mari Walker, the director of See You Then — a drama about two women who reunite after a long absence and reminisce about their pasts together and present apart. See You Then premiered at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival. Thank you for making time for us today, Mari.
Thank you so much for having me.
So let's jump right in. Where did the idea for this film come from?
Well, I've always wanted to direct, ever since I was in high school (a sophomore in high school), and I had written a number of scripts that I was really excited about, but they were absolutely way far out of the budgetary range for a first-time filmmaker — particularly someone who's Asian American and trans. And so I really felt like what would benefit me is to write a chamber piece between two characters. Really sit down, learn how to direct actors, because I mostly have been working in the doc world. And I started falling in love with the characters as we started writing them. I was like using the script with my co-writer, Kristen Uno, as a form of art therapy. A lot of those feelings of what does it mean to be a woman in society? What dreams do I have of motherhood still? Trying to find the work-life balance that Naomi struggles with. All those things, sort of, found their way working into the script. And then, before you know it, the characters were alive and I fell in love with them and then you feel really awful when you ruin their lives, but you have to for dramatics sake.
So that leads right into my next question. Are there stories and anecdotes in the film, real ones?
Some of them are real and some of them are designed for the characters. In particular, Kris' first monologue where she really opens up about those struggles coming into terms with her identity. So much of that was honestly taken from my coming-out letter, that I originally wrote to my friends and family. So, some of that stuff really hits very personally. Some of the plot points that happened later in the story, didn't happen to me but felt like they still fit in, and resonated with sort of the themes that I was struggling with, in my own life.
That's amazing. So you seem to have held every position on a film set, editor, actor, sound, visual effects, producer, the list goes on. So, do you feel this holistic approach to learning film has helped you as a director, and how so?
Oh my gosh, absolutely. I think that one of the most important things is I think every director should learn how to edit. Because, I think, especially when you're on set, you'll know what shots you can cut, which things you can cut around, which things you can extend or shorten. Even to the point where I was actually editing while we were on set at times, just to test some of the shots, make sure everything's syncing up properly. If we're moving to a different location, I wanted to double back and make sure that some of these things were finished. I think what that level of experience that I started and came into the film with, and then I also gained throughout the film I think could allow for a director to be able to translate their thoughts easier by actually knowing what those team members actually need. I think one of the great challenges that directors face is like, they're like, I want the moon and you're like okay, but like the moon is not possible. So what's a more realistic, logical way to create a fake moon? Can we do all these different things? And, and I think that having those options already preset in my head allowed me to move a lot faster sometimes other directors I think tend to be on-site.
That makes sense. So they say if a film gets rewritten three times, once during the writing process, once during shooting, and then once during the editing process. Again, you keep touching on my next questions so I love that. So being the writer, director, and editor, do you feel the film has changed from your original vision?
Oh, well I think it's, it's improved. I think that throughout the process of writing my co-writer Kristen Uno and I would sit down and, and sort of discuss the script and we'd actually like to talk it out, which I hate — I hate hearing my own voice. It's like my absolute kryptonite which is hilarious because I've been doing interviews and I just keep on hearing. As we were reading it back to each other, she would often play Naomi and I would often play Kris. And she said that she felt like she knew the script was in the right direction when at the end of the final scene that they have together. As we were reading it back and forth, I actually started going off script and like yelling at her angrily about these things that were probably going on in my own life and I was like transplanting onto the character. And she said, once we got to that place, she felt like, okay, now we can actually start bringing it out to the casts, to these two amazing actors that we have — Lynn and Pooya. And then they took it and they evolved into this whole other thing. I mean, especially one of the moments I always talk about is the bar scene with Lynn. She just brought a whole new level of humor and pathos and beauty to those lines that didn't even exist on the page. And then, once we got into the editing process, it was just a never settling sort of process where we were like, okay, like, how can we refine these, what lines are repeated? How can we cut these? Can we take this part of the line and shift it over to the scene to make sure that we'd like to deliver the right emotional impact.
And so it was a lot of workshopping, a lot of rewriting, and I think writing is rewriting, and filmmaking and editing is rewriting. You're never really fully finished, you know? And so it's just a beautiful process to come through those different things. And then, at a certain point, the film just sort of becomes its own thing and it's like letting a child go off to college. And you're like, are you going to be okay? You're going to be all right. And they're like, yeah, I'm fine. Like, whatever, like you've spent enough time on me. I'm on my own now. I'm off doing my own thing and then you have to let it be. But that process of translation between those different voices and those different groups of people, that's what makes a film, a film, you know?
How was working with Cinematographer Jordan T. Parrott?
Yeah, well, Jordan and I have known each other for a very long time. We were roommates in sophomore year in college and Jordan shot the majority of my doc stuff and some of my other shorts. So we really have an absolute shorthand most of the time, I'm like, okay, I have this like shot list. I'm super excited. Like we storyboarded out these things and he's like, I don't even see any of that. I know what's going on in your brain, don't worry about it. And then he'll go and set up the thing and it'll be exactly what I had always sort of hoped and dreamed it would be. I think one of the great joys that comes with doing your first film — if you're able to do it — is more often than not you're surrounded by community and people that you really love and care about. And for Jordan to be on set. Our creative consultant and script supervisor Jayson Morgan was also our roommate in college. My parents were on set as executive producers. Like my cousin came out to cameo in the movie, my neighbor who was like my second mom came down to be Nana in the role. And so all those things just really created this like very organic fluid process for me to be able to communicate exactly what I needed, and for everybody to kind of understand my language already, and be able to sort of put it into place.
That's amazing. That's a great that you had family on set too. I bet that's such an amazing atmosphere.
It was heaven, it was absolute heaven.
So what were your favorite scenes to shoot?
I think the bar scene was probably my favorite. That was a really challenging day because that whole week we're doing 3 to 3:00 PM shoots. And overnight tends to be from like 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM. And that's hard enough as it is, but when you really start getting into the middle period, that's when everybody starts getting a little weird because you never get enough sleep on either side of that time. So everybody was really punchy on set and just kind of goofy. And I think that lent itself so well to that passage in the film where we're allowing the characters to relax and be themselves and, and fall into these like patterns of conversation that feel very light and fun. So, that was the most fun for me on set. The most challenging was the last scene where it felt like a part of my soul was being ripped out from my body and placed on the screen. But that in itself had its own rewards too.
Oh, wow. So what do you want audiences to take away from this film?
I hope that what we endeavored to do with the film is to present a certain level of universality that even though one of the characters is Asian American woman, the other character is Iranian American trans woman. That these challenges that they're facing within the story are not focused exclusively on those communities but can be understood by everybody. That feeling of guilt over something that you did or said to somebody long ago, still resonating, or those choices that you made long ago that seemed to echo into your current life. I think these are all things that anybody could relate to. And my hope is that by taking a mock for a mile and these other characters' shoes that they could gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the fact that we all might be different, but in the end, we're all the same. And we're just people and we're just trying to like make it, and we're trying to survive. We're trying to find happiness. And I certainly hope for the Asian American community and the trans community that we can inspire them and inspire future filmmakers. Because I think that we're like facing a time right now where I think we're going to see an explosion of queer content, like Asian-American content, people of color, black filmmakers. It's going to be incredible. What's going to be happening in the future. And I just am so honored to be a part of that movement.
Yeah, absolutely. So which films or directors have influenced you as a filmmaker, but also for See You Then?
Well, definitely for See You Then — My Dinner with Andre was a huge influence. The Before series — Before Sunset, Before Midnight — we have a few little nods within the film to some of these films as well. I think one of the other things that we were really hoping to do with the film was to embrace formalism in the film and to work with the big canvas of large-format filmmaking to tell this very intimate story. And so, I was very inspired by films, like Brief Encounters by David Lean and some of the older sort of styles of stories, but really trying to take that format and bring it into like more of a subversive version by introducing these characters that aren't focused on, that aren't celebrated and those stories and bring it into this new format. Personally, Oh gosh, there's so many. But they kind of range, they range from like In The Mood For Love to Jurassic Park, to Singing In The Rain, to Schindler's List, to Black Panther, to Finding Nemo. Every film, I think has the ability to move and affect me. And I'm just inspired by all of it. I'm inspired by all these people who go out and like have the courage to tell these stories. Like, it's crazy it's amazing.
So what are you currently working on now? Are there any new projects that we should be looking out for?
There's a few. There's a young adult trans love story that I'm working on. There's a horror movie. That's also trans-related that I'm working on. And then I have other things like bigger scripts that I'm hoping to get out into the world that are totally just out there bonkers. I have a script called Moonbody, which is about an astronaut named Derek Moonbody whose dreams of going to the moon are thwarted by the fact that he's a werewolf. So it's like a big grand scope comedy. It's very silly and huge and takes place in Florida. It's insane. So, I hope that I will get the opportunity to tell stories on all different types of canvases and all different types of scopes.