Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

Photo courtesy CIFF

CIFF 2021: Director Shaun Crawford talks film Here & After

By Rachneet Randhawa, December 17 2021—

Here and After is a drama and romance film that premiered at CIFF 2021. It centres around the love story of Ray and Arora and their unfolding encounter after she makes an outright claim that she can predict the outcome of the day that they spend together. 

The plot consists of both of them debating and having an intimate dialogue on the nature of love, especially as Arora reveals that she experiences life backward and the two of them will spend most of their lives married. This to-be-announced-spoiler-alert-for-life is too much for Ray who is a blatant critic, and the two engage in discussing their ideologies for love everlasting. 

The Gauntlet sat down for an interview with Director Shaun Crawford to learn more. 

This is Crawford’s first time directing a feature. Before this, he was primarily a screenwriter. When he was 20 years old, a friend of his suggested that they should work together to write a script and make a movie. They began researching how to make a script and they self-educated by reading books on how to put a decent sculpt together. 

This inspired him to go to the Vancouver Film School later on, to study screenwriting — although it took him a while to get to the point of making his first short film years later. The script for Here & After was written with the same friend and eventually, they onboarded a producer and sales agent and received funding to make the feature film. 

Before this, Crawford tended to focus on genre-based scripts for films that he wrote like Christmas Lake which were picked up by big-name distributors like Sony. However this time, Crawford opted for a movie that focuses on the art of filmmaking, not a big distribution deal. He had wanted to try his hand at directing for a while and the idea of a woman experiencing life backward really stuck to him.

He envisioned a man meeting said woman, and that their initial encounter would be a meeting and a parting. Due to her condition of being a time traveler, this would be the last time the woman was ever going to see him and the very first time she was meeting her — a lot of interesting dynamics at play. 

The overall theme audiences can draw from the film is that it’s ultimately a love story and Crawford hopes it allows them to reflect on how they feel about love and believe in it more. 

“Love is worth it, love is a good thing whatever shape it takes, whatever form it takes,” says Crawford. “I mean spending your life with someone is, in my opinion, perhaps the most worthy person. I really want people to just believe in love and feel excited about love. […] it’s got a bit of a bittersweet ending and fair enough, it was kind of designed that way, but it is ultimately a love story.”

Some tactics utilized by Crawford include being monochromatic and shooting the entire film using a black and white format. Crawford said the reason for this was to highlight thematically the dichotomies in the film — Aurora experiences life backward and Ray experiences life forwards, Arora believes in faith and Ray believes in choice, Arora believes indeterminism and Ray believes in free will. 

All of these opposites ultimately land both characters in the middle, with both living their lives in the spaces in between and, much like their relationship and the film itself, also lives between the lines. 

At the end of the day, it’s not either-or but rather a bazillion shades of grey, as Crawford puts it. Crawford’s intent to do this format also reflects the romances of the classic golden age of Hollywood for a visual aesthetic and gives it that authentic romantic feel. Shooting in black and white also lends itself to a low budget. Moreover, an important quality or attribute any up-and-coming film director or any artist anyway should have is voice.

 “What is my voice? You know how I am going to write a script? How am I going to make a movie? How am I going to tell a story? How am I going to paint? How am I going to read a book? How am I going to write a song? Exploring and discovering and establishing a unique voice is the most important asset, I think that any artist’s practice and it’s ongoing and never ends,” says Crawford. 

Some difficult aspects included a low budget, unpredictable weather and time. Operating on a shoestring budget is not the best plan of action for a feature film. Due to this, there was little room for error with limited reshoots and maintaining production value was a constant challenge.

Despite being restricted by a low budget, it influenced the cast and crew to take on that challenge and become more creative. They couldn’t do complicated shots, so they had to rely on the talents of everybody including the cinematographer. For instance, they had to scout out memorable locations in Calgary like the popular bookshop in Inglewood or the staircase in Crescent Heights — as Crawford emphasized, this is also one of the reasons why Hollywood productions come to Alberta.

Also, most of the shooting happened in October of last year, with the weather being sporadic and most of the film took place outside. Although it seems like they shot for different seasons in the film, they actually shot the entirety of it within two weeks and they had to adapt and shift based on the presenting spaces available. 

A time crunch is an inevitability every director faces and they try to keep workdays to a maximum of 12 hours. Crawford mentioned one of the film unions was on the verge of striking because of how tired crews were of being treated to particularly long days of filming — upwards of 16 to 20 hours with limited breaks. 

However, the most enjoyable aspect for Crawford was that it was his directorial debut. Despite being nervous, he enjoyed every minute of it. 

“It was the most meaningful experience in my whole life and pretty much the most fun I ever had,” says Crawford. “There’s just something so magical about that space that the director stands where you’re behind the monitor, looking at the shot.” 

Crawford also mentioned that the experience of directing can get addicting. 

“[It’s] little addictive. You kind of get desperate to do it again, even though I’ve only done it for 10 days in my entire life.” 

It was an eye-opening experience for him, as he’s a writer first, so being a first-time director allowed him to delve into all the niche mechanics required to piece together a film, working with the different professionals on and offset. 

“It’s a huge learning experience for me, just for how many more tools you have to get your message across, aside from the script itself in the dialogue,” he says. 

He didn’t have a lot of technical expertise like the different lenses on the different cameras and the different shot times so he was humbled by the experts he was surrounded by who he empowered and trusted to bring his vision to life. 

“I know how the movie looks in my head, so, if I can communicate that to a cinematographer and to an editor, and I can also trust their expertise and their creative choices as they’re going through the process and allow them to elevate it beyond what I envisioned,” he says. “I think you can still be a leader and be the custodian of the vision and the hub of the project but still not have to be able to do every single thing yourself.”

For the onscreen chemistry, both Thomas Romero as Ray and Tedra Rogers as Aurora paired well together in the audition and were cast as a duo that came through on screen. This was crucial as the whole film was going to live and die on their performance as most of the plot is a dialogue between the two of them with limited action of conflict in the narrative. 

Overall, Crawford was pleased with how the film turned out based on his original vision. 

“In terms of how the film turned out and the reception it’s got and what we’ve been able to do with it, it totally exceeded all my expectations and so much of that has to do with the cast and crew as well, and the production value they brought in [and] the skill set they brought.” 

Despite being restricted by a low budget, it influenced the cast and crew to take on that challenge and become more creative. They couldn’t do complicated shots, so they had to rely on the talents of everybody including the cinematographer. For instance, they had to scout out memorable locations in Calgary like the popular bookshop in Inglewood or the staircase in Crescent Heights — as Crawford emphasized, this is also one of the reasons why Hollywood productions come to Alberta.


Here & After had its Alberta premiere at CIFF 2021 that ran from Sept. 22 to Oct. 2. Be sure to check out this playfully refreshing dramatized rom-com that’ll give you a few chuckles and a reality check.


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