Theater Alumni Create Oscars Shortlist Film

More than a decade after graduation, a group of Emory friends reunited to be featured in the Hollywood spotlight. Director Stefanie Horowitz (08C) and six other Emory alumni joined to collaborate on “Sometimes, I Think About Dying,” a short film that premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and rose to the 92nd Academy Awards’ shortlist for the Live Action Short Film category. 

The 12-minute film follows a budding relationship between Fran (Katy Wright-Mead), an office worker struggling with low self-worth and isolation, and her work colleague Robert (Jim Sarbh (09C)), who approaches her for a date. At the movie’s climax, Fran finally feels comfortable enough to tell Robert that sometimes, she thinks about dying.

Horowitz told the Wheel that her film aimed to highlight the significance of emotional availability in the face of depression.

“If you can, share your feelings with other people,” Horowitz said. “The great thing about college is that you’re around a lot of people who are your age, and you have a lot of time and space to get to know each other. I think that makes a difference.”

The people with whom Horowitz chose to spend her time in college would turn out to be the very same people who helped produce “Sometimes, I Think About Dying.” Their friendship grew over their mutual involvement in the Emory Theater Department over ten years ago. 

The film is based on Kevin Armento’s “Killers,” a play that Horowitz directed in New York City in 2013. The play also starred Wright-Mead, who co-wrote the short film with Horowitz. As Horowitz and Wright-Mead were in the process of converting the play into a short, the director reached out to Sarbh, a college friend and actor from Indian movies such as “Padmaavat” (2018) and “Sanju” (2018).

After Horowitz got Sarbh on board to star as Robert in the short film alongside Mead, Horowitz and Sarbh’s mutual friend Craig Newman (08C) got involved as the assistant director. The rest of the old friend group had stayed in touch after graduation, relying on and collaborating with one another during their trials in the film industry.  Three of the friends joined the film once they found out that the rest of the group was making a movie together. 

“Sometimes, I Think About Dying” was shot at The Barn, a performing arts theater owned by the nonprofit organization Barn Arts in Tremont, Maine. Andrew Simon (06C), another friend and Emory alumnus who owns and operates the venue, became the film’s location manager. The Barn has been a focal point for the friend group over the past decade. Newman had also previously shot there, and Horowitz and script supervisor Emma Yarbrough (09C) both wrote and produced plays there such as “The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman he Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union” by David Grieg.

Joining Horowitz, Sarbh, Newman, Simon and Yarbrough were digital imaging technician Caitlin Reeves (08C) and head cook Isaac Fosl-van Wyke (09C). 

“Filming the movie was like a college reunion at my house in the midst of two weeks of intense shooting,” Simon said.  

While much of the film crew came from Horowitz’s professional connections in New York and Los Angeles, some of the alumni involved had never been on a professional film set before and had to learn their duties when they arrived. Nevertheless, Newman insisted that the intimacy within a working group is an essential factor in quality filmmaking.

“Making a movie, ultimately, is intimate,” Newman said. “You’re together in small spaces, sleeping in small spaces, you’re brainstorming and collaborating left, right and center. It’s rare to find people you want to spend that kind of intimate time with.”

The alumnus agreed that life in the professional world of theater and film can be chaotic, and like life in general, finding people who are a joy to work with is something to be cherished. After graduation, each of the alumni pursued their career independently, but never completely lost touch with one another.

“When you find people who you like and who are intelligent and talented, you keep them close,” Newman said. “And when you get a chance to work together, you take that opportunity.”

After graduating in 2008, Horowitz moved to New York City. There, she started the Tiny Little Band theater company with playwright Jerry Lieblich. After having worked for two years at different internships, co-managing a theater company allowed Horowitz to fully express her creativity as a freelance director. Even after her career launched, Horowitz did not forget about the connections she fostered at Emory. In the summer of 2008, she called on Newman to act in one of her productions, “Portrait of the Artist as a Middle Aged Woman.” 

 

Theater Alumni Unite For Emory Film

Despite their current involvement in “Sometimes, I Think About Dying,” many of the Emory alumni never planned to pursue careers in theater after graduation.

“I did not go [to Emory] thinking I would be a theater major, I went thinking I was gonna be an English major,” Horowitz said. “I took [Acting Fundamentals] with Mary Lynn Owen my freshman year and thought, ‘This is fun! You can major in this?’ So I declared at the end of my freshman year.”

Yarbrough initially planned on pursuing international relations as a career or going on to attend law school. Her first taste of acting came from a freshman seminar taught by Theater Studies Senior Lecturer Jan Akers, who suggested that Yarbrough audition for a Theater Emory production. 

“Everything changed after I got the part, and the rest is history,” said Yarbrough, who now works as a communications manager at the Emory College Center for Creativity and Arts.

Newman, an Atlanta native who now works as an actor and cinematographer, originally intended on becoming a doctor. Seeking a creative outlet from his rigorous premedical coursework, he dabbled in film studies classes. When one of the actors for “Arcadia,” a student play originally written by Tom Stoppard, called out, Newman was called in. It was his first acting role at Emory. The “acting bullet” hit him, and he followed it into a career. Since then, Newman has starred in 16 film and theater productions, including “Backsiders” (2018) and “21 Bridges” (2019), edited five, and produced three.

“Film and theater at Emory happened in a way I had not predicted,” Newman said. “Ultimately, it was the place where I made my closest friends and felt the most at home.”

Unlike the others, Simon knew he would be a theater major since high school and chose Emory over Tufts University (Mass.) because of its unique theater department. 

“There’s this rigorous professionalism built into the Emory theater department because of this organization called Theater Emory, which is a professional theater within the Emory institution,” Simon said. “When I was 18, I got cast in a show with professional actors and a professional stage manager. That had a really big impact on me. That professionalism is what we drew on when we reunited [for the short film].” 

“A lot of people at Emory know [what] they want to do,” Horowitz said. “I didn’t. Emory gave me the foundation I needed to go out after graduation and do what I’ve done today.”

Inspired and thrilled by the success of “Sometimes, I Think About Dying,” the Emory creators have begun adopting the short film into a feature-length film. Simon said he has been lobbying for the crew to reunite and shoot the new project at The Barn. Horowitz and her team have finished the script and look to finish filming by the year’s end, just in time for a premier at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

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