Film Spotlight: An Exclusive Look At “After She Died”

Photo Credit: Nicole Muñoz Ortiz

After She Died follows the story of Jen (Liliana de la Rosa). Jen’s mother has just died. Her relationship with her father, John (Paul Talbot), is fractured beyond repair. Her friends, all recent high school graduates, are moving on with their lives and leaving behind the small town they once called home. Jen is, in every sense of the word, alone. That is until John introduces Jen to his new girlfriend, Florence (Vanessa Madrid)… a woman who looks and sounds identical to Jen’s dead mother.

Jack Dignan is the writer, director, and producer of After She Died. Last year, he put together a team of eager up-and-coming filmmakers to work on this passion project. They made the film for scraps without studio backing or financial investors. Now the film has been sold in North America and will be released on September 30th.

Back in 2020, he was in talks with both local and international studios to get funding for the film. When COVID hit, everyone closed their wallets. Instead of letting this defeat Jack, he put together all his money, worked out how much more he’d need to make the movie and decided to go on and make it himself. There was no guaranteed sale, profit, or release. Still, with a script he was excited about and a talented group of cast and crew, including some of the team behind this year’s WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE and classics like FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 8 and MOULIN ROUGE, he was eager to get the film made.

They shot the film over 18 days, with an unfortunately timed 100+ day lockdown starting after shoot day 10, meaning the movie’s second half wasn’t shot until months after the first. But cut to 2022, and the film is done and ready for release. He’s extremely excited to share it with audiences everywhere and let the world experience their little horror movie for themselves. Internationally, the distribution is being handled by Good Deed Entertainment and Cranked Up Films. Australian distribution is yet to be confirmed.

FilmCentral Magazine recently caught up with Jack to discuss After She Died, and here’s what went down:

Who’s the director and producer of the film?

Jack Dignan – Writer / Director / Producer

After accelerating through high school and gaining early access to film school at the age of 16, Jack Dignan has established himself as a writer, director, and producer with a unique style and a fresh voice in genre filmmaking. His recent short films ‘It Feels Like Spring’ and ‘Does Nobody See the Gun?’ have gained global recognition on the festival circuit, with the former now available on ShortsTV and the latter on YouTube.

Jack began his career as a well-regarded Australian film journalist, publishing written reviews across multiple platforms while working on his own DIY short films. In the leadup to his feature-length directorial debut ‘After She Died’, Jack spent years working on high-profile Hollywood productions, such as ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’, ‘Furiosa’, ‘Elvis’, ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ and more. He’s collaborated and worked with numerous Oscar winners and brings that knowledge and experience into his own filmmaking career.

Rhys William Nicolson – Co-Producer / Cinematographer

Rhys William Nicolson is an award-winning Cinematographer, Director, and Producer. He’s worked throughout broadcast at ABC and Channel NINE, at multiple production houses, and throughout feature, commercial, and narrative productions. His true passion is in narrative and creative content as a Director and Cinematographer, with recent screenings at Flickerfest and St Kilda, as well as numerous commercial projects and productions. He’s also received several awards for his Directing of the Psychological Thriller Pseudomonas.’ He’s also recently produced award-winning Music Videos for Amy Shark, Blasterjaxx, and several others. Rhys considers himself a chameleon of the creative industry.

Most recently, he’s been an Executive Producer and 2nd Unit Director on the recently released feature, ‘Wyrmwood: Apocalypse’, released in cinemas Feb 2022, and was a Co-Producer and Cinematographer on ‘After She Died’. With Wyrmwood: Apocalypse and portions of After She Died having been filmed on location at Rhys’ family property, now converted from Orchard to backlot, he hopes to help facilitate future indie projects in a similar way and continue to shoot meaningful, impactful, and entertaining content. He’s most recently landed a producer role at the publisher, LADbible, hoping to perpetuate and create more meaningful content, focusing on spreading the stories and truth of marginalised individuals living in oppression. He’s also been working alongside several First Nation’s creatives on a new series focused on Indigenous-Australian mythology based in a post-modern setting, which has just been greenlit.

Who is your main cast?

Liliana de la Rosa – Jen

Liliana de la Rosa (credited in the movie as Liliana Ritchie) is an emerging Spanish Filipino-Australian Actress and Singer based in Sydney, Australia. She had her Professional Theatre debut in the Australian Play ‘Blue Murder’ (2018) after graduating High School on the Gold Coast, Queensland and was awarded the 71st Barbara Sisley Award in 2017 for receiving the highest Speech and Drama examination score with Trinity College London (AMEB). She recently starred as ‘Gloria’ in the 2022 Stage Play ‘Sex Shop,’ written and directed by Jake Moss at the Brisbane Arts Theatre, and featured as the Lead in Short Film ‘Dug Your Grave’ (2020), which was a part of the Sunshine Coast Screen Collective Film initiative with Screen QLD. She was the Lead in Television Mini-Series ‘Now More Than Ever,’ (2020) and has also wrapped as one of the lead Actor’s in Newcastle Indie Film ‘The Savvy Bedlam Boarding House’ produced by Ten Coat Productions.

She has trained professionally in the Performing Arts across multiple Australian Drama Schools since the age of 10 and is also currently working with world-renowned Actor and Coach Les Chantery, Casting Director and Mentor – Tom Mcsweeney, and with Anthony Meindl’s AMAW Sydney. She has skills across the board that include Singing, Writing, Directing, Photography, Track and Field, and a variety of other sports. Taping for Lead TV and Film roles across Australia and America, Liliana is an up-and-coming young Actress to definitely keep an eye out for.

Vanessa Madrid – Isabel / Florence

Vanessa Madrid is an actor and stunt woman with a Bachelor of International Development Studies from the Australian Catholic University. She’s recently wrapped on multiple feature films, including the lead role in the psychological thriller ‘Mercy of Others,’ a supporting role in ‘Lickerish,’ and dual roles in the horror film ‘After She Died,’ where she showcased what a chameleon she can be. In 2021, Vanessa appeared in the second season of the Stan original series ‘Bump,’ and the short film Wrath,’ which is a finalist in many festivals around the world. She’s appeared in several TVCs as both an actor and stunt double, and she recently wrote/directed/starred in her own short film ‘Survival of the Fittest.’ Vanessa has had the pleasure of working on two different docu-series, ‘Deadly Women’ and ‘The Invisibles,’ and is currently working on the Australian TV series ‘Pervert’ in a lead role. Later this year, Vanessa will be playing a lead role in an action drama feature film ‘Syndicate‘. Vanessa honed her skills at the Actors Pulse, is currently studying at the Sydney Acting Studio, and continues her ongoing stunt training with Ray Anthony at Stunt Action Consultants.

Paul Talbot – John

Paul Talbot began his acting career strong, receiving two nominations for best performance at Bond University Qld for his stage roles as Argus in ‘Good Knight Reverie’ and Bradley in ‘The Picnic’. He was also awarded best performance in the 2018 QSFT Awards Night for his lead role in ‘Mirror Mirror’. From here, he continued to catch the attention of audiences in ‘Eleventh Day’ as Robert Hodgeson, and the comedic role Dick in ‘Dick’s Desolate Destinations’, a parody showcasing his natural comedic abilities. It was not till his two theatre roles in ‘Looking for Love’ (David, the Reverend) and ‘Helpless the Bittersweet’ (Joe, SUNPAC Qld), both sold-out venues, that proved his versatility as an actor. His continuing rise has secured him supporting roles as Varg in the TV series ‘Nightingale Lonely Melodies’, Michael in ‘Company Policy’, Pete in ABC TV series ‘Born to Spy’ and John in the feature ‘After She Died’.

Other cast members include Adam Golledge (The Longest Weekend), Barbara Bingham (Deadhouse Dark, Friday the 13th Jason Takes Manhattan), Greg Poppleton (The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader), Cassandre Girard (Thor: Love and Thunder), Lorry D’Ercole (Moulin Rouge!) and newcomers Annabelle Andrew, Noah Fowler and Mariah Stock.

What inspired the story? How did it come about?

Jack Dignan: The story of After She Died came to me, admittedly, after a weekend spent binging old episodes of the Twilight Zone and a bunch of Asian horror movies, such as Audition and A Tale of Two Sisters. I loved the style, look, and atmosphere of those films, and I had this idea blossom about a father introducing his daughter to his new girlfriend and the girlfriend looking exactly like the daughter’s dead mother. I wanted to take the style and approach of those Asian horror movies I loved so much and apply it to the little story idea I had in mind. So I got writing and three years later, after a lot of hard work and endless nights crying myself to sleep, After She Died was completed!

What makes this story unique and why should people watch it?

Jack Dignan: After She Died is horror through the uncanny. The story begins in deliberately familiar territory – a broken family dynamic, grieving protagonists, a character seemingly brought back from the dead – but, without giving away the film’s twists and turns, audiences will gradually discover that the real story of After She Died isn’t what it first appeared to be. All those familiar beats and setups gradually get turned on their head, subverting expectations in the most gruesome and terrifying ways. It’ll dig right under your skin and won’t let you go!

What was the production process like?

Jack Dignan: Unorthodox (laughs)! We made this film in the most indie way possible – raising the money ourselves through private funding and an abundance of favours. A lot of the crew were people Rhys, and I knew or had worked with before who were willing to come on board and help bring my vision to life. It was shot fast and cheap, but never at the expense of quality. We had 18 days to shoot it, and we moved at a million miles an hour. The images, sounds, and performances on screen are, in my totally biased opinion, sensational, and despite a challenging production, I’m beyond happy with the final product. Every dollar we had was put onto the screen.

What was the most challenging part of bringing the project to light?

Jack Dignan: The biggest challenge was just getting to that first day of shooting. All I wanted for so many years was to get to that first day. I knew that once we started shooting, no matter what unexpected challenges came our way afterward, there would be no turning back. We had to commit. But until the cameras start rolling, anything goes. Thankfully, those cameras rolled.

Did anything funny or exceptional happen on set?

Jack Dignan: It was greatly speculated that the house we were shooting in was a haunted house. Much of this film takes place in our lead character’s house, and a few of us crew members lived in this house during filming. At night, we’d hear things (or people!) moving about in the dark, lights would turn on, gates would open, and one night our behind-the-scenes photographer Nicole even saw a dark figure wandering the upstairs hallway… while all of us were hanging out downstairs. I’ve got so many stories of spooky shenanigans happening in that house. Maybe there’s a movie to be made from them…

Are there any great achievements from your cast or crew you want to mention?

Jack Dignan: So many! I’m so proud of all the cast and crew, and I could talk about them endlessly. Rhys William Nicolson, our cinematographer, and co-producer, just released my favourite movie of the year so far – Wyrmwood: Apocalypse! Definitely check that one out. Adam Golledge, who plays Louis, just sold out multiple sessions at Sydney Film Festival for his new film The Longest Weekend! Noah Fowler, who plays The Sheep-Man, just starred in a hilarious new play in Sydney. Paul Talbot, who plays John, keeps popping up in a new ad every time I open Facebook. The list goes on and on! I could talk about them all, but we sadly don’t have the time. They’re a talented bunch, though, that’s for sure.

What is the next step for the project?

Jack Dignan: The film comes out in North America on September 30, thanks to the fine folk at Cranked Up Films and Good Deed Entertainment, which is very exciting. The next step is getting the film released here in Australia, so I can finally prove to my family that this passion project of mine is real and not some scheme to steal all their money/investments.

Has it won any awards or had any big achievements yet?

Jack Dignan: Several Academy Awards, including Best Picture!

If you could redo anything in the process or the film itself, what would it be?

Jack Dignan: That’s a tough question! The film’s too fresh in my mind and close to my heart for me to answer that. Maybe I’ll be able to give you a better answer in five years. But I will say that I learned a lot about filmmaking, what works and what doesn’t work, and how to tell a narrative across 100 minutes, and I hope to take all this knowledge with me into my next movie.