Directed by Alec Tibaldi. Written by Alec Tibaldi and Anne Hollister. Produced by Magaajyia Silberfeld.Starring Piper DePalma, Ruby Modine, David Lansky, Ronan Barbour, Tijera Wright, and Magaajyia Silberfeld.
Synopsis: Sisters Addie and Xandra come to terms with a dark secret from the past in one explosive afternoon.
Slamdance: Tell us a bit about what sparked the film, After School, and about the process of making it.
Alec Tibaldi: After School is an exploration of familial dysfunction, being a young parent and the conflict between siblings. Co-writer Anne Hollister and I explored these themes on the page and we shot the film in two very long days during the summer of 2015, while school was out at Grand Arts High School in Downtown LA.
Kim Bruno, who was the principal of my high school, LaGuardia Arts in New York, was also the principal of Grand Arts, a lucky coincidence. She very generously allowed us to have complete access to the empty school at no cost, a location that normally would have cost tens of thousands if we had gone through Film LA.
Producer, Magaajyia Silberfeld assembled an amazing crew who worked for little or no cost. She really pulled all the favors she had to get this film made and I could have never done it without her.
The short came together very quickly once Magaajyia arrived from Paris and saved the day! We were able to keep the budget at under $1,500 for production, a testament to the kindness of our cast, crew and Ms. Bruno for giving us the location. I learned so much on this film, it really felt like film school. I loved working with Ruby Modine[who plays Xandra]. She and I had grown up in similar circles together in New York City, but we didn’t know each other well. I sent her the script and she really responded to it. She had just wrapped a horror movie where she had to shoot all night scenes, so she was very tired, but she hopped off a plane and got right to work.
Looking back it’s really kind of a miracle that this film came together the way it did. So many things had to fall into place for this to happen and it somehow did.
Slamdance: How does After School reflect your overall interests and style as a director?
Alec: I see After School as the beginning of my exploration of family dynamics and dysfunction. Spiral Farm is a continuation of that exploration but within context of an intentional community. My first short Ride or Die, was solely about teenagers and a day in their life. For After School I wanted to continue portraying adolescence but this time bringing family life into the mix.
In terms of the style of the film I was really inspired by Gus Van Sant’s Elephant for the visual palette for the film. Jeff Tomcho and I decided to shoot all the exteriors in the morning before the sun broke, to achieve the grey and white look of the film. I loved the way the camera in Elephant seemed to glide around the school, almost like a ghost watching the living. I wanted to try and bring that style into After School.
I also had just seen Xavier Dolan’s Mommy and was blown away that someone so young could make a film about parenthood and family in that way. It was really inspiring, it made me feel like maybe I could start exploring those themes even though I was in my early twenties.
Slamdance: Spiral Farm, your feature debut which premiered at Slamdance 2019 features a few similar details to those in After School. What is this short film’s relationship to the feature? Do you see them as directly related, and did the short directly feed into making the feature?
I sort of saw After School as a cousin to Spiral Farm. Although the films exist separately, they are explorations of similar themes. After School was a way for me to start to work things out and something for me to show investors, actors and producers as I was trying to build a team to bring Spiral Farm to life. After School also played at a few film festivals which was very encouraging.
Slamdance: You’ve collaborated with actor Piper de Palma a few times now. She also plays the lead in your feature, Spiral Farm. Can you talk a bit about your projects together, and how you work together?
I love working with Piper. I find her very authentic and I think she has a very deep inner life which really comes across on camera. She never forces or pushes for an emotion that isn’t authentic, which I also really admire and appreciate. I love being her first audience and we have so much fun working together.
Piper and I have a very open and honest dialogue with one another. There is a lot of trust so often things can be unspoken but communicated between us. I think that’s why I like working with the same people, it saves you that time of getting adjusted and when you get to set you can just jump right back in. It saves those awkward first days of getting to know an actor and how they take direction and like to work.
After School built a great framework for Piper and I, so that when we started Spiral Farm two summers later much of the groundwork had already been laid down.
Slamdance: What advice do you have for short filmmakers who are looking to take the leap into directing their first feature?
I always tell first time filmmakers to try and tell the most personal and specific story you can. The more specific you are, the more universal your film will be. I like to cite Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture as an example. That film is so uncomfortably personal and raw yet it managed to incorporate the theme of growing up in a way that felt universal.
I think it’s also important when making your first film to engage your friends and your community to help bring your vision to life. Filmmaking requires a community and as the director you have a responsibility to bring people together to make it happen.
And most importantly love your project. Protect it, nurture it, defend it. The passion you feel for your film is essential in getting it made. People are much more likely to want to be a part of something that is going to be loved and protected. Your passion is infectious, don’t forget that.
Slamdance: What are you working on now?
I’m working on a couple of projects right now.
I’m writing a script with Xia Magnus (a fellow Slamdance Alumni) . It's a psychological thriller and it’s been very exciting to delve into that genre. It all takes place in a remote lakeside cabin in Maine.
I am also in post production on a film I co-directed with my friend Zora Iman Crews. It’s a comedic mockumentary about a group of actors attempting to put on a production of Eurypide’s The Bacchae. It satirizes the current social climate of virtue signaling, selective outrage, and a blatant lack of inclusivity in the arts. It’s based on Zora’s experiences as a woman of color in the New York theater world and it was a joy to work with her to bring her vision to life.
Slamdance: What are you currently obsessed with?
I love Euphoria, I’m about to rewatch the first season. It’s just a perfect show, the filmmaking is incredible, like nothing I’ve ever seen on television. It’s pure cinema but on the small screen. The cast is incredible, Zendaya and Hunter Schaffer are phenomenal.
Slamdance: What song is getting you through the quarantine?
Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night) by Childish Gambino and the brilliant Azealia Banks.
I went to an Azealia Banks concert right before the quarantine, not realizing that it would be the last live music experience for a while!
Slamdance: What’s one thing you’re dying to try?
It has been a dream of mine to make a music video. I hope to do that one day.
Slamdance: Do you have a binge-worthy guilty pleasure?
Yes, Little Fires Everywhere. I can’t stop watching! I’m also reading Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You and am really enjoying that. Lots of Celeste Ng for me during this quarantine!
Alec's debut feature, Spiral Farm, which premiered at Slamdance 2019 is now available for rent or purchase on all major streaming platforms.