How the ‘How It Ends’ Filmmakers Captured Our Moment Through an Apocalypse Comedy

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IndieWire Staff
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Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones were holed up in their Los Angeles home last spring, despairing about the pandemic, when they got an idea: What if they channeled their feelings into a story that showcased this surreal moment? The film that emerged was “How It Ends,” a witty comedy that follows a woman (Lister-Jones) and her younger self (Cailee Spaeny) during their last day on Earth before the apocalypse. Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the film was shot in early summer under strict COVID-19 protocols, and the result is an impressive snapshot of our time — both in terms of narrative relevancy and nimble, pandemic-friendly filmmaking.

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What first gave you the idea for this movie?

Daryl: Early in the pandemic, we were talking a lot about our emotions. It was scary and uncertain. We were super depressed and low. At the same time, we were both doing a lot of therapy, especially a lot of work on our inner children, exploring what the little Zoe and little Daryl were craving. Then we thought, maybe we could channel that into a film and do it within the constraints of the pandemic. We should probably give a portion of the profits from the movie to our therapists who helped us through this.

Zoe: Everyone was facing this apocalyptic landscape for the first time. Certainly, we had all experienced other harrowing events. But this was really singular in the way that it impacted, collectively, our emotional selves. It was unprecedented. Daryl and I were looking to create a filmic time capsule to showcase this moment, emotionally and also physically — like the streets of LA were empty for the first time ever. We wanted to take our cameras onto the streets and capture this really surreal moment. We didn’t want to create a film that was pandemic centered, but I think the apocalyptic landscape parallels what we were going through and what we continue to go through.

Daryl: So many end of world movies are violent and scary in that kind of doom and gloom way. We wanted to go after the opposite feeling — when you’re resigned to having to stay home and get into more of a stoic mindset.

What was it like to make a movie during the pandemic?

Daryl: We were wearing so many hats. Zoe and I produced it under our own production company, Mister Lister films. We didn’t have a lot of outside help. It was a very small unit. It was challenging for us to be shooting and producing and scheduling. Zoe and the actors were doing their own hair and makeup, and we had to deal with costumes and all the logistics. But it was also really fun, because we could be light on our feet and move around a lot. It felt very intimate. On a lot of big productions, there’s so many cooks in the kitchen and outside forces and you’re really heavy in terms of your footprint.

Zoe: It was important to Daryl and me to give our actors a certain amount of freedom to show up wherever they were on any given day. For many of them, this was their first time being in front of the camera since quarantine had begun. So for some, there were trepidations. Like, what if I can’t be funny that day? What if I’m not in that headspace? We were very clear that wherever you’re at is the place you’re at, and that’s the whole point of this narrative.

Once we finished production and looked at the footage, we realized that we did want to share it with the world while the world was still experiencing this. Because while apocalyptic fair is timeless in many ways, this movie is so specific. That was a driving force in getting it done.

How would you describe your collaborative process as a pair?

Daryl: Zoe and I have been together for 16 years. So it’s kind of like our art is an extension of our relationship in many ways. We started making movies two years into our relationship. Our first movie “Breaking Upwards” was about us, and even though I directed that, we both starred in it and wrote it and produced it.

Zoe: This was the first time that we’d ever co-directed. It was sort of a milestone in that sense. It was a cool experience, because I think we had been co-writing and co-producing and very much a filmmaking team for many years. And then we went off and made a few movies separately, which I think was important for us. This was an interesting way to reunite and actually add something new to the creative playing field.

How long have you been using Adobe Creative Cloud and how did it help your process on “How it Ends”?

Daryl: For the most part, our film isn’t very effects heavy. It’s a walk and talk comedy, so we didn’t have to access many crazy tools. We used multicam because we had two cameras, and we had a really great VFX artist named Jeff Desom who helped us with the meteorite in After Effects.

I edited the last two or three films on Premiere Pro, and I’ve been using Photoshop and After Effects on and off for little things over the years. So quite a while. I think it’s a great program. It’s very intuitive and flexible. Making proxies with Adobe Encoder, having that workflow feel seamless was all really helpful.

Watch the 2021 Sundance Film Festival “Art of Editing” panel featuring How It Ends here.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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