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Interview: Sarah Smick Talks Friended to Death

Social media has garnered praise in recent years for being able to instantly connect people with their friends and family members. But it’s also constantly raising questions over whether or not it truly does brings people together, or causes them to lose the ability to truly emotionally connect. This essential question is amusingly explored in the new independent dark bro-mance comedy, ‘Friended to Death.’ Actress Sarah Smick, who made her feature film writing, directing and producing debuts with the movie, made a witty satire about today’s hyper-connected world of social media, and the desperate attempts people take to realize who their true friends are.

‘Friended to Death,’ which is now playing in theaters and on VOD, follows the extremes to which a desperate Facebook junkie will go in order to figure out who his true friends are. Obnoxious Los Angeles parking enforcement officer Michael Harris (Ryan Hansen) is fired from his dream job and ditched by his best friend, Joel (Zach McGowan). As a result, Michael begins to question whether anyone would care if he died.

With the help of his pushover ex-coworker Emile (James Immekus), Michael does what any social media-obsessed loner would do: he fakes his death online to see who will show up at his funeral. In just hours, Michael’s fake death post attracts a promising 22 ‘Likes.’ Eager to continue with the prank, Michael convinces Emile to help him stage a faux memorial service. But as plans start taking shape, Michael’s reality gradually implodes, forcing him to reconsider what it means to be a “friend” in today’s hyper-connected world of social media.

Smick generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Friended to Death,’ which she co-scribed with actor Ian Michaels, over the phone. Among other things, the writer-director-actress-producer discussed how she and Michaels came up with the idea to write the script together after he read an article about a man who actually faked his own death to see who would attend his funeral, and they were intrigued about exploring what would push a person to take such a drastic measure; how she planned on directing the comedy while writing the script, and how it was a rewarding and insightful introduction to the world of helming a feature film; and how she wanted to portray her character of Sylvie in the film because she loves acting, but she’s also interested in directing a project she won’t perform in, as she’s not married to the idea of always acting in her films.

ShockYa (SY): You co-wrote the script for the new comedy, ‘Friended to Death,’ with Ian Michaels. How did you two come together to pen the film together? Where did you come up with the inspiration for the story?

Sarah Smick (SS): Well, Ian and I have worked together in the past. We’ve done a lot of writing together, but this is the first feature we’ve co-written that we’ve produced. We enjoy writing together, and have a complementary sense of humor and approaching to filmmaking.

Ian had come across an article we were both intrigued by. It was about a guy who actually faked his death, but it wasn’t on social media. Only one person showed up, and then he berated all the people he thought were his friends who didn’t go.

We thought that was a really fascinating example of an extreme human behavior that you don’t see people doing all the time. We wondered what would drive someone to go through with that. We’ve all thought about who would come to our funeral when we die, and if anyone would even notice or care.

We thought someone going through with it, and setting that exploration in social media, would be fascinating, given America’s debate over whether it’s diluting relationships. There are discussions that it’s ironically making us feel a lot more lonely, even though it purports to be connecting us.

SY: Besides scribing the film, you also directed it. Was it always your intention to also helm the movie as you were writing it? Did being one of the co-writers influence the way you helmed the film?

SS: Yes, I was always going to direct the film; that was always something I was passionate about. So I had a long time to let ideas percolate and develop my vision for what the film would be.

As I was writing the script, and I think Ian was as well, we had a vision in mind. I’ve never directed something that was written by someone else, and I think that would be a fascinating experience. I can assume when you’re directing someone else’s writing, their imagination of what the film is going to look like is inevitably going to be different than your vision as the director. But since I was one of the writers, it was more of a stream-lined process. It ended up being a rich experience to have that intimate journey with the script and characters.

SY: ‘Friended to Death’ is the first feature film you directed. What was the overall experience of working as a first time director like on the set?

SS: Being a first-time feature film director was great. My first hand in directing was in a web series called ‘Old Souls.’ It’s about two 20-something actresses who can’t book any roles in Hollywood because they’re always told they look younger than they seem, and they have old souls that don’t fit most 25-year-old characters.

So they decide they’ll embrace their old souls and dress up as old women with prosthetic make-up, like the ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ style. (laughs) They start auditioning for roles meant for older women.

I played one of the leads in that, and had to get to set at 4 in the morning to get all the prosthetic make-up. It was about a four-and-a-half hour process to get into it. Then I’d have to act for the whole day, while also directing. At the end of the day, it was a two-hour process getting out of the make-up. So it was quite an intense first experience with directing, but it was a lot of fun.

When I approached the feature, I already had a challenging first shot at directing, so I had a set of pitfalls of what to avoid. A feature is a much greater endeavor in the long run, and a much longer process. You’re telling a much longer journey than a short web series. So it was a lot more challenging in that regard.

But the physical demands were a lot less on me; I wasn’t trying to direct in this hot, heavy prosthetic make-up. So the feature was a nice alternative experience. My experience on the web series helped make shooting the feature an easier process.

SY: Besides co-writing and directing the comedy, you also starred as Sylvie. Why did you also decide to appear in the film? Did your experience as an actress influence your directing?

SS: I wanted to play a role in the film because I love acting, and we had written that role for me to play. It’s an extreme character, and one of the antagonists, so that I thought that would be fun to jump into.

But I’m not married to always acting in my projects. The days I wasn’t acting were freeing, as I then could completely focus on the directing. That is demanding in itself; you have to constantly be three steps ahead of everyone else. Acting, meanwhile, is all about being present and in the moment. So to switch gears between myself as a director and Sylvie the character was a tricky thing to juggle. It’s definitely something I want to go for again, but I’d also be curious to see what it’s like to direct a project and not act in it.

Acting in the film didn’t really influence the way I directed it. I’m not wild about watching myself on camera, and I think a lot of actors are like that. I don’t know why, but I tend to be self critical. I don’t think my acting influenced my directing choices. But there’s always the thought in the back of your mind that you wish you had done another take of certain scenes. I know that’s the actor in me, and I’m able to compartmentalize it.

I’m able to take a much broader perspective as a director, and prioritize the story. I know how all the elements need to be arranged to serve the larger story, rather than getting caught up in not liking a take.

Interview: Sarah Smick Talks Friended to Death

Sarah Smick as Sylvie in ‘Friended to Death.’ Image courtesy of Green Step Productions.

Written by: Karen Benardello

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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