Lister-Jones, Spaeny and Daryl Wein also discuss why continued collaborations are so important to the work they want to do.

As the film industry came to a screeching halt in 2020, writer-directors Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein still had the itch to create. Not only did lockdown living spark urgency to tackle the idea of inner child work through film, but also an eagerness to find creative solutions to tell a story in the middle of the pandemic. The end result? Their new Sundance Film Festival official selection, How It Ends.

Lister-Jones also stars in the movie as Liza, a woman who opts to spend mankind’s very last day on Earth making her way to an end of the world party. Along the way she bumps into a curious cast of characters ranging from family members to new acquaintances, all of whom contribute to Liza’s search for deeper connections – with others and also herself.

How exactly does one make film that takes place all over Los Angles featuring an enormous ensemble including Cailee Spaeny, Nick Kroll, Logan Marshall-Green, Fred Armisen, Bradley Whitford, Olivia Wilde and Helen Hunt while following COVID-19 safety protocols? Lister-Jones, Wein and Spaeny broke down the entire processes for us during this Sundance 2021 interview, beginning with the inception of the idea for the film. Lister-Jones explained:

“The themes of inner child work and wrestling with one’s own fears and vulnerabilities is obviously timeless, but I think the pandemic is what spawned our desire to really tackle them head on in a film. We started conceiving of it a couple months into lockdown and we were conceiving of it also with the idea in mind that we wanted to be going into production during the pandemic, so part of its conception was also figuring out a narrative that worked in the parameters of the COVID-19 safety protocols.”

How It Ends Zoe Lister-Jones Cailee Spaeney
Image via Sundance

While one might suspect a call to make a movie during the pandemic would come as a shock, Spaeny was feeling that need to make something, too. Here’s what she told us about jumping into the project:

“Zoe was in my quarantine pod when the lockdown started, so she was very much in my world. We were going on six-feet-apart walks and that was kind of the only thing keeping me sane at the moment. I did have a professional therapist, but she was actually more helpful at the time for me. [Laughs] She’s my guru. We both hinted at doing something creative in this time and then, it was so crazy – I mean, it’s not crazy to us because our minds are always synced up it feels like – but I texted her saying, ‘Hey, I think we should make a movie,’ and Daryl and Zoe were right in the middle of planning something out and sketching a storyline together.”

While Spaeny stars alongside Lister-Jones for the majority of the film, How It Ends also features a seemingly endless list of familiar faces all contributing key scenes along the way. So what came first? Was it the story structure or the cast itself? Here’s how Wein put it:

“We kind of knew, after we conceived of it, what we wanted to do and started with a structured outline, and then wrote out a lot of it and then left some as frameworks with structured story beats for the actors to be able to hit. So for example, all of Cailee and Zoe’s scenes are fully written, and Helen Hunt and Zoe, and Bradley Whitford and Zoe are scripted. And then there’s tons of scenes also that are working off of this creative outline that has these moments and in some cases, even dialogue that we knew we wanted the actors to hit. And we did have a lot of those actors in mind, who we wanted to work with. And fortunately a bunch of them are people we’ve either worked with before or their friends luckily, and they didn’t have a lot to do because it was the pandemic so we just reached out and said, ‘Hey, are you interested in getting back out there and maybe making something?’ And so many of them were like, ‘Yes! Let’s go!’ And some were a little scared and so it was really fluid and malleable based on where they were at.”

This right here only covers a small portion of Wein, Lister-Jones and Spaeny’s experience making How It Ends. Be sure to check out our full conversation at the top of this article to hear more about Spaeny’s first time tackling comedy, what it was like for Lister-Jones and Spaeny to make this movie and The Craft: Legacy back-to-back, why they all value continued collaborations, to hear what Wein and Lister-Jones’ adorable dog has to say on the matter, and so much more! Also, be sure to check out Adam Chitwood‘s review of How It Ends.

Lovie Simone, Zoey Luna, Cailee Spaeny and Gideon Adlon in The Craft: Legacy
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny:

  • 00:28 – What is How It Ends about?
  • 01:12 – Did the idea for the film first emerge during the pandemic or were these themes and ideas that Wein and Lister-Jones were eager to explore before?
  • 02:50 – Spaeny discusses her experience getting involved in the film.
  • 04:06 – Spaeny on diving into comedy for the first time; her biggest takeaways from the How It Ends filming experience.
  • 06:18 – How they developed the structure of the screenplay while assembling their ensemble.
  • 08:13 – Wein on watching Spaeny flourish while tackling a new challenge.
  • 09:54 – Spaeny discusses working with Lister-Jones on two completely different projects back-to-back.
  • 12:19 – What Spaeny hopes to take with her from her experience making a more intimate film like How It Ends to her next big blockbuster project.
  • 14:13 – How It Ends marks the first time Wein and Lister-Jones ever co-directed a film; the nerves that came with making an experimental project during the pandemic.
  • 17:05 – Some very random questions about How It Ends! Who made the opening pancakes, did Olivia Wilde personally select her end of the world cake, why they called Spaney “little burrito” on set, did they get to pet Logan Marshall-Green’s adorable puppies and how much does Lister-Jones despise the shoes she wore while filming now?
  • 21:15 – Why continued collaborations are important to the work they want to do.

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