Published on July 30, 2020
After Amy Seimetz bought her first house, she was gripped by a mysterious uneasiness she couldn’t stop talking about with her friends and family. “It became this contagious tailspin,” she explains. “I was spreading anxiety in a bad way.”
While walking around her new neighborhood to calm her nerves, the solution to her problem became apparent. She immediately called actress Kate Lyn Sheil and director of photography Jay Keitel.
“Look, can we get a camera really fast?” she asked Keitel. “I have an idea. It’s just Kate in my house, and I wanted to do these weird things.”
By the end of a weekend-long shoot, Seimetz had traced the issue to its source. “Once we shot this portion of it, I knew exactly what was at the root of my anxiety. The root of all my anxiety is I’m going to die,” she announces with a laugh. “And then I wrote the rest of it.”
That became the basis of Seimetz’s mesmerizing second feature film, She Dies Tomorrow, which she also produced and directed. The title comes from its dreamlike, haunting premise: a young woman named Amy (Sheil) holds the inexplicable conviction that she will die in a day. When she confides in her friend Jane (Jane Adams), the prophecy begins to spread, igniting a chain reaction of existential dread. Seimetz calls it “a monster movie where you never see the monster.” The film’s theme of facing your own mortality is a longtime fascination for Seimetz. Her 2012 feature directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, dealt with a similar subject. And then her acting career took off.
In 2013, she received rave reviews for her performances in Upstream Color and The Killing. She acted in the Netflix sci-fi hit Stranger Things, and in the Starz anthology series The Girlfriend Experience, which she also wrote, directed, co-created, and executive produced with Steven Soderbergh. Following her role in Ridley Scott’s Alien reboot, Seimetz directed two episodes of the award-winning FX series Atlanta.
Last year’s Pet Sematary gave Seimetz perhaps her largest acting role to date. With her earnings from the film, she self-financed She Dies Tomorrow, which gave her full creative control and spared her the pain of fundraising. “My mentality is, if something’s making you anxious, fucking solve it,” she says. “Why don’t you spend that money and make a movie?”
Amy Seimetz: Actor, Writer, Producer, Director
Over the last two decades, Amy Seimetz has made a name for herself as a jack of all trades, navigating both sides of the camera with equal ease. Her impulse to make movies in the face of an emotional or existential crisis is rooted in her background as a self-taught independent filmmaker.
Seimetz earned her first writing, acting, and directing credits making movies with friends in the early 2000s. Seimetz says she learned by doing — and “Googling how to edit” — rather than by attending film school. “I knew I had that sort of personality where I was going to be doing it anyway,” she adds.
After graduating from Florida State, where she had studied literature and art history, Seimetz relocated to San Francisco and worked in theater as a seamstress. When she moved to Los Angeles, she was disappointed to find that many of her friends had given up their dreams of independent filmmaking for studio jobs. Still, Seimetz was undeterred.
“I just took that mentality I had developed in San Francisco and would take odd-end jobs like nannying or being a seamstress or waiting tables, and then started making short films,” she says.
She worked on as many sets as possible. “I would do everything I could go into,” she says. “I would go and hold boom, operate camera, do costumes — any way I could get on set.”
In 2005, Seimetz wrote, directed and acted in her first short film, “The Unseen, Kind-Hearted Beast.” While making her way around the festival circuit, she met “all the people I ended up making films with” — including writer-directors Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, and Allison Bagnall. Seimetz’s first films taught her critical lessons about the business side of filmmaking. “You’ve got to learn how to produce, because nobody cares as much as you do about your vision,” she says. “You can find people that say they want to produce for you but they’re not the ones that are up late at night worried that it won’t get made.”
To hone her skills, she produced films for other writer-directors, including Barry Jenkins’ much-lauded feature debut, Medicine for Melancholy. And she continued to write, direct, and act in her own short films. Her acting career began to gain traction when she played Hellen, the sister of a married actress entangled in multiple affairs, in Joe Swanberg’s 2009 feature Alexander the Last. Seimetz, who reunited with Swanberg for Silver Bullets and Autoerotic in 2011, says working with him was fascinating.
“You have these sort of rigid ideas of how to make a movie and what a movie is,” she says. “And he was just ignoring all of that. There was a lot of improvising. I have so much respect for him. He’s constantly editing in his head and he’s so loose.”
It was Swanberg’s advice that helped Seimetz get through a difficult period in her life and the making of her feature directorial debut.
“He said he made a decision a long time ago that if anything stresses him out, he just removes the problem,” Seimetz says. “I just kept that mentality the entire time that I was making Sun Don’t Shine. If something became difficult, I was like, I’m the writer, I’ll rewrite the scene. If anything stresses me out, identify it and remove that obstacle. Because otherwise it seems impossible.”
Sun Don’t Shine was conceived ten years into her career, when she moved back to her home state of Florida to care for her terminally ill father. Seimetz dealt with her grief in the only way that made sense to her: She made a film about it.
Seimetz scraped together $40,000 and got a cast and crew together.
“Because I was going through such a hard time, the idea of making a film seemed so easy to me,” she explains. “My mentality was that nothing can be as hard as signing a DNR for your father. I kind of still have that attitude.”
The psychological horror film stars her frequent collaborators, Sheil and Audley, as lovers forced to go on the run after killing a man and stashing his body in the trunk of their car.
“It makes me sound crazy when I say, ‘Oh, that was actually about my father,’” says Seimetz. “It’s about the denial of death. I wasn’t really ready to face the inevitable.”
Continue for more of Amy Seimetz on She Dies Tomorrow