Olive’s father wants his terminally ill daughter to be buried in a Selfie Casket – a product that allows the deceased to keep posting to their social medias from beyond the grave. However, Olive simply wants her ashes spread with her late mother’s.

In Ryan Noufer’s thought-provoking short film, “The Hereafter,” the intersection of corporate interests and personal tragedy takes center stage. The story revolves around Olive (Cailyn Rice), a terminally ill young woman whose father (Patrick Fabian) insists on a peculiar burial request: a Selfie Casket, a product that allows the departed to continue social media presence posthumously. However, Olive’s heartfelt desire contradicts her father’s wishes, as she simply yearns for her ashes to be united with her late mother’s.

Director Noufer (Medallion, The Astronaut) sheds light on the commodification of mourning and the exploitation of personal image even after death. Through a satirical lens, the film examines how corporate greed extends into the sacred realm of grieving, presenting a narrative that delves into the clash between the sanctity of personal wishes and profit-driven endeavors. “The Hereafter” artfully questions the ethics surrounding the exploitation of one’s digital presence and the commercialization of an intimate and emotional experience like death.

Noufer’s film strikes a chord by dissecting the interplay between corporate manipulation and the sanctity of personal values in a digital age. “The Hereafter” serves as a poignant commentary on our societal obsession with perpetuating online personas and the intrusion of commercialism into the most private and emotional aspects of life, prompting audiences to reflect on the delicate balance between genuine remembrance and the commercialization of mourning.

Patrick Fabian

“The Hereafter” delves into the sensitive topic of image exploitation and corporate interests surrounding death. What inspired you to explore this theme, and how did you approach blending satire with the gravity of the subject matter?

The recent industry strikes illustrates my point and inspiration clearer than ever. Big studios and agencies want to artificially generate images of actors and use them in perpetuity so they cowardly don’t have to deal with the capriciousness of a real human. There’s this perverted idea that a company can now own your image, and there’s just something so inherently dystopian about that to me; something so tragically comical and pathetic about the greed of it all. Satire is usually my preferred mode of exploring these concepts that are already so bleakly funny to me. See more on “funny” later though…

The concept of the Selfie Casket is both intriguing and thought-provoking. Can you discuss the creative process behind developing this product within the film and the message it conveys about the commercialization of personal moments?

While chewing on themes of greed in the first origins of the project, I tried to think about what we hold most sacred in culture today. Logically, at the top of that list of answers, is death. We still have a pretty strong cultural respect (and deep uncomfortability) with the act of dying. But then there are real life examples today of how not even death can escape the talons of avarice. Nothing can really. Cryogenic companies exist today that rob families of their hard earned money in the promise of some flimsy future afterlife (the science does not back up the plausibility of cryogenics though, like at all). And so I thought, with how obsessed we are with image and media today, what would be another product that capitalizes off the market of the dead… What would some Silicon Valley trust funder draw up after one too many whip-its – and so the Selfie Casket was born.

Olive’s conflict with her father over her burial wishes touches on the clash between personal desires and corporate influence. How did you navigate this emotional struggle in the narrative, and what commentary do you hope it provides on autonomy in death?

Autonomy in death is pretty huge to me so I’m glad you mention this. A lot of the time I wonder who our burial traditions are really for? They seem to be primarily for those who stick around after you, and the nihilist in me used to say, “Well, you’re dead anyways, might as well just make your loved ones happy — who cares what happens to your body”. But then when I was making this project, I started to realize how sacred autonomy is, and what an insult it is if someone tries to break that. In research I came across stories of families that actually insisted on certain burial procedures for loved ones (counter to the one who may be dying’s actual wishes). So although I can empathize with Olive’s father for a half second, that is all quickly erased by one plain and simple truth (one that our government ignores however) – what happens to your body, alive or dead, should be up to you and you alone.

The film raises questions about the sanctity of death and the boundaries of technology. How did you envision the Selfie Casket as a metaphor for the invasion of privacy, especially in the afterlife?

There is something so inherently voyeuristic about social media in general these days. We love (and I’m so guilty of this too) to keep tabs on our favorite celebrities and influencers through the safe space of our screens. It’s the new form of “peaking through the blinds” – and while this can be innocuous, sometimes it is shockingly invasive. Cameras are everywhere nowadays, and they capture people when they don’t necessarily want to be seen. We have to get better as a culture about not feeding into content of individuals that has been recorded unwillingly… or else who knows, cameras might just end up in our caskets after all.

The short film format often requires concise storytelling. How did you balance character development and thematic depth within the constraints of the runtime?

I did my best to just focus on a clear motivation for Olive and to not muddy it with too much. Olive has come to terms with her life ending and all she wants is for her ashes to be spread with her late mother’s. That’s it. I tried to make all characters develop/counter off of this desire. I knew where the film had to end, and my job in making an entertaining short, was to have poor Olive really struggle to get there.

The film presents a satirical lens on a serious subject. How did you approach incorporating humor into the narrative while still maintaining the gravity of the film’s message?

It’s always a tough balance, but as long as you maintain and believe in your protagonists motive and don’t abandon their core emotional premise (or have a moment you see too often in big studio films where a sincere scene is undermined by a hackneyed joke) then you always have room to vacillate between humor and drama. Playing with that line is my favorite thing to do. But you have to remember, I think, that humor can be ugly. Sometimes people say things that sure, are funny, but they also have such painful truths hidden within them that it kind of makes you want to cry. I think those are my favorite jokes. The ones that are a bit too painfully real.

Where are the challenges you needed to overcome in making this film?

It was a relatively smooth production! Huge shoutouts to my producers Brian Buxton, Amina Fishburn and Mitchell Kerby for all the wonderful work they put in (and my DP Patrick Elmore who practically produced it as well). I’d say a challenge in pre-production was trying to get the design of the actual Selfie Casket right. I wanted it to feel like a real product, for it to have a sense of minimalism (to adhere to the current trends in product design) and to make sure right when you see it on screen, you sort of visually get the sad joke of it all. So another huge shout out to Kyung Jin Lee who came in and saved the day, and actually built the Selfie Casket herself. She was tremendous.

The relationship between Olive and her father is central to the story. Can you discuss the dynamics between these characters and how their conflicting desires drive the narrative forward?

Well I wanted to make sure there was a small side of people that could understand the dad’s twisted desire to see his daughter in a Selfie Casket. I think the emotional truth of his motive is something people deal with in terms of their loved ones dying all the time – the great fear that you will start to lose the presence and mental image of those who have passed through the great erosion of time. And so the dad’s fear, to me, is a relatable one – he just wants his daughter to remain in his life once she’s gone, in any way he can have her. The problem is: the way Olive would be staying in his life, through the medium of the Selfie Casket, is hollow, superficial and even superfluous… but damn if these companies aren’t good at marketing things to us to make us falsely believe we might just need them.

The film critiques the intersection of technology, consumerism, and death. What discussions or reflections do you hope “The Hereafter” sparks among audiences about these contemporary issues?

I hope people think about what they want to do with their bodies once they pass. But not even just their bodies… with technology advancing in such a way, it’s not a stretch of the imagination that a “neural” copy could be digitally saved in some form down the road (which will make cryogenics look laughable). And just really consider if you would be someone who would want to artificially preserve your life longer than what nature has decided for you. Is this a bad thing? I truly don’t know. But have a conversation with yourself about it. How much will you allow technology to prolong your life; a life that maybe we should just be comfortable in accepting that it is meant to end. Who am I to sound brave though? The thought of death terrifies me more than anything in existence. I guess I’ll leave you with that.