Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) is a dedicated student, dutiful daughter to her single mother Carol (Selma Blair) and loyal girlfriend to her high school sweetheart Noah (Dylan Arnold). When Noah and Carol drop Tessa off for her first year of college, her course is clear: get good grades to continue on her path to finding a successful career and living happily ever after. But her roommate Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder) has other ideas, wooing Tessa to experience the social side of college by introducing her to her wild group of friends (Samuel Larsen, Inanna Sarkis, Pia Mia, Swen Temmel), including Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin).
After is based on Anna Todd’s best-selling novel After, which became a publishing sensation after beginning as fan fiction on the social storytelling sharing platform Wattpad. The After series includes five books from Todd that have been read more than 1.5 billion times on Wattpad. The Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Books have published four books in the series that are now available in 40 countries.
After – an authentic tale of first love and self-discovery – began as fan-fiction online, posted one chapter at a time, almost daily, with the fans weighing in on what author Anna Todd was creating. “The beginning of After was me reading fan fiction,” says author Anna Todd. “I’ve always loved fan fiction, and I saw on Instagram where people were writing fan fiction about the band One Direction. I was the only one of my adult friends who liked One Direction’s music. There’s something infectious about them and their music that makes people happy. I joined the app Wattpad so I could read it. I had never thought about really writing fan fiction myself.”
Soon Todd had read everything available about the boy band on Wattpad, an online social storytelling platform where you can read and write for free. “I only wanted to read fan fiction about One Direction specifically, so I though I’ll just write a chapter. It was literally this random thought. I’m glad I didn’t really think about it, otherwise I would’ve never done it,” laughs Todd. “I’ll write a chapter to entertain myself. After about three months it really started picking up, and eventually crashed the website. Wattpad reached out to me about publishing it as a novel. The book went to an auction and I got to choose the editor and publishing house that I wanted, which is literally like a writer’s dream come true.”
The main male character in the posts was, at first, inspired by one of the band’s popular singers, whose name’s initials matched Anna’s character’s. “But Hardin Scott definitely became the exact opposite of what Harry Styles seems to be in real life. Once I wrote that first chapter, nothing about One Direction stuck in my head, beside their appearances. Nobody in my story is even in a band, no one sings. Nobody is even British in the book, except Hardin.”
Producer Jennifer Gibgot was the first filmmaker to come on board. “When I first set this project up, it was still the beginning of Instagram. I’m not sure if I even had Facebook at the time,” shares Gibgot. “When my daughter put me on Instagram, and Anna posted a picture of the two of us, all of a sudden all of these young girls from all over the world would write me these direct messages through my social media. That was when I really became aware of what a big thing this was becoming.”
Mark Canton, iconic film and television producer (300, “Power”) and studio executive known for many action franchises, and Courtney Solomon, a writer/producer/director with great success in the horror genre, were the next two producers brought into the fold. As Canton remembers, “Courtney got the material and asked me to take a read and I was amazed that this had never been done. It’s about a time in one’s life, college, where often one has a first love, a first romance, first passion, first love-making, and first heartbreak. ”
Casting began about six months prior to filming After, and the roles of Tessa and Hardin were essential to get right. “Hardin Scott was written loosely based on a famous UK singer – Harry Styles – as original inspiration, so we obviously had to cast a British guy for authenticity,” says Solomon. “We did a good two months of casting in the UK and narrowed it down.”
“We found Hero early on in the process,” remembers Gage. “His tape from London was one of the first auditions that we all saw. We didn’t meet him in person until later, but even on tape there was something about his vulnerability in his performance that really captivated me. He was perfect for Hardin.”
The search for the role of Tessa proved to be more challenging and continued until just before shooting began. “We did a long search for our Tessa and had actually cast an incredible actress, but then due to scheduling conflicts, we had to open up the search again,” explains Gibgot. “At the exact right moment, this girl happened to Skype in from Perth, Australia auditioning for the role of Molly, and the second she came on screen, I said ‘That is our Tessa.’”
Langford recalls, “I was back home and did a self-tape for Molly, then I did a Skype callback, then a week later when I was waiting to hear back about Molly, I got a call at 5:00AM from my agents who said, ‘The producers want to meet with you for the lead role.’ So I got on a plane with about sixteen hours’ notice, read the script on the plane to LA, had a meeting and about two other meetings and then got the job.”