Set Visit: Film Fellow Stefanos Tai’s ‘Animals’

Stefanos Tai is a current Tribeca Film Fellow®. His short film, Animals, explores his own alienated relationship to nature through the narrative of a couple’s hardships during a urban blackout.

For the past year I have been writing the screenplay for Animals, a short film inspired by the power outage in New York City following Hurricane Sandy. While hoping to blend reality with metaphor and visual manifestation of the sudden warmth, hunger, and boredom I experienced during the blackout, I had high hopes for how this film would be shot, how its characters would be portrayed, and how it would come together. Entering production, I made the mistake of assuming that all my planning allowed me to expect my film to magically assemble exactly the way I had intended, like a cell phone on a manufacturing line. This proved costly.

At the end of the first day of shooting, we encountered scheduling conflicts, and we lost daylight too quickly. What had seemed an invincibly flexible schedule began to unravel. I started to feel the exhaustion creep in, which was partially from the hours of work we had logged, but perhaps more significantly, the sheer level of emotional involvement in this film: my caring so deeply how this film turns out. I ended up cutting the first day short, to catch some extra sleep, and re-evaluate the production. Although I had experience working long hours on set, this was the first time I had tried to shoot my own film in one five day period; I had only ever shot sporadically. After getting some rest, we adjusted, we scheduled around our conflicts, and my producer, Kevin Fermoselle and I were able to power through the initial setback.

Thankfully, I am satisfied with the footage. I still genuinely have no idea if this film will be any good. I am both physically and emotionally drained. But most importantly, I am humbled. This production has reminded me that no matter how relentlessly I plan and prepare, no matter how hard I try to reproduce my vision, I will never make the film I set out to make. And despite my emphasis on pre-production and meticulous preparation for the production of this film, in the grand scheme of creativity, I had little control over its coming together. I felt like a ceramicist working with clay that spontaneously chooses to form a different shape. This was initially depressing and stressful, but I have accepted it, and I now see the beauty in it. Making this film, from the first twinkle of an idea in my head, until the moment I collapsed in relief on my living room floor when we wrapped, has been a journey full of unpredictability and shock. It has shown me how brilliant the creative process can be, and how immersive a role art can assume in my life.