Five Questions With... Jeremiah Zagar, Director of WE THE ANIMALS

Adapted from the magical realist novel by Justin Torres, this Sundance award-winning film depicts three inseparable brothers growing up in a volatile household. Jeremiah Zagar brings the audience into intimate proximity with the boys, who watch, without always comprehending, the troubled relationship between their parents (Raúl Castillo, Sheila Vand), and, in their own ways, emulate them. The perspective of the youngest son, Jonah (Evan Rosado), who recognizes that he is different from his brothers, takes center stage in this poetic and impressionist coming-of-age story of self-discovery.

Read more with director Jeremiah Zagar below, and see WE THE ANIMALS on Wed, June 20 at 8:30pm and/or Thurs, June 21 at 5:30pm!

 JEREMIAH ZAGAR photo credit Mike Kamber

JEREMIAH ZAGAR
photo credit Mike Kamber

NFF: Can you talk a little about the challenge in adapting a book to film?

Jeremiah: After I read the book and Justin Torres said yes to having me adapt it for the screen, I brought on my friend Daniel Kitrosser, whom I’ve known since High School, to co-write the script as he had a very similar sexual experience in his upbringing to the young man in the book. Our starting point was the two of us sitting there and translating the novel directly to the screen. After participating in the Sundance Labs program, we realized there’s much more work to do. We remained as true as possible to the book, but we had to change certain things for it to work cinematically such as having the story take place over the course of one year instead of many years so the audience could have a deeper emotional connection with the characters.

NFF: How did you come to the idea of using animation?

Jeremiah: We needed to get into the interior mind of the young main character, Jonah, so at first, we just had shots of the still drawings on the page. After watching the first cut of the film, it became clear that it wasn’t enough to see these drawings laying flat on the screen. With my background being in animation and using it in my previous films, it was a go-to that made complete sense to me. Everyone involved loved the idea so we went with it.

NFF: How did you find your remarkable child actors, and what was it like building a family with them on set?

Jeremiah: We had an incredible Grassroots Casting Director Marlena Skrobe. We worked with her previously, as she was actually an intern at Public Record, the production company Jeremy Yaches and I are partners in.  Marlena went around the city and saw around one thousand kids for the film. But not only did we have to find three incredible actors, but three incredible actors that felt like brothers. I’d say finding them was less of a challenge and more of a miracle.

Once we found our cast, it was all about creating an environment on and off set where they could feel like they lived together. That was important to us as it created a beautiful bond between the actors that is intangible yet still present when watching the movie.

NFF: Did you face any challenges or surprises while filming?

Jeremiah: Everything was a challenge and a surprise.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

Jeremiah: I hear Nantucket is a beautiful place and I wish I could be there with you.