Sara and the Animals

“Sara and the Animals” follows Sara Schrader, a 20 year-old who, still in the emotional aftermath of her mother’s sudden death, is thrust into the adult world by her similarly grief-stricken father.

After Sara’s attempts at grown up normalcy fail, she happens upon a group of masked mystical journeyers who are in the lead-up to a drug-fueled, hallucinogenic ritual. The group’s leader, who dons a wolf mask, invites the still-shaken Sara to take part in their strange reverie.

The resulting journey inward forces Sara to confront the emotional demons she’s thus far avoided, a process which will either vault her toward healing or destroy her completely. “Sara and the Animals” is a harrowing, emotional, surreal short from first-time writer-director Joel Austin.

  • Joel Austin
  • Joel Austin
  • Andrew Grell
  • Ronnie Toone
    Key Cast
    "Sara Schrader"
  • Michael Toone
    Key Cast
    "Walter Schrader"
  • Carmela Toone
    Key Cast
    "Dorothy Caldwell"
  • Colin Hinckley
    Key Cast
    "Frank Howard"
  • Ian Potter
    Key Cast
    "The Wolf"
  • Elizabeth Saunders
    Key Cast
    "Cynthia Schrader"
  • Frank Coda
  • Daniel Wolff
  • Laura Austin
  • Spencer Wright
    Sound Mixer
  • Kat Holm
    First Assistant Camera
  • Patrick Hopkins
  • Hannah Fuerst
    Graphic Designer
  • James Stribling
    Sound Designer
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    25 minutes 17 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    November 23, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    2,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Joel Austin

Joel Austin is a writer, director, and performer who was raised in the Southeast United States. He’s also a published fiction author, post production instructor at UCLA Ext., and online personality. He is based in New England.

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Director Statement

The initial idea for “Sara and the Animals” came about after Writer-Director Joel Austin and star Ronnie Toone reconnected following a film they’d both worked on in mid-2018. After bouncing some ideas back and forth, Joel set about writing the script with one goal in mind: Tell a surreal, strange, emotional story that a small team could actually make with little to no funding or support.

Joel was and is fascinated by the Wyrd tales of old – stories that weave in and out of literal, symbolic, and mythic language to take a character from a state of unawareness to terrible, irreconcilable recognition. He set about writing a contemporary interpretation of a Wyrd story, one that would rest equally in drama, comedy, and horror. Seven drafts later, the script was complete.

Ronnie Toone then helped to assemble a team of alums from their alma mater (Hofstra in New York) to help out on the shoot. Among these were Executive Producer Andrew Grell, Director of Photography Daniel Wolff, and more.

The cast was entirely comprised of either people Joel had worked with during his time as New York City performer or Ronnie’s family. Both Ronnie’s mother and father appeared in the film. Her father played Sara’s father in the short and her mother played Dorothy Caldwell, the copy store employee who assists Sara during her job hunt.

About three months elapsed from the time script writing officially began to the time shooting started.

“Sara and the Animals” was shot on a shoe-string budget over the course of three days. The shooting dates were September 6th, 7th, and 8th in 2019. The production cost roughly $2,000 before going into post.

The locations used were in Peekskill, NY (the cell store, copy store, and external city street scenes), Cortlandt Manor, NY (the house interior and exterior scenes and the tripping scenes), and at Sherwood Island State Park in Connecticut (the beach scenes).

The film’s influences are multifaceted, but there were a few at the forefront of Joel’s mind when crafting the initial script.

A major b-plot that was cut from the finished film (but which astute viewers will no doubt notice the shades of) had to do with what Sara is doing on her phone for the majority of the film. While much of this material was shot, it extended the finished runtime beyond the bounds of many festivals and was therefor cut. This b-plot was largely influenced by the work of Ridley Scott and Charlie Brooker. Should the short ever be optioned for a feature incarnation, this b-plot will likely make its way back in.

The largest influence on the story and filmmaking of the finished short, however, were Panos Cosmatos and David Fincher. Fincher’s tone and melodic sensibilities were at the forefront of the conversations between Director Joel Austin and Director of Photography Daniel Wolff from the beginning. Cosmatos’ work has been revelatory to Joel and more or less the entire tripping sequence in the film is an ode to Panos’ films.

The original score for “Sara and the Animals” features five songs and was composed, performed, and recorded by Frank Coda. Frank and Joel found each other via reddit. Frank posted a Stranger Things cover track that Joel happened upon just as he was looking for a musician to score the film. After having a listen, Joel reached out and the two were off to the races.

The two largest musical influences in the conversations between Joel and Frank were Trent Reznor and Johan Johannson (largely for their previous work with David Fincher and Panos Cosmatos).

The art was the final piece of “Sara and the Animals” to be completed. After several attempts at a design, Writer-Director turned to his wife Laura Austin and begged her assistance in executing a design. She obliged and returned with a watercolor work of art that is as captivating as it is alluring.