An Interview with The Animal Project’s Ingrid Veninger, Aaron Poole, and Jacob Switzer

The Animal Project was one of the shining stars at TIFF 2013, and it not only attracted the attention of the public, but received great attention from the press as well. I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Ingrid Veninger, the film’s director, and Aaron Poole and Jacob Switzer, the stars of the film. They talked in great detail not only of their love for the film, but also of the great creative experiment that it was.

Ingrid describes the content of the film as a direct reflection of the filmmaking process. Much like the characters in the film, the cast had to delve into the project and trust one another in order to achieve a positive outcome.  Ingrid couldn’t make the idea work by herself, and the essence of the experiment could only come to be if the actors trusted one another and took the plunge. Aaron commented on how “committing to a hunch” created trust issues in him. The project could either be successful or fail, but in the end, he understood that one must take risks in order to get unexpected rewards. He talked about how transformative the project was, and how he was left with a sense of adventure and satisfaction after its completion. Ingrid elaborated on the importance of having people take these risks. If there is no risk in the film, or no chance of an unexpected outcome, then she has no interest in it. She talked about the “mystery that inspires the making” of a film, which in turn results in original creative outcomes.

Saul (Joey Klein) and Leo (Aaron Poole) in The Animal Project | Photo by John Gundy. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.
Saul (Joey Klein) and Leo (Aaron Poole) in The Animal Project | Photo by John Gundy.

The Animal Project was one of the big Canadian films at TIFF, and Ingrid made relevant note of the importance Toronto had to the film. She had never shot in Toronto, even though she has lived here her entire life, and wanted to capture the city not in a “polished” way, but in a “real, naturalistic” way. She did so by exploring not only the actor’s homes and workplaces, but by building scenes around those environments, instead of simply creating a set or ambience. Being in a creative state completely transformed Toronto for her, and her experience of living in it is now very different than it was before.

Both Jacob and Aaron spoke highly of Ingrid’s directing. Jacob, being Ingrid’s son, has worked with her in the past, but he now feels as though he has reached a maturity that allowed him to better interact with her, and to better accept criticism. Aaron continuously commented on his respect for her as a director, and the privilege it was to be in such a creative environment. Aaron and Jacob have amazing chemistry not only on camera, but behind it as well. In the midst of laughs and inside jokes, they commented on how they were “Tom Sawyered” into painting a wall in Ingrid’s house, and thus the process of getting to know each other began. The scenes that didn’t require much intimacy were shot in the early days of production, allowing for their relationship to develop and shine once the intimate scenes were shot. A particular scene in the film, where Sam and Leo play a game of I Spy, was completely improvised, and it is worth noting because this moment is one of the key sequences through which the relationship between father and son develops. Ingrid spoke of Aaron as a male version of herself. He helped her polish the relationship between Leo and Sam, and create a more natural dynamic between them. Although she can’t relate to a father-son relationship from her own experiences, she tried to explore feelings she didn’t know, which resulted in an interesting way of seeing herself in a new light.

Sam (Jacob Switzer) works to stack shopping carts in The Animal Project | Photo by John Gundy.

Ingrid insisted on avoiding over-analyzing the film. Since in the film, The Animal Project is born through a dream, there is no correct way of interpreting it. The project itself was a creative experiment of uncertainty. She cast the actors before knowing them and then wrote the script, thus inserting parts of herself into each of the characters. She commented on how together, the characters form one entity that represents herself. It was integral for her to create a spontaneous experiment, and although it was scripted, she still left space for adlibs and improvisation. The actors had to be on their toes, and Ingrid didn’t seem afraid to try things that could potentially fail, but would shine if they succeeded.

Over the course of my interview, I could feel the great love and energy that was put into The Animal Project. Speaking to the director and actors really shed a light on the purpose and importance of the project and what it is that makes it so special. After one realizes what its creative intent is, the film takes on a completely new form. It is refreshing to see such passion for the unknown, and a willingness to take risks that result in unexpected outcomes, and sometimes result in such gems as The Animal Project.

Note: Interview took place during TIFF 2013.