Scrolling through picture-perfect Instagram shots inspired Thais Francis to write her first-ever film, Late Expectations, showing at Cinema Village on Saturday, February 20 at 4:30 p.m. as part of the 2016 Winter Film Festival (February 18 to 26 in New York City). In the short film, high school senior India seems to be living a teenage dream. But under the surface, she’s been operating under others’ expectations, rather than being true to herself. And that realization is about to blow up her perfect 18-year-old existence. We caught up with Francis—a native of Trinidad and Tobago, and a NYU grad who recently relocated to Los Angeles—to talk about the process of developing the main character, India, who Francis plays in the film, and the fallacy of social media.
You majored in drama, but this is your first screenplay. How did it all come about?
After I graduated, I was dancing at Alvin Ailey and doing some acting work, and I’d written a stage play, Outcry, in the past. But I was just figuring life out, whatever that even means, and I wanted to be in film. But I wasn’t, so I thought ‘let me just write my own.’ I had no idea what to do, so I went to the Grand Army Plaza Library in Brooklyn and got a few books on screenwriting.
And you just taught yourself as you went along?
Exactly. I sat in the kids’ section of the library every day—it’s noisier there and kids are more playful. I didn’t want to take everything too seriously. Writing the screenplay was such a different beast. As I went along, I asked peers from NYU to read it and correct any mistakes I was making.
What sparked the idea for Late Expectations?
I was on Instagram one day and I was looking at all these pictures of couples, and they looked so happy and the filters were perfect, and I wondered ‘what if the girlfriend actually likes girls, and she’s just posing for the rest of the world, living up to everyone else’s expectations and denying her own?’ I wanted to give a glimpse into what that might be like for someone.
So that’s how you landed on your main character, India?
Yse, and a lot—though not all—of India’s story is mine. She comes from a middle-class family, she’s excelling at school and she’s on her way to Brown University. Some of the things I wanted in life, I let India get, including Brown. I really wanted to go but couldn’t get accepted!
You zoomed in on a very pivotal time in India’s life: the day before high school graduation.
I wanted to tell the story of the moment where everything hits the fan. This is the most pivotal part of the day, and I kept thinking ‘what are all the things I can blow up because she’s been lying or avoiding things in her life?’ She’s not used to asserting herself and making her own decisions, she lets other people do it for her.
In that way, you and India are very different! How did you push this project through?
Being that this is a totally new medium for me, I didn’t know anybody in the film world. I didn’t have any money to shoot the film to begin with, and I got a lot of rejections. Lots of people on the team were willing to work on the film as a bit of a passion project—we shot on film, which excited a lot of people. And the whole process was so collaborative. Some friends from Maryland (where I lived before New York) did the soundtrack, and a friend from NYU played India’s boyfriend. We had such a great crew.