One Fine Daye: An interview of filmmaker Terrance Daye

Terrance Daye Photo by Alexy Kim

Terrance Daye is an award-winning poet and filmmaker from Long Island, New York. His creative work reimagines traditional representations of black masculinity and male identity and invests strongly in destigmatizing mental illness within the black community. Terrance is a two-time Spike Lee Production Fund recipient, a 2018 Sundance Ignite Fellow, and the recipient of the 2020 NewFest Film Festival Emerging Black LGBTQ+ Filmmaker Award and the 2020 Outfest Film Festival Programming Award for Emerging Talent. His film -Ship: A Visual Poem was awarded a Short Film Jury Award for U.S. Fiction at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and the Industry Jury Award at TheWrap’s 2020 ShortList Film Festival.

Daye’s highly anticipated animated short film, “Pritty,” is in development. The coming-of-age story takes place in Savannah, GA. JAY sticks out for all the wrong reasons. He’s dark-skinned, quiet, and skinny and likes to wear flowers in his hair. The opposite of his masculine and charismatic older brother, JACOB. Their differences peak at the community pool until Jay befriends a charming boy from the neighborhood. However, their new friendship is tested when an unspoken truth dares to surface.

PrideIndex recently interviewed Daye; he shared the short and skinny of his work and the backstory behind “Pritty.”

PrideIndex (PI): I am having a conversation with Mr. Terrence Daye. How are you today, Terrence?

Terrence Daye (TD): I’m doing great. I don’t know where you are, but we’re having a heatwave in New York.

PI: So, it’s pretty warm. I am actually in Chicago. I’m glad you agreed to have a conversation with me about your animated short film, “Pritty.” First, tell me a bit about yourself and your journey thus far.

TD: Of course. My name is Terrence Daye. I am a poet and a filmmaker from Long Island, New York. I grew up in a conservative Christian household; my dad is a pastor. Growing up, navigating my sexuality in that space influenced a lot of things about me, the ways that I tell a story, and how I see the world. I grew up trying to find a worth in myself. I didn’t have those words to describe it then. I think, in some small way, I was hoping to figure out who I was and why I was here in the world. My poetry became a safe space for me to begin asking some of those introspective questions. From there, I discovered filmmaking in college. I attended Morehouse, as well as Tisch School of the Arts. Through filmmaking, I found that I could do what I couldn’t on the page: take these internal ideas, thoughts, and questions and externalize them through narrative and story, through light and sound. I could do that with film and engage with a larger audience. I always say that I’m a poet first, but the film became an extension of the grammar and vocabulary that allows me to ask these questions and explore subjects like mental health and masculinity in deeper ways. That is how I came into the practice of my art.

PI: Who are some of your writing and filmmaking influences?

TD: First and foremost, Toni Morrison, I think what she does on the page is something I aspire to do on the screen. Many writers and playwrights inspire me. I think of Julie Dash and Arthur Jafa, who shot “Daughters of the Dust.” These people are thinkers in the way they talk about their art practice. That inspires and influences me. I grew up as a big fan of poets like TS Eliot. It’s the way that certain people think that inspires me. Those are the people that come to the top of my mind first.

PI: I recently read a quote about you, and it reads as follows, “His creative work reemerges every day Black lives as a complex and nuanced spectacle.” What does that mean?
TD: As I said previously, poetry informs my point of view. I pay attention to details. I am a quiet observer in a room, and I love to find those mundane moments in everyday things. Whether it’s how a person lays their hand on their knee or how two people might interact with or brush against one another in a shared space, I love the intimacy of those small details. There’s something about pointing a camera and putting a narrative focus on those small details and magnifying them. I love telling stories about small things on an epic scale. It turns the simplicity of a small decision or indecision into a larger spectacular moment. I love finding those everyday life things and figuring out how to make them bigger so that people can relate to them and observe them how I do. I want them to see the poetry in it all.

PI: You recently received the 2023 NewFest New Voices Filmmaker Grant that supports emerging LGBTQ+ filmmakers. What was that like?

TD: Oh, that was honestly a huge honor. I also recently received one of the Project Involve Fellowships from Film Independent earlier this year. It feels good when this community sees you and your work and wants to encourage you to continue. I have nothing but gratitude and hope to continue living up to the potential and expectation. I aspire to exceed it.

PI: What was it like to have one of your short films shown and have it win the Short Jury Award at Sundance?

TD: It was nothing but God. It was breathtaking. That was in 2020 just before the world shut down, and I was actually at a point in my life where I was preparing to walk away from film. The film was called,
“-Ship: A Visual Poem” (aka hyphen Ship: A Visual Poem) was very emotionally taxing. I had to wear many hats as a writer, director, editor, and producer on the film, along with KarynRose Bruyning, who was an incredible help. It was a lot to carry, especially because the project meant so much to my life. It was an honor to be accepted into Sundance, the second festival we played; we had previously played at the Afrikana Independent Film Festival in 2019. I thought I would stop after that, but then we found out we had gotten into Sundance. It became this huge celebration of a small project that I wasn’t even sure other people would take to. To have it win the Short Jury Award, in addition to that, cemented my resolve that I couldn’t just walk away from filmmaking. I was determined to stick with it. I’m thrilled that “Pritty” became the next story I would tell after that experience.

PI: Discuss your highly anticipated animated short, “Pritty.” How did you become involved with it? When and where might we expect to see a finished product?

TD: “Pritty,” the short film, actually came about through my friendship with Keith F. Miller, Jr, the author of the original novel, which will be released on November 14, 2023. Keith and I had been pen pals for a while. We’d share poetry and films and a shared interest in vulnerability, masculinity, Black men, and mental health. He ended up sharing his, at the time, 300-page unpublished manuscript for “Pritty,” the novel. I read it and loved it. I thought it was a beautiful coming-of-age story. We even started fundraising to support shooting it as a short film in Keith’s hometown of Savannah, Georgia, but the pandemic shut everything down a week before we were about to begin shooting. I sat down with Keith and pitched the idea of developing “Pritty” as an animation. We had not done anything like that then, but it would be much more feasible during the COVID-19 pandemic. We agreed that it would be a beautiful medium to tell that story. We’d already been exploring and pushing through “Pritty,” the short film, this idea of what happens when Black and Brown boys are given a free space and allowed to heal. The medium of animation has so few Black, Queer, and coming-of-age narratives that it becomes a ripe space to tell the story of “Pritty.”

PI: I understand you’re currently crowdfunding to raise funds to complete the film, with the book coming out next month. What is that process, and where are you now?

TD: Yes, that is correct. Animation takes some time, especially independent animation. We launched our Kickstarter campaign in 2021 and raised just under $114,000. That allowed us to develop our animatic with Powerhouse Animation Studios, based in Austin, Texas. They’ve been incredible partners and collaborators with us on the project from the beginning. With those funds, we were essentially able to get to the point of developing the entire short film as a 14-minute animatic, called “Pritty The Animation: The Animatic,” which is currently available on YouTube. An animatic previews what the final animation will look like before all the colors, bells, and whistles are added. That is where we are currently in the process. We dropped the animatic at the top of 2023. Because of the viral nature of Kickstarter back in 2021, Keith was able to secure representation and get the publishing deal with HarperCollins, allowing him to release the book this November.

PI: Do you both plan to do some cross-promotion?

TD: We intend to have a cross-promotion. Every win for “Pritty” at any stage is a win for the animation. We hope the novel will fly off the shelves and we can continue raising the rest of the funding needed to complete the animation. We have a few investors who are interested and invested in the story. We’re crossing our fingers, sitting back and waiting patiently. We don’t want to get too excited, but we’re doing our due diligence of working to ensure we’re ready to go when the money comes in. Funding is the only thing stopping us now. Everything else is in place. The people and the project are ready to go. We’re just waiting to hit the right number. And we’ve brought our $1.2 million budget down to $600,000 for a shorter eight-minute film.

PI: Do the two of you have plans to do other projects together, and how might that work?

TD: Keith and I continue to have conversations about that. We’ve started our independent production company, Bluer Sky Pictures, to tell more Black, Queer coming-of-age stories. Our specific focus is on the animated medium, ranging from animated television shows and features to more shorts and so on.

PI: Are there plans to perhaps develop “Pritty” into a feature-length animation?

TD: As far as “Pritty” goes, it was initially conceptualized as a live-action. Even though we found this beautiful success with the animation with “Pritty,” we want to give ourselves the space creatively to see the best possible direction. We love the audience response and how everyone has received it. We also want to ensure that we stay true to the heart of the project and our initial vision. The one thing that is important to know is that the book is very different from the short film. The short film is an adaptation and takes a more PG direction in terms of content. The novel is a lot rawer and more explorative. It takes place in the hood in Savannah, Georgia, at the end of the day. We don’t want to shy away from that experience. We want to see which is the best medium to continue to tell the story.

PI: Why didn’t you stay true to the book?

TD: As someone who started in poetry and found his way to a career in filmmaking, the idea of taking and translating text to film is an incredible art form in and of itself. It all comes down to the feeling. There are also real production limitations to what you can do in a film compared to what a writer may create in the book. Sometimes, trying to go shot for shot and recreate a book takes the art and love out of it. That’s not to say go crazy, but keep your pulse on the feeling of what you’re trying to do as you transcribe or capture the feeling in a different medium. What I did with “Pritty” the animation was focused on a singular moment in a chapter where the main characters meet up and go to the pool for the first time one afternoon. A freeness and a soft-natured breath of fresh air quality to that part of the novel resonated with me. I wanted to capture that. It encapsulates the entire journey that the character goes on. We don’t see all the other big scenes and plot points. There was something wonderful in distilling it all down to that one singular moment and the one singular decision in which the boy decides whether or not he wants to get in the water. I liked that simple act as a metaphor for the larger book itself. People who read the book will find that in watching the animated short and, hopefully, the film, they get a lot of the same themes, and the same kind of feeling that they get from reading the book. Same feeling, but a different experience, nonetheless.

PI: You’re also an award-winning poet. Are you also a published poet? Do you also participate in spoken word?

TD: I am a published poet, I still don’t have a debut collection, one of my biggest dreams. I want to debut my collection of poetry someday. That is the second act for me after filmmaking and TV. Poetry is something that I will continue to do. It is the art form that continues to inform my filmmaking and something that I am inspired to continue in the future. As far as spoken word, I have a great love for spoken word poetry. I am more of a poet of the page. I love the relationship that I have with words when I’m writing them on a blank canvas, so to speak.

PI: You have a great speaking voice. I could see you giving a spoken word performance. Could you ever be convinced to get up on a stage for a performance or competition?

TD: That is so funny. I participated in the Knicks Poetry Slam competition in New York back in 2008, or maybe it was more like 2013 or 15. It was a great experience. I went through a training thing they had for us in the area. It was incredible. I have more of a fascination for the page. I love watching Slam, and I respect it. It’s incredible, especially watching people transform on the stage. As I said earlier, I’m the quiet observer in a room. I love to see what happens when people read the words. It’s one thing to hear them out loud but another to read them and have an intimate relationship with them without the poem’s author sharing their vision. A different kind of relationship develops when I perform something for you than when you take it at face value. The words in the language become all the more important. I enjoy figuring out the right words to share an experience without speaking. We can think the same thought through a simple comment on a page.

PI: What is your ultimate goal as a writer and filmmaker?

TD: It all comes down to people. I am a big lover of people. As someone who grew up very shy and stayed to themselves, I always found myself craving a connection to someone to talk to so I didn’t feel alone. When it comes down to it, art is about extending our hands to someone else to share our stories and open a dialogue that we wouldn’t otherwise have. For me, that takes the form of storytelling, whether it be through poetry, television, theater, or film. I want to be a multidisciplinary artist who can seamlessly cross over from literature into the film & TV space and tell stories that make people feel seen, that they belong and are not alone.

PI: What do you do when not writing, creating, or being imaginative?

TD: I’m constantly being imaginative. The thing about being called to this is if I could do something else, I probably would. I’ve always had a fascination for bakers and musicians. My father is a musician as well as a pastor. Every day, I imagine something. It is the one thing I cannot help but do. It comes as simple as breathing. I love to figure out the infrastructure of anything that allows people to have a good experience. This comes from my producer’s brain. When it comes to organizing a film shoot or helping another friend, it was one of their projects, and I love to be in the room organizing and figuring out what needs to get done. Ultimately, I am an organizer, communicator, and creative.

PI: Let’s take a look in the future. Where would you like to see yourself ten years from now?

TD: I love to have a roof over my head. I’d love to see myself married with kids. I want to be able to support not only myself but my extended family, my siblings, my mom and dad. I would love to help my friends and their endeavors as well. The beautiful thing about being blessed is that you can be a blessing to others. Accolades, awards, and all those things are nice, but I want to have my own business or infrastructure that would allow me to generate my content and support and help others create, nurture, and flourish their own. It all comes back to people at the end of the day. I want to reach as many people as possible through sustainable means.

PI: When might we expect to see the animated short film “Pritty” as a finished product?
TD: “Pritty” will be coming soon. We are waiting with bated breath to see if some potential financial support will come through at the last minute. If not, it could take 11 to 12 months to complete once the rosters start. I encourage those who aren’t already to follow us @prittynotpretty on Instagram and Twitter, aka X. That way, you can be among the first to know when the process has started and find out once the film has been completed and will be available. We encourage our followers to continue to share, support, and donate. We also have a Venmo link where people can donate if they’d like. They can also help expand our views on YouTube, which allows us to barter and leverage differently when we walk into some of these rooms as an independent entity to do investor pitches; when they see that large viewership numbers, they’re more inclined to support us. Your views do help. Those are the biggest ways you can assist us in getting us to fruition and a screening near you.

PRITTY: The Novel By Keith F. Miller Jr. will be available November 14, 2023 click here to pre-order.