FSU graduate’s ‘fishy film’ helps her earn Directors Guild of America honors


The adjustment to college life can leave some students feeling like they don’t fit in.

It was this idea that sparked Kyra Gardner, then a Florida State University student in the College of Motion Picture Arts, to create her film “Phoebe,” which just earned her Best Woman Student Filmmaker honors from the Directors Guild of America last month.

When you set out to make a film about someone who feels like a fish out of water, making the character an actual fish seemed a natural fit, said Gardner.

“She’s a fish and her roommate is a 6-foot tall, black drag queen so she has trouble fitting in,” Gardner explained of her film’s titular character. “People don’t let her get two words out before they judge her. But her roommate becomes her navigator and helps her realize that they don’t need to fit in; they have each other. They form this misfit family and that’s good enough for them.”

Gardner, who hails from Twin Peaks, California, earned her BFA in Motion Picture Arts last May and is now working in her home state. She said didn’t believe it when she got the call that the film was a winner of the DGA award.

“I honestly thought the call was a joke because my film was so much more ‘out there’ compared to the other ones submitted,” she said. “The other films screened at the festival were so beautiful, so realistic and then my little fishy film plays. I was like, ‘how did I get here?’”

“Phoebe” was shot in and around Tallahassee in September 2018. Gardner said the film included 11 locations, 15 crew members, 34 actors and enough extras to stage a fraternity party.

Phoebe, the puppet, who is 4 feet, 4 inches tall, offered her own particular set of challenges, Gardner said. From actually sculpting, painting and creating the puppet to arranging shots to accommodate its lack of mobility, the film was a challenge.

“Her eyeballs are as big as pool balls; someone would break their wrist if they were holding her for too long,” Gardner said with a laugh. “Originally, she was going to be just a hand puppet so a hand inside of her head would move her. Then her face became animatronic.”

Phoebe’s evolution eventually grew to include wireless remote controls and a three-person team of puppeteers.

Though she directed several live-action films while at FSU, Gardner said, “Directing a puppet movie is five times harder.”

For more information, visit the College of Motion Picture Arts.