Define Normal

A Short Film by Sucheta Shankar and Audrey Liskauskas

September 9, 2021


The concept of “normal” was subjective at best before the pandemic, and out right illusory more often. For most, the “new normal” of the pandemic—work-from-home, virtual meetings, an increase in takeout—is an unattainable privilege bestowed on those lucky enough to be born into certain geographies and demographics. For many, however, this “new normal” was far from an inconvenience of overburdened Wi-Fi, and was rather seemingly endless wells of loss and suffering, but also the commensurate sacrifice and heroism.

A new short film by executive producer Audrey Liskauskas and writer/director Sucheta Shankar titled Define Normal explores the other side of this globally shared experience. “As the pandemic went on, the novelty of eating lunches together on Zoom, trivia nights with the office, and Netflix parties with friends, were rapidly fading,” write Liskauskas and Shankar. “More and more discussions became about how we were all ‘stuck’ at home. The stakes didn’t feel as high even though the news was telling you otherwise. It was just very hard to care about the state of the world.”

It occurred to Shankar that the reason we’ve been apathetic, inured to the news, was because we only heard one side of the story. “Our experiences were becoming isolated and we were all trying to be upbeat,” state Liskauskas and Shankar. “So no one was diving into what was tough, how they were handling things psychologically etc. Is it possible that if we hear more stories and perspectives, we’ll find some way to relate and come together a little bit more?”

Rather than deepen the isolation, Liskauskas and Shankar reached out to others, others who were experiencing the same cycles of burnout. As they relate, “we have all tried to push through because we have nothing else to do so we work and work and work. However, we are all exhausted because we’ve maintained that pattern. Whether people were unable to sleep like they used to, unable to read books, were tired of cooking, they all went through the same up and down cycles. For the both of us, it just helped us know we weren’t reacting to the pandemic in a strange way but it was how we were all reacting to it as well.”

The film chronicles the experiences administrators, small business owners, freelance creatives, and frontline workers, unsurprisingly, the latter proved to be the hardest, as Liskauskas and Shankar relate, “no one is trained to handle a pandemic (medically) and some of the things they had seen were difficult to hear. It changed how we looked at our work because a late night isn’t quite the same as someone dying without their family in a medical room surrounded by medical professionals. While there is some trauma in what we are all going through, the trauma that some of the healthcare professionals were facing was simply heart breaking.”

So what does “normal” mean to Liskauskas and Shankar now? “Prior to starting the documentary, we could firmly say that normal meant taking transit, sitting in an office, grabbing a drink with friends. And in a lot of ways, normal still feels it should be all that. It should feel tactile. However, now it feels like normal means finding time for yourself.”


Director: Sucheta Shankar
Producer: Audrey Liskauskas 
Producers: Pallavi Joshi-Firby, Nicola Treadgold, Jamie Pennock
Editor: Roderick Reano
Cinematography: Olivia Leung
Sound Design: Peter Pacey @eggplantmusicandsound
Color: Erik Bayley, Eric Whipp @alteregopost
Graphic Design: Samantha April