Tom Koch leads Terra Incognita

Tom Koch
Sourced Photo

Tom Koch (The Lot) and Mo Anouti (Lucifer) topline Terra Incognita by writer-director Nabil Elbehri (Baby Bites). The 17th-century adventure short film wrapped in October 2022 with an anticipated entry into the festival circuit in late spring of 2023.

The short film, shot on the north shore of Long Island and in the forested hills of upstate New York, follows two barbary pirates and their ill-gotten Irish slave as they arrive shipwrecked on an unmarked island somewhere in the new world. Irish, as the pirates call him, was played to period perfection by Koch. Irish seeks his freedom against the pull of a rapacious slave driver only known as The Overseer, played by Paugh Shadow, and against the kind gaze of the reluctant pirate navigator, Omar, played by Mo Anouti. With The Overseer menacing from the shadows waiting to bite, a bond between the pirate Omar and the slave Irish prospers away from the callous hierarchy of the pirate ship and their expectant roles once rescued. Swann Gruen and Nicholas Stannard round out the cast as part of the motley crew of marooned renegades. The men reckon with their past, or don’t, as time passes, awaiting rescue and surviving the deadly enchantments of the new world.

Koch, with a recent turn as Sir Ratcliffe in SoHo Shakespeare Company’s Richard III, had to brave the elements for his role in Terra. A blistering late fall shoot proved demanding. Stunt work involving raging fires and an ice-cold Long Island Sound was just the beginning. The delicate balance of period-accurate behavior and dialect with an emotional naturalism had to be realized under these difficult conditions to realize Elbehri’s vision for this poetical historical fable. In the summer of 2022, casting director Briana Dunlay discovered Tom and suggested him as a top candidate for the part. In a pool of candidates that insisted on the “Irishness” of the character, Tom instead explored the fear and isolation the character might be feeling, which as it turned out was the right instinct. So, in addition to the right sense for the direction and core of the character, Tom’s audition also displayed an acute sense of screen acting, where subtle facial and eye movements speak volumes.


Tom Koch, trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and having already braced the grueling rehearsal schedules of the New York theater world and a host of short and feature film work, he was able to overcome the challenges presented by the production superbly. Thus providing an indelible performance as Irish and marking the genesis of a brilliant and burgeoning screen acting career. Like many actors with a strong basis in the theater, Tom was accustomed to the preparation that Terra required. Shedding nearly 10 pounds, engaging in a rigorous diet and weeks of cold showers formed the basis of the physical transformation Tom underwent in becoming the character Irish.  

Movement coach Erin O’Leary guided Tom through Alexander technique practices to sharpen the physicality required by the role. Together they explored detachment and loneliness through movement and physicality, which would prove vital to the performance of Irish. Dialect work with a host of native Irish speakers and historical consultants rounded out the preparation.

Research for the part included a great deal of literature provided by the director. The Algerine Captive by Royall Tyler and Pirate Utopias by Peter Lamborn Wilson were foundational to crafting the period accuracy of the performance and film. Algerine Captive specifically provided, albeit fictionalized, an account of slave captivity under the barbary pirates. Cinema, of course, inspired the film and performance as well, with films such as Terrance Malick’s The New World and Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley.

This is Nabil Elbehri’s second short film as a director and first as a screenwriter. Previously a producer on award-winning short films such as Mover (2022), Sammy Waits for a Call (2022) and the upcoming directorial debut of screenwriter Molly Longwell, Bad Mother (2023). Terra is currently in post-production with editor Laura Schaffner at the helm. The film was partially self-financed by the filmmaker, as well as additional crowdfunding. Production services for the film were provided by the New York City-based production company, The Focal Range LLC. Tom Koch can also be seen in the upcoming short film Petit Louis by director Andre Bato and the short film The Lot by Travis Clinton Lipski. More about the actor here:

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