Coming all the way from India a few years ago with just $300 and a student visa, Pravin Vatt is now a filmmaker with over twenty short films to his credit. His work has been screened at film festivals including the Kansas City Film Festival and the Wild West Film Festival, and he has won various awards for his projects. Enjoy this PlanetBollywood.com interview with Pravin Vatt in which he talks about how he got into films, explains the anthology films genre, discusses the market for short films, and more!
Tell us a bit about your journey from Visakhapatnam to South Carolina. You came from India with just $300 and a student visa with the intent to pursue a graduate degree in engineering at USC. So, how did you end up getting into film direction and screenwriting?
I had a passion for films and along with my education, I learnt music, dance, theatre and the other arts which laid the foundation since films are a wonderful amalgam of the arts of music, dance, theatre, etc. When I came here, I got the opportunity to interact with artists from different genres and other young filmmakers which provided an outlet for my creative endeavors. Apart from that, when I was young, I got really interested in film making when I saw Star Wars. I couldn't believe how that film transported me into a world that I never considered before—outer space. It just seemed like so much fun.
You've made over 30 short films. What is it about the short film genre that fascinates you so much?
As a filmmaker, short films are not only easier to maintain a higher quality of film on a limited budget, but they give you the chance to try a wide range of genres without spending years and years on one film. The chance to create different styles, different tastes, and experiment with all that filmmaking has to offer is what keeps me making films.
Any plans to make feature films? Most people use short films to build their portfolio and then make the transition to directing feature films.
I am in the process of developing and writing a feature length film as we speak and also hope to revisit some of these short movies into full length features.
Where do you look for inspiration for your films?
Honestly, I find inspiration in everything. Not to sound like a cop-out, but it truly is all around me. I believe that stories are best told from 1st hand experiences. The ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. Some are from life experiences. Some are the result of asking "What if?"Tell us a little bit about 'anthology' films, as that is a genre which appeals to you.
The movie I made, Different Shades of Human Life, comes into a category of films called anthology films.
An anthology film, or omnibus film or portmanteau film is a film consisting of several different short films, often tied together by only a single theme, premise, or brief interlocking event, often a turning point. "Anthology" is derived from the Greek anthologia, flower-gathering which refers to the collection of poems and epigrams, in Greek culture the flower symbolize the finer sentiments that only poetry can express.
Some examples of this kind of movies are Love Actually, New York Stories, Paris Je t'Aime, Four Rooms, The Red Violin, Nashville, Cuts, Traffic, City of God, Syriana, Nine Lives, Crash, Magnolia, Babel, etc.
Could you tell us about the market for short films? For the most part it seems as if short films are limited to film festivals and YouTube and occasionally we have a film like Darna Mana Hai or Dus Kahaaniyaan which also weaves short films together. Tell us about the struggle filmmakers of shorts have to undergo.
The market for short films is stronger overseas than it is here in the US, although Web sites like Hulu, Revver, YouTube, LiveVideo, MySpace, Facebook, FunnyOrDie, and others are making it more accessible, more acceptable, to produce and watch short films. I think short films need that kind of accessibility, especially since they don't get theatrical distribution. I'd like to see short films get attached to the front end of Hollywood features again.
Sites like withoutabox.com give filmmakers a chance to go to one site, and enter thousands of different festivals around the world. A new feature called Create-A-Space, made by withoutabox.com, is actually the one place that I have found that I as an independent filmmaker of short films can go to sell my work. The site offers my film to be distributed on Amazon.com at the price I wish, and it even makes my films available for download for a small fee to the customer. It's a great stride in potential profit for short films and their filmmakers, but the ever growing accessibility, through the Internet, for these short films comes with the fear of pirating. This is a huge fear of up-and-coming filmmakers, just as it is for established ones.
Out of all the short films you've made which are some that are most special in your eyes?
They're all special, mainly because they're all unique. Plus, they've all been learning experiences. I can learn from all of these projects, and it makes me a better filmmaker. I not only poured my heart and soul into this work, my crew and I told a story that is a true passion of mine in my life, and I think that is what made this movie so incredibly special to me.
Tell us about your experiences at film festivals.
Well I have participated in a few, and been to a few more so far.
Film festivals are a great way to show off what you have worked so hard on. It's a chance to get feedback on your work, meet new friends, and possibly some future connections/co-workers. The ones I've been to like Tallgrass Film Festival is fun and crazy. It's a great way to network with other filmmakers. For the most part, they've been very positive. I do have a diverse, broad taste and I want to make different types of film.
How did you come up with the idea for your movie, Different Shades of Human Life?
I share an appreciation for the ways lives interweave and we touch each other even if we are strangers. A movie like Different Shades of Life, with the appearance of new characters and situations every 10-15 minutes or so focuses us we watch more intently, because it is important what happens. These characters aren't going to get bailed out with 110 minutes of plot. Their lives have reached a turning point in those 10-15 minutes.
Different Shades of Human Life comes into a category of films called anthology films or hyperlink cinema where one "top-level" story, a framing device, which leads into the various "sub-stories" another variation would be when different sub-narratives share a common incident, usually a turning point.
What are some of your favorite films? Who are some of your favorite directors? Are there any people in particular you would like to work with?
I do have a diverse, broad taste and I want to make different types of film.
Steven Spielberg is probably my favorite filmmaker because he has always had a finger on the pulse of society. His work, especially his early work, gave us what we wanted or needed at the time and that's why he was so successful. He has always had a magical touch or timing for what works in American cinema. Some other directors who have influenced me are Sergio Leone, Franco Zeffirelli, Mike Nichols, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, John Huston, John Ford, Fancois Truffaut, Robert Altman, Brian DePalma, Robert Rodriquez, and a few others.
What is your approach to direction? Tell us about the different styles of direction and the pros and cons you find in them.
My personal style of directing relies on a trusting relationship between myself (as the director) and the talents of my cast. I actually took acting classes just to put myself in the shoes of the actors. After watching many directors in action around me, I notice a huge difference in someone who understands the actor's perspective, and someone who doesn't. I see directors say to an actor, "okay, your sad in this scene", or "you are so lonely right here". In my own style of directing, I focus on what isn't in the script. Developing a character, and who they truly are off screen, helps the actors create a role that is much deeper, richer, and fuller, than someone that is just repeating lines. There are also different approaches that should be taken when working with theater trained and screen trained actors. Theater actors sometimes project their voices much more than needed for on screen work, and it is my job to get them to pull back their character and become more natural on film. In all, my favorite style of directing is doing a few takes of what is supposed to be said, then doing a few takes were the actors are in control. Magic is never made on screen when it's forced.
Also I'm very collaborative. I go into a project with a very specific idea of what I want the movie to look and feel like, but I'm not so locked into it that I'm closed to other ideas. The cast and crew are valuable resources for ideas. Everyone on a movie set is there because they have a love of the craft, and there's a great deal of creativity that comes with that, no matter what position they work. So I'm open to ideas, questions, and suggestions from any corner. But ultimately, everyone has to understand that it's the director's decision to make, and that decision – once it's made – is final .I find that this approach helps the cast and crew feel a sense of ownership in the project. They're not just following orders, but contributing to the overall success of the project.I look for trustworthy qualities in actors. I want an actor and an AD that is as in love with this project as I am. Passion motivates a crew, and if no one really wants to work on a film, it's hard to get a quality end product. But if the actors, open their minds to not only grow on screen but become part of the film making process, and the AD not only keeps everyone on task, but keep them motivated, then that is when movie making is really a joy.
And things like knowing one's lines, understanding the story, showing up on time and being professional throughout the project.
What are you working on these days?
My hope is to revisit some of these short movies into full length features. I'm collaborating on several feature length screenplays and short stories. And also continue to promote and submit the four films that I have on the festival circuit as of now. Also hope to be working on a fellow co-workers first feature soon.
Making movies is full-time work, and when you're doing it on top of a regular full-time job, it becomes a bit of a time-cruncher.
Is there anything else you would like to tell our PlanetBollywood.com readers?
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