COSMOPOLITAN co-producer Jason Orans talks about the clash of American and Indian pop culture, the challenges for Indian talent in the West and the communal nature of hummus.
What was the key moment when you knew you would make this program?
We [the production team] fell in love with the story and were determined to make it from the moment we found out the rights were available. However, we were writing grant proposals for over two years before any funding was promised. The key moment came when funding clicked into place, or at least the majority of it, from the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) Diversity Initiative and NAATA (National Asian American Telecommunications Association).
What’s the biggest challenge about turning a short story into a film?
Short stories are usually structured differently than movies. While a movie should have a three-act structure, a short story is often an exploration of character via a single defining event. The challenge is to create new material which both serves the story and supports a three-act structure. With COSMOPOLITAN, this meant adding a completely new first act to the story.
What interested you about Gopal—or about the clash of American pop culture and Indian pop culture?
It feels like many (if not most) American multicultural films come not from the perspective of the immigrants, but from their kids, the first generation born in America. Gopal is an immigrant who has been living in his adopted country for a long time, and his perspective felt fresh to us because of this. The clash of American/Indian pop culture was a natural and entertaining way to explore the theme of trying to fit into an adopted country while also remembering where you came from.
From your experience working with Nisha Gantra, Sabrina Dhawan and Roshan Seth, what have you learned about the biggest barriers that face Indian actors, directors and screenwriters?
For sure it’s most difficult for actors. There is supposed to be crossover so that an Indian actor can play someone from another ethnic group, but it is very rare. The fact is, there are few decent roles, and people have trouble seeing beyond the surface. Roshan Seth, for example, works all the time in Europe but rarely works in the U.S. For writers and directors, things are much better (that is to say, just as hard for them as it is for everyone else). It is important for Nisha and Sabrina not to be thought of as only working in Indian-themed projects, and they have both succeeded in this.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Luckily for us, we didn’t cut so much as replace, and some of the replacements turned out more interesting than the original plan. For example, we wanted to shoot a scene in a bookstore (a big one, like a Borders). Well, we couldn’t make this happen, so instead, we shot in a little sweets shop attached to a restaurant we were already shooting in. This became one of my favorite shots in the film, very colorful, evocative and (naturally) sweet.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
Hummus. It’s cheap, everyone eats it (vegan, kosher, halal, lactose intolerant etc.) and you share it with others rather than having your own individual entree.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Have a major fire burning to make your film because it will likely take years to finish it. If you’re in it for the money or any other wrong reason, then you’re bound to be disappointed. Learn Final Cut or other editing software—you’ll end up using it at one point or another (such as to create a trailer or promo reel). Get and learn to use a budgeting and scheduling program like Movie Magic. Volunteer to schedule and budget other people’s movies—it will be good practice (especially if you can then work on these movies and refine your skills). Marry well.
If you could have one motto, what would it be?
Fast, cheap or good—choose two.