Last Day of Prep

For the last two weeks I’ve been prepping our Story of a Girl India project, as mentioned before. I haven’t had much time to write a post about what it’s been like, so I probably write up a more extensive recap after we wrap at the end of next week.

It’s been quite busy. Days have been filled with scouting, casting, production meeting, decisions – the usual prep stuff. Details on the good and bad of it all when we’re on the other side of things.

But, overall – we’re happy with the cast and locations and how things are going in general. Some hiccups, bumps in the road, and some serious learning of how things happen here in India. Specifically in Bangalore, a smaller and more tightly knit film industry where everyone knows everybody else, seemingly, and things are done in a more informal way, shall we say.

Here’s a small sample of what we’ve learned: everybody is an actor. I am totally serious – all but about two of our crew people actually only does the job for which they are hired. Every other crew person has told us, oh, by the way, I also act and I’m in a television serial that airs locally. It’s totally hilarious and we might be casting a good number of small roles from our own crew because of it.

Anyway, more stories from South India after production wraps.

Also, a year ago today, we were in Oak Creek after the shooting there. Here’s what I wrote then. Valarie is on the ground there with a cinematographer and two of our awesome Yale Visual Law Project teammates, doing interviews and filming the vigils and remembrances. Wish I could be in two places at once.

Production starts Friday. On with the show.


India and Pre-Production

So I’m in India for the second time in one summer. My 10-year-old self wouldn’t believe me if I told me – back then we went once every three years at best.

But here I am in Bangalore for about the last five days, in the thick of pre-production for our Story of a Girl film. As mentioned in the previous post, producer Alan Smith has been here with our Indian producer Digvijay Purohit and 8th Wonder Productions doing the legwork before I arrived.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been location scouting, meeting crew people, and auditioning actors for the most part. Our story follows a girl, born HIV-positive, who is orphaned at young age and survives through access to medication and through her friendships. Much of the film takes places in a slum or informal settlement, and an early part of the story takes place in an orphanage. We quickly found both of those locations, but are still trying to nail down a few more – a railyard, a riverside clearing to name a couple.

Yesterday, I was at a casting session to see finalists for the lead roles and some supporting ones. The challenge has been to find our lead girl – a 10-year-old, and her friend who is also 10. It’s hard to cast pre-teens in general, but to also have them play a difficult role like this is even more of a challenge. Our casting, done by Kalpana at Yolk Studios, has been very fruitful – we found some good actors and I’m excited to work with several of them.

It has been encouraging to see the talent in Bangalore. The film industry in India is, of course, massive. And when people outside of India think about the film industry, they think about the Bollywood films that come out of Mumbai. India, however, is divided up, state by state, into language groups. And each of those states/languages, requires its own film and television industry. It would be like if Illinois and Alabama had their own movie industry – and if those states spoke separate languages. (In some cases they do I guess.)

So Bangalore, although smaller and servicing the Kannada film and TV needs, does have a good amount of talent and emerging talent that I’ve been able to see – which is really encouraging. Today we’re off to find a few more locations and hopefully lock them soon. Producer/creator of this madness Jonathan Smith is joining us in a couple days after what sounded like a gruelling shoot in France with French models. He will likely get very little sympathy from us while he recovers from jetlag.


In my last update, I said I would be posting much more frequently because I was in prep and updating the blog would be the best way to procrastinate.

It turns out, moving out of an apartment and preparing to live out of a suitcase for two months before moving across the country is another way to procrastinate. Which is what has been happening. We’re moving back to Hollywoodland in September, after I go to India this week to direct a short film in Jonathan Smith‘s Story of a Girl series.

Speaking of which – Alan Smith, co-producer and brother of Jonathan, as well as our India producer Digvijay Purohit are hard at work looking at locations and talking to possible crew in India right now. I’m sort of monitoring things from my temporary basecamp in the greater Washington, DC area before I hope on a plane at the end of the week for Bangalore.

It’s very exciting – I just finished a new draft that addresses some concerns I had, storywise. And now I’m able to start to focus on the visualizing of the story – storyboards, overheads, visual references, total understanding of each character individually. This is going to be a new challenge – I’m going to be working with a cinematographer, casting director, and crew I’ve never worked with before and it might be in a second language, too. I have to be even more clear and better prepared than I usually am.

Not to mention the rain. Oh, there will likely be a lot of rain in Bangalore that time of year. Luckily, a very expensive trip to REI has me outfitted for monsoons. Fingers crossed.

Much of the process so far has been fun. First of all, it’s going to be produced for a very small budget – perhaps smaller than is possible, but that’s the challenge. Secondly, I’m making this film in Bangalore, where I have, easily, 150+ family members. I’ve been asking for their help in finding locations, filling small roles, and even helping me find some talent. It’s going to be a lot of fun – just like putting together a tiny independent film in your hometown using the available resources and favors you’re able to bring together. I’ve never really done it exactly like that -the Kevin Smith Clerk’s model – so I’m looking forward to doing so now.

In the meantime, I’m also helping Valarie assemble a little team to give her a hand in Oak Creek next month for the one-year memorial of the massacre, which we documented last year. One week left to pull this all together, and then I’m off, back to India for the second time this summer.