Sure looks like I took August as a little summer break from updating the ol’ blog here. The world, somehow, continued to spin upon its axis. Go figure.
Anyway, this is what’s gone down since July. First, I’ve been hired to write a screenplay for an independent producer. We don’t have a title yet, but at the center of the story lies the Kohinoor Diamond. The Kohinoor, originally from India, currently rests as part of the British Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. The story of the diamond is incredibly unique – it has a series of curses and prophecies attached to it, belonged to emperors, kings, queens, and was the focus of conquest and for more than a thousand years. Many believe the Kohinoor appears in Hindu mythology under a different name, adding a spiritual and supernatural angle to it’s long history.
Our story is a contemporary one – an adventure that will interweave the diamond’s unique history throughout. It’s a tricky balancing act but we’ll pull it off… fingers crossed… fortunately I’m writing the script with a writing partner. Which is the only way I can do it, given the directing jobs coming up later this season.
Speaking of which – I suddenly got hired to direct another TV show in October. Which appears to be in just over two weeks, the calendar tells me.
The show, Finding Carter, is on MTV so I’d be lying if I said I have been a long-time fan (as opposed to the two other shows I’m hired on this season which I’ve been watching for a while). To be fair, I haven’t been MTV’s target audience in, oh, 15 years – or just about when they stopped showing music videos. I’ll be directing the penultimate episode of this their third season, so it’ll probably be a pretty intense and interesting script.
I’m very excited to direct the show. The actors are good, as is the writing and visual storytelling. MTV shows have a shorter shooting schedule than standard network shows – six days as opposed to eight – but the scripts are about the same length. So that means I’ll have to be efficient with my shooting plan while also being visually creative and telling the story in an interesting way on screen. Enhanced challenge! They have an incredibly accomplished veteran director Jeff Melman who is the producing director (the in-house director) who will be my Yoda on set, but probably taller.
This will be my first TV directing assignment outside of NBC and Law & Order: SVU, and first time shooting in Atlanta, which is where Finding Carter shoots. I’ll try to update the blog with daily-ish updates as I have before for SVU. I’m spending the next couple weeks re-watching old episodes, reading the current scripts that have been shot or about to shoot leading up to my episode, as well as possibly meeting the writers and editors (who are here in LA) before heading off to Atlanta.
One last thing, half personal half professional (I seem to be ending my blog posts with serious or poignant notes – my apologies, I hope that trend reverses). Bear with me as I set this up because the story is going somewhere I swear.
I was born just outside Chicago and when I was a year old or so my parents moved into their first home in Darien, Illinois – where I lived for the next 20+ years before I moved to Los Angeles. They have since moved away from there, but the Western Suburbs and Chicago are still considered home to me.
A year after I moved to LA, I started film school at the American Film Institute. My second day of school was September 11, 2001. Two years later, partially inspired by anti-foreign-looking-people rhetoric post 9/11 in America, I made my AFI thesis film American Made which features a Sikh American family at its center. Three years after that, I made a documentary feature film with my (now) wife called Divided We Fall where we followed victims and perpetrators of hate crimes in the days, weeks, and months after 9/11. This sparked a decade of work within the Sikh American community across the country, including documenting the aftermath of the shooting at Oak Creek, Wisconsin where seven people were killed after a gunman opened fire in a Sikh gurdwara.
On the eve of the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11, my work and my home intersected unexpectedly. A turban-wearing Sikh resident of Darien, Inderjit Mukker was at the Jewel supermarket (where my family shopped for 25 years), when another driver shouted at Inderjit with the usual terrible invective: “Terrorist, go back to your country, Bin Laden!” Inderjit pulled over to let the driver go but instead the driver came over and attacked him, injuring him enough to send him to the hospital.
When I saw the press release headline on Facebook of “Hate Crime Attack in Chicago Suburbs” – my first thought was it couldn’t be Darien, of all places. Alas, it was. It’s very dispiriting, after all the progress my wife and other activists have done to help combat hate crimes against Sikhs, Muslims, South Asian Americans – there is still work to do. And additionally dispiriting because Darien, though not immune from bigotry and prejudice of course, is genuinely filled with some the greatest people I know. My best friends, almost all of them not Indian, nearly all Roman Catholic, grew up with me as brothers and sisters. Their parents treated me as if I was their own child, despite the fact that I was a different race and religion. I spent as much time at my friends’ homes as I did my own, biking through neighborhoods without even the thought of ever being assaulted (except maybe by bullies because bullies exist everywhere). I’ve had the same handful of close friends from when I was five-years old as I do today. Darien, as the sign says when you enter the town, is a nice place to live. It was.
So this attack is additionally disturbing to me for personal reasons. Tomorrow (September 15) marks 14 years since the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first hate crime killing after 9/11 – we documented his family’s story in Divided We Fall. In Darien, 14 years after that, a rally in support of Inderjit will be held at the spot in front of the Jewel supermarket – a spot that looks like any other in any suburban town in America. Just happens to be mine.
And yet, I know we’ve made progress – we continue to inch the needle towards a more inclusive country. But it happens in small corners and in fits and starts. My hope has been, and continues to be, that we become a country that can see a man on the street wearing a turban and not think foreigner or terrorist, but would think American. Right now, I’d be glad if people would just think human. That would be a nice start.