From joining us on a recent Podcast to taking part in The Green Room. We are delighted to chat again with Vijaykumar Mirchandani.
As mentioned on the Podcast you have been very busy during lockdown- what has this time in a limited outdoor society taught you? Have you found yourself getting involved in new interests?
The lockdown was a phenomenon in itself. It surely crippled the world in every possible way one can think of. Just like a dark grey cloud covering us 24/7, helplessly waiting for the ray of light to pierce through and end the darkness. Instead of waiting for that hope, I turned it around and staying indoors helped me concentrate, focus and push myself taking chances, the result was a Pandemic short film that is doing its festival rounds now. What I learnt and advocate my peers is, that everyday we face life with a new challenge and every time we come out with some solution. We are survivors so keep on pushing and don’t worry about the results. I also got the opportunity to experiment more with my cooking, participated in webinars and learnt new skills. In fact during the lockdown I spent more hours underground and got an opportunity to discover myself more.
With the lockdown it has seen so many people get creative and just start shooting new projects at home on smartphones. What are your thoughts on this approach to filmmaking?
I think the lockdown kind of pushed us back to the grass root levels. It was like in school with limited resources, crew, cast, equipment and location. We had to push the limits and yet deliver. We did it then so why not now! I think limited resources came as reality check and creativity has no boundaries, no formula, no set rules…in fact creativity means to break every rule. I am amazed with the kind of creative work people have brought out using smartphones. Everyone knew about the limitations and accepted these creative works as genius work and a new way of life. I feel the kind of technology, software, apps, resolution and flexibility available in smart phones can very well be considered as the new industry standards. There are film festivals already existing with work done on mobile phones and I have personally shot a music video and other content on a smart phone. I am a strong believer of being a disrupter.
Tell us how your journey in the industry began? Was there a specific moment or person that has shaped you?
Actually, I am true case of a disrupter who is not from the industry in fact without having any formal education or degree in media or television. I have a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and quit my industry within one year only to follow my passion for creativity. As a child I was very creative, had good drawing skills, wrote essays, public speaking, advertising, fashion shows, modelling and also won several awards in inter-university cultural events. Never did I think these hobbies or creative achievements could be made into a career. So like any middle-income stereotype household, I became an engineer with a stable job and decent salary but no creativity. Luckily, I had friends who worked in the media industry and I used to do some modelling gigs for them to keep my creative juices alive. However, after a modelling assignment I was very interested to see how the ad would be edited since I had no clue how editing happened. All I used to see were ready completed commercials on TV. My childhood friend Rraj Kaushal who had got me that gig invited me to the edit to see what happens behind the scene. I remember the moment I opened the doors of the edit room and saw all the editing equipment, multiple TV monitors, surround sound, the lights flickering on the consoles, mixers and all the gizmos, my eyes froze. I was like a child who had seen a genie and I could not get my eyes off the monitors. It felt like I was in the cockpit of a spaceship and travelling to “where no man has gone before”.
That was it!! In few words I told him “Rraj!! Bro this is where I belong”. This event happened in 1993 and after that rest is history. Not that it was an easy ride giving up my Engineering and fighting with my parents to follow my passion.
Well, I owe this life-changing event to my childhood friend Rraj Kaushal who took me in his stride, taught me and paved the path for me into this creative world of storytelling.
Your title is Director & Executive Producer, which one comes more natural and then also which one do you prefer?
Having studied Engineering and management, operations and organizing comes naturally. In fact, started my own production house after working for two years so the entrepreneurial skills, finance, client presentations and production came naturally to me so by default I became the producer first and my directorial skills followed next. However, at different jobs I switched my expertise as a producer or as a director. But as you climb up the ladder, management, leadership and people handling skills take the better of you so I organically slipped in becoming an Executive Producer. Since, I like to take control and make sure everything is in order so being an Executive Producer is a natural trait and fortunately I have earned a modest reputation. I work in collaboration with other directors and produce their short films but keep my directorial skills alive by writing and directing my documentaries and some other projects that I feel connected to.
How have you found the online festival opportunities that have been available to you during the past few months?
I am quite a peoples’ person and regularly attend film festivals, ground events, film markets, screenings, premieres and shows. I am also on the jury with several film festivals so have this completely different association with the entire film festival circuit as a filmmaker, jury and enthusiast. The live ground film festivals have their own flavour, glitz, glamor and vibe. Whereas virtual festivals do miss out on that however there are some pros to it as well. The opportunity to reach out the world rather than just the festival goers, the longevity and flexibility of being able to watch it beyond its scheduled time slot, free screening as compared to tickets (optional), possibility of a global Q & A session over a longer duration of time, a chance to watch recordings, global networking and much more. I think the online festival definitely has worked well for me as I pushed hard on my submissions and promotions, as I knew ground events would be a distant possibility and film festivals would find alternate solutions to carry on and keep the fire on. I have two films in the festival circuit and both are doing extremely well and cannot be blessed to be alive and kicking!!
As a consultant on film festival strategy, one thing I would like to share with other filmmakers whether experienced, new or aspiring, the film festival journey is a journey in itself. I have seen it is common for filmmakers to go through their passionate journey of making the film and then come up against a wall called “film festivals”, not knowing how to navigate it. Basically, as storytellers we all want to share our stories to the world and get maximum eyeballs and if we get recognition that will be the icing on the cake. However, strategy is extremely important be it a ground event or online. Today with changing times, platform takes a back seat, innovation to survive is key as long as we have the same mission #bethechange.
I always like to see what ideas people can come up with- the budget is unlimited, you have to cast a leading male, female and also Director. Who are they and what is the synopsis of your new film...maybe a title too?
It is quite strange that I generally do not start with the idea of how much budget is available. I work the other way round as I can fit any creative in any budget, for me the most important element is “what is the story”. Since most of my films are message oriented or social impact films. I would direct it myself and I do have a crossover film idea in mind that is based on a true fact/story. It is still in development stages and I would take my lead as Julia Roberts and in India mostly work with all my friends who are actors, the crew will also be my friends who are from the film fraternity. I have a strong foothold in India but this dream project is more to make a film with all my old buddies. Budget without limits would be to get someone like Julia Roberts or the like.
So that was a made up project, tell us more about what you have in the pipeline and what we can expect next from you?
Well, the made up project is actually a real project but on a very slow burner…hahaha.
Sticking to my mission of working on social impact stories. I recently produced a pandemic short film ”Love Can’t Be Locked Down” directed by my friend Naman Gupta that is doing well at the film festival circuit.
Taking an extension to what happened during the pandemic, I am currently producing a short film “DIVIDE” on the Black Lives Matter Movement. Teaming with Executive Producer Jorge Alvarez, we are shooting this in early September in New York and hope to complete the film by the end of 2020.It is very important to address these issues that get brushed under the carpet now and then.
I also have a feature documentary under post-production that I have written and directed. The documentary features victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Abuse and Marital rape. It showcases how one woman is fighting against all odds to help serve the community and trying to keep her promise she made. The documentary brings out the bitter reality that Americans are unaware of and living in denial. This documentary is seeking completion funds and I am looking for contributors to support and hoping to have it done by first quarter of 2021. I have another feature documentary under development on The Stigma of Mental Illness in India. This is a 2021 production and currently pitching to raise funds.