Remember the NJISACF 2007 Best Feature Film award winner, Waking Dreams – the energetic culture clash comedy set against the rich backdrops of video games and Bollywood fantasies? (For those of you who haven’t watched Waking Dreams, we strongly recommend you do so as soon as you get a chance.)
Our filmmaker of the month is the very talented director of Waking Dreams, Deepika Daggubati. Born in India and raised in Texas, writer-director Deepika Daggubati has been making movies since the age of ten. As an undergraduate at Georgetown, Deepika worked as a freelance camera operator and editor for news crews and student clubs. After graduating with a B.A. in English and Psychology, she attended Cal Arts for an M.F.A. in Film Production. Waking Dreams is her feature debut. Deepika has been hired to write the original Disney Channel movie Muncie Masala, which is in development. She has also written and directed several short films including the upcoming Dowry. Deepika Daggubati answers a few questions for the readers of Bioscope.
How would you say is your experience of being a 21st century South Asian woman filmmaker in USA? What are the challenges that you have faced, if any?
DD: I’m encouraged by Hollywood’s recent interest in ethnic stories and by the increasing support of the South Asian diaspora for films from our communities. Ethnic stories are universal stories, and people appreciate this fact when they have access to our films. The landscape has changed in a positive direction in the ten years since I’ve been in Los Angeles as a student and filmmaker. While I don’t believe I’ve faced any additional challenges in the industry for being Indian, I do feel that female writers and directors are severely underrepresented in what movies get made and which scripts are bought.
Tell us about some of your favorite films, and the kind of films you would want to make.
DD: Ah, there are so many! Among my favorite directors and films are William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives, The Little Foxes), Jane Campion (The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady), Satyajit Ray (Mahanagar, Teen Kanya), Hitchcock (Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window) and David Lynch (Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man). I look forward to making movies in several genres as Wyler did. I’m fascinated by the small, intimate moments that reveal a person’s deep character. The projects that I’m currently working on include a period mystery about a murder in 1920s Manhattan, a contemporary thriller about a reporter investigating her grandmother’s death, and a boarding school story of rebellion and acceptance.
DD: Bollywood has little impact on my life. I occasionally watch new Indian films and can really appreciate the craft and storytelling. But the average Bollywood melodrama has just as little relevance to my life as the average Hollywood romantic comedy. I am glad, though, to see the availability of satellite TV channels for Bollywood and other Indian regional programming. I can’t imagine what my parents watched before they subscribed to Telugu channels like Teja! In some ways, I wish that programming like this had been available when I was a child growing up in a small Texas city far removed from any Indian cultural activities. Perhaps it would have helped me navigate my dual identities as an Indian in America. Or perhaps not. Maybe Bollywood’s unrealistic constructs of love, success and beauty would have been just as detrimental as any Hollywood equivalent.
Has Waking Dreams released in India? If not, do u have any plans to release Waking Dreams in India?
DD: It’s been a long and challenging journey to get distribution for Waking Dreams. The typical response from distributors has been “We love the movie, but we don’t know how to market it.” But the goal post is finally in sight! Waking Dreams will be self-released this year in theaters and on DVD. The target date is August. Please watch for it! Independent releases depend on the goodwill of grassroots audiences, and I’d like to ask your readers for their support. There are no plans as of yet for distribution in India, but I do hope to participate in a couple of film festivals there since we now have a film print to screen.
Do u feel a formal education is necessary for being a successful filmmaking? Do you have any advice for new filmmakers?
DD: A formal education is not necessary, especially because the art and craft of filmmaking can only be learned hands-on. I don’t regret taking the time to get my MFA in filmmaking. But in retrospect, I learned more from making my shorts there and from working on my friends’ films than from anything I learned in the classroom. The great benefit of film school is its access to networking. It takes contacts to land any non-entry level job in Hollywood. Since projects are relatively short-lived, usually lasting only a few months, it’s important to keep in touch with contacts made on each one. My advice to new filmmakers would be to stay in touch with mentors, employers and colleagues long after a project has ended. You’ll never know when an opportunity may arise if you’re not in the loop to hear about it. I also urge filmmakers to not be precious about their work. Don’t rework and polish one script or film repeatedly. Just move on. Make as many short pieces as you can. Write as many scripts as you can. Quality will follow as you get more experience.
DD: As far as writing goes, I love being in the “zone” – that stage when I hear characters talk. Emotions bubble up inside me when I’m writing a scene, and I find myself crying or laughing out loud with my characters. Unfortunately, the zone is elusive, and takes time and patience to achieve. On most days when I sit down to write, it’s torturous and lonely. I’m plagued with doubt and wonder how I ever did it before. During the recent three-month Writers Guild of America strike, I was a strike captain. On the daily picket lines, I met many renowned writers whose work I deeply admire. It seems most of them experience the same fear and doubt. It’s just part of the process for most writers.
With directing, my favorite part is production. I love working with actors on performance. I love setting the look of the film with the designer. I love visualizing the shots and lighting with the DP. I never get tired when directing, because it’s the biggest adrenaline rush. There’s nothing I don’t enjoy about directing except that I can’t do it often enough!
What would be your next project?
DD: I recently directed a short film called Dowry about a Persian woman who goes on the worst first date imaginable only to become engaged by the end of the evening. I’m also getting close to a start date on Odd Girl Out, a feature coming-of-age story that I wrote and will direct. Meanwhile, I continue to write scripts and pitch stories. There are so many stories I want to tell! I hope I’ll be back at the NJISACF soon!