(May 23, 2022) Sometimes, the smallest decisions can change the course of life forever. That holds true for filmmaker Shriya Rana. In her second year MBA, while others were bracing themselves for campus placements, Shriya was itching to do something creative. All that it took to realise her goal in life and pursue it wholeheartedly was her decision to do a brief internship with a local filmmaker in her home state of Himachal Pradesh.
A few days into her internship, filmmaking captured her imagination and she wanted to be part of the whole thing, from conception to completion. With no contacts in the film world, she quickly reached out to former students of the New York Film Academy, asked them many questions and got an understanding of how things worked in Hollywood. Come 2017, she moved to the US to study filmmaking.
Five years of struggle and challenges later, Shriya made her mark in Hollywood, by writing and directing eight short films and producing 10 more — all in different genres, most of which have been screened in over 30 film festivals across the globe. “That (internship) changed my life. The experience taught me two major things – first, how to market and sell yourself as well as your property and second, that a movie is made thrice, first when it’s written, second when it’s made, and third, during the post-production time,” smiles Shriya, in an exclusive chat with Global Indian.
Her recent release Ayesha turned out to be her most successful film, for which she bagged five Best Director awards and secured over 20 official selections. Not only did she receive the Audience Choice Award at the prestigious UCLAxFilmFest 2021 for the film, which is about a young woman who struggles to lead a normal life in a homophobic society, it was also showcased at Marina Del Rey Film Festival and Capri Hollywood Film Festival.
From Himachal Pradesh to Los Angeles
Born in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, Shriya’s father Dr Raj Kumar is an economics professor and mother Saroja Rana, a school principal. Her younger brother is an officer with the Indian Air Force. “Since I don’t come from a film background, I did not have anyone to look up to. Even though I was curious about the filmmaking process, I never thought about the filmmakers,” she says.
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In school, while her peers were more focussed on academics, Shriya was doing things she loved — painting, dancing and singing. “I was doing well in academics, and could never think of a career as an artist. Now when I look back, it’s strange that art was what I loved,” says Shriya, who studied at Lords Convent School and later went to the Himachal Pradesh University Summer Hill, Shimla.
The internship helped her find her inner calling, and without further ado, she moved to LA in 2017 after doing some research on the best filmmaking schools. Initially, she took up a brief course at New York Film Academy (NYFA) which enabled her to understand that direction was her true calling. Subsequently, she enrolled at the University of California, LA for a course in same. During those days, she started working as a Gallery Ambassador at UCLA’s Hammer Museum in the mornings, and attending school in the evenings, which not only helped her monetarily but taught her customer service, discipline and duty.
Spreading her wings
“Once I landed in LA, there was a clear cultural clash. It was a different lifestyle, something I wasn’t accustomed to at first. It took me a while but I prepped myself and brushed up my cursory knowledge to face this new world,” smiles Shriya, who landed her first job at the CBS Post and later interned at Brett- Morgan’s Public Road Productions. “I socialised, explored, networked, met more people and finally made movies with them,” informs the filmmaker, whose parents supported her throughout.
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Shriya, who has made films like Drifting Darkly (2018), Waiting (2018), Serena Calling (2019), False Notion (2019), Ayesha (2021), says, “Making simple stories impactful is the hardest thing to do.” Currently working as the production coordinator with Paramount in LA, she distributes their shows and movies to their partners (Apple, Amazon, Hulu, Fandango, Comcst, Vudu and many more) and formats and publishes their content on Paramount Plus website.
Having worked on primetime and late-night shows like The Good Wife, Equalizer, The Amazing Race, Twin Peaks, NCIS, Young Sheldon, she has a great body of work to her credit. “I had the opportunity to work with the best team and contribute to the launch of Paramount Plus and Grammy’s 2021. Working on the launch of Paramount Plus will always be the highlight of this job,” smiles the filmmaker, who is a big fan of horror movies but loves a good story irrespective of the genre.
“I like stories that resonate with people. Regardless of the genre, I like stories that make you think, real stories about real people. I received a great response for Ayesha and I have been working on developing it into a feature,” she informs.
So what’s next in store? “I’m working with a credible crew of filmmakers on various projects, both in film and TV. Most of my projects are in development and I hope to see my projects in production by the end of the year,” reveals the filmmaker, who is also skilled in script coverage, screenwriting and video editing.
Bollywood vs Hollywood
When it comes to Hollywood and Bollywood movies, Shriya feels both industries are very different. “In LA, people talk about the filmmakers, cast and studios. But in India, it’s more about the actors and directors. Filmmakers in India don’t get enough credit,” she feels. Although films like Andhadhun have set a trend for unique plots and concepts with commercial success at the box office, films like Tumbbad, Bhavesh Joshi, Panga, Pataakha, Soni still haven’t been recognised, she believes.
“We still don’t talk about directors like Ashwini Iyer, Anand Gandhi, Ivan Ayr. Also, the content here is very original. We have so many talented filmmakers in India but sadly their work doesn’t reach the masses as they don’t get enough theaters. I hope to see things getting better for people behind the camera in India,” says Shriya, who admires Basu Chatterjee and Shekhar Kapur in the Indian film industry. Her current favourites are Mike Flanagan, Quentin Tarantino, Emerald Fennell and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. When not busy with filmmaking, Shriya loves to dance, watch films and visit art galleries.