Interview: Indian-American Screenplay Writer & Film-Maker Amanda Sodhi - Best Screenplay Winner for "Life! Camera Action..."

AmandaLos Angeles, CA, May 13, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio) Screenwriters are the foundation of any film, yet they seldom get noticed for their work. It's even rarer for an Indian living overseas to get recognition as a screenwriter. Today we bring you an interview with Amanda Sodhi who recently won her first international Award for the 'Best Screenplay' for the internationally acclaimed, feature-film Life! Camera Action... at the 28th Goldie Film Awards 2012 where the film was bestowed with top 9 most popular and special board of directors award.  Produced & Directed by Rohit Gupta, the film is "both powerfully moving and rigorously intelligent" (Bollywood Trade) and has won enormous recognition around the world.

Screenwriter, director, lyricist, vocalist, model, journalist, copywriter, Amanda is a woman of many talents, as you will soon find out in this interview.

Firstly, Congratulations on your first award! You have been nominated twice earlier, so how does it feel to win your first award?

Trailer of Life! Camera Action ...

It feels awesome since this is the first entertainment-industry related award I have won, that, too, for the first film I worked on. There is always something special about firsts. 

-How did you get to work on Life! Camera Action...? 

Rohit's friend sent out an email thread in 2009 mentioning Rohit is looking for short film scripts and I responded to the email. Before we knew the project went from a short to a feature length film. I had never imagined the film would travel to so many film festivals globally and win so many awards and nominations. Clearly the film has struck a chord with film festival judges, which is awesome. 

How does the film resonate with you personally? 

How do you feel about the success of Life! Camera Action...?

Well, I co-wrote the film so it definitely resonates with me in many ways...too many ways for me to really list out.

I never imagined the film would do so well and when I wrote it in 2009 I didn't know it would turn into a feature length project.  It definitely feels good when your work is affirmed by so many people. It's very interesting to see that Life! Camera Action...would have so many screenings outside of India but not a single one in India. Honestly, the success of the film feels very surreal, and I strongly feel I have a long way to go. I'm still in the struggle period of my career. Nonetheless, Life! Camera Action...and its success has been an excellent launch-pad for me as a writer. I hope the film continues to travel and reach people around the world, and inspire people to follow their dreams, and I also hope that each and every person associated with the film achieves the goals they have set for themselves.

While working on Life! Camera Action... were you given any specific restrictions for the characters or the plot that you had to work within?

No, in fact Rohit gave me complete freedom to submit whatever script I wanted to, so I had no restrictions. Eventually, things did change a bit during the filming-there was a lot of improvisation in terms of the dialogues. The entire scripting process was very unusual and unique-we never had a bound script. We had a complete short film script I had submitted, and the project was tentatively titled The Last Shot. During the actual filming the film ended up becoming longer than expected so we went back and added scenes to expand upon the content as Rohit realized the film had feature length potential. And voila, Life! Camera Action... was born and The Last Shot was a portion within the film.

Can you give some details about how your interest in film developed and in particular your interest in writing for film?

I have always been interested in films, and writing has been a form of release for me. I knew since I was a kid that this was the industry I wanted to be a part industry where you take people out of their daily lives and have their undivided attention for a few hours and while taking them into a totally different world. I knew I wanted to be a part of the film and music industry ever since I was a child. I learned Hindi through films. In fact I even learned to read and write in Hindi because of my passion for films. I didn't know when I was a kid that screenplays in Bollywood are also written in English, so I ended up learning to read and write in Hindi (laughs). Writing, filmmaking, all fulfills me very much.

You wrote and directed two short movies recently - The Dance of Death and Through Bloodshot Eyes - how did these develop? How did you approach the process of making?

I had a few short film scripts I had written a few years back, including Through Bloodshot Eyes and The Dance of Death. I had been pitching them to other filmmakers, and it didn't work out, so I began contemplating making the films on my own whenever I move to India. Well, I ended up moving to LA from Washington, DC last year the DP I worked with pointed out since the locations are indoors it didn't make sense to wait to go to India to film. So, from there the journey began. Everything fell into place automatically and too fast for me to process. I didn't have much of a budget to work with since I was making the films on my own, so I feel very fortunate that everyone I sent the script to agreed to volunteer for both films because they believed in the scripts. I didn't face much difficulty during the pre-production and production section although a few hiccups did happen during post-production. I feel very blessed to have worked with such a talented cast and crew.

What's your writing process like? Do you outline/write a treatment before starting? Do you have any particular writing process you follow when you begin to write a screenplay?

Oh yes, for feature length screenplays I like to develop an outline to guide me so I don't get lost or overwhelmed during the writing process. When I work on a short film screenplay, though, I usually make sure I have the entire plot figured out in my mind and then subsequently write it down in one sitting without an outline.

The issue of "movies for women" often comes up at festivals.

Do you feel that as a female writer, you can do a better job of telling a woman's story? 

No, I don't think that only women can do a good job of telling a woman's story. There are many male writers and directors in both the US and in India who have made wonderful films with strong female protagonists including Rohit Gupta (LIFE! CAMERA ACTION...), Vishal Bhardwaj, the team of writers from Kahaani, Anurag Kashyap, etc, and when I recently saw a few short films at IFFLA in April I realized there are many short filmmakers who are men who have also made excellent films focusing on women. 

Any advice to people starting off in this field before getting their feet wet?

Be logical about the strategy you use to break into the industry. Network with people, be persistent, and take on gigs regularly to build your portfolio and interact with others from the field. If you really want something badly and are intelligent in your approach, you will find a way to achieve it-it's as simple as that.

"LIFE! CAMERA ACTION... is an inspiring, artful edge-of-your-seat family drama and one of the most-awarded and best-reviewed films of the year." (Bollywood Trade), "The film takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride of emotions leading to introspection" (Bangladesh Chronicle). Film stars an ensemble award winning cast led by actress Dipti Mehta, Shaheed Woods, John Crann, Noor Naghmi & Swati Kapila among others and an award winning song sung by Bollywood singer KK.

Distributors are eyeing the film for the world wide release in 2012.