What was your filmmaking background before making Help Me, Help You?
RAVI: I went to film school for two years and directed some student movies. After that I directed two feature length movies. Dr.Ravi & Mr.Hyde a comedy on mid-life crisis and a murder mystery called I Am a Schizophrenic and So Am I.
I know how hard it is to find a home for independent movies but we were fortunate to get a DVD deal. So before I directed Hollywood actors under a SAG contract, I had a solid real life experience of having been there and done that. And my first movie was no slouch. It did well in DVD market and gained a ton of good reviews.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?
RAVI: Life imitates arts. So the idea always comes from there. I can't call it autobiographical but I love to give advice and I really love to help people. I have noticed others who are well meaning but you wish that they just left you well alone. So I built a story on this kind but goofy doctor who gets everything wrong and lands his friends in trouble.
I am so glad you asked about the writing process. We shot this movie in 10 days so I had to set the script in stone. I wrote it in one sitting, gazing over the sea of Cortez in Mexico. Twelve hours and the first draft was done. Then I took it through rigorous process of defining the story, stream-lining it, polishing the dialogue, arching the characters etc.
Then I held script readings with focus groups to see what makes people laugh, what is it that they don't get. Then I got a few script consultants. Spent a lot of time listening to them, rejected all of their suggestions and moved on. I told the actors that they can take some liberties with the script if they were in a one-on-one scene with me but for the group scenes I requested them to stick to the script to the last comma.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
RAVI: I will duck this question. But can't resist the temptation to get on the soap-box. Once you have a track record, once you are little known, you can find people to help you. I admire everyone who wants to make a movie. But when I take a look at their target talent or their expected budget, I wonder why are they throwing a hail-Mary on the first play in the first quarter. I believe, no matter how humble the budget, how unknown the cast, if you do a full-length movie, and do it well enough to be seen, then you can look back and point to that shiny disc as something tangible and real. You keep at it and you get somewhere.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
RAVI: We used Panasonic HDX 900, true Hi Def uncompressed. I loved the fact that we were able to throw prime lenses on it to give it a film look and I hated the fact that it was too cumbersome to do a 2-camera shoot on the climax.
You wore a lot of hats on this project -- director, writer, actor. What's the upside and the downside of working that way?
RAVI: When I answered the previous question, I was just answering the question to show off the nut and bolts knowledge. The real answer was I trusted my Director Of Photography and my lighting director with my life. I left the technical issues in their capable hands and then got the heck out of there. What made wearing these hats easier was, I had a competent producer, terrific lawyer and beyond comparison production team who had ownership interest the movie.
The upside of wearing the hats, is, like, Truman used to say, the buck stops here. So the decisions were clear and lightening fast. And I had to live with them, good or bad. Steve Guttenberg missed his flight coming in due to some scheduling problem. Within seconds, I had the script supervisor looking at doing the group scenes without Steve and I asked the producer to buy seats on as many flights to Pittsburgh on that day, whether the ticket was refundable or not. So we bought four first-class tickets on 3 different airlines in a minute. It would have taken some time to clear this decision with a committee.
The downside is at times it is just too much. We were location scouting at Hartwoond Manor is Pittsburgh and figuring out the scene to be shot there. I got a call and I was talking for a while. The crew asked me as to what I was doing and I told them that I was giving directions to the Locations Manager who was lost!
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
RAVI: The smartest thing I did was to spend months on pre-production to think through pretty much everything.
The dumbest thing I did was not to build some slack into the system. When we shot the opening scene, it was just not happening the way I wanted it. We had that day and that time to get the shot in the can and no back up. That is the only thing, I can think of. I am sure, my friends will find others and point it out to me.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
RAVI: I learned that I have to figure out a way to foresee unforeseeable issues. It was a team effort and a happy team gave me happy efforts. For the next project, I will be adding a few more members to the team, strip some responsibilities away from me, some away from the producer, trust the team and go with the flow.