'The characters drive your story'
Soman Chainani is a writer-director who won last year's Circle Conference screenplay competition and will begin filming his script in London next year. He lives in New York City. I'm the middle child in a family of three boys and I fit the classic middle child profile. Children seek external validation, so no matter how much love and attention you receive from your family, you're always in a way seeking to prove yourself. Actually, if you look at the entertainment world, there's a disproportionate amount of successful people who are middle children and Leos, and I happen to be both.
I've spent the past year working on four scripts, one of which I'll be filming next year. The cyclical nature of filmmaking is like this - one year writing, one year directing. It's a bit like farming. You spend one year planting the seeds and the next picking the harvest. I'd love to live on a two to three year cycle like this for the rest of my life. Do you trust an author who writes a book every year? In the same way, I don't necessarily think that filmmakers who make a movie a year are helping themselves. The writing takes time and research, and you can only make so many good movies.
I love Bollywood because I grew up with it, but romantic comedies are my genre. It's what affected me the most growing up, and everyone responds to what affects them personally. My mother, for instance, loves stories about suffering because it inspires catharsis. For me, the fairy tale romance was always what I needed to feel in a movie theatre. I cry much more at romantic comedy than I would at a movie like Ghandi.
Filmmaking falls into two camps: you reflect the world as it is, or reflect the world as it ought to be. I'm one who chooses the world as it ought to be - I think that's more what we need right now. I also believe that's why you'll see Emirati female filmmakers try to break out first, because they have motivation to prove that they can tell their own stories and the way things ought to be. The biggest thing I learnt in film school is that the characters drive your story, and if you start to think about the plot, you'd get a superficial story. Try to think of a situation that you couldn't get out of. Suppose you get stuck in a lift and the electricity goes out. What would you do? You have to put your character in a situation where you don't know what you'd do or how you would solve it. Then, the movie becomes about discovery. If you know how the movie will end, your audience will also have seen this type of movie before and there's no element of surprise or of self-discovery along with the character.
Alphonso Quaron, Stephen Daldry and George Cukor are some of my favourite directors. I think what unites all of them is that they all are extremely emotional directors and that's what I'm drawn to. Cukor made My Fair Lady, which is one of the best musicals ever made. The best movie I've ever seen is a movie called Charade. Carry Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It was absolutely perfect, one of those movies that was a spoof to the genre and yet is that genre so perfectly. It was a spoof on Hitchcock, but was at the same time much scarier and more thrilling than Hitchcock.
I've always been influenced by strong female figures. Especially - weirdly enough - female standup comedians like Margaret Cho, Kathy Griffin and Ellen DeGeneres. They do a combination of comedy and emotion in a way that isn't there with men. Romantic comedies were what I gravitated towards because they were vehicles for these strong characters. Julia Roberts, Audrey Hepburn - these were women who had a lot of agency.
I'd like my own production house eventually because I want to help other filmmakers make their movies. You can only make so many movies in your life, so I'd like to help others do it. But they have to be good ones.
Updated: October 16, 2008 04:00 AM