The silver screen is the place for unlimited opportunities, and for Sameeksha Katyal, a 24-year-old Indian actor, writer, and filmmaker, the movie world is her oyster. Born and raised in India, she moved to the USA in 2016 on a scholarship to study at Drexel University and trained at the Chelsea Repertory Lab at the Acting Studio with specialization in Meisner Technique of acting. In 2019, she wrote and co-produced her first short film ‘U & Me’, where she also acted in a lead role. The film was well-received in film festivals and received seven nominations and won the finalist award at the First Time Filmmaker Festival. It also won the ‘Best Film in Drama’ category at the BeBop Channel Content Festival. Her recent short film ‘The Interview from Hell’ has been nominated in over 30film festivals and won 8 awards including, ‘Best Director’ and ‘Audience Choice Award’ at international film festivals in 2020. Sameeksha, who is currently pursuing her degree in filmmaking and working on her first feature film shares her hopes, Hollywood dreams, and plans in this candid interview with Nivi Shrivastava.
1. Please tell us something about your film ‘The Interview from Hell’ and what inspired you to make it?
The inspiration was based on personal experiences. This idea struck us in the middle of the desperate times when I was suffering long hours at work and one of my friends, Michael Chabler, who co-wrote this script was fired and was struggling to find a job. Michael wanted to express his frustration with job hunting, the standard interview questions, and working alongside crazy people. Michael wanted to make fun of it and write dialogues that only he wishes he could say in interviews. We particularly got stuck on one mocking question the interviewers love to ask: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” We wondered how managers in a capitalist society expect job applicants to have ‘Five Year Plans.’ It’s especially absurd because we work in a world where any of us could be fired or laid off at any moment, no matter how well we are performing in our jobs. Yet, hiring managers expect to hear how we are willing to commit our lives to the firm. The pandemic added a new direction to the film.
2. What were the challenges to write, produce and act in your own film?
“The Interview from Hell” is my first project as the sole producer and lead actor, and since our script was well received I had a lot of pressure in bringing on board a director who could best present our story in a short film. I sent the script to my mentor Frank DeChirico and he loved this script so much that he decided to make it his directorial debut with me. He assisted me in auditioning for the interviewee Tom. We had a number of actors audition via zoom and skype but we did not find our Tom until we saw Michael explain the script to one of the actors. We shot the script during COVID19 on a Saturday in a private office space owned by my family friends in New Jersey with 4 people in total as cast and crew. The editing and other processing of the film became impossible. We had to connect to our network of friends in editing, adding background music and spent dozens of hours finessing it to submit to film festivals. It took us 2.5 months from March to May to complete post production and the first week of June we started submitting it to the film festivals. The film title was workshopped tirelessly until I realized that a dialogue from Eve in the story best describes the film. The pandemic which then followed gave the title that interesting edge of how people are going through their own version of hell during these hard times, hence, ‘The Interview from Hell’. As a female and person of color, I have had to work multifold harder to get recognition for the work than my peers in the industry. I believe it to be my mission to give a platform and take those challenging roles in the entertainment industry, and break the stereotypical type casting.
3. Please tell us about the awards and recognition that you have been receiving after the release?
What amazed us was that “The Interview from Hell” was the most-watched film for 3 straight weeks at Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and was voted the winner of the Best Audience Choice Award, Public Choice award and Best Short Film at different festivals. We have won 10 awards and are still nominated for awards at 43 international film festivals. This is unexpectedly exciting, and I have so much gratitude for everyone who has taken the time out to watch and vote for our short film.
4. As you are studying to be a professional filmmaker currently, please share your experience as a student in the States.
One main thing that I have learnt about the entertainment community in the US is the resilience and creativity artists share with each other. I have been taking online acting, playwriting classes since April 2020 via zoom. It has added an interesting layer of culture to our class as we have artists from around the world (Italy, German, Ireland etc.) all join for the class at the same time to engage in productive discussion. While Zoom is not my preferred medium of studying as I enjoy a stage and audience in person, being in front of the zoom camera has helped me strengthen my camera presence. I also believe it has polished my listening and many other skills needed for monologue acting and preparation for auditions. Auditions too have turned to be on zoom which has led to more creative choices to choose my own virtual background, costume and lighting. All these skills are usually not taken care of by actors or directors but they are certainly skills that will help me in my future projects.
5. What are the biggest drawbacks for a filmmaking student’s post pandemic, and how are you coping with it?
We are still very in the middle of a pandemic. The US and the rest of the world is still seeing anti-climactic rise in COVID cases. Me and my fellow network of actors are taking all precautionary measures to stay safe and continue developing our craft. Being on a set nowadays involves an isolation period of 7 days, social distancing and adhering to wearing masks, temperature check every morning and weekly COVID19 tests. The drawbacks are yet to be determined but I am sure we will find a creative way to cope with everything.