ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, TONYA MANTOOTH’S Q&A WITH FILMMAKER RAVIN GANDHI (100 DAYS TO LIVE)
Ravin Gandhi is founder and CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings, one of the largest suppliers of nonstick coatings to the $9 billion housewares industry.
You have had tremendous success with 100 Days to Live. What has that experience been like?
It was crazy because of the media attention we received in the few days after release. While I was used to talking to press about my normal business career, it was a massive worldview shift to speak as a “filmmaker” on TV. I was also humbled by the support the movie received from friends I have not seen in decades. It seems everyone love movies, and when you make one that gets released, everyone wants to reach out and chat and be supportive. It’s been very cool. But I also know that time passes, and the spotlight fades. So, you have to be onto the next thing, and hopefully someday I will have another film out there (and hopefully in theaters this time!)
Your path to becoming a feature film director has been an unusual one. Tell me about your journey?
Besides my career as an entrepreneur, I have always loved to write, and have always been a huge film fan. So one day years ago while on a flight to Asia I downloaded screenwriting software and started writing a screenplay. I actually finished it on the flight back–of course it was unbelievably bad.
However, the habit of using time on work flights to write screenplays stuck forever. It was a great way to use another part of my brain given how I am normally obsessed with the capitalistic world.
You’ve had a successful career as a CEO and venture capitalist what made you want to write and direct a film?
It was on my bucket list, and I am not getting any younger. I really wanted to see if I could do it!
Also I would never have been successful as an entrepreneur without being a good storyteller. My specialty is sales, which involves telling stories to explain products or concepts. In fact, I would say that if you look at the most successful people in almost any industry, from doctors and lawyers to scientists and engineers, the people who rise to the top are those who can tell stories well.
The human brain is wired to latch onto narrative, so being able to communicate in this way separates you from those you are only good at technical details, for instance. Since I was young, I have been pretty good at figuring out the essence of a complex problem and creating a story to explain it that is easy to understand.
What was the inspiration behind the film 100 Days to Live?
One day while jogging, I had the idea for the big plot twist. From there, it took me a few years to figure out how the story would have to work and be structured to motivate that twist. It was kind of like a math proof – you know where you need to get and you have fun getting there.
What was it like walking on the set on the first day of filming?
Well, it was in my apartment so there was a sense of comfort. But on the other hand, I could feel the 50 people all watching me to see if I had what it took to make this film as a first time director. After the first 4 hours, we had nailed all of the shots we needed before lunch break, and I could feel a palpable sense of relief that the cast and crew felt that I knew what I was doing. In terms of being up against deadlines, making fast decisions, leading people–that part felt natural and I felt quite comfortable. I also loved working with the cast on the scenes…I learned being an entrepreneur is wonderful training to be a director, so maybe I can get away being both in the future.
You tackle the subjects of suicide prevention and mental health in a thriller-based film? Were you worried that you wouldn’t be able to stay true to the issues of mental health and still deliver a suspenseful film?
Yes. But after I called suicide prevention lines, talked to a number of therapists, as well as recovered suicidal people, I became convinced about the plausibility of my story which gave me the confidence to keep going. During the edit, something we really had to focus on was not getting too bogged down in self-pity from any character, because regardless of the genre audiences don’t want to see that. And I am such a proponent of making everything shorter, so pacing helped us. From a first cut of 135 minutes, our final released film is only 82 minutes before credits.
What was it like sitting in the theatre the first time an audience watched your film?
Surreal. I was happy that all of the time we spent editing seemed to pay off because the audience reacted just as we’d hoped. There is no greater excitement as a filmmaker than seeing a big group of new people staring at a huge screen and being entertained. And the Q&A’s were awesome and fun.
At the San Diego Intl Film Festival you won the Best World Premiere and Best First Time Director. What was it like to share the stage with Laurence Fishburne and Jared Harris when you received your award?
It was amazing – I had zero expectations of winning any awards at all. When I heard my name called I stood up, and then saw Laurence Fishburne stand up to shake my hand – that was amazing! I am glad my wife filmed me lurching thru an impromptu speech, because I have very little memory of that. It was tremendously gratifying to feel that my film had found an audience.
How important do you feel film festivals are to independent filmmakers?
Very important. Honestly had we not gotten into SDIFF, I might not have pushed through with trying to get distribution because of how busy my day to day life is with work. But having done well at the festival, I had confidence that the movie was good enough to try and get in front of the general public so I pushed it.
What director(s) did you draw inspiration from for 100 Days to Live?
One of the films that informed my writing was George Sluzier’s 1988 classic The Vanishing, which is just so chilling and original. From that film, I learned you can spend lots of time getting to know the bad guy in long flashback sequences, and the audience will go with you as long as you are truthful about the motivations of the killer and have lots of conflict. Also, Park-Chan Wook’s Oldboy is a classic and something that has always inspired me in terms of how to motivate an original villain that has an almost unbelievable plan.
What was it like to go through the process of securing distribution for the film?
It’s very hard, and anyone who says it’s easy isn’t telling the truth (or they have big stars and big budgets – of which we had neither). It’s an endless series of pitches and rejections, and takes so much time and effort to get through the grind. But like anything worth doing, if you push hard enough you will end up appreciating it more once it happens. Just don’t give up.
What’s been the biggest surprise in working in the entertainment industry?
On one hand it’s surprisingly similar to many other industries like manufacturing – you’re basically making a product (a movie) that has a ton of competition. So you have to differentiate your product with originality of story, cast, and authenticity in performance. Once the product is done, you have to sell it in a crowded field. But…on the other hand, it’s so more personal because as a writer/director your identity is melded with your product. So you have to have very thick skin because some people will hate your film!
What’s your next film project?
I am working with a funny writer from The Onion on a broad comedy idea, as well as another thriller. I really want to get an agent or a manager who might be able to help me acquire a great script. It is all about getting a great script. As soon as I have one, I will make it.
How can people watch 100 Days to Live?
It’s available on every major VOD platform, including Apple TV, Amazon, DirectTV, DISH, Google Play, ITunes, Charter, Xfinity, YouTube, Vudu, FandangoNow, Playstation, Xbox, Redbox, Optimum, Cox, Spectrum, RCN, and Vubuquity. In the coming months we hope to get a deal with one of the major streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, or Showtime.