Producer-director Shardul Sharma talks to G20 about his journey from Hollywood to Bollywood. Excerpts:
Q. Tell us something about your journey.
A. Right now, I am an independent film producer based in Los Angeles. Incidentally, I started my producing career with an internship at Ashok Amritraj’s production company Hyde Park Entertainment in 2012. That was my first job in LA and right after that I started producing films on my own. It was tough initially but I never gave up and continued doing whatever I could with the resources I had. The journey wasn’t easy, as I started with short films or the ones made by students which absolutely had no budget. But that enhanced my experience and gave me the necessary insights. Now after five feature films, few short films, music videos and TV commercials, I can say I am doing decently as a producer. I recently started working at Paramount Pictures for their film department coordinating physical production for the studio.
Q. You have taken a huge leap in terms of your career decisions, what caused such a transition?
A. I had never planned to leave India and move to the United States to work in the industry here in LA. I was very happy being with Shiamak, he is still my mentor, my guru and everyone working in his dance company are like my own family members even today. I worked with him for over 12 years and it wasn’t easy at all to leave everything I had earned and to start once again right from scratch. But somewhere in my heart I wanted to try something new. It was then that one of my close friend back home who did a filmmaking course in Los Angeles, upon her return she suggested me to take a break from work and try the same course and then decide. Initially, I wasn`t sure, but I thought a lot about it and after consulting with my other friends who were way senior to me in Indian Film Industry, I took this huge step of going back to school (a film school). At that time, I was still the head of business operations in Shiamak’s company. Shiamak has always been very supportive and in fact, he encouraged me when I shared my thought to switch career and move to LA. I thought if I have to make my mark in the industry, then I’ll have to change my approach which is different, new and better than what was already happening. I am glad I made that decision because now after 8 years I have this opportunity to work at Paramount Pictures which is one of the biggest film studios in Hollywood. It was never an easy journey, but I am very thankful for what I achieved in the time I have spent in this career.
Q. Being a producer, did you ever think about directing or acting?
A. No, I did not. At the very beginning when I was still learning about films, I had to direct my own short films as no one would trust me with their projects. But the more I did, the more I realised that actually I enjoy producing way more than the creative process of writing or directing. I think I can do better on the business side of filmmaking than the creative side or being on screen.
Q. What is your favourite job of all times?
A. That’s a tough one. Out of all the jobs I have done, my motive has always been the same which is to touch people’s lives through my work. Weather it’s teaching a dance routine in a class or sharing a story through my film. I take it as a big responsibility when my audience chooses to spend a few hours of their day to see or experience my work and my motive is to make that time worth it for them. Making someone forget the daily struggle of life, making someone laugh, giving someone a hope, sharing dreams. Hence clearly my favorite job is to be an entertainer where I have an opportunity to share and create all these emotions for my audience through my work.
Q. Talk about your experience with Paramount film.
A. Working at Paramount Pictures has been a dream come true. I had only dreamed of working on such big productions and in a studio environment like Paramount. Since I have joined, I have worked on 2 films ‘Clifford: The Big Red Dog’ directed by Walt Becker and ‘Infinite’ directed by Antoine Fuqua as a coordinator in physical production for the studio. Both these films are scheduled to release later this year. It’s been almost a year since I started working at Paramount and I am thoroughly enjoying my time working on such big projects.
Q. Where do you see yourself in next few years?
A. I believe in taking one step at a time and at the moment I am only planning of becoming better at my art. If everything goes well, I should be among the few known independent producers who work both in Indian Film Cinema and in American Film Cinema.
Q. What is the difference between working for Hollywood and Bollywood?
A. Hollywood has the technology, huge budgets, extremely skilled talent from all over the world and a huge world audience. Whereas Bollywood has most of everything that Hollywood has but falls short with a limited audience and that’s because of the language. I would say, that there used to be a lot of difference in story telling between both these industries a few decades ago. But now with time that difference is narrowing down. With the help of digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon, Indian audience is getting used to western films/TV shows and they are enjoying it more than Indian films/TV shows. Also, the work culture in film industry is changing rapidly in India. Here in Hollywood we have a set pattern and a very organised way of making films, along with various labor and talent unions and government support such as each state supporting filmmaking with tax incentives and rebates. India is now doing the same by having unions, different state governments have started giving tax incentives and rebates to filmmakers, etc. So other than the audience reach, everything else is pretty much the same.