Interview: Raghav Peri – Director of Delaware Shore
Interview done by Helen Wheels
[dropcap]R[/dropcap]aghav Peri’s “Delaware Shore” is an intimate look into personal trauma and its effects on relationships. Agnes, a Holocaust survivor who escapes the concentration camps, finds shelter at a Delaware Beach. The woman is haunted by war atrocities and suffers from survivor’s guilt. Her tortured soul renders her incapable of showing affection, but she raises her grandchildren out of obligation because they were abandoned on her doorstep.
Peri’s story goes beyond Agnes’ struggles as a war survivor and digs a little deeper to uncover truths about how an individual’s pain affects the people they care about most.
1. I read in your biography that you have had some success working on short films –
What prompted you to make the jump to writing and directing a feature-length film?
Raghav Peri: Firstly, thank you very much for the opportunity. This is my first interview ever for a magazine. To answer your question, I would like to share a little about myself and my background.
If I remember correctly, I was introduced to cinema by my grandmother when I was a just a kid. I have very strong memories of watching movies on cable tv sitting with her for hours together every day. I instantly fell in love with cinema at a very young age which later turned into a mad obsession of watching every film that got released during my college days. There were many movies that affected me at the gut level and I felt an instant emotional connection with the characters in cinema. There was no other art form that knocked my socks off. The moment I realized this, I wanted to join the world of cinema.
I made my first short film (1min duration) back in 2009 at a one-day filmmaking workshop in India without knowledge of any sort of filmmaking. All my friends and family liked it and I was very happy and proud about it but nobody else was. On the brighter side, it really changed the way I watch films. I started to see camera movement, character continuity, music and began to appreciate the art of filmmaking. I also started to respect people behind the camera. Apart from building my passion towards this form of art, being raised in a lower middle class family made me develop a lot of respect towards little things in life. Also, I’ve built strong feelings about everything that was happening around me. Initially, I wrote short stories for myself based on people and circumstances around me but there was always a constant urge of wanting to express my thoughts and communicate with a wider audience.
It was not an overnight decision to jump from making short films to making a feature film. It was a very natural progression from loving cinema to trying to learn the craft of storytelling. I am lucky to have this privilege of working with finest talents to make my first feature.
2. How did the challenges of making a film that runs a little over an hour and a half differ from your experience of making short films? Can you describe the differences for filmmakers who are trying to make the same transition?
Raghav Peri: There’s so much information available on the internet for everyone. I can only speak for myself and try to share my experience.
All the short films that I made are either no budget or mini-budgets. While making shorts, I always found the liberty to spend more time on set for lighting or go for that extra take which you don’t do while making a feature unless you have a budget. The only challenge while making shorts was to convey an emotion in a very short time span whereas, in a feature, you have a lot of room to introduce and establish a certain character.
Firstly, I believe any filmmaker is only as good as the subject matter he chooses. Once you identify such material that speaks to your heart, absolutely love and believe in it, it’s only then you should start thinking about hitting the set. This is really important since you will be spending at least a year or two of your life making it. It better be really good!
Secondly, it is very important to break down the script to its smallest details in all the aspects. After taking into consideration actors availability, the complexity of scenes, locations, number of setups and budget that was available for me, “Delaware Shore” was planned to be done within 25 days but it dragged over three months. In order to achieve it, I read various scripts, I attended acting workshops and rehearsals, I even shot the rehearsals with my iPhone and did everything that I could possibly do as part of the pre-production. Once everything was done, I believed everyone understood correctly what has to be done on set. BUT…
There was not a single day when things went as it was planned. It’s like a war. You have this huge battle plan without clearly gauging the enemy. One time it was an inclement weather, when we were switching scenes from exterior to interior, then location unavailability the other time, when you have to scout a new location altogether to save the day, technical issues or shortage of crew the next time, and so on. It is important not to panic in such situations and make quick and right decisions in the best interest of the film and people associated with it. Irrespective of several challenges, we were able to finish the film in 27 days. Be ready to embrace the challenges and be realistic in expectations. At the end of the day, all we are doing is trying to tell a story.
Over the entire course of production, I drew all my energy only from the characters and story of the film. It was my single driving force with all the support of my entire cast & crew. Hiring the right people for the job will go a long way.
There were many occasions where I had to rewrite few scenes or lines the night before the shoot. Doing something like this will put the production in jeopardy unless you have built mutual trust with the actors. Respecting the actors and their time is very important as well. I’m in awe of all my actors.
These are a few important things that I could think of. I’m fortunate enough to work on very good projects with finest talents. When you work with good people, you learn really quickly. The bottom line is – just go make a movie and have fun. It’s ok to make mistakes. There’s no better way to learn than by doing it.
3. Your film, “Delaware Shore” tells the story of Agnus, a holocaust survivor. You explore how her experience had left her riddled with guilt because she escaped, when so many died. Her memories and nightmares leave her incapable of showing affection to the grandchildren she raised. You could have presented us with a one-sided picture of this woman’s grief. However, you made us privy to the effect her struggles had on her grandchildren.
Raghav Peri: It’s a very important question. And, I really appreciate you bringing this up. It’s very tough to answer this without giving out the story.
All the characters that I have conceived in the film are very realistic in nature and multi-dimensional. In case of Agnes, her character is conceived as someone haunted by the war atrocities and raising her grandchildren without affection. But, this comes of hatefulness to the kids. In reality, in Agnes’s head, she is actually trying to be more protective of the kids. It is very natural for the grandchildren in their teens to perceive this as hatefulness. They don’t have any understanding of life because of their upbringing and lack of strong belief system. It has a ripple effect and they put themselves into life-changing circumstances.
This is one of the effects of what war and violence could do to human beings. This aspect of showing both sides of the coin comes only from my honest approach towards the characters.
4. What inspired the multiple storylines in Delaware Shore?
Raghav Peri: At the premiere of my previous indie film “Bar Study”, I met a Writer/Executive Producer called Michelangelo Rodriguez who liked my work on the short and wanted to collaborate with me on a film project. At the time, he has just finished writing a book called Delaware Shore and wanted to convert that to a feature. When I read the book, I loved the original idea of a granny living on the beach with her grandchildren but did not like some parts of it so much. It’s not because of the material being bad or anything. It was only because, I saw a lot of potential in the original idea and wanted to follow those characters whereas book was going in a different direction. I was hesitant to ask him in the beginning.
After spending some time in going through the original material together, we built a good mutual trust and later on I have asked him if I could follow the three characters and try to tell his story. Thanks to Michelangelo’s open-mindedness, I could even do some changes in his original material.
I always loved movies with strong characters. When I was making my first feature, I made sure all the characters are fully fleshed out. Since the original idea already had three characters, all that I had to do was follow them and that’s how the screenplay was written as a story about granny and her grandchildren.
5. Why were these stories important for you to tell?
Raghav Peri: Primarily, as a film maker, I’m very sensitive towards happening around the world. It eventually comes out and takes shape of characters in the film. Schindler’s list was one of the first films that really moved me. It definitely left a strong image in my heart and mind. This clubbed with the storyline around, it brought back some memories and this became a more personal film.
The inspiration of Agnes wearing red jackets while walking on the beach is from the iconic scene from Schindler’s list where a young girl is seen walking on street in red in a black & white movie.
I have written the line for a character who is faced with a similar question in the film. She says, “ As a witness, I needed to make a testimony. I will testify as long as god gives me strength. If we don’t share our stories, people will forget.”
Through this movie, I was trying to draw attention to the incidents that happened a few decades ago during the holocaust and connect them with the present day situation. If you look at any holocaust movie, they only deal with the holocaust period alone. This movie exactly begins where all the other movies end. I think it is important to look back, learn from what happened before and push the world forward.
6. What lessons or ideas would you like your audience to pick up after watching your movie?
Raghav Peri: The film really emphasizes the message – Life constantly hits you with waves. But you never really know what is out there unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
Apart from the celebration of human spirit and courage, this woman-centric film does touch upon a few serious issues like teen pregnancy, violence, gay identity that are currently omnipresent. It was never a conscious effort to force fit them into the film, I just followed the characters and these flowed natural into the screenplay. I’m not trying to provide any solutions to these problems but I want the audience to have a wider outlook and more compassion once they step out of cinema.
7. Where can we find more about you and your projects? What are your near future plans?
Raghav Peri: Currently, I’m working only on the promotion and marketing for “Delaware Shore”. Later on this year, we will be working with a very prestigious company to get the film released in the USA and some other countries as well. Once these are out, I will be back to my writing desk to continue working on my second feature screenplay that I have wanted to make for few years now.
Helen Wheels is an independent filmmaker, freelance writer, and visual artist. She has produced, directed, worked as a set designer and scenic painter, and has been an assistant director on dozens of films. Wheels graduated from Shoreline College with an AAAS in Digital Film Production and is continuing toward her MFA in New Media Communications. Known for her eye to detail and advanced research skills, Wheels is currently researching historical events for her latest script and is in the process of developing her online writing business.