Filmmaker Naveen Chathapuram, who was born in Tamil Nadu and moved to the US at a very young age, is ready for his directorial debut with ‘The Last Victim’ that stars actors like Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), Ali Larter (Resident Evil, Final Destination), and Ralph Ineson (The Witch, Chernobyl).
Chathapuram runs his own film and television production company- Immortal Thoughts- in Chicago and has been involved in many projects, including ‘Brown Nation’, animated film ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and Chris Hemsworth's ‘Cash’. Talking about how America has opened up to filmmakers from around the world, he says that ethnic representation has been given a new meaning in both films and television.
Excerpts from his interview with Opoyi.
Opoyi: As someone who belongs to Tamil Nadu, was the initial journey of finding a foothold in western world tough for you?
Ans: I was born in Tamil Nadu and brought up in Kerala. My parents moved to the US when I was very young. I remember the first year or so being challenging. There is this fish-out-of-water feeling. But like anything else, you go to school, make friends, and eventually adapt to the environment.
America has recently opened up to many filmmakers from around the world but things were not the same few years back when we Indians were complaining about how we were typecast in their plot. When you started, do you recall any such incidence when foreign filmmakers or cast had doubts about your capability and what you can bring to the table?
I think this was particularly true not just for Indians but a diverse set of ethnicities. The trend has been changing for the better over the last decade or more. The good news is that Hollywood always had a fascination and respect for the Indian film industry -- the sheer number of films generated there yearly and how it has created a unique identity for itself. As for me, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by professionals from all ethnicities and walks of life. Therefore, I have been insulated from any such incidence. People have always been eager to collaborate.
Opoyi: Do you think things have changed for the better for Indians in Hollywood?
Ans: Yes. I think things have changed for the better, period. I believe this is true for the world, too. As things have been opening up, there is the exchange of ideas, culture, and there is mutual respect. There is also the factor of first-generation versus second and subsequent generations. Initially, first-generation filmmakers such as Shekhar Kapoor, Tarsem Singh, and Mira Nair made an impact. M Night and Jay Chandrashekar were second-generation filmmakers to break out in a big way. Now, you have countless talented second and third-generation Indian Americans entering the field. Therefore, there is more representation. Generally speaking, ethnic representation is better now in films and television than in any other time in the past.
Opoyi: Your first film had huge names attached to it, including Chris Hemsworth. How did that happen and any plans to cast him again?
Ans: I believe in the power of the screenplay. If the script is good, it'll do most of the work – a la attract talent, resources, etc. With CA$H, our first major production, the script was compelling and was written by (and later directed by) the late Stephen Milburn Anderson. With the script, we were able to attract interest from talent and crew members, and eventually, were able to cast Sean Bean. We discovered Chris, during our auditions. Working with him again would be dictated by the script and the right kind of project, and I would welcome it. He is one of the most grounded and hard-working actors in Hollywood today.
Opoyi: Which part of the job is more challenging- producing or directing ?
Ans: The director and the producer both require diametrically opposite skill sets. In most cases, the producer is primarily a facilitator, and the director is a storyteller. The only common trait each has is the ability to execute at a high level. Over the years, I have developed both skills side by side. As a producer, I want to be a director's producer -- to give the director everything he/she needs to thrive and make a good product. As the director, I'm always getting help from the producer in me. I would say each is equally challenging in its unique way.
Opoyi: What interested you about the story in 'The Last Victim', share the inspiration behind the story line and how did you approach this film differently?
Ans: The Last Victim was brought to me by Dr. Neal "Doc" Justin, an anthropologist who happens to be a good friend. I loved the setting, a small southwestern town in the USA – it had a good premise and great characters. Although we completed the script and prepped for production in 2002, Mount Lemon (our primary location) burnt down in a forest fire, and we had to shelve the project.
About 16 years later, when I decided to direct my debut film, The Last Victim called out. I worked with Ashley James Louis, an up-and-coming writer, on a new draft. We approached the film in a fresh, modern way while paying homage to the Hollywood thrillers and westerns of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Opoyi: Is the film releasing in theatres or OTT route and when?
Ans: The film is currently in the final stages of post-production. Depending on the state of the pandemic over the coming months, it could be a Day and Date release – where the film is available in Theatres and on Pay-per-view On Demand on the same day. Or it could be a worldwide release through a streaming platform.
Opoyi: Any plans to work with any Indian stars in days to come since many have gone global?
Ans: I would love to work with Indian stars. As mentioned before, it would be dictated by the script and the project. Similarly, as I would cast any project, my priority is to find the right fit for the role. Having said that, I'm excited about the type of content and talent coming out of India today.
Opoyi: As someone who is sitting in Chicago, do you take note of what is happening in Bollywood ? Any plans to work here?
Ans: I'm an avid watcher of films, and I watch a lot of Indian movies. I would love to work in the Indian film industry - provided the opportunity arises, and exciting material finds me. In the meantime, I've got my hands full.
Opoyi: After the Last Victim, what next?
Ans: I'm reading a few scripts and have a few under development. A few in the works include a revenge movie, a hyper-stylized rural thriller, a psychological horror film in space, and a character drama/thriller.