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An Interview with Director Nikhail Asnani

Nikhail Asnani is a director/writer and light painter and mainly known from inspiring big hits from a young age, but as his own director for his films Flu, Something Round, Playback, The Foal and his one man shows such as My Boyfriend the Boogeyman, and The Check In about gaslighting that Hollywood constantly does to him. His accomplishments range from festivals screenings all around the world to placing in top screenplay competitions, winning the Big Apple Film Festival one year. Nikhail worked for Valdoro Entertainment where he developed the feature script Boogeyman:The Crossing. His work has also screened in galleries in Europe as well as being nominated for best art photography at the Paris Art and Movie Awards. His recent one man show The Larvae played at Outfest Fusion and his upcoming film Seed is also on the circuit.

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

I grew up in Hong Kong and always wanted to be an actor since I was young – and when that seemed impossible I decided to work behind the camera. I did a bunch of internships during and after my time at Tufts University, until I eventually started writing my own features. I was kept away from friends for a lot of my life, so I spent most of my time writing, eventually hustling people together for some very low budget shorts. I got into Chapman University where I made more shorts and won a bunch of awards for my writing and directing, eventually then working with Steven de Souza, optioning a project called Boogeyman the Crossing, then having to come back to Hong Kong after various threats to my life. I also became a light painter during covid where I combine performance art with photography and light.

What was your first job in the art field?

My first job was working background on the set of Ultraviolet directed by Kurt Wimmer.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I like to tell stories about protagonists that want connection. Whether it be horror or comedy, most of my films involve the need for a person to want to say something to share something in a way as circumstances make it seem impossible. I like to explore LGBT characters and I’ve always wanted to make a murder mystery tv show after my love for Agatha Christie.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

Usually an idea just comes to me and I put it down on this list of ideas I have, its many pages long. But otherwise, it just comes as a feeling. I get the logline down – then I start outlining the project. Then I write the script. If it’s a short that I can direct, I’ve started making one man shows of them due to lack of finance or human resources. One man shows are a skill I developed where I act, shoot, direct, and write. After the script is done, I rewrite it, usually cutting down lines of dialogue and I storyboard. While filming things change, I usually cut down some shots and add a few here and there. It can sometimes be frustrating with the one man shows as you have to put on so many hats so I like to do them slowly even though it’s a small project. With bigger shorts I have a lot more collaborating, so rehearsals, location scouts, costume fittings (I like to work as a costume designer as well) and so forth. My directing really improved in grad school when I learned how to properly communicate with actors. That’s the real goal in it. How can you communicate the page to screen for your actors to translate your vision.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

So many filmmaking influences and they continue to grow. I am person that likes the greats. Not everyone does but I do. I like films that are slow yet powerful. Some of my favorite directors are Hitchcock, Tarantino, Xavier Dolan, Ana Lily Amirpour, Olivia Wilde, Greta Gerwig, Chloe Zhao, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Almodovar, Jodowosky, Baz Luhrmann, Kubrick, Fritz Lang…Too many to keep going, and too many films to individually name, I also am very inspired by actors in various fields from drama or horror to comedy. In fact I enjoy most working with actors in my films because of the fresh art they bring, always full of ideas and life and such.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

I think it depends on the person. For me there seems to be a shift in the younger generation to favor very commercial like movies. TV seems to be huge these days and a good story is what always stands out. But again the actors seem to be getting younger, I watch many films and I’m like if they just made the cast older it would be much better. I don’t really know how COVID has affected things – In my time during covid in the states I was kept away from people and other work opportunities I just don’t know and I haven’t had the chance to talk to any filmmakers about their experience since. In my experience it meant making a film either as a one man show or with a small cast, where we were always short on time and things had to be rushed and everyone is extremely protective. This was just when the first vaccine happened and now everyone’s vaccinated I don’t think that’s the case anymore.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

Some things to follow is to keep creating art, keeping writing, keep directing, don’t get too distracted, its long long marathon. Some things to avoid would be understand how your friends are and don’t go trying to make friends with people that might be bad even though you think they could help you. We are each on our own paths which leads us towards our better selves. Stick to your goals and your focus and as selfish as it is , help yourself before you consider helping anyone else.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

I used to think so. Now I think people just look at them for entertainment and the world is too selfish, like I have become in a sense, to make big changes. I think when it comes to nature and war and these things, films really do help make a change. But when it comes to social change, I don’t think films do much because their messages are relegated to being entertainment and not seen as important to make a difference in society.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

I have no idea what others like to watch, I have no friends lol. But from twitter it seems like shows like The White Lotus, kind of off beat comedies. I can only say people probably like to watch whatever is on Netflix or Amazon as I’m not in touch with anyone, and there’s such a variety there. It really depends on the person, how smart or dumb they are.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I have two one man shows called Lobster Tongue and Filmatic Surgery. I have two mini features called The Invite and The Check In and as for scripts I’m always writing on the side. Apart from that, this is all for now and may be the end of my career in film actually as I’m stuck in Hong Kong.


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