what are the topic and themes you are exploring in your story?
Around 3.6 million Indian-born immigrants live in the United States. Most of them came to the United States as graduate students, a demographic that is widely responsible for the large Indian diaspora taking place in the United States today. While it is heartening to see a recent rise in the presence of three-dimensional brown characters in Hollywood over the past several years (Master of None, Brown Nation, The Night Of, Mr. Robot, to name a few), almost none of this representation touches on the experience of a first-generation Indian migrant.
Having come to the United States as a graduate student myself, I went through the experience of
sharing a two-bedroom apartment with seven other roommates, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the
floor of a bedroom I shared with three other boys. The legal, cultural and financial hoops that we had to jump through in order to adapt to our new home can make for hilarious, harrowing, and sometimes dire stories. On a fundamental level, these stories are quintessentially American: a patchwork nation whose native-born citizens’ sense of belonging was born from of the discomfort and anxiety and alienation and culture shock of their first-generation ancestors.
I am still going through the immigrant experience as a filmmaker in Los Angeles, which helps me to bring authenticity and specificity to the story I want to tell. In part, this series is the product of my frustration with the lack of nuance in the few existing portrayals of first-generation Indian Americans. This is my attempt to bring subtlety to the narrative.
Along with exploring the first-generation Indian experience, Silk Road will also explore the standard American views of the “other.” Rather than opting for a simplistic take on the topic of xenophobia and racism, we will challenge two equally faulty assumptions: that foreigners are automatically bad, or that they are automatically good. Every person is complex, and to position yourself into either of these camps is to dehumanize for the sake of political doctrine. For this reason, every character in the series is flawed, both in their self-conception and in how they perceive the world around them.
Silk Road is, at its heart, a crime thriller, and I’ve always been fascinated by effectively-crafted suspense -- I even wrote my thesis on it. Throughout my education and since, I have spent countless hours expanding my comprehension of narrative tension. I’m excited to say that ‘Silk Road’ will put my degree to good use, providing me ample opportunities to experiment with the execution of cinematic thrills.
what is the creative vision for the project?
I want the characters of Silk Road to move through the real world as it existed in 2012, at the height of the popularity of the titular online black market. I intend to ground the series in time via the indirect inclusion of a number of temporal landmarks, from broad cultural references to major historical events. 2012 saw a major rift in Andhra Pradesh, the only Indian state predominantly occupied by Telugu people, and the cultural and emotional ripples of that divide will manifest in the dynamics of Silk Road’s cast of characters.
Any major US events which pertain to Telugu people receive widespread news coverage back in India, which is then viewed by Telugu people back home and in the states alike. In Silk Road, I’ll weave the series’ fictitious events into genuine Telugu history by intermixing news footage about various plot points with footage from real events. To ensure that this feels believable, I intend to collaborate with actual Telugu news presenters to record coverage of my fictional news stories.
I also plan to follow my own “Dogme 95,” challenging some of the conventions of realistic camerawork by favoring steadicam over handheld. A decade ago, handheld shots brought with them a visceral authenticity, but modern audiences have grown accustomed to smooth camera movements in news footage and documentaries -- today, handheld filmwork can come off as overly stylized and distracting. I believe that steadicam will provide the same realistic feel that handheld evoked back in 2001.
I will be shooting in natural light, but I also want to embed colorful neon lights in my scenes. To achieve this, I am trying to get as many locations as possible which feature pre-existing (“natural”) neon lighting. When this is not possible, I will outfit those locations with neon lights as practicals, and will shoot without any additional lighting.
what is the intended distribution life for your project.
One thing we are certain about is that our target audience is increasingly consuming media digitally and is getting used to consuming media whenever and wherever (devices and platforms) they want it. So we want to focus primarily on digital distribution, and ideally, we want to make our show available on all the popular digital platforms. Since we intend to sustain our show for five years, and given how quickly the online distribution space is evolving by the day, we understand that our distribution strategy should change with time.
As a promotional tool, we intend to host free community theatrical screenings in select cities with a strong Telugu presence (Bellevue, San Jose, Fremont, Houston etc). We are trying to tie up with local Telugu organizations/businesses to finance these screenings. Thankfully, Telugu movie theatre industry is thriving with independent distributors countrywide and there is an active network that we can tap into.
In season 1, our primary goal is to generate audience engagement and create a recognizable brand name among Telugu Americans. Ideally, we want to keep doing this, i.e produce a season every year for the next five years. Over time we want to grow big enough, to interest the likes of Netflix or Amazon so we can pursue bigger goals and build bigger worlds.
who are the anticipated audience for your project?
Telugu movies enjoy a widespread patronage in USA, mostly by Telugu and other south Indian film lovers. Movies with recognizable actors and entertaining plots are rewarded by them handsomely. These people who regularly attend Telugu movie screenings spending upwards of $ 15 ( and in some cases $ 25) per ticket are our target audience, and their numbers in the US are increasing rapidly [ 1 ].
There is a strong call for diversity in media from American audience. My story explores a world that is new to them and I believe it will strike a chord with American audience who are seeking such unique content too.
Telugu immigration to USA is a recent phenomenon, which started after the mid 90s software boom. By design (i.e immigration policy), most of them are either engineers or spouses of one. They are all well educated, have sophisticated tastes and posses progressive outlook. They have a yearning for stories that depict their life and culture in a realistic way, but the current Telugu
media doesn’t cater to them. I want to tell stories that are about them and for them.
As we write the book and the screenplays, we are constantly conducting surveys and taking feedback from our target audience and colleagues in the industry. We will continue this process until the pre-production phase, to make sure we have a product that appeals to my audience. As an indie project, it is essential that we start our marketing campaign as early as possible. In lieu of that, we have been collecting emails while seeking funding for the development stage. As we start promoting our book, we will get a chance to test our marketing strategies. In later stages of the project, we will further build on these strategies, based on the lessons learnt from the book promotion. We believe that an twelve month sustained effort from our PMD team will successfully garner the attention of our target audience.
As we start building our marketing campaign, we want to specifically focus on Telugu graduate students in various American universities. Having recently come from India, they are highly vocal about their opinions and passionate about Telugu content. I believe they will identify a lot with the protagonist in our story “Kishore Naidu”. We plan to contact various Telugu student groups in
such universities and try to interest and engage them.
As a Telugu immigrant myself, I have strong ties to the Telugu community in California. I have a clear understanding of the culture and habits. I have been following telugu film industry from my childhood, so I have an extensive knowledge of the available talent pool. Working as a media producer at Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) gave me an excellent opportunity to interact and build good relationships with many members of the Indian film community here.
what actions do you hope for viewers to take after seeing your Series?
The Telugu entertainment industry is rapidly growing with a global audience worldwide. However, it is still beholden to the social mores of India, where almost all Telugu content is produced. With Silk Road, for the first time, we are attempting to establish a mainstream telugu series, with no dependence on the Indian market.
This freedom gives us a great opportunity to show progressive points of view that give a fresh take on controversial, but everyday, issues among Indians like race, immigration, sexuality, religion, drug policy etc. We want to explore new topics every year and hope to engage our audiences and generate cultural conversations about such topics.
what is the strategy for raising the funds necessary to complete the project?
We plan to reach out to various Telugu American associations to seek tax deductible donations. We have already identified and contacted a few of these organizations and social media influencers, who are willing to plug our project. We are hoping these steps will lead us to more influencers who can further extend our reach.
Over the course of next few months, we intend to reach out to at least 8000 potential donors via social media, email lists and personal connections. We are working with Justin Giddings (thekickstarterguy.com), to devise/finalize our strategy for the crowdfunding campaign. We will run a Seed&Spark crowdfunding campaign to raise roughly $35k to produce a pilot episode. This will mark the end of development stage.