As I promised earlier to Film Career readers I’ll try to do my best to invite independent filmmakers to join our weekly interviews. My guest today is Sujewa Ekanayake. Native Sri Lankan, Sujewa is a New York based filmmaker, director of 7 movies (4 of each are features) and a blogger. The reason to set up an interview with Sujewa today is to talk about his new detective comedy “Breakthrough Weekend”.
I got the idea for Breakthrough Weekend from a dream I had over a year ago where I had a very pleasant and realistic conversation with Ben Stiller at a psychiatrist’s office in Brooklyn. From there the idea grew, turned into a detective story, and then a detective story with a self-improvement story line, and then, with the help of my co-producer and one of the lead actors Jennifer Blakemore I was able to add additional interesting dimensions to the story. Other than practicing my craft as a filmmaker, I wanted to make an entertaining and inspiring movie that celebrates the unusual beauty of New York City.
How did you come up with your characters? What was the most challenging for you during the process of scriptwriting?
I created the characters based on the needs of the story. And other characters were added for various reasons – for humor, for certain actors, etc.
I enjoy writing scripts, but I guess the most challenging part was dealing with how long it takes to complete a good script – it takes a long time, too long.
One of your main characters is an early 30’s writer struggling with a mid-life crisis. The other is an older detective philosopher. Did you have a prototype in mind when creating your characters? Maybe is it another sides of yourself?
All of the characters are fictional. I create them in order to tell a certain kind of a story in a certain kind of a way. Characters are developed through a lengthy process – initially with a simple idea, then with a character background, details and reasons for the details such as name, age, gender, nationality, etc. Then I create a plot for the characters – their stories – which requires me to go back and adjust character details so that the characters can live out the plot well, etc. Then once the actors come in to the filmmaking process they bring a lot of material, their own ideas, to how the characters should be brought to life – through mannerisms, changes in dialogue, costumes, hair, etc. In Breakthrough Weekend all of the lead actors – Damien Bosco, Sean Bempong, Jennifer Blakemore – added a lot to my ideas regarding the characters, and brought them to life well.
How many people were involved in the production of your movie? How did you choose the cast?
I believe around 20 people were involved in making the movie. All worked very hard and I could not have made as good a movie without the talented help of the cast and the crew. I held auditions and chose the cast based on their acting abilities. My co-producer Jennifer Blakemore and one of the Executive Producers of the project – David A. Steinberg – were very helpful with the casting process.
I learned that you were inspired by Jung’s psychology. How were you able to combine Jung’s psychology with a comedy?
Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious – where all of humanity shares certain ideas and characteristics – is a very interesting one to me. In a way that kind of thing might make mass entertainment such as movies possible – possible for ideas and stories from one culture to be understood by people of another culture because there are some universal qualities to humans. Anyway, for the most part, Jung’s appreciation of mythology, the stories of search for wisdom from many cultures, was a source of inspiration for one of the story lines in the script. And I have the lead character offer a lot of wise but out of place advice to his assistant, which creates for several comic moments.
What would you suggest for young filmmakers? What is important to know to become an independent filmmaker today?
On one hand, getting started is a lot easier now – inexpensive access to high quality video capture devices, plenty of information about all aspects of film production and distribution on the web, but both mastering filmmaking (being able to create a polished, competitive product or a work of art/entertainment) and distributing films in a profitable manner are still difficult and time consuming, expensive projects. I would say be prepared to put in at least 5 – 10 years of work before expecting any major successes in filmmaking. There are almost no overnight successes in filmmaking because there is a lot to learn and master in this area.
So, for beginners, I would say a passionate commitment to filmmaking is important – as it is a very challenging and long/time consuming, expensive endeavor. But, on the bright side, it can also be a lot of fun, and can be very rewarding, can lead to a very interesting life.
What are your plans for “Breakthrough Weekend”?
The film will be made available through all possible distribution avenues – film festivals, theatrical, Internet VOD (video on demand), DVDs just to name a few. I expect the film to be available to the general public by the middle of this year. More information about the movie can be found through the Facebook page for the movie.