This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This is the story of Leena and her career in film and media.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Leena Pendharkar, I grew up in Raleigh, NC but have spent the past decade in the California, six years in the Bay Area and five here in LA. I call myself a media maker, because I make movies, but have also worked as a web designer and a writer. I also teach media arts at Loyola Marymount U. and Otis College of Art. For fun, I like to go to the beach with my hubbie and 2-year-old, check out comedy in/around LA, see movies, go to art events, hear good music, hang with friends and drink a good margarita!
When (and how) did you start making films?
It all started with writing for me, for my love of stories. I did a lot of writing both nonfiction and fiction in high school and through college. Then I got bit by the Internet bug and did a lot of web design work (back when) people still coded HMTL. I loved working with visual media, and decided to get my Master’s in doc filmmaking at the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. There, I really got to eek out with video, multimedia and the likes. I started making short docs, but then got more involved with feature filmmaking. I was always writing fiction, so I ended up really digging screenwriting. It took me many years and ideas to write a decent script, but Raspberry Magic was the first feature I made.
You wrote and directed the feature film Raspberry Magic. Can you describe a day in your life when you were working on your film full-time?
That depends, during production, we worked 18-20 hours days, shooting the movie in Oakland, CA. Those days were long, but we shot in some gorgeous places. During post, it was sitting in a quiet room for 12 hours a day, editing the movie. Post is a lot of fun because that is where all of the elements really come together. During festival touring, there is a lot of press interviews, sending out kits, and networking to see who will play your movie next! Now, though we’re not working on it full time, there are still a lot of calls, as we JUST signed out DVD deal a couple of months back!
You film was screened at 20+ film festivals. Can you tell us about the process of getting your film into festivals?
There is a lot of applying and getting rejected involved :) But having made a number of shorts before the feature, I had been screening in fests for some time, and when my feature came out several fests asked us to show because of the relationships I had forged with various festival directors. It was fun touring with the movie, getting it out into the world.
What are the biggest professional roadblocks that you've encountered? And how have you gotten past them?
Well, there is a lot of rejection. People don’t like your script or movie because it has a woman in it, because it’s got an old man in it, because it doesn’t have enough UFOs in it. There’s always something. I used to get really hung up on all of the rejections, all of the roadblocks. I kept asking myself if I should really continue to make movies, if my voice was relevant. Then I decided, f*ck it, I want to do this, I need to do this, so I’ve got to just forge ahead. It helps to focus on the folks who have been supportive, and on what is actually possible, rather than the reverse. I’ve been blessed to work with some super amazing people. As a creator, I just want to create, and for me, that is the bottom line.
These days you're working on a web series. How is that different from a feature film? Do you prefer one over the other?
Yes, the series is So Natural, and it has been a blast. It was born out of several flash fiction pieces I had written. They were mostly written for fun, as exercises, and I thought, hey, it might be fun to shoot these. And the web format is truly perfect for that. The Internet is changing the game because it’s giving a lot of people opportunities. There’s so much room for experimentation, trying things out. You can get out and make something, then share it with an audience, and I love that. It’s so liberating not to wait for answer or validation from anyone. It’s less precious, too. If no one watches, then it’s like, oh well, on to the next video. Also, as a maker, you can be prolific.
With a feature film there is a lot of waiting. You can really make yourself crazy waiting for financing to come through for the next project. I received a development grant last spring from the Tribeca Institute to make my second feature, A Day with RK. My producer, Megha Kadakia, is going to the Cannes Film Festival next week as part of the producer’s network, to work on financing the movie. We have some great talent attached, and I am super excited about it, but it takes time. I hope to work in any and all mediums, as they are all converging. I just like telling stories :)
What are the most under appreciated films, in your opinion?
Network, Election, Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Heathers, Gleaming the Cube.
What advice would you give to other aspiring filmmakers?
Go make movies. Be prolific and don’t wait around.
Thanks so much for sharing, Leena? Do you guys have any questions? Are any of you aspiring filmmakers or webseries creators?