Renuka Jeyapalan: Screenwriter, Director
_ An award winning filmmaker and graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s Directors’ Lab, Renuka Jeyapalan is currently developing her feature film projects, How To Go To A Wedding Alone and One Lovely Night. Her short film Big Girl premiered at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival and was awarded the ShortCuts Canada Best Short Film Award. Since then, Big Girl has screened at over thirty-five film festivals around the world—including the Berlin International Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival—and was nominated for a 2007 Genie Award for Best Live-Action Short Film. In 2010, Renuka was awarded the WIFT-T Kodak New Vision Mentorship Award which included a creative mentorship with director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight). Renuka has an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto.
RUSTY TALK WITH RENUKA JEYAPALAN
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first come to filmmaking?
Renuka Jeyapalan: I've always loved movies and I think since I was a kid always thought of filmmaking as a "dream job", but never truly considered it as a real option for myself. I was on a path towards becoming a doctor, but during my second year at the University of Toronto, I was able to fit in a film class amongst my science courses. The course was called Contemporary Popular American Film, and I remember listening to the professor analyze the opening wedding sequence in The Godfather and that was it, I was hooked. That class really cracked open the form and craft of filmmaking for me, and I remember thinking, "I can do that!". And while I did finish my degree in Biochemistry, from that moment on in my heart and mind, I was committed to becoming a filmmaker.
KM: What keeps you going as a writer/filmmaker?
RJ: I think the hardest thing is figuring out your passion and what you want to do career-wise. But once you know, pursuing anything else is just inconceivable. And that's how I feel about filmmaking. When I'm making, watching or even talking about movies, I'm exactly the person that I want to be. I'm exactly myself. To give up is just not an option. And while filmmaking is a very difficult path, if that is your true passion, I don't think you really have any other choice than to pursue it with everything you've got.
KM: What do you find the most difficult thing about writing scripts and the best thing about writing scripts?
RJ: Everything about writing scripts is difficult! The whole thing. I once heard a radio interview with the author Philip Roth and he perfectly articulated why writing is so hard. He said that writing is the most difficult thing to do because it's lonely, painful and no one can help you—only you can tell the story, and you basically have to drag it out of you. And even though you may have written before, when you start a new story, you have never told THAT story before so it always feels like you are starting from nothing, over and over again. No matter how many screenplays, books, short stories, poems or articles you have written, you always feel like a novice. For me, the best thing about writing is that you get to express yourself under the guise of a story. That you have the power to say something meaningful, convey an idea or impart an emotion to an audience. Most of the time, you struggle with how to do this elegantly and with craft, but when it works, it's a great feeling.
KM: When writing scripts what is the revision process like for you?
RJ: Once I finish a draft, I put it aside for a while. I get notes from my producers, friends who I trust. and I also make my own notes about what needs work. When I feel like I have enough distance away from it, I'll start a page one re-write, only using the original draft as a guide. I aim to re-write the entire script within 10 days, with each day containing certain goal markers. For a feature screenplay, for example, on the first of the 10 days, I'll re-write the first 10 pages or the "ordinary world" of the protagonist. And on the second day, I'll re-write the next 15 pages, including the inciting incident up to the end of Act I and so on. I find that this process lets me not only incorporate new changes, but to free myself from getting too attached to scenes in the original draft. This process seems to facilitate my writing to feel more organic and fresh each time I work on a new draft.
KM: What writers or filmmakers would you recommend to new screenwriters?
RJ: I don't know if there are any specific writers or filmmakers that I would recommend, but I always find listening to the first person stories of filmmakers and how they wrote or made their own films to be interesting and helpful. I find that books (eg. My First Movie), DVD commentaries, podcasts (KCRW's The Treatment, The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith) which interview the actual filmmakers on their process can be quite inspiring.
KM: A piece of advice for new writers and filmmakers?
RJ: Stay passionate, stay true to yourself and your vision, and above all don't give up!
KM: Your funniest film/writing moment.
RJ: I tend to write in coffee shops most of the time, and I remember writing at my local café one Saturday afternoon on College Street a couple years ago. It just so happened that it was during the World Cup and this café was packed with enthusiastic Portuguese soccer fans watching an important match. At one point, an old man came up to me and with this offended expression and asked me, "How can you work here?!?" And it was only at that moment, that I realized I didn't even notice the commotion around me. All these fans were screaming and cheering and glued to this big important game and there I was…so focused on my writing that I was clueless to it all.
KM: What are you working on now?
RJ: I'm currently living in Los Angeles in order to focus on writing and to get inspired. But I have a feature film called How to go to a Wedding Alone that is in development with the Toronto-based production company Gearshift Films and Telefilm Canada. And I've just finished a new feature screenplay and a short film script that I'm looking to make.
A SHORT FILM BY RENUKA JEYAPALAN
Big Girl, short film
Produced by The Canadian Film Centre & NBC-Universal, 2005
A bittersweet battle of wills develops between nine-year-old Josephine and her mother's new boyfriend in this poignant tale of modern family politics.
Screened at 25 festivals worldwide including the Berlin International Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.
2007 Genie Nominee - Best Live Action Short Drama
2006 ACTRA Award for Outstanding Performance – Female (Samantha Weinstein
Best Short Film - 2005 Toronto International Film Festival
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