Hollywood filmmaker Naveen Chathapuram opens up about his debut feature The Last Victim
Considering himself first and foremost a storyteller, Naveen Chathapuram never lost sight of his love for art, music and films that he developed as a child. However, he soon realized that in order to become a successful filmmaker, he needs an understanding of the creative aspects of film production, and expertise in the finance and business aspect of the industry.
With this in mind, he spent several years working in production for various independent films,commercials and music videos before moving on to fill the larger roles of financing and producing a series of indie films.
This Chicago based Indian-American filmmaker, now with 20 years of experience in Hollywood, runs his own film and television production company in Chicago and has been a part of many prestigious projects including Brown Nation, a sitcom released worldwide on Netflix, the animated film Night of the Living Dead, and Haunted.
He is now launching his directorial debut this year, The Last Victim, a neo–western thriller starring Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), Ali Larter (Resident Evil, Final Destination), and Ralph Ineson (The Witch, Chernobyl). Chathapuram speaks to Patriot about his upcoming film, his journey from producer to director, challenges amid pandemic and more. Excerpts:
Tell us a little about your first debut feature, The Last Victim.
The Last Victim is a thriller treated in a neo-western, neo-noir style laced with wry humor. The film examines what happens when isolation, disillusionment, and desperation breed warped ideologies, which lead to violence on the outskirts of society. The film follows a group of modern-day outlaws dealing with the fallout of a crime gone wrong in the harsh landscape of the American Southwest and the unstoppable chain reaction it sets off.
How was the shooting process of the film like?
We were initially supposed to film in the summer. Due to unavoidable delays, the filming started at the beginning of winter, in November. Being from Chicago, I thought I was used to the cold. However, the winter in Canada (further up north) was a whole different ball game. A good portion of the shoot was in the vast, desert wilderness. Spending 13 hours, day after day in sub-zero temperatures, took a toll on the cast and the crew. I am grateful to have had a fantastic team invested in the final product, and despite all the challenges posed by the weather, the terrain, and otherwise, we had a lot of fun making the movie.
Was it a conscious decision to debut with a challenging genre, like a neo-western thriller?
Yes and no. The decision was instinctual and boiled down to the strength of the script. It was always the plan to work on an exciting project, something that I could sink my teeth into — one that would simultaneously showcase my skill but also be challenging. The script, the setting, and the genre did precisely that. The rest, I trusted in the process. Having now been through the whole experience, I have to say — it was as enjoyable as it was challenging.
Tell us a little about your transition from producer to director?
As is evident, the director and the producer both require diametrically opposite skillsets. In most cases, the producer is primarily a facilitator, and the director is a storyteller. The only common trait each has is the ability to execute at a high level. Once I made the conscious decision to shift my focus, I followed my instincts and went through the process.
And did the early years of production help you understand filmmaking better?
It definitely helped to have so many years of production experience behind me. While I decided to go into producing, the goal was always to acquire skills and make it almost second nature. When I eventually shifted my focus to directing, my experience as a producer proved to be indispensable when it came to planning, decision making and when I needed perspective. Another perk was that I observed the directors and filmmaker’s process firsthand over the years.
How is Hollywood coping up with the pandemic? Also, how have you personally dealt with it in the professional sphere?
Like everywhere else, the pandemic has completely disrupted the way business is done in Hollywood. There are new Covid protocols and production insurance requirements, the effects of which are still emerging. The most significant impact beyond the stoppage of production was the acceleration of the adoption of certain types of film releases from theatrical to streaming. This process has accelerated by about 5-10 years. Another significant change is how technology helped improve the post-production work-flow. I would have never imagined that I could have edited the film sitting in my office in Chicago while my editor John Chimples sat in his summer home in Montauk in Long Island, New York.
Also, how have you personally dealt with it in the professional sphere?
Obviously, the early days of the pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty. Fortunately, we had already completed principal photography before it hit, so despite some unexpected delays, we were able to resume post-production remotely. Thanks to technology, we were able to move through post-production without a hitch.
What are the release plans for The Last Victim?
The film is currently in the final stages of post-production. Depending on the state of the pandemic over the coming months, it could be a day and date release – where the film is available in theaters and on pay-per-view on demand on the same day. Or it could be a worldwide release through a streaming platform.
Any plans or desires of working in the Indian film industry? Also, what’s next in the pipeline?
I have big aspirations – I want to make timeless films and on a scale that make a global impact. I’m genre-agnostic. I’m attracted to compelling content. If the opportunity arises and I find something exciting, I’d love to work in the Indian film industry. As for this moment, I’m focused on Hollywood. I’m reading scripts and have some in development. A few in the works include a revenge movie, a hyper-stylized rural thriller, a psychological horror film in outer space, and a character drama/thriller.
(Cover: Filmmaker Naveen Chathapuram)