Independent Filmmaker's Guide

Episode #5

August 4, 2020


How a Film Survived After SXSW Vanished: I'll Meet You There

Premiering your film at top tier festivals is often at the heart of turning a great film into a successful one. Today we talk with the director and cinematographer of the film I’LL MEET YOU THERE- about their experience creating a feature that was over a decade in the making, getting it into SXSW, preparing for its world premiere there, and then ultimately being canceled due to the Covid outbreak.

Watch the video version of this episode:

Full Interview

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I think this film has been very personal. It was the first script I wrote in film school back in 2000. I started writing this in December 2006, that’s how personal it was. Obviously, it’s had many iterations. At that point it was very much like starting with the idea of what does it feel like to be a Muslim cop in a post-9/11 world? Because I went to this community event and I saw this actually very orthodox Muslim- he had a beard, but he was wearing a cop uniform. For whatever reason, in my head I, being Muslim, was wait a minute, what? He should be able to have both identities without question. And so that just kept lingering in my brain. Before 9/11 being Muslim was just part of your identity, but after, I felt like everybody just put a spotlight on you and said, wait a minute, what kind of Muslim are you? Suddenly you had to be, okay, well, I’m conservative, I’m liberal, I’m centrist. There was, so to speak, some sort of a Protestant movement in Islam where people were either becoming extremely conservative and some people were extremely reclaiming and trying to be liberal.

And in that process within my family there were a lot of people… my sister who taught me how to dance started thinking dancing was sinful. And so that was the other element. There were a lot of things that I was trying to deal with in the story and it was very personal. Then after a while I was just so done with the 9/11 narrative. I would keep shoving it away but it would keep winning. I would keep applying to these writers’ labs, directors’ labs and keep winning and keep coming. At a certain point, actually my second feature Anthony and I shot that together, and then after that I was, okay, I’ve got to make this or not. Because it was so specific, it was so hard to get funding for it. That was sort of the journey. I had ample time to rewrite the script. But in some essences it was my first script. I feel like it was the hardest to rewrite.

Steven Pierce:               So what is the basic plot for people who haven’t seen the film?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       So the film is about a single father, a Muslim cop in Chicago. He’s a single father to a teenage ballerina who is headed to Juilliard, she’s a senior in high school. And it’s about what happens 10 minutes into the film when an estranged grandfather shows up unannounced from Pakistan. This coincides with the cop being asked by his boss to go undercover at a community mosque. And since this cop has not been observant of religion, he hasn’t been to the mosque in forever. So he uses his dad as a way to re-enter the mosque. It’s about the ripple effects of personal and professional life through that. And it’s really at the core of it about how do you stay true to yourself and your beliefs and your ideologies and still belong to a community.

Steven Pierce:               I mean it sounds, like you were saying, kind of a like an intersection of your person dealing with religion and identity in America and also this kind of concept of sin and dance. That seems like that’s part of your background as well, right?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Yes, it’s a very personal story and it’s sort of cradled in a specific time in the politics of this country. But I guess this time stretches, because this film has been timely for 10 years.

Steven Pierce:               I’m sure you could talk forever about that and I’d love to honestly listen to you talk about it. I think one of the things you said that really affected me, was that you keep getting put into this kind of category of being a foreign film. Whenever sales people would even talk to you, or packaging agents, they’d want to package it for the Asian region. This is strictly an American film, right?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Yes, absolutely. And so the problem is I think we view race and color, I mean this is the time to be talking about it, I guess, as such an indicative of how American you are. I’ve really felt that in terms of the financing and the production of this film and now in the distribution phase of it. And actually, speaking of timely, I never thought about the cop angle, but in the past three weeks, four weeks, people have been reaching out to me. I was like oh my god, I forgot, because I’m so lost in the character and what they’re doing I forget that Majeed’s wearing a cop outfit and that there is brutality in the film. I would never have thought, obviously it’s from a different context, it’s not an African American angle of things, but it’s just interesting. The timeliness of racial politics in this country, I guess, sadly is going to prevail.

Iram Parveen Bilal Photo by Alia Azamat

Steven Pierce:               What have you experienced as far as trying to get distribution for the film and as far as financing the film that made this particularly difficult?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I’ll be very blunt. The Caucasian characters are not very meaty. We should try and get pre-sales in India. Why? Because the lead guy’s skin color is brown. A, he’s Pakistani, Indians are not going to touch it with a 10 foot pole. B, this film has nothing to do with South Asian culture minus sort of the music and the clothes and whatever. It’s a very specific immigrant experience. So they would just say things like that. Oh, we should try to get pre-sales from India. I’m just like, what? That’s the worst way to go about this. It makes no sense. You’re obviously going to get a no. And they were just trying to force it through cookie cutter financing models that agencies follow. This was the film I was going to try and make with the right budget.

I let them do their thing for a year and a half and then I was just like, you know what, I’m just going to go make it for half the money and we shot it in 19 days. That’s how we had to do it because nobody was understanding. Now in distribution phase, same issue, which is… It’s funny, I feel like my immigrant story is how my art is also sort of suffering. I’m never considered Pakistani enough or American enough and so my projects are not considered American enough or Pakistani enough. Because we have very sort of straight verticals for all of these, I feel like these films fall into the cracks because people are not judging films by the value of the story, right? I mean in general, I mean sales people and acquisition people, they’re judging things in terms of these wide pots and labels. So it’s a job of having even better sort of sales agents and marketers who can say, okay, now this is how you view this. And so we’re hoping, I mean we’re hoping. We have a couple offers, as I said, and I mean it’s great in this climate to even have offers it’s great. But I’m trying to go for something bigger and better for the cast and the crew after having spent so much time on this movie.

Qavi Khan as Baba

Steven Pierce:               You shot for 19 days you said. You and Anthony, you have both filmed films together before. This is not your first go around, right? Were there similar schedules for those?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Even less. I think PHD was shot in 15 days and that was a 120 pages.

Steven Pierce:               Wow. Wow, that’s a lot.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Anthony and I have been working together for six, seven, seven years now and we’ve done everything from shorts to features to commercials together.

Steven Pierce:               Anthony, what’s your approach whenever you have 15, 18 days you’re shooting a 120 pages, what’s your approach to try and achieve that visually?

Anthony Kuhnz:            Well, the thing that I think really helped us, especially on this film, was Iram is very giving with her time in pre-production. And so we were able to… I can’t even guess how many drafts of the shot list we did, but we had a working document up until production. Then the night before each day, we would go over the shot list for that coming day and the next day after that and rewrite them in these little notebooks, and I still have mine. I carry it with me in my belt. And we would write down the shots all over again. It helped us adjust that plan based on location, based on time. And really helped internalize that shot list so that there wasn’t a lot of double checking on set necessary. We both knew what was next and that really, really helps when you have that level of intense communication to be able to move quickly and efficiently.

Steven Pierce:               How do you guys go about developing your shot list? Who says this is what I want? Iram, are you mostly focused on the performance and letting Anthony focus on the visuals.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       So poor Anthony, he actually even had to share an Airbnb with me. That was mostly because of lack of budget, but I think it worked really well because we were exhausted and we would just roll into living room couch and do these shot lists. So part of the difficulty of making this film, was that we raised money and lost it twice. I had my heads of departments with me two years, or a year and a half to two years before we actually shot the movie. So Anthony and I, one summer we were both struggling artists in LA and I said, “Hey, what do you say, let’s just break the film down.” We didn’t know when we were going to make this movie or anything so we actually shot listed the entire film before having any locations or anything, or even a plan of a production. So how that works is, I literally go by the scenes and I just throw a document together to him. And then he is way more organized than I am so he will color code and organize it in a certain way. Then we’ll meet together. There were a couple of times that he would drive down, early morning, because we were trying to battle traffic because I live on the West Side, he lives on the East Side. And I would get burritos and we would just sit and watch movies. General movies I want him to have. And he would ask me specifically, he would be like, “Specifically, what do you want?” I was like, “There’s no specifics. I just want this to be in your memory.”

Anthony Kuhnz:            In your arsenals we go to create our own thing.

Anthony Kuhnz Photo by Alia Azamat

Iram Parveen Bilal:       In your arsenal, years ahead of just us filming. And then one thing that I kept telling him, as a director I feel like I try to identify, what are the things I really want to work on? I think transitions in my first feature, my earlier work, were a challenge so I kept pushing for transitions. So we had a shot list document where we had the shot list, but then we also were playing with frame rates and shutter speeds, step printing inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s work. Because we had elements of dance and worship, and we would talk about sort of thematics of the characters, thematics between Act I, Act II, Act III. Thematics that bleeded. So we had all this lingo and I remember we were so in it that on set we would just be spit balling to each other and everybody else would just be like, my script supervisor was like, “How long have you guys been working…” We had to be that fast in order to achieve what we wanted to achieve. That is the only reason, to answer your question, because I knew he had my back. I’d literally be blah, blah, blah, three keywords that only he and I could understand, and he’s off doing things then I’m just with the actors.

Steven Pierce:               That’s great.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       That was my perspective of things. I don’t know how Anthony saw it.

Anthony Kuhnz:            No, no, I totally agree. And the shot listing anecdote I said before, was that’s like the granular version of it. But, yes, we did actually during that summer have, Irma has a big whiteboard on her wall and we graphed out the camera style from Act I all the way through. This character was handheld and this character was going to be smooth. And then a certain point they intersect and then they switch. It was really nice for me as a visual person to see a graph so that was very helpful. And that then informed how everything was shot listed and actually captured on set.

Steven Pierce:               So you broke down by character the type of camera movement that associated with their emotional state or their journey throughout the piece, or both?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Both.

Anthony Kuhnz:            I would say both.

Steven Pierce:               So do you do that typically, you try and breakdown the characters, or you try and breakdown scenes? I’ve heard it both ways, I’m just curious why you choose to do the character over the scene?

Faran Tahir as Majeed

Anthony Kuhnz:            Well, I think for this movie, it was so much about these two characters, more so than it was about plot. So it felt right to me to use that as the compass as to how it should be shot. The emotional journey that they’re on I felt was the spine of the movie. That’s where the inspiration came from.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I mean I would never actually, now that you’re asking me, I have never thought of just breaking something based on scenes. I guess what you’re saying is, okay, big plot points, sure. But I always let the characters go because often if you let the characters… it’s like writing, if you follow the characters everything else is going to follow. In directing as well, if you follow the sort of characters’ journey, you will automatically head to the handheld or the jitteriness of the scene because the character is feeling that way. So if the character informs the film, then you are more often than not in the chaos of production, you’re going to end up falling in the right side of things, I think.

Anthony Kuhnz Photo by Alia Azamat

Steven Pierce:               So let’s talk about the crew for a minute. So you had the crew for over two years, at least the department heads because financing came and went. I think it’s a very typical story.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       It’s a very typical story. And then with the South By thing I was like, this film is just jinxed. I don’t know what to say, seriously, Steven, we had a full press junket day, we had after party printouts. I even have my postcards here, which I’m going to dip and show to you. Everything was ready. This journey has been incredible. Look at these South By cards. I have hundreds of these that we were going to give out.

Anthony Kuhnz:            I want one, I want one.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I will send them to you, exactly. So I tried to raise money privately after the whole agency route was not working. I raised a quarter million dollars, it was too easy to be true and then it was a very sort of sexiest situation where this guy basically was trying to give me money to get benefits, which I didn’t pick up on. And then this other time this guy, he was a rich businessman from Seattle. This is the problem when you’re going in private financing, you’re going to people who, A, don’t understand the film business, and they have this sort of fame and whatever. They don’t understand the actual sort of ups and downs and the workings of things. So this guy came from a tech background and we were literally about to open our casting offices. This is 2017, October, and he basically was like, “Oh, why are you paying yourself? Why so-and-so?” I was like, “Well, this is how indie films work. I’ve been working for free on the script forever. And the amount that I’ve budgeted to pay myself is way less than any union.” At a certain point I was like, “You know what? I don’t need your money.” So we had to walk away again. The problem with indie films is it is already so much blood, sweat and tears, you want to make sure that the financing you’re aligning with a film is with the right intentions. I say that, actually look at this, right. Right now none of my investors are breathing down my neck. They have been more than understanding. They invested in the movie because the movie and the message, not because they need a crazy return. They will get a return because I worked my ass off to make sure they get a return. But the point is, I don’t have the stress right now. And so that is why it was extremely hard. I had the production designer, I had Anthony and I had a co-producer, I think. These were the three main people. This was the film where I really wanted to have an editor on set. And unfortunately a Fisher dolly, and editor on set, these are things I still don’t have.

Anthony Kuhnz:            You have no idea how often in our budgets a Fisher dolly comes up as we’re just trying to trim and trim and trim. I’m like, “No, we’re not cutting it. No, we’re not cutting it.” And ultimately you end up on the doorway dolly.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I’ve ended up cutting it. So Fisher dolly and then I’ve always wanted to have, now that I study films more and more, I’ve always wanted to have a much bigger budget for production design and I feel it always gets cut. That’s a big difference. I mean some of these films that you see, we’re doing everything they’re doing, they just have such a rich frame.

Nikita Tewani as Dua

Steven Pierce:               Right. That brings me to one of my next questions. I feel like one of the most key aspects for any indie film is locations. So how did you approach locations, how much did you lean on locations to cover the shortcomings in the budget?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Actually this is a story I need to tell because there’s a lot of filmmakers listening. I have this particular… if you build it, they’ll come, is really true in terms of I put a date before I have the budget in terms of shooting.  So when we told the actors we were going to shoot at a certain time, we had 25% of the money in the bank. So this is May 2018, even Anthony doesn’t know this, I go to Pakistan to go cast Baba, I knew we needed an authentic person and because we needed to do a whole O-1 Visa process, which on an indie budget is like five grand, to be able to bring that person. But I knew this was the heart of the film. And so the language, the culture, that character would bring would really glue the film together. So I was in Pakistan, I had had musicians already also working and I wanted to have some tracks so I could actually start the choreographing. Because in independent films, if you have people who are there, your advantage is that, hopefully, you have time in pre-production that they’re willing to give because that’s the only way you can make the quality you want. So I had the tracks, I had the choreographer already choreographing in June 2018. Then in July, again, we don’t have the full budget, but we ended up hiring a location person and I had a line producer. It was one of Anthony’s recommendations, who I brought onboard to at least start budgeting in detail. So I knew exactly how much money I needed to raise still. Because I had an AP in Pakistan, and we were meeting in Larkana for another film so we were literally on breakfast figuring out who’s going to give us 10 grand, 50 grand, 100, all of this. These were all working in parallel.

So in July I came, before I went to Switzerland for a festival, I came to New York and I had four days. I paid people for two days of location scout, or a week, I paid him for a week. So he spent three days looking and he threw in a couple days for free. Then I came in and then we scouted everything. Because I wanted to scout, which would further then inform sort of my shot list and everything else and production design elements so that’s how the locations came. So a bunch of the things, like the mosque. Oh my God, the mosque was impossible. We didn’t have the mosque, we had everything else. We built the police station in an auditorium of a church. Then everything else we did in Snug Harbor and Staten Island. We had the dance studio, we had the house party for the high school stuff. Then we had a house in Brooklyn for the actual family home. We actually didn’t have a couple of key locations until literally two days before we were shooting. The mosque, which was week three of production, I think, we didn’t even have until… I walked to 16 mosques in New York because I was in the city six weeks before shoot. They just wouldn’t respond. They would ask me to post a letter. There’s no email or something, post a letter to the so-and-so. I knew this wasn’t happening, right? I literally was thinking about building this auditorium in a church auditorium as well. Finally, I got these people, I don’t know where it was, I think it was Queens. They belonged to the Shiites sect of Islam and, of course, the way Murphy’s Law works, the one day in the year that is the supremely religious day or these two days, happened to fall when we were going to go shoot in that mosque. So we were only allowed to shoot nights. So my production designer had to take off and block… it’s a like a morning holiday, so they put black tarp everywhere in the mosque. So my production designer had to go at night and take all of that off. We would shoot at night, we’d have to leave because in the day there’s five prayers so we couldn’t interrupt. It was just insane. I mean, Steven, when I talk about the mosque… And up until the day of we weren’t sure they were going to… Like for example, we didn’t tell them that there’s a key scene, which I won’t talk about, where we needed people to come in with shoes in the mosque. And they were like, “Oh, shoes aren’t…” I said, “Listen, for the authenticity of this scene, they can’t take their shoes off because they’re supposed to disrespect the space. That’s the intention. It doesn’t make sense.”  And it’s not just that they’re disrespecting, they have to come in. So we had to put clean tarp outside and clean all the shoes of these extras. It was just all this complicated stress.

Steven Pierce:               Wow. Obviously. I mean the pressure you’re putting on yourself by picking your production day, walking in with cast and then running into it. I mean there’s something about it that makes you do it. I really think that probably works, but that is a ton of stress you’re putting on yourself.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I honestly feel the way indie financing works, unless you do that, it’s just not going to come together.

Steven Pierce:               I have to ask, you seem so well versed in indie financing and that is something that so many people in the indie world have so little, little proclivity with. They’re so into the art of it, but they don’t understand the first thing about how to raise money for their film. I’d just love to hear you talk a little bit about your experience in financing and especially with this film. I mean how do you approach it, how do you set a number that you think you can recoup?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Well, to be honest, I think that my knowledge of financing comes from the necessity. I have not had the privilege that people will raise money for me and I have not had the privilege of having a rich uncle write me a check. If I wanted to make movies, I had to figure out how to raise money. That’s just sort of how it came out. I’m the queen of great timing. We graduated in the great recession.     And now we were launching the movie in a pandemic. So clearly with that sort of timing behind you, you just have to figure out, you have to be savvy. I mean just talk to a line producer, you get a couple line producers, budget your film and then you figure out what the average is and then you just start raising money. Sure, if somebody puts X as a budget, it’s not that you can’t make it for .75 X or .6X, you just figure it out that way. I mean I have had stories, and these were all meant for Q and As where I’ve had to, because even wire transfers from Pakistan were not happening. So I literally had to meet this guy in Williamsburg where he gave me a black plastic full of $10,000.

Steven Pierce:               Wow.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I’m not joking. Then I had to go to the shady mom and pop Mexican restaurant and check the bathroom for the cameras and sit on the toilet and count the cash. I have done everything for this movie. Then a week before we were going to shoot, and Anthony, I was shielding Anthony from this because he was all happy we had gone through the whole shot list and then he looks at me and I’m super stressed. And it’s the Friday, 10 days before day one of shoot, or eight days. My co-producer has sat me down on this beautiful view of the Hudson at sunset, and they’re sitting me down and they’re telling me that we only have money for 15 days of shoot. Because there was a certain in-kind deal that we were hoping on that didn’t come through. And they were like so we think you should just shoot great 15 days and then go away and go raise more money and then we’ll shoot. I’m just looking at them going like, “I have a guy in his 70s that just flew in from Pakistan. I’m not going to risk with cast.” It’s inefficient to go away and come back just in terms of the equipment deals and everything you get. So I literally am coming with… so this is happening right after I went to the shady Brooklyn place to get the money so I’m really stressed. I come and I get this lowdown and then I come home and I’m processing this when my first AD walks into the door and tells me that she got the dream job from Nigeria and she has to leave.

Steven Pierce:               Oh no.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       This is a first AD who is very celebrated in the independent world at that point in New York and I’m just so happy she’s on. It was at a point where I just looked at her and I couldn’t even hear and I said her name, I’m not going to say, and I said, “I wish you good luck. I just need time right now, I’m sorry, I can’t react.” And Anthony comes out to do his pasta or whatever and he sees me on the couch. And he goes back and I’m just like… I actually said this to you, I don’t know if you remember. I said, “I really want to share this with you, but I just want to shield you from it so I won’t share this with you.”

Anthony Kuhnz:            Steven, I think if Iram wasn’t a film director, she would be leading armies. Because there’s something about her confidence and determinism that is just incredibly inspirational and motivates her crew in a really wonderful way so more power to you.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Oh, thank you. So after that scene I went into my room and I cried for hours. I cried and I called my mom. This is when I figured I hit… the reason I’m saying this is for people listening. It’s all about how badly do you want it. I called my mother, and this is a woman who saved her retirement in rupees in Pakistan. And I’m calling her and I’m begging her for like 10 grand. I felt so low because I told my mom, I said, “I don’t know how I’m going to get this back to you, but at this point I need this.” I literally was charting the people I could take loans from. So I called college best friends, my mom, my sister. Like people I would never because I was like I need to get through this shoot. And in the end, the calculation, by the way, was wrong. We actually had more money than we thought, whatever. I returned some money. That was one of the worst days of my life. It was so stressful.

Steven Pierce:               Then walk out there and be composed and communicate effectively and not be condescending and direct a film.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Well, thankfully that happened on that Friday. BY the next Thursday, and then we ended up actually having an AD, which we found out later had never AD’d a feature. She told us when we wrapped but she was incredible. She was the right personality. People say everything works out for a reason, but I don’t know, I don’t really say that. I think that we as human beings have a lot more adaptability than we give ourselves credit for. We have a lot going on on set and I think Anthony… Anthony and I have a good personality match. Where he’s able to, I think we’re able to, I probably I get on his nerves, but we’re able to sort of co-exist and sort of support each other.

Steven Pierce:               So, Anthony, I want to talk a little bit about the tech of the film a little bit. So what cameras did you shoot on, what lenses and why?

Anthony Kuhnz:            Well, the camera we used was an ARRI ALEXA SXT and we got it from Film Independent here in LA. And that was key because that line item was zero dollars.

Steven Pierce:               So they gave it to you in-kind?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Yeah. So those early networking, I had gone in to just network to just catch up with somebody there in artist development. I was talking about the trials of the film and she was like, “You know we have a camera. We can just lend it to you if nothing’s happening.” Because it was a Film Independent writers/directors lab project, so I had written it in my notes. So I reached down and I was like, “These are our dates, can you do it?” They’re like, “Yeah.” But they’re, “But you need to ship it.” I was like, “Anthony, can you ship it?” He’s like, “Yeah.” So this is just how it worked out. It was too good to be true.

Anthony Kuhnz:            I checked it on the plane. It flew with me there. We were lucky that at the time it was the best ALEXA available. We talked about doing a mini, but we wanted to have a 4K finish and that sort of thing so we really lucked out with that. And then the rest of the gear, some of it was mine, but the rest of it we got from Adorama in New York. We talked about shooting anamorphic, but I was little worried with our schedule and our lighting package that that wasn’t a great idea.

Steven Pierce:               Maybe not have enough lighting output to accommodate those lenses needs?

Anthony Kuhnz:            Well, not only that, but the likelihood of, I know what Iram likes the shallow depth of field and to really make that work with anamorphic you have to have a crack focus puller. And I didn’t actually know our first AC, but after working with him, Charlie Muentes is his name, he would have nailed anamorphic anyway. It’s not speaking to his skill, he would have killed it. But I was just afraid it would slow us down. So we shot spherical on Cooke S4s. And those are probably my favorite lenses to go to first anyway. And then beyond that we did do a lot of steadicam, we did do a lot of handheld. Sadly, yes, we did not have a Fisher dolly, but we didn’t really need it. We were able to make it work without that with sliders and doorways and things like that. And I don’t think anybody will know because it isn’t the tool, it’s how you use it.

Steven Pierce:               Right, exactly. And sometimes it’s faster. I mean the Fishers are great, but it takes four people to move it.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Yeah. We have a scene and actually I think my script supervisor she wanted to do a side-by-side where Anthony is like pushing these sandbags with the cameras on the sandbags on the floor. We did everything. We had these tiny chair dollies, I mean we were just so gritty.

Steven Pierce:               So let’s talk a little about your post process. Who did the editing? How did you get them? Did you do any finishing mixing? And where did that all happen?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       So all the post happened in LA and you know that money in-kind that we lost in the production? I was so pissed with what they put me through so I made sure… because part of the deal was that they said, “Oh, we thought you were going to shoot in LA and now you’re in New York.”  We ended up getting them to basically give us a week at technicolor of color grading. It was the most incredible week. Anthony and I, just we were able to do so many passes, they did this incredible job. So that was the color end of things, but I ended up having an editor, post was hard because we ended up having an editor I was not necessarily in my first pass of it really happy. So I ended up having to hire another editor and then finally we were able to… we did a lot of test screenings and we had to adjust. Then I decided we needed a different set of hands just to move it further along. Then we did more test screenings and then I went to Pakistan again, March last year, and finally on a work in progress create score that was then informing the edit. So they didn’t score a final piece, they were creating the tracks as we were going. Then we did sound and, again, we had issues with sounds and we had to have another sound editor. But I was fine, we were taking our time, we were way ahead of our Sundance deadline that we wanted. Then Sundance didn’t happen, but then SXSW did, so everything was perfect. Then we were in competition. It was going to be the perfect story of this film. So that was post. When I wrap a film, it’s my policy to take a full month off because these films are worse than birthing a child, which I’ve also done since then, so I can actually say that now. I just sleep for a month. I read books, I sleep. I don’t even want to, unless it’s an editor who will not bug me, I just pause post for a month. Because we weren’t in a hurry to have any deadline, so we really didn’t start post till Jan. 2018. And we were done with the film on September or October of 2018? 2019.

Director Iram Parveen Bilal with actor Sheetal Sheth, Photo by Alia Azamat

Steven Pierce:               I feel the same way, I don’t like to touch things right after I’ve shot it. I like to let it sit at least for a few weeks. You think coming off set you know that exact shot that you want and this sequence lighted with that. And I usually find when you try and build those in the rough sequence anyway, it doesn’t usually work the way you imagine it does. So it’s better to just approach it from the philosophy in what you have.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I agree, I completely agree. And I edit as well, but I’ve never edited my features. I’ve edited my shorts just because it’s… I’m so married to my features because quite often I’m the writer, director and I’m producing them that it’s not just the best thing.

Steven Pierce:               I totally agree, I completely sympathize with that. I think whenever we’ve directed, we’ve done a few series that I’ve directed and I’ve never felt really good when I edit the episode. It always feels 80% to me and I just don’t know how to get over that last little hump. Having an editor that can just challenge the way you approach something at that stage is so beneficial, at least in my experience. So let’s talk a little bit about South By. That had to have been a hell of an exciting day when you got in.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I was 39 weeks pregnant.

Steven Pierce:               Wow.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       And I was sitting and I was going through, I was just doing some of the final paperwork for my investors because, of course, being the lead producer I have to do that too. I was doing and end-of-the-year financial accounting. It was a very boring day and it’s like 4:00 p.m. and I got this email and I couldn’t breathe. I was crying and I couldn’t breathe. I called my husband and he, at that point, had a pager, he thought my water broke. So he picks up the phone and I’m like, “Ah, ah.” And he said, “Iram, I’m coming, I’m coming. it’s good news.” And right then Heather Ray, who’s an EP on the project, was also copied and I think she was somewhere in Europe and she immediately face-timed me from her bed screaming. Immediately you get a festival and my festival advisor was playing politics. She wasn’t playing, she was telling me you need to push the others that you want to get into as well and be like you’ve got this. It wasn’t even like, oh, I accept, because South By does not tell you what section you’re in. So now you’re thinking, well, what if a Tribeca or somebody else wants to actually program me in competition. So you kind of use that to follow up with everybody else and stuff. Everything in this business, I wish we could celebrate. There’s all this business side of things, right. So I couldn’t immediately accept it but I knew we won it. I think that was a Tuesday or something that we found out. Then on that Friday I finally accepted. I just had this feeling, I spoke to a couple of other people and they said they really do good by their artists, just go with them, they’re a bigger festival, it’s like the best thing. After Sundance, that’s the best. I was really happy and I just went with the fate. I went off and I delivered my baby, first child, and then Jan. 15th I’m up with this baby in pain, breastfeeding at 4:00 a.m. now, and I get an email saying that you’re in competition. And I wake my husband up and he’s “What happened?” “We’re in competition.” And I literally looked at him and I said, “I don’t want anything more. This is all I’ve ever wanted is to be in one of these A list festivals, one of those 10 names in competition in the press. I don’t care to win, I just want to go and celebrate. This is it, I’ve reached my dream in terms of independent film world.” And I was so happy, I was on cloud nine. It was everything I needed to get through my post-partum. Everything was perfect. We even had an orientation where I saw Anthony and our line producer Josh. Just so happy, we were building our app and building all the things and the talks we were going to attend. I had already, despite being sort of in post-partum, I had everything ready. I had a full press junket, after party party, premiere, we were going to be sold out. I galvanized the entire crew of South Asians in Austin. They had four screenings, I was more than sure we were going to be sold out. It just looked great. I had press, I had a great publicist, everything looked great and then-

Steven Pierce:               That sounds exactly like how you try and approach a big festival like that to get that push, right?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Right.

Steven Pierce:               To get the buzz.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       It was all about the buzz. The thing is, the film is what it is. We are who we are. At the end of that day all that does is like the Super Mario jump in the end. It just positions you for a better jump to the flag, that’s it so you get better points. Everything was ready and then the Friday, six days before we were supposed to take off, and that week was harrowing for me. I hadn’t really talked to the cast and crew, but I already was with Facebook pulling out and this pulling out, I already was feeling like the dread. I kept reaching out to my publicist and to the festival and they’re like, no, no, we’re on, we’re on. Until the city cancels us, we’re on. So now it became this weird thing where I was like, okay, I just want to get it over with. I wasn’t even celebrating. I was, okay, is this a health thing, should I even take the baby, should I take my husband? Should I just go and do this and come back? We’re not even going to have buyers at the screening. Are the distributors showing up? Then that Friday I was delivering a gift to somebody and somebody texted me and said, I’m so sorry about SXSW. I was like shit. And I just drove myself home. I don’t know, it was a very, very rough 46 weeks. Also, because the festival wasn’t going to be talking because I think they were as shocked as we were because the city canceled it on them. They just got screwed. If they were Tribeca, they just didn’t have enough time so they’d already spent the money, the banners were all over Austin. The timing really.

Steven Pierce:               It was a real thing. I mean SXSW was a big, big cancellation. I think it was a stream of cancellation of a bunch of other events and stuff. It was kind of the thing that solidified what made it so for so many others.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Yeah. But then a week later I mean everything was going to, at that point we were obviously angry and stuff, but I think a week later it obviously seemed like the right thing to have been done.

Steven Pierce:               Yeah, of course. Did they offer you anything with the Amazon screening?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       So we were told about the offer at the same time as the press went out and we weren’t really given a solid answer in terms of what the screening fee would be. We were just told we were going to get a screening fee, but we would only know what it is once we opted in.

Steven Pierce:               That’s interesting.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       But we were also guaranteed that because it’s going to be no pay wall, that it would violate any U.S. premieres and our sales agents were like, it’s going to violate the film being available for free for 10 days to anybody, not even having a Prime account, just an internet connection in the U.S. so we obviously declined. My guess is Amazon probably offered them a certain amount of money and so they needed to know how many people opted in before they divided the pot. That’s my guess.

Steven Pierce:               I think you’re probably right.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       So that was hard. It was just hard because we weren’t able to get… I think at that point all the filmmakers were thinking about themselves, right. My immediate instinct was to do a giant screening in LA, but then I was like, by the time I organize something and galvanize people, even that’s going to gt canceled. I’m going to put people in harm’s way. No. Even now it’s a situation where it’s we have a possible screening date end of September, but I just… I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I can build a theatrical around it myself, but, again, it’s… Now we won the Women in Film Finishing Fund award, right. Fortunately, I’m one of two people who has gotten it twice. And, again, this would be a big celebratory moment, but I have money in the bank to do this series. Do a theatrical for the film, but my hands are tied.

Steven Pierce:               Well, would you consider doing virtual cinemas?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       I mean I would. We’re in talks with, I can’t say exactly who. They are a great company in terms of partnering on community engagement screening so think like the Roxy in San Francisco or the Montclair. Like old cinephiles places all over the U.S. I’m think of a hybrid where I partner with them plus… Before if I was going to show the film in 15 theaters and sold out, now if I partner with 45 theater screens, but it’s like 30%, I’m still getting the same eyeballs, right. So that’s how I’m thinking, in a safe manner if I’m doing a 30 to 50 percent occupancy. I mean 25% is what they’re doing actually. Then maybe I just try and park there with multiple people and now we get newer audiences because we would have been screening in sort of the Laemmles and the IFPs and the Angelikas of the U.S. Maybe now we’re at an AMC or Regal where new people are going to watch the movie. So that’s the hope before we put it on VOD platform.

Steven Pierce:               So where do we stay tuned to find out where people can see the film when it is available?

Iram Parveen Bilal:       So at illmeetyouthere so I-L-L and then meet you there the film on Instagram and Facebook is where you would be able to find the film. Then my handles I’ve already shared with you. It’s just @irampbilal I-R-A-M-P-B-I-L-A-L official.

Steven Pierce:               And how about you, Anthony. If people want to check out the rest of your work, where can they find you?

Anthony Kuhnz:            Best spot’s my website: A-C-K-U-H-N-Z.com

Steven Pierce:               All right, fantastic. Well, it was great talking to both of you guys. I could chat for hours and really dig into all the experiences you guys have had because it sounds like you’ve had a really, really productive run in truly an independent fashion, which is really exciting to hear about.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Thank you, thank you. It’s been great to work with Anthony. Anthony’s the sort of person that I know I can call and just switch off and focus on directing. Because I know he’s got my back and that’s a great feeling to have with a cinematographer who understands your style and is willing to play.

Anthony Kuhnz:            That only works when you have a director that’s willing to collaborate. It goes both ways.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       Thank you. We sometimes joke about this, and now we have such a shared brain that we need to go work with other people just to get out of our comfort zone.

Steven Pierce:               I’m looking forward to seeing the film get released and maybe we can, hopefully, if this all goes well, we’ll touch base then and see how it’s going and tell people where to go watch it – it will be really exciting.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       That’s awesome.

Anthony Kuhnz:            Thank you.

Iram Parveen Bilal:       We’re hoping. Thank you.

Steven Pierce:               Thank you guys very much for taking the time.



IFG is created by Framework Productions. This episode was directed by James Allerdyce, produced by Matt Mundy, edited by Audrey Rae McHale, and hosted by Steven Pierce. The music is by Glass Boy. Find his music on freemusicarchive.org.