When Uma Kumarapuram, a young cinematographer from Kerala, met Nicole Donaldio, a California-based filmmaker, the two women decided to shoot a film, ‘Across The Ocean’, from their respective continents.
An intriguing tale of an online friendship precedes the story of how the English language indie film, Across The Ocean, came to be made. It began two years ago, when Uma Kumarapuram, a young cinematographer from Kerala, stumbled upon a short film on Youtube . It caught her eye with its unique sense of humour and novel concept.
“It was on an impulse I decided to drop a message to its maker, Nicole Donaldio, a California-based filmmaker, on Facebook,” says Uma.
The chance encounter turned into a real friendship as the duo bonded over their love for films, and over being women in a male-dominated field, cinema. Uma says, “I was surprised to learn that the problems female indie directors face in India and in the US were quite similar. She was polite, and curious to know about India and the film industry in my region, Kerala.”
In 2016, they decided to make a feature film together. At that point, they hadn’t even met each other in the real world.
“We had this idea to do something together. A film about ambitious young women, like us,” says Uma who has served as an assistant cinematographer in a number of Malayalam films, including Puthiya Niyamam and The Great Father. She is one of the few female technicians working in the Malayalam film industry.
Much like Uma and Nicole, Across The Ocean’s protagonists, Nila and Holly, live in two continents, and share similar dreams. “The idea seemed exciting,” says Uma. “We decided that the film will be split into two. One half, a 45-minute long portion, will be written and shot by me in Kerala. Nicole will write and direct the other half in California.”
The two women spent the year working on the script, which was finally locked in December. In January, shortly before the shoot began, Nicole flew to Thrissur and spent two days in Uma’s village.
“However, unlike us, Nila and Holly never meet in the film,” Uma says.
Fund-raising is, naturally, one of the hardest parts of film-making, says Uma. “I have several female friends who have had bitter experiences of being turned down by producers when they approach them with female-centred scripts. So I decided that I wouldn’t go the usual route of approaching independent producers and production houses,” says Uma.
The duo eventually raised funds through crowdfunding platforms Wishberry and Kickstarter.
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“I used Wishberry to crowdfund my portion of the film. Nicole used Kickstarter, which is a more popular crowdfunding platform in the USA. Fortunately, we could pool around 101% of our target. Most of the contributors were my friends and acquaintances, barring a rough 15%, who were strangers impressed with the film’s idea.”
What about support from the film industry where she works? Uma laughs and says it was meager. However, actress Rima Kallingal did a promotional video for the film, urging people to make financial contributions to the project. “That was nice of her. Her video helped us take the project to a bigger level,” says Uma.
Uma has finished shooting her portion of the film, in which actress Apoorva Bose plays Nila.
“Once in a while, Nicole and I send footage to each other and exchange feedback. Recently, I sent some of the edited portions to her. Generally, we don’t interfere in each other’s work, unless it is a scene that connects the two tracks. The point is to maintain an emotional consistency throughout the film,” says Uma.
“Another important thing we discussed was the color tones, since the story happens in two regions with entirely different weather and cultural conditions. In the Indian portion, we completely replaced all the blue tones with warm colours. Similarly in California, they avoided using greenish colours, and used pink and magenta tones more. In crucial scenes that connect the two tracks, we ensured that there was red colour in the frame.”
Uma handles the direction and cinematography, and she is also the production head. Dundhu Renjeev, the first female art director in the industry, is making her debut through this film. Mitta Antony handles the make-up department, and Vidya George does the styling. Sound designer Nikhil Varma, who has worked in several indie films, like Kari and Jalam, is also a part of this crew.
The women decided to depend on a non-Indian, non-American female editor to do the cuts for the entire film. They wanted an unbiased, fresh perspective. “We shortlisted seven female editors we came across on the internet. Finally, we zeroed in on a Portugal-based editor who has over 12 years of experience in the field. She has agreed to collaborate. She will go through the rough cuts from the two of us, and make it into a 90-minute long film.”
“We do not have any money left for distribution,” laughs Uma. “We will approach distribution parties in India and the US with a profit-sharing deal. We will do a festival round first, and then approach OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon.”
Images Courtesy: ‘Across The Ocean’ Official Facebook Page