Rami Kahlon talks A Christmas Star, crowdfunding, and distribution

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Rami Kahlon, like a lot of independent filmmakers, got into filmmaking through a love for acting. “I started acting first, when I was in high school. I did plays, but then I took a video editing course in high school, and my teacher, Mr. De Luca, got me really into filmmaking. I started writing, directing, and editing my own things; just really funny, silly comedies with my friends. […] When I was in high school, I was very unsure of if I should pursue filmmaking or acting, and I decided to pursue acting instead. For the past ten-ish years I’ve been acting in film, TV shows, a lot of TV movies because I’m in Vancouver, theater as well. […] After hitting sort of a dry spell in my acting career, I was inspired by other people to get into film. I realized I used to love film, I didn’t do it anymore, and I wanted to see if my love for it was still there.” She wrote a script which got into a film festival, and this success inspired her to produce the project. “I had no idea what I was doing, but watched a lot of Youtube videos and made the film with some friends. It ended up doing really really well.” The film, Odd Girl, a twelve minute horror short, was picked up by Alter, the online horror short distribution platform. “It blew up, it’s at around two million views in America, a couple hundred thousand in Japan, and now it’s going to be distributed in Korea as well.” It also won a bunch of awards and was featured in many film festivals; the film’s instagram page is largely a list of well-deserved accolades and laurels. “I started doing a little more acting after, my career started doing better, so I on and off produced some films, but wasn’t full-force into it. This year I was like, I’m ready, I feel like I’m a good enough actor now that it won’t take away from my acting career to focus on both. A Christmas Star is an idea I had a couple of years ago, and this is the first time, two years after the idea, that I’m actively pursuing it.”

A Christmas Star, which is billed as “a Christmas-themed horror film with tongue-in-cheek nods to the TV movie genre,” is currently fundraising on Indiegogo. The Indiegogo video is worth checking out; it’s funny and heartfelt, all while portraying the very real struggles of producing an indie film. 

I ask Rami about her experience producing Odd Girl. “I wrote it for a horror script writing competition,” she tells me. “I wrote the script, sent it off, it got semi finalist. That was the one and only year that had that festival. I was going to write it with a friend, but then they got really busy, and so I was like, well, it’s only ten pages, I might as well finish it.” She then spent some time discussing the film and her intentions to produce it with folks. “There was a lot of talk but no action for a couple of months.” Eventually, it was time to get started. “We have a lot of really great grants in Vancouver. There’s Storyhive, there’s Crazy8s, there are all of these opportunities to get your film made. I got all my packages together, I submitted them, and I got nothing. I didn’t get funded at all. But it was at this point that I’d already done so much work on it that it would be such a waste. Similar thing [as A Christmas Star] with this one, we put out an Indiegogo.” They made some money that way, Rami self-funded some of the film alongside executive producer Andy Wong. “It was a lot of friend favors, a lot of watching Youtube videos on how to direct, and we had some connections. We filmed at my old high school, I filmed at my voice teacher’s house, those were the only two locations we needed.”

Of course, as we all know the process doesn’t end with shooting the film. “Post production was also an issue, money-wise, I had no idea how much these things cost. We threw another fundraiser party at this pub in Vancouver and made the money for that, and I learned as I went.” She had some established professionals on her team, but in order to make the budget work, she also took a chance on folks who had never done this type of work before. Obviously, those risks paid off. “For example, the VFX. My friend did it, who had never used After Effects before.”

I told her I was surprised by how low budget the project was, because the end result is a short film with a very high production value. The movie has had great reception, winning awards at film festivals, including Best Screenplay at an Oscar qualifying festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival. “I have to say, a lot of that is the DP, his name is Farhad Ghaderi. He’s just very very good, he could make magic with a one dollar film.” In general, it seems that Rami is exceptionally good at pulling together a great team on a shoestring budget, something she’s replicated for A Christmas Star. If you check out the Indiegogo for the film, you’ll see that she’s built a great team of people to create this film. 

I ask her what it was like working with Alter, and what the process of getting connected with them was like. “We heard of Alter from a festival we were on the contact list for but not a part of. It was really a shot in the dark. We contacted them and said, hey, we got your information, we’ve won these awards, we’ve been to these festivals, we’d love to put our film on your platform. We got the conversation started. Then we got into another festival and won another award, and it was like, okay, we should approach them again, make sure we stay on their radar. And after that, they responded by saying they want to put the film on their platform.” In the world of indie filmmaking, persistence is key, and shooting your shot can really pay off. “We had nothing to lose,” she laughs. “We got to meet Sophie Carroll who is in charge of Alter and she is the loveliest human in the whole world. That process has been so smooth. And they’re supporting A Christmas Star right now, they put the link on Odd Girl, it’s been really incredible. Working with Alter is top notch.”

“Sometimes these distributors seem scary, but when you get to know them, they’re actually just fans of movies.” I ask her if she has any tips for people who want to approach a distributor. “I would say try to get as many eyes on your film as possible,” she says. “They want to see how well your film has done. Even if you have that connection, you need something to back it up. Try to get as many awards as you can; I know that’s easier said than done, but try to submit to as many festivals as you can, and then when you are at the festivals, see if you can see who the distributors are. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding the festival director and starting up that conversation. Sometimes distributors will contact the film festivals themselves, so you can see who they are. Not ignoring that is really important. I know when I was at festivals I just wanted to meet other filmmakers, I didn’t realize how important it was to keep an eye on who’s distributing. I would say just open up your awareness.”

I tell her one thing that really interested me about Odd Girl was that it was intense, creepy, effective horror, but it didn’t actually show much. No blood, no guts, no jumpscares, but it was still tense throughout the whole movie. I ask her how she went about creating a horror film like that. “I think, for me, it was really about creating a sense of anticipation at all times. It was a very specific choice that we made in the writing process and in the cinematography process. […] Just having that in mind what the shots make you feel is really important. I wanted a sense of anticipation, but also a sense that someone’s watching you at all times.” That sense of being watched drives the tension of the whole film without it ever being gory. “I love gore, don’t get me wrong,” she clarifies. If you’ve seen any of New 32’s horror work you probably know I love gore too, but it’s so exciting to see horror utilizing other tactics, especially since gore can take a lot of resources to create effectively. 

That thought leads us back to A Christmas Star, the movie Rami is currently fundraising for. “A Christmas Star is really a play on TV movies. I’ve watched a lot. I work in TV movies sometimes, and I am one of those Christmas fanatics that watch all of the holiday films over and over again. […] I watch a lot of True Crime Daily as well, and Rotten Mango, and there’s so many tips that they give you. Don’t go to a second location, don’t go into a stranger’s house, and I realized when I was watching TV movies that all of those rules are broken. I was like, this is actually kind of creepy! That’s where the idea sparked from, having the play-by-play of what would happen in a TV movie, but in a way that goes to the other extreme. If the world wasn’t so good and full of Christmas, what would happen? It’s my interpretation of that. There’s a lot of TV movie tropes that you’ll see, taken in the exact opposite direction. It’s a bit of a comedic take on it, as well. Sometimes you watch TV movies and it’s like, why is he so obsessed with Christmas? We have the same thing in our film… why is this guy so obsessed with Christmas, he’s deranged.”

“It’s a bit of a longer short, which is why we’re doing fundraising for a bit more money. It’s going to be a three part short, 20 minutes long, for now. We’re hoping for a really great festival run with it, it’s a really strong script.” Rami has already started submitting to screenplay contests and has already won semi-finalist in one. She’s currently waiting to hear back from the others sometime next year. Production for A Christmas Star  is slated to begin next winter. She tells me this winter is about sussing out location options, nailing down what time of year they want to film; they need a location that gets snow, because fake snow isn’t in the budget. “We’re going to take this year to really develop it. I like to do a lot of work because when you don’t have money you need to have a plan.”

As I mentioned earlier, Rami is skilled at pulling together a strong team. She tells me about the producers who are currently working on raising money for the project; Tyler Dumoulin (Henry V, Pacific Theatre), Amit Dhuga (Prisoner, Boundless Lion Productions), and Muhammad Iqmal (Odd Girl, Samansa Jpn), and Mik Narciso (Horrified, Apple Podcasts). Not everyone has production experience, but Rami was confident that they had the skills to get it done, and so far she’s been proven right. “We also have Alex Shamku, who is my best friend, and also a sound recordist. He did Odd Girl. We also have Gloria Mercer, our editor. […] Justin Aucoin did our sound design for Odd Girl, he’s back on.” It’s clear that Rami is deeply proud of her team, and it’s so exciting to think of the film these talented people will be able to make once they raise the money. I ask her how she puts together her team, and how she knows that someone with less experience will make a good producer. “I have to know them first,” she says. “Tyler I’ve known for a very long time, Muhammad I’ve known for a very long time. I think in terms of what makes a good producer, it’s how much can I trust that I won’t be left to do all the work myself.” Being able to depend on your team is so key; most filmmakers I know have been burned before by producers they couldn’t depend on. Rami tells me she doesn’t want her team to be focused on hierarchy, she wants everyone to feel like equal partners in their work together, while still being respectful of the other’s roles in the process. “I think that can only come with humility,” she tells me. “If I’m acting on a project, I’m not going to be telling the director what to do. I trust that there’s a vision.” That’s so key in assembling a team. Creating a sense of equality while still respecting the specific roles everyone plays is a tricky balancing act, but one that’s important to strive for.

I ask her about the crowdfunding campaign and how folks can support it. Obviously, I want to encourage people to donate, but what are other ways to help? “You can share the campaign,” she says. “You can share it with your friends and family. If you have any horror forums that you’re connected with you can post it on there. Sharing is very very helpful. The other part of it is that if you live in Vancouver and you have a bunch of Christmas decorations, send them to me! […] Just anything that would mitigate costs in any way. If you have skills, any connections, any ability to get discounts on VFX, anything that would mitigate a cost helps.”

Thanks so much to Rami for taking the time to speak with me. Go check out Odd Girl on Youtube and be sure to take a look at (and consider donating to) A Christmas Star’s indiegogo campaign. 

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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