Along with an early preview of the first episode of the upcoming series PREMature which I reviewed in my earlier post I was able to get in touch with Writer, Co-Producer & Director Rohith Katbamna and Co-Producer Terry Mardi for a
small in-depth Q&A about how the series came about, how it was filming it and the ideas behind it.
So without further ado here's what they had to say...
You've had a lot of different interests and companies over the years what made you become an entrepreneur?
T: It's true, I started using my initiative as a student, there wasn't any company out there that I wanted to work for. Nothing I truly believed in. I loved how we as youth all resonated with music and was particularly fascinated at how music, fashion and film could bring different people from a variety of cultural backgrounds together. I used to watch thousands of people dancing and smiling together in the clubs I ran, people who wouldn't ordinarily hang out with each other. It was a great feeling bridging the gap with music and projecting culturally relevant film clips on the screens in the club would give people something to talk about and share experiences of. We curated friendships, that is valuable in my view.
Repeating this became an obsession for me, each of the companies under the Terry Mardi Group (TMG) umbrella strives to 'communicate honestly' with youth using music, film, fashion and technology. Keeping that at the core of what we do, we branch out only when the need becomes apparent and the business giants lose the ability to connect in an honest way. TMG is an emotionally and spiritually led group of business which often means we put substance before profit. That's just how I like to live, we are blessed to be able to have functioned in this way for over 15 years now. The vision is long term so I don't see us slowing down at any time. TMG assists young, intelligent minds become entrepreneurs, we help people make their dreams come to life.... that is what I am most proud of - facilitating great ideas from extraordinary young people. Rohith S. Katbamna is one of those young people.
What was it like to the first ever UK Asian Music Awards?
T: I personally loved writing the blueprint for the UK Asian Music Awards format. From coming up with the award categories to fleshing out the event format for television and curating the performances; it was something that came naturally to me since I'd spent time understanding the DNA of the Asian music industry as well as what fans loved about the music. This knowledge was purely based on being 100% immersed in the scene, I was DJ-ing, hosting radio shows, funding platforms, promoting events, producing music, designing artwork and coming up with marketing strategies for national tours. So producing the TV show with my team was a natural next step.
The only setback in 2003 was that producing a one hour television show for ITV1 cost us personally a quarter of a million pounds, I lost my home as a result and also sacrificed many social relations. My business partner and I lost a lot of money but I personally am glad it happened as it paved the way for the event to continue under new management for a decade. Our initial broadcast in 2003 reached 1.1million viewers in the UK, which was a large audience for a midweek post 10pm slot.
Music seems to be your main focus, so what got you interested in PREMature?
Music is my passion, yes! However as I have said numerous times throughout my career, I am all about communicating honesly with the youth. I feel getting into film as a medium was always inevitable given that I had developed and produced thousands of shows and formats when I was Creative Director at Desi Hits! (An online South Asian media platform I helped start up). I was producing and appearing in content for digital consumption in the video and radio format and it became apparent around that time that youth were consuming a particular type of content and using online and mobile.
So when Rohith and I discussed PREMature, it came down to the fact that I trust Rohith's writing 100% - not one iota of doubt. The scripts he writes have all the components missing in the world and I am happy to say that the tag line for Liger Films is 'Films that need to me made'. PREMature needed to be made, he brought about experiences that we had both shared personally and drew upon real life in a way that cut to the core of me, I knew that this shit needed to happen, so we rolled our sleeves up and shot a pilot using a cheap entry level camera I had lying around and started injecting all of our hearts into this project. At many points we felt like lone rangers going against the grain. We held a casting at Trust Towers, which used to be my head office, hundreds of actors came in, step by step the project organically shaped into what it has become.
The rocket fuel to the burning desire to complete this despite the tribulations was the fact that some of the powerful film makers of similar cultural backgrounds to us, who came before us knew of our struggle but for whatever reason didn't feel they wanted to assist. Yeah, we felt a little pissed off about that so we channeled that angst into creative energy and just got on with maintaining our dignity and not selling out - which is what a lot of people seem to be doing around us. It's sad and depressing to be honest that more people don't help others in this industry, I wouldn't hesitate to help someone get ahead. This project has helped me in ways I can't describe right now. Ask me in a few years! Big up PREMature!
Is this the first television drama that you’ve worked on?
Yes, it's the first TV drama I have worked on as a producer, I have been casted in a few roles before. All my other TV credits as a producer are in factual or music entertainment shows. None of which have made me feel as happy as this project has. It's deeper than care to reveal. Those who know, know!
With there being a skeleton crew and it being filmed in 8 weeks did you have a more active role in the process than expected?
In India we have a word; JUGAAD. It basically means, making the best use of what resource you have. We did just that, this project was efficiently executed. I didn't expect to be doing some of the crazy things we had to do to make it happen, neither Rohith or I did I'm sure, but you just get on with it don't you?. I had to manage my other businesses at the same time as mourning for the loss of my Maa who had died 6 months prior, but when you have so much passion for a project and the family you work with, you just get on with the matter at hand and somehow the energy manifests into the tasks being completed, team members picking up slack and vice versa. You just need good communication and a great work ethic - oh and lot's of PASTA! (inside joke for all cast and crew).
How long have you been directing?
R: My first actual short was made when I was 16. So been directing for 13 years.
What inspired you to come up with PREMature? Is it something that you have been developing for a while?
R: PREMature was in some small measure a “fuck you” to particular filmmakers and producers before me, who had countless opportunities to bring forward our culture to some form of contemporary representation and take us out of the box. But I’ve never considered myself to be a representative of a specific culture so perhaps there’s some paradox there. My core intention was to bring an art-house/independent drama series to a television format free of the typical conventions one might be accustomed to. The series is very free-wielding in it’s presentation and the performances are natural due to the extensive improvisation implemented throughout the process and the fact that many of these actors aren’t actually ‘acting’ in several of the scenes. They’re ‘re-enacting’ and re-visiting situations from their own lives, hence the casting process where I made it a primary objective to discover facets of the performer’s life and how they mirrored their prospective fictional counter-parts whether emotionally, spiritually or physically.
Another aspect that encouraged the development of PREMature was to counter-act this pattern in the industry where TV channels are constantly looking for “high-concept” shows, something we’ve been seeing an abundance of for some time. PREMature is the opposite. It’s about things that at face value may appear simple on paper and not particularly appealing to sell or market, but when we start to look closer and untangle, we begin to see the intricacies and a stronger resonance because what we’re looking at is life, yours and mine - universal stories that are told in often dark, surreal, psychedelic and at times humorous ways. It’s about death, identity, growing up and the power of relationships.
The conception of PREMature came about in 2009 whilst I was working on another project. It went through several incarnations until the fifth where I felt a distinct affinity to this version. The revisions before this were all intended to try and play into the hand of what the potential people who I might be pitching to would probably want to see and hear - the buzz words, the stereotypes, the same old shit basically. This fifth revision did not at all feel like a betrayal.
What would you say to someone who wants to get into the industry from a BAME background?
R: Don’t go into the industry thinking your cultural background is a selling point and it’s what makes you unique. It’s your individual voice that should help carry you forward, not the “ethnic background” box you tick on some form.
What has been your greatest challenge in your 15 year career?
R: Greatest challenge in filmmaking to date has most definitely been putting the production of PREMature together. Never have I taken on so many production roles at once.
What was your favourite scene to shoot in the 8 weeks?
R: I can’t choose a favourite but I can say one of the most cathartic and spiritually moving moments I had was shooting the very final scene of the series. It was 1am with only 3 crew and 2 cast with stripped down equipment at a balcony 13 storeys high. It was also wrap day for one of the leads, which added to this feeling in the air and we all felt it.
What made you choose to shoot at your old school? Is it where you always envisioned it being shot or partially more convenient?
R: 3 reasons:
- Always envisioned it there - I know the school, the history.
- Tribute to my memories there - both good and bad.
- Trust between myself and the staff to be able to shoot footage during actual school hours with no red tape issues.
You say you took from points of your own life, so were there any particularly emotional/difficult scenes to shoot?
R: At most times, I was a spectator watching the performers go through some of these points in my life like the opening scene at the hospital where Prem’s grandmother has passed away. A scene that Karanvir (Prem) had gone through in his own life a year prior. It wasn’t my place to get emotional but to help create a safe environment for their vulnerable and unrestrained performances.
How did you come to be partners in this Kickstarter?
R: Terry and myself met in late 2010 through a mutual friend. Originally our intention was to develop my feature film. The process was successful to a point as we were involved in Film London’s Microwave Scheme (micro-budget feature film fund). However, we came just short of succeeding in funding. Whilst I continued to work on the feature, I brought the idea of PREMature to Terry and explained that we could probably get this series into production relatively quickly if we went down a road less-travelled in terms of low budget and pitching to channels other than the obvious BBC, Channel 4 etc. Our issue was always going to be funding and Terry suggested crowdfunding as an option, something I wasn’t keen on at first. But after researching it some more, we proceeded.
T: Rohith and I knew each other since 2010 as he has already mentioned. It was a way we could get started after we realised other means weren't desirable, so we chose the road less travelled. *Shrugs shoulders*.
Was Kickstarter your first choice for bringing the series to life?
R: From what I recall, we looked briefly into the option of private investors, which meant we would have to draft up a business plan with a returns element at the helm of it. Kickstarter was probably always at the top of the list, simpler and clear-cut.
T: To add to Rohith's response, Kickstarter wasn't our first choice initially, when we shot the pilot we did exhaust our contacts, some were flakey, some just didn't get it either because they were too old or projected their own failings in life and didn't believe we could pull it off. We thought we'd go ahead despite the rejections, Kickstarter allowed the whole cast and crew to spread outreach to the PREMature family network. This was a valuable experience that encouraged us to all get much closer. We are one family, what an experience.
Did you expect it to be successful?
T: I am an optimist. I don't start anything unless I believe it can be successful.
Were there any particular challenges you faced producing it?
R: Aside from the initial funding campaign, nothing particular that you wouldn’t face on any other low budget projects like scheduling, locations, casting, time constraints etc. However, I’d say that these were magnified ten-fold as I was taking on a number of roles.
T: I think the challenges we faced were overcome, however I realised that the UK television pitching process is messed up. Many channels and larger production companies rarely innovate any more, they are thinking with their spread sheets and not with their hearts anymore. The great thing about running your own project is that you don't have subscribe to that system. Community Channel have been great, out of all the channels we met with, they were the most warm and receptive to ideas that matter. Works for us, I feel other channels can learn a lot from Community Channel, their ethos is strong, power to them. Glad to be a part of it.
If you had been given the opportunity to include well known stars in PREMature would you have altered the direction of the show for it to work for them?
R: Fuck no, unknown faces was always sewn to the soul of the project.
Promoting unseen and under utilised talent in front and behind the camera regardless of age, gender and race is something you’re both passionate about, would you say that PREMature achieves this?
R: Most definitely PREMature achieves this and it is something we’re both passionate about. This is an underdog project about the underdogs of life performed by underdogs of the industry supported by a skeleton crew of underdogs. There is nothing superficial about this series, it has a strong grafter’s work ethic with no room for egos. It also shows who ever watches this series, that there are chances for unseen talent to see the light of day.
T: As underdogs ourselves, we will always choose the underdog. Life is about people, there is nothing more satisfying than helping people unlock their full potential, this remains at the heart of what we do at Liger Films. It's amazing what can be achieved with nurture. We are very proud of every cast and crew member who stayed with us throughout the journey.
Would you say PREMature is the first of a more diverse set of programmes coming to our screens?
R: I hope so.
What’s next? Do you think there’s a chance for a second season?
R: Personally, the final episode ties up the series the way I want it to.
T: Let's continue to focus on series one for now. Liger Films will support anything Rohith S. Katbamna wants to create so we can speak about that when the time is right.
Written, Produced & Shot by Rohith S. Katbamna
Co-Produced by Liger Films
Check it out if you want to see something a little bit different.
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