Sonejuhi Sinha is nothing short of remarkable. Her start in film took root in editing but soon moved to producing and directing. With her work in commercials as well as narrative and documentary film she’s earned an extraordinary amount of praise as a storyteller with a distinct view. She’s won Gold Lions at Cannes as well as a number of awards at the Little Rock Film Festival, and the Minnesota Film Festival amongst others. For her next narrative short film, Love Comes Later, she was a recipient of Tribeca All Access development grant. She’s currently adapting that short into a feature film. She’s also finished Tribeca Film Institute’s Through Her Lens program where she was mentored by Dee Rees, Catherine Hardwicke, Rashida Jones among others. Sonejuhi truly shines as a filmmaker to watch and we’re excited to share her knowledge.
*the following is a summarized excerpt of an email interview between Sinha and Lauren Cooke, TLL intern Summer 2017*
On Her Background
What is your film background? What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I graduated from William and Mary as an English and Film Studies Dual Major. I went to undergrad thinking I wanted to be a writer but as I was taking Film Studies classes, I fell in love with film. Instead of doing a study abroad, I chose a visiting program at Tisch School of Arts and got hands on experience directing four short films on 16mm film. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. After graduating from undergrad, I got a job as an assistant editor in New York and I thought I’d learn the craft of storytelling on the job. I did not go to Film Graduate school, becoming an editor became my film school.
Is being a filmmaker what you imagined it would be like?
I never knew any filmmakers growing up. As a result, I never had any preconceptions of what it would be like to be a filmmaker. I knew I loved writing, photography, editing and storytelling and it all led me eventually to filmmaking.
Who or what (professor, program, seminar, etc.) would you credit as your first teacher film-wise?
Professor Rick Litvin at Tisch school of the Arts was my professor during my time at Tisch and he was instrumental in giving me the tools and igniting the fire to make my first film.
Does coming from an editing background influence the way you write or direct?
Yes, for better or for worse, I do think like an editor while I am directing. How will the scene be edited and what are the critical beats needed to pull off this scene. Coverage. These are constantly circling in my brain. For years I sat in the edit room watching dailies and I try to imagine myself in that chair while I am on set and ask myself “would I be selecting this if I were editing it.” I also tend to be very efficient while shooting. When I know I can edit the scene a few different ways, I move on
What advice would you have for women esp WOC who are afraid of diving into editing?
I have always done things I am afraid of. It usually helps me grow as an artist, as a storyteller, as a human being. I highly recommend diving into things you love, despite being afraid of it.
What is something you wish your younger self knew that you know now?
What advice do you have for future (and current) filmmakers?
Failure is your friend. It helps you get better.
On Her Feature, Love Comes Later
(Love Comes Later is Sonejuhi’s latest film about an undocumented worker who must make a life-changing decision featuring Vega Tamotia and Dianne Guerrero)
Your short film (and future feature-length film) Love Comes Later focuses on the struggles of an undocumented immigrant. What inspired that storyline?
I was volunteering at the Asian Women’s center in New York and volunteering at shelters that rehabilitate survivors of trafficking and domestic violence. It was here that I came across several stories of undocumented women and began to search for a narrative thread. However, the more I work on this story, the more I know that I don’t want to tell a story about victimhood, I want to tell a story about agency.
What struggles did you face shooting this film?
There were several challenges to making Love Comes Later. We went to 40 motels to find one that would allow us to shoot there. Also, juggling all of the actor’s schedules became quite complicated and stressful. Until the morning of the shoot, I wasn’t sure if one of my leads would make it to set.
Do you have any favorite on-set stories?
Shooting in motels was a crazy, bizarre experience. We saw everything from fights breaking out to couples having sex. There was never a dull moment.
How long is your typical journal from idea conception to shooting?
The journey from conception to shoot can be anything from 2 months to 3 years. Each story is different and has it’s own path out.
Through your participation with feature development programs and grant programs, have you felt any issues with creative authorship?
All the labs and development programs have only helped further my own vision and voice. They have been a tremendous source of support. Apply to all labs and grant programs you can find. Again and again. Especially all the ones that are free.
What’s a typical day for you like? Do you work from home? An office?
My typical day varies from month to month. I am usually writing from home or in prep to shoot a film or in post-production on a film. I just shot a short film for an anthology of 6 love stories, all around Bushwick, called Bushwick Beats. I am just starting post-production on that film. My film is called Love Trumps Hate. I am also in prep for my feature Love Comes Later, so I spend a lot of time in meetings with my producers, my cinematographer, my casting director and/or revising the script or the lookbook for the film. I also try and dedicate a portion of my time to learning and improving my craft as a storyteller. This involves reading books by or listen to interviews by my favorite directors and watching art house films.
Does your identity as a woman and person of color intersect with your filmmaking career? If yes, how?
Film is one medium where perspective matters. My background as an Indian American, as a first-generation immigrant, as a person of color gives me a very specific point of view. Even owning a dog gives me a certain instinctive sensibility that perhaps someone who has never owned a dog doesn’t have. My upbringing, my parents also factor into my identity as a storyteller both consciously and subconsciously. All of these factors heavily affect the way I think about stories, about characters and what I want to see. My work, my art and who I am are all undeniably intertwined.
Do you feel your film’s subjects have changed throughout America’s political climate change and/or the world’s in general?
Trump’s election and this political climate are pushing me to think about storytelling in more far-reaching ways. Powerful storytelling affects you emotionally whether you are republican or democrat. I strive even more now for my storytelling to be specific but also universal.
Do you feel any responsibility to write pieces with diverse casts? Do you think we as a society should feel responsible?
I don’t write stories with diverse casts because I feel I have to. I do it instinctively. I hope other storytellers do it for that reason too but I can only speak for myself.
To stay up to date with Sonejuhi’s film and her other work follow:
Twitter : @lovecomeslater, @sonejuhi