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VIFF 2016 Interview: HER PARADISE director Shobi Sen

by Jason Whyte

"HER PARADISE is a movie about something every single person has dealt with. As children, imagination is our greatest super power, but what we use that power against depends on our circumstance. The girl we follow in the story, uses that strength to escape from the monsters at home." Director Shobi Sen on HER PARADISE which screens at the 2016 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

I am thrilled to welcome you to VIFF this year. Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

Yes this is my first time attending VIFF, I can quite believe I got accepted into the festival as this is my first film and it will be my first time in Vancouver too!

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

I was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka and growing up I was always into film and storytelling in general. But I never dreamt that I could pursue filmmaking as a career. It was when I moved to Melbourne, Australia to get my undergrad, did I realize that I could study Film and equip myself to get into the industry. Once I got my Bachelors in Cinema Studies, I decided to move to Los Angeles to get a Masters in Film. I have been here for two years now writing and making movies.

How did this movie come together from your perspective?

When I had the idea for HER PARADISE, I was listening to a popular song that talked about a girl looking for something more. I immediately had this image in my head of a little girl in her room afraid. Soon enough she was surrounded by thousands of tiny lights and she disappears. The whole story followed after and it was as if it was being downloaded into my head, if that makes sense. Months later I was in a screenwriting class and we were asked to pitch ideas for our Thesis projects, and although I was hesitant at first I decided to pitch it. Everyone loved it and encouraged me to write the script.

After months of rewrites, I found a producer, Annamaria Pupart, at my school who was genuinely passionate about the film and decided to help me. I was terrified by the project because it tested all my skills and stretched me in ways that I did not expect. Every instructor at school always warned us not to write stories with children and visual effects as it would be very difficult for us to accomplish in the time we were given. Needless to say I didn't heed their advice.

I had to hold a lot of auditions to find the right actress to play Eleana. I cast the net wide but I always had this image of her in my mind of a little African American, mixed raced girl with big hair and when I found Cassidey Fralin, who was captivating from her first audition, I knew that everything was going to fall into place. I had a wonderful team. The first AD, Markel Goikoetxea was my rock. He worked closely with me providing the best feedback on the script and helped us maximize our time with Cassidey as we could only shoot 7 hours a day with her. My Cinematographer, Zach Voytas who is immensely talented and patient was open to all my crazy ideas. He understood that I had no experience whatsoever with green screen and CGI but he trusted in the vision.

Once we had shot it all, I hoped to find and editor but as time went on I felt I should just do it myself. That was the hardest part of the whole process. I was drained and I didn't know how to piece the film together. No matter what I did, the film felt dragged out, disjointed and not at all how I hoped the pacing would feel. So I put it aside for months, I refused to touch it. In February of this year I finally found the motivation I need to reopen the project and it was as if I was looking at it with fresh eyes. I re-structured the whole film in the edit, took out a lot of scenes we shot and here we are!

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively?

That's a good question, and I do not think it is just one thing. I am motivated by the story, the actors performances, even the people who worked on the film. I think I'm more motivated but the idea that I could always re-tell the story no matter what stage of production I was in.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was the CGI and not having enough of a budget to execute it exactly as I saw it in my head. I overcame it by doing some of the work myself and putting my animation skills to the test, but also by letting go of the high expectations I had. I had to learn to really appreciate what it is I had in front of me.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought you had something?

There is this moment in the film when Eleana hears her parents fighting and she just cries, She lies in bed defeated. Cassidey's performance was incredible for one so young, but what I love about that moment is how emotional it was for everyone in the crew. The whole room was quiet and we stood there watching this child in agony and I couldn't help but think that this moment was going to be powerful.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film.

We shot this film on a RED Scarlett with a set of prime lenses. As I mentioned earlier, my director of photography is incredibly gifted in what he does. We spoke a lot about the tone of the film when it came to lighting and colouring. We wanted Eleana's world to feel drab and muted and her Imagination to feel warmer and brighter. We had to be aware of lighting especially in the shots that required the CGI. To give you an example, in the first scene where her room fills up with little fireflies, we rigged up a little light that moved across the room to form moving light patterns on her face. It is subtle but it adds so much for when you're creating objects in post. Anything you can achieve in camera is vastly going to improve your final product.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie to audiences at VIFF?

The response, either good or bad is what I am excited for the most. I have never screened this movie to an audience before, so as nervous as I am, I'm really looking forward to seeing how the film will affect the audience.

Where is this movie going to show next? Any ideas of how you would like to distribute the film?

I'm not sure about where this movie will be shown next, but I would love to be able to put it up on iTunes or Netflix.

If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?

I have two answers to this question. I would love to screen this film at the Chinese Theatre here in Los Angeles. That place is iconic and it would be a dream to premiere a film there one day. On the other hand I would love to be able to screen this back home so that all my friends and family there can attend the screening.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

If you can't concentrate on anyone but yourself for 15 minutes of your life, I pity you.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Believe in your voice. Your stories matter, your ideas are needed. So do whatever it takes to become that filmmaker. If you can go to film school, do it. If you can't then take the opportunity into your own hands, grab your phone and go make a movie.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

I can't think of the best movie I have seen at a festival because there are so many great films out there! But I got to go to Cannes this year and it was great to be able to see people excited about film in that way, the experience was really eye opening. Now I can't wait to experience that atmosphere again at VIFF.

Visit for more information on Shobi's work!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 29th to October 14th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 10/06/16 03:34:19
last updated: 10/06/16 03:39:21
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