Given Lucky's love for both clothes and movies, it’s no wonder we would gravitate toward a fashionable filmmaker—and Shruti Ganguly fits that mold to a T. The multi-threat (director, producer, writer and film teacher at NYU) has not only worked with some of the biggest names in the film business, but also some of our favorite fashion stars through her work at Vogue (where she was instrumental in the creation of the "73 Questions" video series).
Three years ago, Ganguly was an NYU film student. Her class, led by teacher James Franco (yes, that James Franco) created a feature film based on the life and work of poet C.K. Williams. Fast forward to 2014, and that feature,The Color of Time—starring Franco, Jessica Chastain and Mila Kunis—is finally making its debut. (It's available on VOD today and hits theaters on December 12.) The movie features 12 directors, all students from Franco's class, and it provides a cohesive and beautiful look at the life of the Pulitzer Prize winner.
We snagged some phone time with Ganguly to chat about the making of The Color of Time, being a woman in the movie industry, what’s next on her agenda—and, of course, her favorite designers and places to shop.
Lucky: The Color of Time has been in progress for a long time—it was filmed in 2011. How does it feel to have it finally coming out?
Shruti Ganguly: Oh my god, it’s a relief. The movie is interesting because we crafted it from, essentially, a homework assignment. We didn’t know that we were setting out to make a feature film. When we signed up for this class, essentially James was teaching a class on adapting poetry and directing poetry, and he had the rights to this collection by C.K. Williams. Then he asked me to work with him on the project and produce it with his company. In our process of adapting and workshopping these scripts—originally each director picked a poem and adapted it into a short—we realized that we were all making chapters from one person’s life. So we ended up exploring the idea of connecting all these pieces. It’s amazing to think that it became a feature and is now coming out on the big screen, and small screen, and every screen in between. It’s pretty wild, and I’m very excited about it.
You had 12 directors on this movie; how did the collaborative process work for making the feature-length film?
Really, you can only collaborate at that level when you openly communicate and share ideas. The film spans four decades so we needed to be on the same page in terms of the right type of story arc. And we worked very closely with our creative team, our directors of photography, and we shared ideas and inspirations for visuals. We worked very closely early on with our costume and production designers to understand the visual language for helping this film move from script to screen. At the same time, it was interesting because each person connected with a poem in a different way and I think that’s what also added a unique perspective to the material. There was something really special that each director added to his or her part. It’s a testament to the program at NYU to really work within a community and be very straightforward and honest about what’s working and what’s not. Everyone needed to focus on their own part, but also to be aware of the whole so that the parts you were making could fit within that bigger picture.
Did you feel a great responsibility portraying a living artist?
Definitely. Especially when you are adapting a collection of poetry and crafting a biopic from that work. You do feel a real responsibility to the person whose work you’re adapting, and we asked C.K. Williams numerous questions. We did a reading with him very early on where he read poems from that collection. It was in this amazing building overlooking Central Park, and the leaves were turning, and we were just absolutely mesmerized when we heard him speak. It added an extra sense of responsibility. It was very insightful, just hearing the way he read it with a deeper meaning that we could then understand.
When did you first become interested in film?
I fell into film relatively late. I’m not one of those who says, "When I was five I picked up a camera." I’m Indian and I grew up in Oman, in the Middle East, and I moved to the States for undergrad where I thought I was going into investment banking. I went to Northwestern and I did art and economics. I figured out what I did want to do by figuring out what I didn’t want to do, by process of elimination. So, before I even went to school I did investment banking and retail banking, then I worked at Ernst & Young one summer and I worked at Reuters newswire, and then in advertising, so I had this interesting trajectory. I must have sounded like a nightmare to a recruiter looking at my resume. But I took one class, accidentally, called "Women in Indian Cinema" given by a visiting professor, and that’s really the class that changed everything for me. I was exposed to independent Indian cinema, which I had never really paid attention to before, and saw a movie by Satyajit Ray called Pather Panchali and suddenly I was faced with a powerful black-and-white, heartwrenching, raw story with remarkable visuals, accentuated by Ravi Shankar's soul-connecting sitar. The combination of art, music, culture and story is what made me feel like there was a medium that combined everything I loved. I then spent the fall of senior year interning on films in Bombay. I worked on Ruchi Narain's Kal and Sudhir Mishra's Chameli.
After going through film school, how do you feel as a woman in the film industry?
There are a lot more women in film schools, but when it comes to being working professionals in the industry, there is a definite gap. To change this number, I try to hire and work with as many women as possible so we can create more opportunities for each other. I have a collective called LaTiDa with my female friends from film school and we work together and support each other. I have another company called Fictionless with one of my closest friends and my former colleagues from MTV, Raeshem Nijhon, with Maria Cataldo. (Roye Segal and Oscar winner Ross Kauffman are also partners.) The numbers that support this gender gap are terrifying, but we need to affect change. And I feel as if it is changing—slowly but surely.
You’ve worked at a few fashion-centric places, both Vogue and Nylon—what’s your go-to office attire in places where it’s both professional and fashion-conscious?
I describe my personal style as "ethnic Annie Hall"—menswear with an Indian aesthetic. I wear a lot of collared shirts.
What’s your everyday style when you’re working on a film set?
Film is a medium of aesthetics, so your clothing means something. You need to be comfortable, though, because you’re on your feet for long days of shooting, so I’m usually wearing sneakers and a baseball cap.
What’s your go-to red carpet look for film festivals?
At Sundance, a great jacket and ski boots are the most important. At Rome or Venice or Cannes, you get to have a little more fun with fashion. I worked at Nylon TV and stayed friends with a lot of designers I met, so I like wearing clothes designed by my friends. I wear Bibhu, Sachin + Babi, Giulietta. It feels a little more special.
Who are your favorite designers?
I love Tsumori Chisato, and Sabya Sachi, who’s an Indian designer. And my best friend is a jewelry designer, her name is Riddihka Jesrani, so I wear a lot of her jewelry.
Bombay Electric in Bombay. And in New York I love Pilgrim on the Lower East Side, it’s a great vintage store. And also Reformation.
You recently appeared on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival. Can you tell me a little bit more about your upcoming film H. and your role in the making of that film?
H. is a feature film written and directed by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia. I connected with them after a screening of their first feature, Okay Enough Goodbye, which I thought was tremendous. We then wanted to work together and Rania and Daniel pitched the idea of H. to me and I was hooked. We applied to the Venice Biennale College Cinema lab, and got into the program and then won the prize money to make the film. We shot the film earlier this year in Troy, New York, and had a lab screening at the Venice Film Festival this Fall. I'm one of the producers of H. and what I really focused on was casting and also putting some of the bigger creative partnerships together—like bringing on Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead and Nico Muhly for the music. We are thrilled because the movie will have its official world premiere at Sundance in January, in the NEXT section.