"Don’t ask for anyone’s permission to make a movie"
Four-time New York Film Awards winner "Delaware Shore" is a feature length drama about Holocaust survivor Agnes who escapes the concentration camps and finds refuge at a Delaware Beach. The film also digs a little deeper to uncover truths about how an individual's pain affects the people they care about most. It is Raghav Peri's feature length Directorial debut. Raghav's dream of speaking the issue and harsh reality in an artistic manner has paid off with 15 International Awards and 13 Nominations in its festival run across the globe. Peri, himself has won four First Time Film maker awards for his debut feature. Delaware Shore is gearing up for theatrical release in select cinemas this December 2018.
Director Raghav Peri with Actor Ed Aristone. PC: Nick Belial
Tell us about your background. Did you always know you want to be a filmmaker?
I was born and raised in the city of Hyderabad, India which is home to the Telugu Film Industry which produces the second largest number of films behind Bollywood. It was my granny who introduced me to the world of cinema at a very young age. I can’t say, it was love at first sight but, Cinema has been my single most influence that taught me a lot of things, made me happy, excited about life and I always had a huge respect towards cinema from a young age.
Looking back, it might be that night when I watched the movie “Departed” in my college days that made want to be a film maker. It opens with a line,”I don't want to be a product of my environment, I want my environment to be a product of me”. One heck of an opening scene. Music is so coherent. Jack Nicholson’s eye brows. It was pure cinema magic by the great Martin Scorsese. I was hooked since then. But, there were many reasons why I always felt like, cinema was beyond me. Few years later, I made my first amateur short film at a one day film making workshop which gave me more confidence that I might have what it takes to become a story teller. To be honest, it was a very natural progression from loving cinema to trying to learn the craft of storytelling.
From Left: Actress Brittany, Boom Operator Nick, Dir Raghav Peri, Actress Emily McKinley Hill, Sound Mixer Rob, DOP John Presutto. PC: Nick Belial
What made you decide to go into film?
Like I said earlier, all the cinema that I have seen growing up had a really great impact on me. The more I realized the power of cinema and story telling, the more it drew me closer to it. As human beings, we all need heroes and stories to learn from, inspire us, leave a legacy and get us to the next frontier. And, I totally believe, cinema is the best form of art there is to communicate with a larger number of people, entertain, engage and possibly touch their hearts and souls. I’m really fortunate to have a very supporting family, encouraging friends who made this possible for me.
Do you have a filmmaking role model? Who is your biggest influence?
I don’t have a film making role model as such but, I adore the work of a ton of film makers. In my formative years, my favorite film makers were Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Varma. All their body of work for me is so captivating and so enthralling. Without paying close attention, their work has always been palpable, memorable and made me want to tell stories like them.
Theatrical Release Poster
Your feature-length directorial debut, Delaware Shore, has won multiple awards in our film festival earlier this year. Congrats again for this remarkable achievement! What was it like for you to produce and direct a feature film that you’ve also written?
Thanks a lot for all the recognition, it's truly a testament to all the hard work my team has put into this film. Hopefully, when the film comes out in front of the audience, they take home the spirit and the characters in the film. That will be a real success. It’s always been a dream to make a feature and see it getting released in a theaters. Come this December 21st, it will be a dream come true.
It’s been an incredible and enriching experience to tell this story of a Holocaust Survivor. I feel, filmmaking is a privilege and having such a great opportunity to tell this important story which touches upon so many important themes like the war, teen pregnancy, gay identity and collaborating with immense talent is truly an honor. Since I have no personal experience with these themes, it took a lot of time for me to research several sources, talk to a lot of people, keenly observe them since I wanted this film to capture all the nuances as authentic as possible. I consciously chose this subject material because I know, it was going to be hard.
Casting Agnes and Tasha were the toughest part. It took about close to two months to find the actors Gail Wagner and Emily McKinley Hill who did a fantastic job to bring the characters to life. I'm in awe of all my actors James Robinson, Ed Aristone, Sharyn Pak Withers, Jason R. Maga, Kevin Francis, Kevin Austra in the film. There were several budget constraints which gave us only 25 days to finish this film. We did a great pre-production to support this. It's only because of the wonderful cast and incredible crew we were able to finish the film right on time. The sheer joy I would get on set, when the actors performed, I really can’t explain in words.
After making the film, I took it to the market where everyone appreciated our work but, were complaining it would be a tough sell since it's a drama. I was heartbroken and took the festival route immediately where we have won a lot of awards including multiple awards for the Best Drama category. Thanks to New York Film Awards and all the festivals for restoring the faith in us. And, we have a sales agent on board now who is taking care of all the international sales. From not knowing if we could ever really finish the film to come to a theatrical release this December, it has been a bumpy ride but, a very satisfying one. Hard work will always pay off. I will be using all of this experience for my next projects.
Actress Gail Wagner
Delaware Shore tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who’s having a hard time dealing with her post-war trauma. Having no related background, what made you choose to write, produce, and direct this story?
Over the years, what I have learnt is, any film maker is only as good as the subject matter he chooses. Primarily, as a film maker, I’m very sensitive towards happenings around the world. It eventually comes out and takes shape of characters in the film.
Schindler’s List was one of the first films that really shook me as a kid. There’s this character called Amon Goeth in the movie who would exhibit true hatred for the Jews, often in the morning goes to his balcony high above the labor camp and shooting randomly at people with his high powered hunting rifle. I can never forget that image of him. If you think about it, it’s so horrendous living a life expecting every day will be your last day. Those were the times when life for the people was like a disposable napkin, not knowing when your time would come. When you compare those times to the present, we see same kind of people all around us walking alive in 2018. I really don’t understand, this is really sad and needs to end. There was always a deep voice inside of me which keeps me up at night and strong urge to get it out of my system. I would like to believe this film chose me instead of me choosing it.
There's been a historic rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the country. As human beings, we should all love fellow human beings and help each other. My heart goes out to all the victims and their families who have lost their loved ones in such incidents.
Actress Gail Wagner. PC: Nick Belial
Agnes, your lead character, is obviously very disturbed and affected by her terrible memories from the war. What inspired you to write her the way you did?
This film is loosely based on the novel by the name “Delaware Shore” by Michaelangelo Rodriguez. I have always loved movies with strong characters and when I was writing the screenplay, it was quite natural of me to make sure all the characters are fully fleshed out. All the characters that I have conceived in the film are very realistic in nature, multi-dimensional and Agnes is no exception. There are some characters in the film I couldn’t do justice only because of the run time of the film.
The original idea of the character Agnes being a Holocaust survivor comes from the book. Her character is conceived as someone who is haunted by the war atrocities and raising her grandchildren without affection. But, this comes off as hatefulness to the kids. In reality, in Agnes’s head, she is actually trying to be more protective of the kids. It is very natural for the grandchildren in their teens to perceive this as hatefulness. They don’t have any understanding of life because of their upbringing and lack of strong belief system. It has a ripple effect and they put themselves into life-changing circumstances. This is one of the effects of what war and violence could do to human beings. I really wanted to document this aspect of act of violence in the film which we don’t often get to see in the movies.
Director Raghav Peri with ‘Best First Time Filmmaker’ Award
What was your work process with actress Gail Wagner in transitioning Agnes from script to screen?
I have huge regard to all the good actors in the world for their courage to be naked in-front of the camera expressing their deepest of their vulnerabilities. For a character like Agnes, which is emotionally so exhausting, it takes a lot of devotion, extreme faith and the experience of a lifetime to bring it to screen. In addition, I needed an actor who can play so many age groups. I was looking at different people to play this part but, I wasn’t satisfied with anyone. There was a time where I wasn’t sure if I was going to ever find someone who could pull of this role. I’m so glad, I had Gail Wagner, whom I can call a friend in my life to play this part.
I met her virtually through one of my actor friends Kevin Austra when I was looking for some help with casting of my previous short ‘Bar Study’. But, we had never met physically and didn’t know if she was interested in acting. All I knew about her was, she was directing stage plays. One day, we met at the casting of a web-series audition where I told her about this film project in a casual chat. She got excited and said, she was interested in it. For some reason, though I hadn’t seen her acting skills, i knew she might be the one. I invited her for a script read-through the following week. Between sharing the script that night with her and the time she actually appeared for the script read-through, there were a ton of message and email exchanges between us where we discussed about the character.
Finally, the day came and she did a rehearsal for me with other actor Kevin Francis who played the character ‘Rudolph’ in the film. When i saw the sensitivity in her eyes when she read the lines, it felt she was Agnes and totally right for the character. When she was adding her subtle nuances to the character and owning the lines, it blew my mind. I felt so confident and so happy, I can’t explain. I thought to myself, if the audience can have the same reaction that I had during the rehearsal process, we will win. After all the rehearsals for close to two months, we went to set and I knew she could deliver what was expected of the character. She hardly needed any direction. The most challenging thing was, we had to film a majority of her scenes in the first schedule that lasted for 10 days ( 12hrs shoot/day) and she had to commute for couple hours one way. Inspite of that, she was the first one to be seen on set and last one to leave. There was some serious dedication that went in and you can see the result in the film. Huge respect to her.
Reference stand point, the inspiration of Agnes wearing red jackets while walking on the beach is from the iconic scene from Schindler’s List again where a young girl is seen walking on street in red in a black & white movie. As they say, 90% of your job is done if you do the casting right. I must thanks again, Gail for her incredible performance as Agnes, Emily for playing the character Tasha, who kind of plays the anchor role and narrates the entire story and all the other supporting characters for doing this film.
From Left: PA Adam, Dir Raghav Peri, and Actor James Robinson Jr.PC: Nick Belial
DOP John Presutto. PC: Nick Belial
The cinematography in Delaware Shore is wonderful, and does a fantastic job in creating the screen-world of your story. Tell us about your collaboration with cinematographer John Presutto.
I met John Presutto on the sets of a web-series I was assisting in Production. I immensely liked his work and wanted to collaborate with him on my first feature. Later, I came to realize that he is a five time Emmy nominee and won best commercial spot at the 2014 Emmy Awards. What can I say about this talented guy? He’s got this extraordinary ability to translate anything so easily from paper to screen.
When we first met and discussed about the project, he wanted to read the script first and then, make a decision. In our next meeting, he told me how he liked all the characters in the film and agreed to work on this film. He asked me references for the look of the film. At that moment, I didn’t have one and he kind of suggested a few Netflix series and movies. I told him what I wanted to achieve through the characters and how I’m going to frame them showing all the rehearsal footage. I have also explained him the colors of costumes for the actors and reasons behind them- Red for Agnes, earthtly colors like browns and ashes for Tasha, Blue for Gallagher which were after going to symbolize trauma, pain, vulnerability and adaptability respectively.
Every night before the shoot, we always went through the shot list I have for the following day and we discussed everything in detail about the equipment that’s needed and shots that could be potentially added to enhance the emotion and tell the story better. He always wanted the shot division to be motivated by the scene and emotion. He always kept me honest about everything that I was trying to accomplish and if I got struck working with any actor on any particular scene, he made sure I didn’t rush since we were behind the schedule. He is the most coolest person and my best pal on the set. Whenever I was stressed out, he would pickup on that and cheered up my mood without my knowledge. There were few occasions where I gave him really tight spaces to film but, he doesn’t like to work in such environments. And, a few occasions where I couldn’t afford to give him enough crew. Even in all those circumstances, he did an awesome job. He is a great team player. To summarize, he did a fantastic job to see my vision come through and contributed to this project insanely and I can’t wait to work with him sooner.
Actress Emily McKinley Hill with Dir Raghav Peri. PC: Nick Belial
What was the best part for you in the process of making Delaware Shore?
I thoroughly enjoyed the initial research and writing phase since it was a lot of learning and unlearning both. The most memorable thing in the entire process was the first 10 days of shoot on the location in Slaughter Beach. We were group of about 20-30 people who lived on the set literally. I can never forget the unbelievable energy on the set during those days.
Apart from these, we have some scenes involving young actors like Jessica and Zachary. Though they were very young and working with experienced actors, I never had to treat them specially. Both of them are brilliant. The kids who played Young Gallagher and Young Tasha, both of these were really good as well. I was really surprised, the questions I got asked on set from all of them. Working with such a young talent who can really perform was really memorable. Thanks to all their parents.
Actor Ed Aristone with Actress Gail Wagner. PC: Nick Belial
What is your favorite scene in the movie? Why is it your favorite?
If I really had to pick one scene, it would be between the character Agnes and Frederick on the beach with the super moon in the background. It was shot couple years back but it’s permanently etched in my memory. It was something very special. There was on-screen magic that happened that particular day. It was a cold set, very very freezing actually. I had my PA’s holding blankets for the actors between the shots. My DOP came up with this wonderful composition for the entire scene. We tracked the moon and waited for the shot all evening. There were lights set up and the scene involved a couple practical effects. And, there were at least 10-15 people while we were filming the scene but, after I called action, I wasn’t there. I was so drawn to the performances that I forgot to call the shot cut. It was cinema magic. I can’t explain it further without revealing the plot. Hopefully, when the audiences see it, they experience the same as well.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while making this film?
Like any film, there were different challenges that we faced during various phases of the project. One time it was an inclement weather, when we were switching scenes from exterior to interior, then location unavailability the other time, when you have to scout a new location altogether to save the day, technical issues or shortage of crew the next time, and so on. Again, I have to give it to my crew who gave their 200% to make sure we successfully achieved what we wanted from the day.
Actor James Robinson Jr.PC: Nick Belial
What would you like your viewers to take from Delaware Shore?
The film really emphasizes the message, “Life constantly hits you with waves. But you never really know what is out there unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Apart from the celebration of human spirit and courage, this woman-centric film does touch upon a few serious issues like teen pregnancy, violence, gay identity that are currently omnipresent. It was never a conscious effort to force fit them into the film, I just followed the characters and these flowed naturally into the screenplay. I’m not trying to provide any solutions to these problems but I want the audience to have a wider outlook and more compassion once they step out of the cinema.
What did you learn from this experience?
If you believe in yourself and take the first step, everyone will walk with you on your journey and help you reach the final destination. It’s always that first step is what defines you as a person. Be fearless. Apart from this, it definitely enhanced my respect towards cinema and people who work behind it. It’s been such a rewarding experience to have my first feature done finally.
Actress Emily McKinley Hill. PC: Nick Belial
If you had the chance to do it all over again, what would you have changed? Why?
I have actually written sub plots for the characters of Ron and Jason where i wanted to explore the theme of violence but, there wasn’t supporting run time if we were to stay under 90 minutes and enough budget to film the supporting footage, I have actually cut them from the film. My editor David S Titus did a phenomenal job with the editing really helped while making these tough decisions. To narrate the back story of Agnes, originally, at the writing stage, i had a huge concentration camp episode of 10 minutes written into the film. Again, since the budget didn’t support it, i couldn’t afford to film them and rewrote them in a different way. The actress Kirsten Valania who played Young Agnes gave a magical performance which was so satisfying and helped me forget about this until now since you brought this topic. These are the only couple things that I couldn’t accomplish from the original screenplay.
What is your favorite part in filmmaking?
I equally love everything as part of film making. Writing is what I enjoy most creatively whereas I realized I’m at my best self when I’m on set. It’s super challenging with everything being so volatile on set. The immense satisfaction you get after every good shot is unparalleled to anything in the world for me.
Dir Raghav Peri with Actor James Robinson Jr. PC: Nick Belial
Can you give a word of advice to aspiring filmmakers around the world?
The only thing, I would say, if you have a good story you are really passionate about, worth spending your time and energy, just go make it and have fun. It’s totally alright to make any mistakes. There’s no better way to learn than by doing it. Don’t ask for anyone’s permission to make a movie.
What’s next for you? Tell us about some of your upcoming projects.
I’m really looking forward to the theatrical release of Delaware Shore in LA on 12/21 and NY on 12/28 and excited to see the audience reception. In parallel, I’m also working on planning to expand to new cities later in early 2019. Once these are done, I would like to get back to the writing table. I have two screenplay ideas that are waiting to be penned. One is a very ambitious project set in New York City and the other, I have a light hearted film about a young couple from Miami. As you are aware, there are a lot of variables which will determine which will be next. But, I’m equally excited to direct either one of them next in 2019.
Actor James Robinson Jr. with Actor Kevin Austra
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
Honestly, this one’s very tough to answer. Alright, it will be either of the greatest DOPs we have, Robert Richardson or Emmanuel Lubezki. And, once I have either of them on my team, it will be easy to get my dream cast which includes my all-time favorite Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and, Samuel Jackson :-) I have been a huge admirer of all their body of work.
Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so I readers could keep track of your career.
You can find me on all social media channels below.