Since he was a child, Kartikye Gupta was fascinated by cinema and how technology was used as a tool to tell stories in this medium. While his love for movies led him to become an extraordinary filmmaker, his passion for technology led him to come up with innovative techniques and methods to improve the filmmaking process. Son of a television producer and grandson of a film producer, Kartikye was drawn to the world of cinema at a very young age. He started making films at the age of 10 and a few years later he received a talent scholarship from the prestigious New York Film Academy to better master the art of filmmaking.
Since his debut film Dr. Elevator, which was acclaimed by Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis and screened at more than 50 film festivals, has used editing to draw attention to many relevant themes and new ways of thinking about mounting. His next film, released the following year, was called Please don’t call the cops and premiered at South Asia’s biggest film festival (SAIFF) – where it was nominated for the first HBO Editor’s Choice Award. Gupta has not only excelled in fiction, but also in documentaries and commercial filmmaking working with brands like Nike, Reebok and Facebook.
In this interview, the young filmmaker talks about his journey as a filmmaker, his fascination with technology, his love for storytelling, the desire to tell South Asian stories, the cinematic appeal of India and more.
People often talk about how cinema is an art form, but its technological aspects are not discussed in depth. You are someone who likes to experiment with technology all the time.
Technology continues to evolve and that’s the most exciting part of it. The volume of movies made today is much higher than the number of movies made in the 80s or 90s. Technology has made it possible to tell stories in a much more convenient way. Equipment is readily available and much cheaper than before. Today, many individuals shoot short films using their smartphones. Even feature films have been shot on iPhone. At the time, filmmakers depended on reels and other things that were very expensive.
Technology has not only offered resources, it has opened up new mediums for making films. 50 years ago, you could only show your films indoors. There was no television or computer then. Many people now consume content exclusively on their phones. Two years ago, an Oscar-winning producer launched an OTT platform designed for audiences who wanted to watch movies only on their phones. Today, brands advertise for Instagram and other social platforms. VR is getting a lot of attention and is sure to change the way we consume content in the near future.
So the need of the hour is to strike a balance between storytelling and technology?
I guess those two things go hand in hand. A lot of movies today are tech-heavy. People use high-tech cameras and trackers. Most movies, including comedies or dramas, are visually heavy. For a great story to become a movie, it has to be visually appealing. It must have a cinematic appeal. However, a great story can also work without great visual effects. The classics that were made before didn’t have VFX. That being said, technology helps the medium and helps to enhance the story.
You studied cinema at the American Film Institute. In your opinion, how important is formal training for a filmmaker?
My father runs colleges and comes from an educational background. He always told me that whatever you pursue, you have to educate yourself first. What a film school does is it helps you fail. A film school is a great place to learn different aspects of filmmaking and make mistakes. It gives you a chance to fail multiple times and grow in the process. Once out of film school, you’re on your own. The industry expects you to be the best at the job you do. You can’t afford to make mistakes afterwards.
It’s only been a few years since you started your professional career as a filmmaker. In a very short time, you have worked on many interesting projects, including the Facebook movie Metaverse.
I was lucky enough to be exposed to virtual reality quite early in life. I vividly remember seeing a very basic VR movie in 2018 and thinking it was technology that would change the entertainment landscape forever. As I had spent a lot of time with my technology, I was able to undertake professional projects that involved the use of virtual reality.
A major commercial agency hired me to edit the visual effects for the first Metaverse ad that Facebook was releasing. They had to be futuristic but relatable at the same time. This video did two important things. He introduced users to Meta, the new company name and also familiarized them with new technology.
You have a documentary series ready to go out. Tell us something about them.
This year, three films, including myself, are premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. Tribeca brings some of the finest creations from around the world to the heart of New York and makes them available to the public in the most convenient way. One of the series, Supreme Team, produced by Showtime, takes an in-depth look at the notorious gang from Queens, New York, and tells the true story from the mouth of its two leaders and family members, Kenneth “Supreme “McGriff and Gerald. “Prince” Miller. Nowadays, graphics and animation are revolutionizing documentaries to tell stories in innovative ways. One of the main characters is currently in federal prison, so there was no video interview available, the team was stuck on how to make it visually appealing without having access to the interview visuals. It was then that I led the team on creating a strong graphic language to clarify complex information and convey a tone that informs, dramatizes and leaves an impact. The animation not only helped with the storytelling, but also gave high production value to the product here.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
It’s a question I come back to once every six months. Most of the films I write and direct are about the South Asian community in America. With each new story to be told, a new way of telling it arises. Today, most South Asian families have a few members or relatives living overseas. I spent the first fifteen years of my life in Bhopal. Then I came to Los Angeles. I have a keen interest in telling South Asian stories. It is the second growing ethnicity in the United States after the Chinese. India is one of the most cinematic countries in the world. The diversity of the country makes it truly special. Every time I go back to Bhopal, I see stories everywhere. People in India are very caring and caring. That’s why so many great stories come from there.