June 2, 2015

SCA Alumni Stories: Aneesh Chaganty

Aneesh Chaganty '13

With his vibrant passion for honest and genuine storytelling evident in his work, Aneesh Chaganty ’13 is the director of the Google Glass short film Seeds and currently a member of the Google Creative Lab Five team. Chaganty recently shared his experience as an SCA student and a Google Fiver, and also discussed the power of a good story.

1. How did you come to pursue a career in the cinema industry? I think falling in love with anything is rooted in intangibles deeper than one anecdote, but if I had to give one, it would be my family. My mom grew up in a culture that worshipped movies—spectacles, romances, epics, dramas—and she passed that on to everyone in the house. In middle school, she would pull me and my brother out of class on a bunch of Fridays to take us to wait in line for a movie that had just been released. Naturally, I fell in love with movies as an experience well before I fell in love with movies as a craft, and that—I hope—really informs the way I tell stories today.

2. How has being an alum of SCA impacted your career? It’s hard to separate fact and propaganda when you’re in school, but what they all said about alumni working together is completely true. My biggest creative collaborators are SCA alumni across every creative discipline. It’s not only that these people are the ones immediately around you or in your network when you are making movies, but they’re also some of the most talented people around. I met my biggest creative collaborator—producer Sev Ohanian (Fruitvale Station, Seeds, Teacher of the Year)—when he was my S.A. in 480.

3. How has your time at SCA shaped your creative vision and technical skill set as a filmmaker? Everyone’s got a different way of telling stories. And there’s no better way to learn what yours is than by actually trying to tell those stories. SCA consistently provided opportunities for me to do that as well as the space for me to fail. It challenged me to perform by putting me in classrooms with some of the most driven and experienced people I know (both peers and professors), and provided all the tools I needed to accomplish that. SCA didn’t really shape my creative vision as much as it helped me discover it.

4. As a writer-director, in what ways do you hope your work touches an audience? I don’t know the answer to this and, to be honest, I’m happy I don’t. I fear I’ll put myself in a box with the stories I try to tell if I start defining the experience people are supposed to have. The beauty of what I get to do every day is that I can surprise myself. But one thing I know for sure is that the opportunity to make movies is a blessing. Hundreds of millions of people around the world look to a screen to feel and to learn how to live, so I do see myself carrying a responsibility far beyond my own desires. But who knows what that will look like? We’ll just have to see.

5. During your time as director of the Seeds Google Glass project, how did you grow as a filmmaker? Seeds was when I learned how to stop controlling a story and just let it tell itself. I stopped asking the question, “What can I do to make this special?” and started asking, “What does this movie want to be?” That’s not to say it didn’t take hundreds of hours to work; it certainly did. But, ironically, the less I tried to force my influence on it, the more naturally the whole thing unfolded. It was a pretty surreal experience.

The filming of Seeds

6. How has your experience ben with Google 5 thus far? The best part of being a Fiver is that I get to define the parameters of my own work. As a filmmaker at Google, I’ve worked on everything from the international Android advertising campaign to films about products that don’t exist and people who are changing the way we look at the world. I belong to an eclectic team of tinkers and designers and filmmakers and ad people, all who share a deep passion for what they do. It’s been so humbling to work alongside creatives who are ten times smarter in subjects I never even knew about—on projects defined not only by ambition and scale, but by goodness. Plus, we make stuff the world gets to see. It’s been pretty spectacular.

7. What advice do you have for current SCA students? I like this question, because it’s actually something I’ve been wondering about a lot lately. I think if you’re a writer/director in film school, especially one as competitive as SCA, you have this image of yourself “making it” that involves graduating, writing a feature as soon as possible, crowd-sourcing your budget, getting into production, finishing your movie and then gaining traction on the festival circuit. Don’t get me wrong—I have immense respect for my peers who’ve already done that, and knowing that one day in the very near future I’ll have to do the same is humbling and horrifying. But what I’ve learned in the last year is that it doesn’t only take 90 minutes for doors to start opening in your life.

Seeds taught me that all it takes is one camera, a good story, and 2 ½ minutes. That’s it. Nearly 3 million people watched a 2 ½ minute movie I made not because it had a star (we never even see the protagonist’s face), or because it was programmed content, but simply because we had a good story.

It’s cheesy, but I really believe that we can all make an amazing short film—especially the filmmakers given the resources that SCA provides. Even if you fail the first, second, or fifth time (I did way more than that), the chances of nailing 2 ½ minutes on your eighth attempt are still a lot better than nailing 90 minutes on your first try.

8. What’s next for you? I just wrapped a video that premiered at Google I/O this week and I’m very stoked about the possibility that everyone else will get to see it very, very soon! After that, I couldn’t be more excited for Sev Ohanian and myself to put the finishing touches on our second screenplay and send that off to the world. Once that’s done, I’ll be making more (hopefully, awesome) stuff at Google and getting to work on what I want to be my feature-length directorial debut. Sev and I have been searching for a story for a couple years now, and I think we finally found something really, really special.

9. If you could wake up tomorrow as someone else, whom would you pick and what would you do? Meryl Streep’s husband. Perfection rubs off, right?