Production Notes

REFLECTIONS ON THE SHOOT
By Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso

Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso This whole experience seems surreal. I feel like I'm still dreaming. It still hasn't hit me that I just completed a movie. I'm not sure it will until I see the final product on the big screen. Everything happened so fast. Those 3 months are like a blur. In the beginning, the end seemed so far away. I began a countdown to last day. The pain of being away from my friends and family seemed unbearable. Some days I just cried tears of loneliness. Surrounded by people, yet alone. The only people whom I loved and who loved me were half way around the world. My thoughts always led me back to home. And now, as things come to and end, my feelings have changed. The ending became bittersweet. I've learned so much, so fast.

My journey to India for this film was also journey of self-discovery. I was able to delve deeper into my soul. Ideas and thoughts that were lost to me in my youth now re-emerged. I have this film to thank for helping me find my true self.

I enjoyed this time. Living out of a suitcase, eating out all the time, meeting and seeing all kinds of people, gave a glimpse of how my life could have been…what it still could be. The way I always imagined it would be. Everyday was an adventure.

As the captain announced our descent into Delhi, I looked out of the plane window into darkness. Where were the city lights? It was so different from the evening skyline when landing into Washington, DC. I took a deep breath as we jolted onto the landing strip. Here I go. There was no turning back now.

A few days were spent recuperating in Delhi and then we were off to McLeod Gunj, Dharamsala. This is where the Dalai Lama made his exiled home and hundreds of Tibetans refugees settled in order to be closer to him. This is where I would spend the next few months of my life.

This city was in India, but inside its limits, you would never know. Everywhere you turned, you saw Tibetan faces, Tibetan stores, and Tibetan restaurants. It is sometimes referred to as Little Lhasa. And amidst the familiar faces were the weathered faces of tourists from
all over the world. I often wondered how they stumbled upon this city built into the mountain.

I arrived in Dharamsala on October 7th, 2003, and had about a week to acclimatize myself until we began our acting workshop with an instructor by the name of Barry John. We had two weeks to learn everything we could of the basics of acting. Every morning, we started at 9 am and ended at 5 pm. We began with warm up exercises to make our bodies limber. Then ended with acting exercises to make our minds more limber. It was an intense program designed to introduce us to the general art of performing. Some had backgrounds in performance. Others were very comfortable with the idea. Not me. The process was difficult. Not only was I new to the idea, I was also new to the group. Most of these people had grown up together or had worked together. I was the outsider in the group. This was already nerve-racking for me, but now I had to interact with these perfect strangers on a very intimate level. Not only did I survive, but also this core group formed a special bond. We brought our aching bodies in every morning and put ourselves out there every day.

After the workshop came to and end, we immediately began our rehearsals. During this time we were constantly in front of a camera. Though it was only a small, handheld video camera, it made me very self-conscious. I was never one who was comfortable with a camera. Yet through our rigorous hours of dress rehearsals, I learned to ignore its constant presence. It actually came to a point where I forgot it was even there. I'm very grateful for the time before the actual shoot. I believe it made great impact on my performance ability. I'm not saying that I doled out an Academy Award winning performance, but it definitely allowed me to reach a level where I was no longer conscious of the camera, and the 20 or so crew members on the set!

The day we were supposed to start the shoot, I got a terrible case of food poisoning. But as fate would have it, the shoot was postponed due to problems with the camera. Some would call it divine intervention. Whatever it was, it was truly a blessing. For 24 hours, I lay in my room, running from the bathroom to my bed. But I wasn't alone. I had some family members and now, good friends, watching over me. Members of the cast and crew would stop by and check in on me.

Some scenes were harder then others. Whether it was due to location or emotion. I learned so much about how much goes into making a film. I truly have a newly found respect for actors/ performers. Lights, camera, action. It sounds simple, but I quickly found out that this was not the case. I learned about light meters, reflectors, sound, positioning, hitting your mark, catching your light and cheating the camera angle. Most importantly, I learned to be aware of the camera but not conscious of it. It's hard to explain.

There were days when we would either be waking up or going to asleep at 4am. I think one of the hardest scenes for me was the Bus Breakdown. That was where I really learned how far I could push my mind and body. That was the first day I showed some true frustration. We left at 7am and drove about 2 hours to the site. It was important that we caught the early morning light for this scene. This was a very pivotal moment in the movie. So, there was a lot of pressure to capture the correct emotion. We had to wait every time the sun moved behind a cloud. Traffic noise as well as foot traffic had to be controlled. Microphones had to be adjusted. We had an incident were one of the sound crew left a small bandage on the shirt of one my co-stars. This completely changed the mood of the scene. During all of this we, the actors, had to retain the feelings of our characters and deliver our dialogue. One particular shot was extremely difficult. It was already noon and no one had eaten. People's stomachs were growling and I could hear people commenting on how hungry they were. I was also hungry, but I had to nail this shot. And until I did, I knew that no one was going anywhere. Unfortunately, by the time we were ready for another take, my mind was unable to focus. I couldn't get my lines to come out correctly. I was so angry with myself that I walked away from the set in disgust. I needed a few minutes to regain composure. Once I returned, I finished the scene so we finally broke for breakfast. That was the day I lost my cool. Of course, later I felt embarrassed about my behavior. I didn't want the cast or crew to think my anger was directed at them. It was solely about my inability to perform.

The first few days of shooting completely erased any grandiose notions I had of the glamorous world of movies. I felt pushed and prodded at from every direction. I felt overwhelmed and truly began to doubt my capabilities. Had Ritu and Tenzing-la made the wrong decision? What had I gotten myself into? Was I in over my head? I really got down on this whole trip and myself. Then one night, after a meeting with the directors, and Jigme, Jampa-la, and myself, I walked away with a different feeling. I went home that night and wrote in my journal. I told myself that this was the last day I was going to feel sorry for myself. I was here to make a movie. The directors chose me for a reason. This was an experience of a lifetime and here I was counting down the days until I'd be home. From that day forth, I never allowed myself to enter those scenes. It wasn't me anymore. I started each scene as Karma, not as Tenzin Chokyi. I learned that if I relaxed, I had an easier time becoming my character.

I know I won't be catapulted into stardom or fame. I'm fine with that. And even if my first film becomes my last, I'll still be content. I walked away from this whole experience with so much more. It was an honor to work with this cast and crew. They made my journey so much easier.

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