Director Soham Mehta Discusses His New Film ‘Run The Tide’ and Working With Taylor Lautner
Soham Mehta is an editor, writer, and film director. His latest film, ‘Run The Tide’, featuring Taylor Lautner, is now in release and available on VOD. We recently caught up with the busy filmmaker and had the chance to ask a few questions about the film and his work in the industry. Be sure to read his profile following the interview.
Thanks for taking the time to talk about your film, Run the Tide. Tell us about the project.
RUN THE TIDE deals with a family working through past regrets and struggling to find forgiveness. The drama centers around Rey, a character who fears life may be passing him by, and that believes that this is his last chance to break free and chase his dreams. Like every family, they push and pull at each other. They love each other deeply, but that does not mean that moving forward is any easier.
The central action of RUN THE TIDE is formed by two competing road trips as Rey runs away with his brother Oliver, and his mother Lola gives chase with her husband Bo. Having grown up in Texas at a time when family vacations consisted mostly of long drives to nearby towns, I have first-hand experience of how the open road presents an emotional dichotomy — the feeling of complete freedom along with a sense of entrapment with your fellow travelers. It’s the perfect setting to explore the myth of American individualism versus the pull of family. It’s also the perfect opportunity for dormant feelings and issues to finally find a voice.
I first met screenwriter Rajiv Shah, who also acts, when I was considering him for a role in my short film FATAKRA. I ended up casting Samrat Chakrabarti (another terrific actor) before Rajiv had the chance to audition, but we decided to meet for coffee anyway — just to get to know each other. We connected over the type of films and filmmaking that we enjoyed, but he never told me that he was writing his own feature. Two years later when my short was making the festival rounds, Rajiv saw it and loved it.
He felt that the themes and tone very much related to the script that he was writing. He sent me the script, and I immediately fell in love with the heart of the story and the characters. We agreed to work together to try to make this film one way or another — even if it meant raising the money from friends and family, grabbing a DSLR, and just making it ourselves. Over the next year, Rajiv and I collaborated on the script, with me sending him notes and him churning out drafts. Luckily, he’s a very fast writer. Once we were both happy with the script, we started sending it out to anyone who would read it.
I have to get right to the obvious question: How did Taylor Lautner get involved and was he a choice from the start?
When Rajiv and I started working together, we were planning on just raising a little money from friends and family, grabbing a camera, and going. We never really dreamed that we would be able to assemble such a terrific cast for the film. And I would never have thought to go after a big name like Taylor Lautner. But independently of everything we were doing to try and get the film made, Mike Simpson, an agent at WME, saw my short film FATAKRA and loved it. That led to a meeting with him where I pitched RUN THE TIDE. He passed the project to one of his clients, the Academy Award nominated producer Pilar Savone. Once she came on board, the whole conversation changed. We were now being shepherded by one of Hollywood’s biggest agencies and had a legitimate producer attached. Internally at WME, Taylor had told his team that he was looking for the right character-focused project. He wanted to do something stripped down where the emphasis would be on performance rather than special effects or action. So the agency actually made the connection.
He really does great work here, showing maturity in his performance. What about him did you see in the character of Rey?
Rey is just very raw. He feels that the decisions that he makes over the next few days will determine the fate of the rest of life. He’s in a position of tremendous responsibility in regards to his brother, but he’s young himself. He can sense life passing him by, but he sees a chance to grab it and make it his own. This makes him impulsive and emotional. Even with Twilight — Taylor brought that sense of coiled energy that was just waiting to spring free. Resentment, anger, jealousy, and a strong protective instinct fueled that character, just as they fuel Rey.
Of course, the big difference was that in the TWILIGHT films those emotions manifested themselves in action sequences whereas with RUN THE TIDE those same emotions spark internal changes. It was fun to watch Taylor find ways to internalize decisions and emotional shifts as we shot our film. I’m excited for audiences to see Taylor in a new light once they see his performance here. There’s so much emotion and history that he’s processing as Rey, sometimes even in a single look.
A big part of the decision to cast Taylor was just meeting him and getting to talk about the character with him. He asked me thorough questions about Rey’s journey, and I could tell that he was interested in engaging with the internal journey of the character. Taylor is also very close and protective of his younger sister, so he had a lot to draw from for his relationship with Oliver.
I found the film’s central theme, at least in my interpretation, to be about growth and change. We see that with all three main characters, but especially with Rey and his attachment to the sea.Could you talk about this relationship he has with the ocean and why it’s important?
For Rey, a character who grew up in a small New Mexico town, the ocean represents the ultimate El Dorado. It’s everything that he cannot have — opportunity, freedom, love. In his dessert life, the ocean provides the fantasy that allows him to stay hopeful. Of course, achieving the fantasy brings its own consequences. That’s where the growth and change that you bring up come into play. The reality can never live up to his fantasy.
Young Nico Christou is quite effective playing Lautner’s little brother Oliver. Tell us about how he came to be in the film?
Nico was a complete discovery. Our casting director J.C. Cantu auditioned hundreds of young kids for the role and I saw dozens of the best selections. But J.C, Pilar, and I were torn. It wasn’t until we brought Nico in to read with Taylor that we knew we had our Oliver — they had such great chemistry together right from the start.
Taylor deserves a lot of credit for Nico’s performance. As a former child star himself, Taylor had a tremendous amount of insight and empathy for what Nico was going through on his first film set. He was always generous with Nico during their scenes together — rehearsing as many times as needed or not minding if we had to do many more takes on Nico. He just wanted to get the best performances for the film. Between scenes or during setup time, you could always find them horsing around together. The relationship they developed comes through in the film.
Then there is the great Constance Zimmer playing Lola, the boy’s troubling mother, recently released from prison. She brings such depth to her role and is a phenomenally naturally performer.
Working with Constance was a tremendous honor because I was already a fan of her work on HOUSE OF CARDS before we reached out to her. There’s a scene from ENTOURAGE where her character is discussing Taylor Lautner. I found it, and Pilar sent it to her manager as a joke to say that it was fate that they eventually ended up working together.
Constance is the type of actress that’s constantly cracking jokes until the moment you say action. So she’s a lot of fun for the entire crew to work with. I think it’s all part of her process — she’s mentally and emotionally in a completely different place until the scene starts. Then when you say action, she’s reacting spontaneously in the moment without any preconceived ideas. I don’t know how she would make the transition so abruptly, but she always did. Working with her and Kenny Johnson, two veteran actors, was a wonderful opportunity for me.
Right from the first take, what they were giving was already so good that I learned to sit back and really watch and listen and look for more subtle adjustments. I learned to be precise with my notes to them because they could dramatically alter their performances. Often my notes to them were just a matter of degrees, turning something up or down as needed to fit into the world of our film.
This is your first feature-length movie. What are some of the bigger challenges you faced in bringing this together?
The actual work of a given day of shooting a short versus shooting a feature is not that different. Once I realized that on the first day, I was much more comfortable with the whole thing. But the difference between bringing a short together and bringing a feature together are just two completely different things. The whole process of attaching talent and financing for a feature is it’s own unique thing, and directing shorts does very little to prepare you for that. So I was definitely learning as we did it. But that’s probably a good thing because every film comes together a different way, so it’s probably better to not have too many expectations on how it’s supposed to work.
On the creative front, I just think with a feature, the scope of the project becomes so much larger and more complex that clearly communicating your vision becomes critical. Some of the smaller roles were cast after we began shooting forcing me to make decisions based on a taped audition, so it was important that my casting director knew exactly what I was looking for with each role. We couldn’t afford extra prep days at locations, so I didn’t get to see a location dressed until walking onto set to shoot, so it was important for my production designer to have a very clear idea of what I wanted. I can cite a similar example for virtually every department.
You’re caught: with limited time and money, it becomes difficult to see things in advance, but making changes at the last minute costs time and money. The only way to make things work is to very clearly articulate your vision and desires to everyone who is making decisions on your behalf.
Both you and the film’s writer, Rajiv Shah, have some experience as actors. Has this helped you in your role as a director?
I definitely think Rajiv writes from an actor’s perspective. He does a wonderful job of giving every character their own story and their own arc. I think that’s one of the reasons that we were able to attract such terrific actors to the film.
As a director, my background as an actor definitely helps me talk to actors. I have some familiarity with various acting techniques and the terminology. At the same time, seasoned actors aren’t looking for coaching on set, and they each have their own processes. It’s important to figure out how to communicate your ideas about the character or scene, and provide concise adjustments to their performances, while allowing them to get where they’re going on their own in their own way.
More than my acting background, I pull from my experience as a theater director. Films, even short films, take so long to put together that you just don’t get that much practice. I used to have my own theater troupe in Texas, and over the years, I must have directed over a dozen full-length plays. That’s a level of practice working with actors that I would have never have gotten if I had just worked on films. The repeated practice made me comfortable when we had to unpack a difficult scene with the clock ticking or the sun setting. You just embrace the process without panicking and take solace knowing that improvements in a scene don’t come linearly: one take can be terrible, and the next can be brilliant with just a simple adjustment. The trick is finding it.
Are there any up-coming projects you’re working on that you could tell us about?
I’m working on a few different projects. The next film I hope to make is a crime story set in 1970s Hawaii called THE IRON KNIFE. I developed the script with J.D. Ho. She’s from Hawaii and brings her unique experience to the material. The script is ready, so we’re just starting the process of trying to put it together. Rajiv and I are also working on an epic political intrigue set in 500 BC India.
Our site often examines moments in movies and considers their importance and influence in cinema. What are some movie moments–or movies in general–that have helped shape your path?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING. That film is filled with memorable scenes, but the one I’ll point out is the fight scene between the two brothers Vito and Pino. I remember the first time I saw the film, the scene seemed so intense without a single actual blow being thrown, I felt like I was in the room with the two brothers. It wasn’t something that I directly referenced when filming the brothers’ fight for RUN THE TIDE, but it was definitely on my mind. It reveals so much about the characters and their relationship. Lee tackles the complexity of racism by showing how Vito and Pino, two brothers, can still have widely divergent views of race. The scene is also about the love and competitiveness between two brothers. Lee stages the scene in a claustrophobic storeroom too small to hold John Torturro’s wiry energy. He put the action under an overhead swinging lightbulb and filmed it as a single continuous shot. It shows a tremendous level of trust in himself, his writing, and the performances to shoot such a long dialogue scene as one shot. Sure it worked on set, but was it going to work in the final film? It absolutely did!
Look for Run The Tide on VOD, including iTunes, available now.
Soham Mehta is an award-winning filmmaker who strives to tell visually-striking stories that provide intersections for different communities to better understand each other. RUN THE TIDE is his feature directorial debut.
FATAKRA, Mehta’s graduate thesis film, was awarded the Student Academy Award, the Directors Guild of America Student Award, and over a dozen jury and audience awards while playing at over seventy-five film festivals worldwide. The film tells the story of an immigrant family that is reunited after a three-year separation.
His short film SURVIVORS borrows from Indian metaphysics to re-imagine the zombie-genre. The film is available on iTunes, Amazon, and continues to air internationally on the Shorts HD network. His film RELEASED follows an Indian-American victim of a hate crime as he confronts his assailant the day he is released from prison. REVENGE OF THE DESIS, a short documentary, explores the hilariously paradoxical culture of South Asian American fraternities. In addition to his short film work, Mehta cowrote the feature comedy WHERE’S THE PARTY, YAAR? starring Kal Penn and acquired by Lions Gate.
Mehta comes to film from an extensive background in theater. He founded SHUNYA, a theater troupe dedicated to providing a voice to the South Asian American experience. The troupe recently completed its twelfth season, and Mehta continues to serve on the Board of Directors.
When not developing his own material, Mehta also applies his storytelling skills as an editor. NOW, FORAGER, made its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. STONES IN THE SUN, was produced by Karin Chien and made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival where it received a special jury mention. The film went on to win best feature at the Pan African Film Festival, an Indie Spirit Piaget Producers Award, and an African Academy Award. The feature documentary BEYOND ALL BOUNDARIES, narrated by Kunal Nayyar of the BIG BANG THEORY won both the jury and audience awards at the Indian Film Festival of LA before being released theatrically and on television in India. The web action-comedy series AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS, an IFP Emerging Narrative, has developed a viral following online.
Born in India, Mehta’s family immigrated to Texas when he was four years old. He found a home in theater, acting in plays throughout his schooling. By the time he reached college, he gravitated towards writing and directing and received both his undergraduate degree in theater and his MFA in film from the University of Texas at Austin. Mehta was a 2014 Center for Asian American Media Fellow and was invited to the Directors Guild of America Asian American Committee Mentorship Program in 2013. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California.