Big Break Alumni Rajiv Shah On The Premiere of Contest Spec “Run the Tide”
by Final Draft
Final Draft: What was the process like going from Big Break to where you are now?
Rajiv Shah: Initially, I placed in the quarter-finals, the semifinals and then actually made it to the top 35 of the Big Break Contest. It gave me a big boost! I was working with director, Soham Mehta at the time and it gave us a lot of confidence as we sent the script out. It helped as we brought it around to producers that we had a bit of momentum from placing in the competition.
Soham ended up getting a meeting with an agent at WME, Mike Simpson. He pitched Run the Tide after we had already placed in Big Break and had that momentum. Mike asked if he could read it. He was really kind and read it and got back to us asking if he could send it to a producer friend. He gave it to Pilar Savone who produced for Quentin Tarantino. She ended up loving it. I owe a great deal to Pilar and Mike because things just started opening up after we met them. They took it to the level that we had hoped, opening up doors regarding casting, crew, and production companies.
It was really great because we were just two young, upstart filmmakers but we had this clear vision of what we wanted. We were really passionate about what we were trying to say with the material. We felt like we had this very quiet, sensitive, emotional story about family.
Here’s this small movie of ours but we had these really great, amazing people come together to make it and they come from two separate ends of the filmmaking world with us being independent filmmakers and Mike and Pilar and most of our crew coming from working on bigger films so it was perfect for us because we had that framework and guidance.
FD: What was the original inspiration for the script?
RS: I was an actor before I started writing. My background came from plays. At the time Run the Tide came about in my head I was graduating college and like a lot of college students, I had this degree in theater and I didn’t know exactly what to do with it. I wasn’t getting cast in things and I was having a hard time just getting a job to survive so I felt stuck, incredibly stagnant, not knowing where my future was going. Since I didn’t have a job I started taking care of my god-brother. My god-mother asked me if I could pick him up from school and just spend time with him and help with him. I was in this unintentional semi-surrogate father type of role. His name is Oliver, the real kid that some of the experiences in Run the Tide are inspired by. That experience with him became the genesis of Run the Tide.
Then I started fictionalizing things. Starting with the relationship between Rey and Oliver, and then I just built from there. Everything was, how do I heighten this? How do I choose locations that express the emotional inner-life of my characters? That’s where the craft came about – I was really learning by doing. It took a long time for me because I hadn’t written anything before.
My background as an actor really helped as far as character motivation and what characters want as far as through-lines. It really came about, as an actor, thinking about what role I would want to play, so I created Rey around that. Then the script continued as I connected the dots backwards. I workshopped it like an actor. I would read through it and that’s how I would find the voices of characters, thinking, “Does this feel dramatic enough?” as I’m performing it to myself.
FD: So what was that process like? When you first thought, I’m going to sit down and write a screenplay, not having done it before?
RS: I was always reading scripts, plays, screenplays. And growing up I was always watching movies. I think in some ways, seeing all those films, reading all those scripts, reading plays, was really great for learning dialogue and story. It just infused and instilled a sense or an instinct.
As far as structuring, that was something that took me a little longer. I feel like during the writing process what came a bit more naturally were things like character motivation, dialogue. But I really had to learn structure. I had to make mistakes and realize – that part is not moving, that’s not escalating, this part is dragging here.
The more I read about screenwriting, the more I wonder if I did it in the reverse: You come from structure and I worked towards structure. It took me a lot longer! Don’t get me wrong. I find that other writers are able to do it quicker and come out with a script a lot faster but since it was my first, it was really a pretty steep learning curve. It’s a constant learning process.
FD: What are you working on next?
RS: I’m working on a couple of projects. I’m developing a couple of things with my manager Josh Zakaria and I’m also working with Soham. We’re collaborating on a period, epic picture that’s a bit larger than Run the Tide. We’re trying to build on what we established as he and I have a really good working relationship from Run the Tide. Because we have similar sensibilities we came together to actually write something as a team. Additionally, there are a good number of projects I have going in various stages. Some in script form, some still in treatment.
FD: What advice would you give to writers who are in the same place you were a number of years ago, placing in the Big Break Contest?
RS: I would say if you’re passionate about your script, keep going. You don’t know what’s going to come next or how something is going to come together, but believe in the vision. Believe in what you’re trying to say and do because I really believe that’s what got the people who helped us make our film excited about us and about the project – that passion and that belief in it. It’s hard because you don’t know how things are going to transpire. Embrace that uncertainty and just keep going back to craft because the craft never leaves you. You never know what’s going to happen. You have to really enjoy the process and keep getting better.
Lastly, I just want to say thanks to Final Draft for being receptive and open and being supportive. I think it’s a really great thing for writers, especially when you are starting out because that validation you get is just a boost. That encouragement of, “Oh yeah, what I’m working on, it’s advanced or moved on!” It’s important to really celebrate that – to know what you’re doing is resonating.