Interview with Filmmaker Priya Mishra (BATH BOMB)

BATH BOMB was the winner of BEST FILM at the February 2022 LGBTQ+ Shorts Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

My mother passed away in Fall 2017 during the beginning of my Junior year of college, when I was 19 years old. It was after a really tough year of her fighting terminal metastatic cholangiocarcinoma – bile duct cancer. It is an especially bitter sort of cancer. If we had caught it sooner then she perhaps could have gotten her bile duct removed and gotten rid of it. However, this cancer only makes itself known by the time it’s too late– the person only feels the pain of it after it has already metastasized. But even when she started to feel the symptoms of stomach pain, she dismissed it as something else, something random and harmless, even though it persisted for months. I think about those months, when she felt the pain and maybe could have gotten it diagnosed earlier, often.

It was only my freshman year that I came to terms with my queerness, and even then it didn’t truly sink in until much later. So here I am, a bisexual girl who has only very recently accepted her sexuality, and hasn’t even really had time to process it on her own, let alone tell someone else. There was no time or room for love or romance or coming to terms with any of this when she was sick my sophomore year. And the whole time I’m stuck in this purgatory. I’m missing my mother’s love so deeply, feeling like I’ve been yanked into a nightmare, or like my previous reality was just a dream. But I’m also wondering whether my mom would’ve still loved me if she knew who I really were. Was the love she initially gave me even real, considering she didn’t know this huge part of me, and was instead loving what I thought was this illusion I had put up?

I looked so, so hard for the film I made. Surely there are other queer brown girls who had dead moms, and were grappling with their sexuality? Surely there was something out there that could show them they were loved? Surely! But no matter how hard I looked- I couldn’t find it.

This film was my endeavor at giving myself what I needed. My friends were my lifeline that really challenging first year after she passed, and the somehow more challenging second year. But there were times where I was so scared to reach out to my friends. I felt like I didn’t have the right to, didn’t want to bring them down, didn’t I already bother them enough? All of this in my own head, of course. This was especially true at sleepless 3ams, of which I had many during the time. When I couldn’t stop crying and couldn’t sleep, I would open up celtx and write.

This screenplay was the first one I ever wrote, and it was hugely therapeutic and affirming. When I would feel really lonely I would open it up, and think of what exactly was bothering Emi, and what exactly I wanted her to hear. Thinking of how to best soothe her helped me remember all the ways my friends had soothed and supported me. Many of the lines that are in the screenplay are ones directly translated from real life– the poor ways people attempted to comfort me, my own thoughts and words of despair, and, of course, all the ways my darling friends made me feel loved, the things they said, and the things they did.

In comforting Emi, who was me, I became Neha, who was also me. When I was telling a friend about the characters in the film I made she asked- “Wait, so which one is you?” To which I replied, “Both!” to which she replied, “Oh! That’s very Scorpio of you.” I suppose I am inclined to agree.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

Two and a half years! I got the idea and started writing the screenplay in the Spring of 2019, we shot in Fall 2019, and we finished the final cut in Fall of 2021. It probably would have been finished in Late Spring of 2020, but the pandemic hit the day after my editor and I finished our rough cut, and made everything topsy-turvy for a long while.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Warm Comfort

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

I would have to say that the biggest obstacle was probably my own greenness as a director when we were shooting. This was my directorial debut, so while I had a decent understanding of the filmmaking process from the other films I had worked on – raising money, casting, sourcing equipment, shot-listing – I had never directed before nor really observed how directors worked. I didn’t have the hands-on understanding of how to run a set and how to prepare and direct actors, even though I did watch videos and read manuals to prepare for it. My actors and crew were so lovely throughout it all, and we made something special that we’re all so proud of. But I definitely learned a lot from this first experience, and I’m very grateful for it! I feel like the only way to learn things like directing is to actually do the thing, see what works and what doesn’t, and then change and grow accordingly. I’ve definitely grown- and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to without this experience!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was filled with so much joy when I watched the audience feedback video! I even started crying. Afterwards I sent it to everyone I knew and posted the link everywhere, and also made sure that my crew watched it. They were also overjoyed and very touched. Everyone gave such thoughtful commentary! When they mentioned the comfort of the lighting and costuming, the intimacy, the vulnerability, the deliberation which went into the set design, the message I was trying to tell about love and grief and feeling your emotions- it was as if they were in my head when I was making the film, and they were relaying my own thoughts back to me. I’m so, so happy that they were able to see and resonate with what I was giving. This film was so very much just a large piece of myself that I thrust out into the world, full of my own feelings and doubts and vulnerabilities. To see it be received with such warmth, understanding, and recognition makes the entire fearful process of it all worth it ten times over.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I have always, always been obsessed with film. The main way that my family would spend time together when I was a kid was by watching Bollywood films; in fact, most of the movies I watched up until I was around eleven years old were Bollywood movies! But it wasn’t until college, my first time away from home, that I realized just how much of my personality and views of the world were shaped by the melodrama and optimism of Bollywood films. Learning about that piece of myself was very valuable. I was also always a writer, and always a visual artist. It was honestly surprising that I didn’t get formally involved in Film, which marries the two so beautifully, until so much later.

When I was a sophomore, my friend, who knew how much I loved amateurly analyzing films, dragged me along to try out for the school’s pre-professional cinematic society with him. Somehow I made it past all the rounds of events and interviews and got in! One of the stipulations of being in the club was spending at least eight hours a semester working on a fellow member’s film; that was when I got my first taste of being on set. I PA-ed an older member’s short that Fall of 2016, and I still vividly remember what being on set for the first time was like. Watching everyone do their specifically necessary roles, seeing the actors put on their personalities, watching the story get made and unfold- it was magic. I fell in love with being on set almost instantly.

But it was all cemented for me the first time I ever AD-ed. Getting involved in the pre-production process was heady and full of anticipation and excitement. But our last day of shooting- almost everything seemed to be going wrong. After a deeply intense three days of shooting- rife with technical failure, long days, and unexpected obstacles- we ended up on Coney Island Beach at two a.m. on a Tuesday. Even though it was almost May, the weather was bitingly cold, and the ocean breeze only made it worse. On top of all of that, it had begun to rain around Midnight.

Even with the freezing rain and damp clothing, the deliriously late night and feeling of everything going wrong, I still thought about how I didn’t want to be anywhere else. When we finished the shoot I had the feeling that I could conquer anything I pursued, and I knew that the thing I wanted to pursue was film.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Probably the Chris Evans and Anna Faris romcom “What’s Your Number?” It’s deeply soothing to me, lots of fun, very gorgeous, and I love their charisma. When my ma passed away I used to leave it on in the background on repeat all the time, because I loved the way it made me feel. I even reference it in Bath Bomb! It’s the film that Emi and Neha are watching on their laptop at the end of the movie.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

This experience was absolutely lovely to go through- the festival runners and staff were (and continue to be!) so thoughtful and attentive. I am fully satisfied with the help I’ve gotten and very grateful! Perhaps if there were some way the festival could help connect current filmmakers whose films were accepted with previous ones, that would be cool! I feel like a lot of this industry is about getting to know people and receiving mentorship – it would be really cool to have some queer mentors or peers to talk to!

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

It’s been very simple and easy working on the site! I think the portion of the site where you use keywords to search for festivals could be a bit better, but it’s so easy to apply to festivals and everything is very organized, so it’s also super easy to keep track of festival statuses. I’m overall very pleased with the platform!

10. What is your favorite meal?

Paneer Rava Dosa! A savory South Indian crepe with spiced potatoes and paneer. We used to go get Dosas to celebrate any and everything in my family, so it holds a special place in my heart.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

A new film, but also lots and lots of new screenplays I’m writing! We’ll see which one of them I finish first 🙂

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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