Sujata Day Interview Transcript
Masami: [00:00:00] Thank you so much for being on the podcast today and think you’re reaching out and, you shared with me your movie of definition please. And I just, I immediately watched it just this is cool.
I want to see what you’re doing. And, you’re, you’ve have done so much. You’re an actor writer, director, producer, singer, like what aren’t you doing? But I would love for you to introduce yourself, where you’re calling from, where your hometown is and a little bit of your background.
Sujata Day: Yeah. I’m Sujata day. I am right now in studio city in Los Angeles. And I am from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, which is a town about, over an hour east of Pittsburgh. And yeah. So that’s me in a nutshell, like you said, I do, I wear all the hats. I do all the things. Yeah.
Masami: Yeah. And tell us a little bit about your background career. I know you’ve done, acting and acting for many years. I think at grind, Could be is like 2003. I even noticed you had a episode of seventh [00:01:00] heaven. And that was one of my shows as a family, that we used to watch and I’m like, oh, which episode was that?
Sujata Day: Yeah. I forget exactly which episode, but I was a girl, like a student at the school and we were, I believe it was black history month. So we were giving very little speeches about, famous
folks and throughout black history. So pretty excited to be a part of that episode. That was pretty cool.
And was one of those jobs. When my parents had come out to LA and my dad had come to the audition with me and after I booked it, he was like, see, I’m your good luck. But yeah, acting even before that, I started doing plays and musicals in middle school
school, and I really love them.
I did guys and dolls and show
and into the woods and I’m musicals and it was just so fun and so addictive. And at the same time, I was [00:02:00] actually really good at math and science. So when I was looking at colleges, I was like, oh, what should I
And so I actually got my engineering degree at case Western university, but at the same time, once again, I was always doing plays and musicals at the school. And then I studied abroad in Australia and that’s where I really started focus on my acting and my
And it. Started to come together. And I told myself, after I graduate, I’m going to move to LA and it’s going to be super fun. And I came back to case and I took a semester of screenwriting, a semester of playwriting and to LA just to, it, give it a shot.
And ever since then, I’ve been doing parts and TV shows and movies. And, then I did awkward black [00:03:00] girl, and that was the project that changed my life.
Masami: Wow. Yeah, it sounds like you’ve had both that left brain, right brain, a good mixture of, having, just being all around. Awesome.
Sujata Day: Yeah,
I really, like having kind of both sides of the brain working because I don’t regret getting my engineering degree. I believe the way that engineering Tamina think has really helped my writing in terms of structure and how to take notes and being very organized. And a lot of my characters have maybe scientific backgrounds and, I use a lot of it in my work.
So I think it’s really fun to into that part of myself in my creativity.
Masami: Yeah. Now you spoke about your parents and your parents coming out to support you. Have they always been supportive in both your acting career and your academic career?
Sujata Day: Yeah, they’ve been supportive on both sides. When I was doing plays and [00:04:00] musicals throughout school, were always in the front row, every single night of the show and would bring me flowers. And so they really appreciated movies and television and art in general. So that was always awesome to be able to have their support. And they were always excited about my writing as well. I would get in like the school magazine or the literary magazine and, they would show everybody. And they would, show all their friends, which was really nice because all their friends were generally like,
oh my daughter’s a doctor, all the kind of usual Asian stuff. And, but my parents were pretty proud about what I was doing too.
Masami: that’s awesome. I think that’s a, I don’t know if it’s rare. I think it’s definitely not a stereotype that agents would, Asian parents would be so proud of everybody for their, creative careers. But I think that’s, it’s so lovely to hear that. Now you’re, I saw from Wikipedia page that your family’s from India, [00:05:00] right?
Sujata Day: Yes, my, my parents are from Calcutta.
Masami: Yeah. CUDA. And you know about that identity from CA Calcutta, have you ha have you been able to, I know what’s your relationship with that identity and being Indian American, Kolkata and, descendants in general, has that, influenced your writing in your storytelling and has it changed over the years?
Sujata Day: Oh yeah, definitely.
I’m pretty proud to be Bengali, which is what people from Calcutta are. And
I speak fluent Bengali, and also Bengalis are known to be the artists and the poets of India. And you can ask any Indian they’ll back me up on this. And so we have Rabindranath Tagore, we have set the whose films are incredible.
And he also won an honorary Oscar. So he’s been internationally recognized. And so something about movies that have inspired me is that he really [00:06:00] deviated from. The hot Bollywood properties and genre and just calm, focused on people living their everyday lives and mostly women actually.
And so I watch his films first, it’s like really fun. Cause I don’t have to watch this. I don’t have to read the subtitles. And second, I just love what he does to focus on just everyday people living their lives and being with their families and dealing with, little family dramas, as opposed to, Bollywood stuff where everyone dies or people get poisoned or dance sequences, which are good in its own.
has its like definite positives. I love Bollywood movies, but I think I really connected to films and. And I just really love being Bengali. Like I said, I w with the script of [00:07:00] definition, please, one of the biggest compliments I got was from one of our actors, Parvis, Cina, who plays the, Patel brothers manager. He’s really funny. And I’ve known him for a while and he read the script and he was, learned so much about Bengali culture. So to
a fellow Indian kind of give me that compliment, I was like, oh, cool. That’s awesome. so I just try to be pretty specific in the that I’m writing about, because at the end of the day, I would love to see a good draw.
These specific movie. I would love to see a Punjabi specific movie, a south Indian specific movie. Cause there’s so many nuances in tradition. To those regions that, that I would
to see that on film. And I think sometimes what happens in Western media is that we all get categorized as Indians and then it gets a little, general. So I really like to focus on the specific.
Masami: I think there’s so [00:08:00] many different regions of India that I don’t know. And I’m still learning and I meet people from different places. Yeah. Tell me about, the culture. Tell me about the food. What’s different. What, what do you, are you known for? You just said, the Bengali people are for like artistic and wow.
Never, you’re never would have thought about that or heard about that. So I think that’s a really important aspect to showing that cultures are not the same. Like they’re not just one giant India. I think it’s amazing. And what power do you find your identity and like using that, being a part of your community?
I think that’s for me, it being Japanese American, I find power in knowing my history of knowing my people. And then, like you just said, like teaching other people about your own culture, that they’re a part of as well, and whoa, man, I am teaching, even in sharing, that culture where even with my own community, what do you find?
The most power in Bengali?
Sujata Day: Oh, what do I find the most empowering about being Bengali?
Sujata Day: Yeah.
really happy that I am [00:09:00] fluent in the language actually. So my parents did not speak English. Like one of their rules was we don’t speak English in the home. So even when I was a baby, they were speaking to me and they just figured that we would learn. English at school. So I went to preschool and I didn’t know English, but it was totally fine. And yes, I picked up English at school and it was great. And one of the best things about knowing my language was that I was able to connect with my grandparents. And that was the biggest thing. And just being able to speak to my grandma is really cool and just awesome. And having an amazing connection with her was the best part about being fluent in the language and just being able to connect with the rest of my family in India as well. And to be honest, I speak Bengali with the valley girl accent. So my cousins all make fun of me, but at least, I could [00:10:00] understand it and I can, carry on good conversations and, And also the more I watch Bengali films or Bengali television, I just pick up more and more, which is always fun.
Masami: That’s cool. Yeah. I think that’s really beautiful to have like your language, kept within the family and passed down. Yeah, I think that’s where we lose a lot of this assimilation to American culture is that, the language is lost and we can’t talk to our grandparents and then they don’t pass down the stories and we don’t hear about them, then it’s just I didn’t just a language barrier.
So that’s great that you’re, you’ve been able to keep that within your family. Now, hopefully you will, you do that to your children. If you have, you decide.
Sujata Day: Yeah. I believe that I don’t want them speaking Bengali with a valley girl accent. hopefully
in and teach them good Bengali.
Masami: Yeah. Very cool. I’d love to talk about your movie, definition please. No, I watched it. I wasn’t thrilled with the whole thing. I really [00:11:00] felt for this story and, it was really well done and I think that’s a good storytelling for, a lot of different ways, but I’d love for you to, tell me and I’ll give, I’d love to hear you introduce the story in a little bit to the audience who hasn’t watched it yet, or haven’t seen it yet.
And tell us a little about the story and then we’ll get it.
Sujata Day: Yeah. Yeah, of course. I, the premise was. I’m I won my fourth grade spelling bee and I went on to regionals and lost in the first round on the word radish, was pretty devastating because it’s an easy word. And I spelled it with two DS instead of one. And I always remember that moment.
And I noticed after that, I would tweet out sometimes, Hey, I spelled radish wrong and my spelling, and then people would be responding and saying, oh,
is the word that I spelled wrong. And I was like, oh, this is a thing. Like people remember the word that got them out in the spelling bee. And [00:12:00] in 2015, I was in a UCB,
citizens, brigade sketch writing class. And one of my sketches was titled where they announced spelling bee winners because, I think we all noticed.
Almost year, the spelling bee winners were Indian American kids. And so the button to my sketch was, most of these spelling bee kids, champions are doing really great things.
They’re working at NASA, they’re designing robots, they’re winning the world poker tour. And the button on my sketch was that one of them, out to be
in her mom’s basement and not doing much and not living up to her potential. And then in 2016, I did the Sundance screenwriting lab in 2017, went to Sundance film festival for the first time and saw my friend, Justin Shawn’s film kook there, which was premiering. And I was blown away by his film and I cornered him the after [00:13:00] party. And I asked him how he got it made. And he was like, I just, ask my friends and family for money. And I just didn’t. I don’t know, I was like, Okay.
cool. That’s totally what I’m going to do. So then in 2017, mid 2017 started writing the feature film of definition.
Please went through rewrites and notes throughout the next year or so, and then got to, went to Sundance again in 2019. And Justin’s next movie, Ms. Purple was playing there. And I just said to myself, what am I doing with my time? I promised myself I would make this. So then
I was like, I’m going to make this movie this year.
It’s going to be June of 2019. That’s when we start shooting. And
serendipitous happened, which actually a lot of serendipitous things happen throughout the course of. Production. But this was the first thing [00:14:00] where once I made that decision at Sundance, I got an email me that I had previously sold a show to a studio.
And because there was a big merger, they were returning the show back to me. And along with returning the rights of the show, back to me, they were also sending a huge check.
And I was like, oh my God. I was like, I wouldn’t be the first investor into my movie. And so that’s where it all began. And,
And after that, I just went into kind of pre-production mode, got my crew together, started texting my friends to be in the movie and, knew that I was going to shoot it back home in Greensburg. And then we shot it in June and here we are.
Masami: Yeah. And you made it before. COVID really shut everything down, right?
Sujata Day: Oh, yeah.
Cause we met in June of 2019, so we were able to get into post-production and we had finished it before COVID hit.
Masami: Oh, so good. Wow. Thank you for sharing that story. I [00:15:00] know that’s a, I’m sure you repeat that story many times in different other places, but I think it’s really great to hear the context and the growth of that project. Go from an idea from a personal place to hearing from Justin Chon and just like doing it or doing it yourself.
Yeah. I see some of the episodes and the shows that you’ve done as a secondary character, but did you take on that responsibility and take on that this whole project for yourself, is so amazing, so powerful. What was your experience like writing, producing, directing, starring in your own film?
That’s one job. One job is enough, but to do three, four jobs all at the same time, it can be stressful. It can be time-consuming, it can just really eat away at a lot of things. How was your, experience in your emotional level doing that at the same?
Sujata Day: Yeah. I made sure to, I have practice before I did a feature. So in 2016, I did a short film called cowboy and Indian that I also wrote produced, directed and starting. And that was [00:16:00] on a much, much smaller level. And I wrote the script and then it got the cast and crew together. And I paid for myself and I really gave myself permission on that film too. Have it fail. I haven’t come out just really terrible. And I was like, you know what? This is my first short. It’ll probably be really bad, it’s just, I would just losing my money. Nobody else is going to be mad at me about it. So then once I finished cowboy and Indian and it turned out pretty good, I was like, oh, I’m happy.
Masami: I saw it. It was great.
Sujata Day: Yeah.
Yeah. So it turned out pretty good. And then that’s actually a piece of work that I sold to get, made into a TV series.
And also did really well on the Asian-American film festival circuit. And that’s where I
the Asian American film festival circuit, which is. So great.
And, LA Asian film festival and [00:17:00] camp Fest. And we just did Austin Asian film festival at our first drive in screening. And
every place that played cowboy and
I just after I finished definition, please, I reached out, oh, it’s all the same people like, Hey, you have me for a short, would you take a look
at definition please?
And they weren’t, they were all really open to that, which was awesome. So once I had done cowboy and Indian, of people were asking me like, oh, what’s your next shore? What are you going to do? And I was like short, I’m going to do a feature. So that Indian gave me the confidence to do the feature in pretty much the same way. And, Yeah.
that’s why, there were all the different
but I think in terms of taking on all those responsibilities, you have to, be really organized and have good time management. So once the script was set, as the shooting[00:18:00]
I didn’t touch it. then I could take off my writer hat and be like, okay, that’s done. And then. And then when we went, got into, pre-production obviously we, you have to be producing the whole time. you have to gather like a really amazing team around you and you have to trust them to do what they do really well. And so that’s what I did had a great producer and Cameron five had a great and Brooks Ludwick, where we had a lot of movie dates and we were watching stuff.
We’d be like, oh, this shot or like this feeling, because I knew that when I was on set, I wouldn’t have time to, at the scenes after they were shot because we just w you know, we’re just not going to have time for that. So I had to really trust my DP terms of what he was getting, and he super understood what I wanted and what I was going for, and really trust my actors.
I did not have auditions. I. Pretty much just [00:19:00] texted my friends and people I knew. And luckily we really do have this really supportive Indian American in Hollywood. And we all have each other’s backs. And if I didn’t know someone, someone I know did and they would connect me to them. And so then that was my director producer brain working together. And then once, oh, also with the writing, I made sure that my character didn’t have the emotional acting challenges that Tasha’s character
has, because I was like, I’m going to be doing so many things that I don’t want to really have to stress about that. So I just made sure that my character was reacting to stuff that was happening to her.
Sujata Day: And that was all part of, the master plan. And, yeah. And then once we got to directing and just tried to [00:20:00] emulate like some of my favorite directors, a lot of them were from insecure, like Tina Mayberry and Debbie Allen and just emulated
and try to do my best.
And yeah. And it was really fun. And even with the post-production that’s when you still keep your director producer hat on,
and that was pretty amazing too, because even at the start of the shoot Brooks, my DP like, oh, we should get. We should get E film slash company three to do the post-production.
And then I looked them up and they’re like working on the next, like three avatar movies. We can’t afford, we can’t afford Eva.
Sujata Day: But then when my friend Dino put out our deadline announcement called us
Masami: oh, wow.
Sujata Day: was like, what’s going on? And still even like, when they took us out to a couple lunches, I was like, listen, like we can’t forage you.
I dunno why you’re like [00:21:00] wining and dining out. And they’re like, no. We have a special program and this and that. So that was really cool. And then, my producer Cameron’s brother does sound design at Skywalker ranch. So we got to do sound design up in San Francisco. And that was really amazing as well.
Cause I got. Sit in George Lucas’s seat in the stag theater and watch the final sound cut of my movie. And, the projectionists was, it was an Asian guy. And then when we came back to talk to him, he had tears in his eyes
I was like, whoa, I, cause that was the first time someone outside of the film watched the movie I was just like, I, maybe we have something special here.
Masami: what a visceral reaction, and just to see that, that response, I think that’s wow. Yeah, I think he did a, I think it was so smart to do your [00:22:00] short film, get that practice in, learn the mistakes it’s on your own money, which is, scary. But at the same time, you’re going to watch your own money.
You’re not spending somebody else’s money, not spending it unwisely. You’re looking at it. And then
finding all this stuff that you said, I wish I’d done that better. And then going, and you jumped into your feature film, which was a huge jump. Even that scares me for
Sujata Day: Yeah.
It’s not normal. I recommend people doing like more shorts. Okay.
Masami: Yeah. But I think that’s but you did it so well, like you look at it, it’s doing, it’s winning awards, and going all through that, the whole festival circuit and you’re making people cry, hits that’s that’s the dream. I think that’s part of the dream. What were some of your biggest challenges making this either during pre production funding it or post, what were some of the biggest challenges.
Sujata Day: Funding is always such a challenge. But I tried to come really prepared in terms of reaching out to investors and talking to investors. I [00:23:00] had many documents for them, which they all asked for. So it’s there, there were like six PDFs that I sent, anyone was interested in putting money in the movie and it was the script,
budget, the, look, book, the films, look, book a lawyer contracts probably something else.
But I don’t know what that is, but there
like a lot of packets of info for whoever wanted to, possibly put money into the film. And I think what helped actually is
had put a huge chunk of money into the film and they were like, oh, she’s not trying to lose her money,
which is true. And, so that, that really gave them the confidence to be like, okay, Yeah.
Here’s, a bit of money and. Good luck. So that was pretty stressful because even on set, I would come off of, shooting 12 hour days, and then I would have to get on the phone with an investor and be like, make sure that the money is [00:24:00] being transferred into the account or else, shooting would be affected. And then, and another challenge was, it’s an indie production. We were losing locations like while we were filming. So there was one evening when we were shooting, at my house and I get a text from my producer saying Hey, we lost the bar location for the next day. And I’m like, ah, and I’m acting in the scene, I’m directing it.
And I wanted to make sure that I didn’t, freak out the cast and the crew that were, trying to do the scene at that moment. So then in between takes, I would go into another room and I texted my friend and Pittsburgh asking if he knew anyone with a bar in Greensburg. And then he connected me to his friend. I started texting with his friend that owned the bar. Then I connected him to the producer and then the producer went to see the [00:25:00] location and then the problem was solved and we got the bar.
Masami: Man. It’s those onset changes here. Just I gotta deal with this now.
Sujata Day: Yeah. Yeah. But
I think the trick is to make sure that you’re the only one who’s dealing with the problem and you’re not letting it affect, the rest of the production around you. So nobody else
there was like a huge. Issue happening. And we definitely tried to keep it from everyone, but at the
day, I think this is also where my engineer brain kicked in, where engineers are problem solvers.
So I was just like,
stress about this. I just have to solve this problem. So how do I go about doing that? And that’s what I did.
Masami: So great. And it’s, that’s that director, mind that producer mind, just like you can’t we can’t just not let it be unsolved. We have to do it. So just get it done. I want to talk about the one scene in the grocery store, in definition plays in for anybody who’s listening. It’s not a huge spoiler.
But [00:26:00] you guys talk about the thumbs up soda and I heard this in the other one in the other interviews too, and I think it was so important, to talk about as this is, like a set design prop piece, that drill it’s a real thing and yeah. Speaks so much to Indian and Bengali culture. Just as just, it’s not even like the biggest thing and that, but like a visceral, childhood memory type of piece.
Was that something that was written in the script or was that something that was, improv? Because I think this is so important to just adding those small bits of culture into our films and our storytelling, even if it’s not a part of the storytelling or the part of the story to tell, but as
just a little piece that someone who is not a part of that culture just wouldn’t put in, wouldn’t even think about it.
Wouldn’t have. What do you think about having something like that and, was this a active choice? Was this something that you did? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Sujata Day: [00:27:00] Yeah.
This was written into the script. There was virtually no improv in the film. Everything was scripted. Even the talent show, a lot of people think is, the show for the mom. A lot of people think that’s, improvised, but it’s not, it’s all written into the script and. With, especially the thumbs up and also the masala lace chips. I know that we, as Indian Americans, children of immigrants, when we all go back to India to visit our families, like that’s the kind of stuff that we would eat. And that’s the kind of stuff when I’m back in America, I would miss and I’d be like, my God sums up. We were always told it’s four times more caffeine than Pepsi or
Coke and it’s wild.
And like you drink it and then you feel like you are just like, oh,
four hours and then you crash.
Sujata Day: It’s every kid’s favorite Indian drink. And I was like, oh, I got to put it in the movie. [00:28:00] Yeah. And same thing with masala Lay’s chips. One of my great uncles would always, we called him. Candy uncle, because he would always have smacks for us, whether it’s a bag of chips or some kind of fun Indian hard candy. So that kind of reminds me of my family as well. And we have, you would also know is that Asians have a lot of connection to their food, so that is a way of bringing people together and, you’re always sharing recipes.
And, so it was important for me to put those touches into the film because I was like, this is what I grew up with. We grew up drinking, thumbs up and masala relationships and I was another interview with, or a Q and a panel with, Pakistani American. And she named a soda that they grew up drinking and I was like, Oh,
my gosh, I would love to see that in a movie.
I’ve never heard of that
but her thumbs [00:29:00] up made her
Sujata Day: of her soda from her childhood. So I think that’s the beauty of being specific and, telling these stories because it’ll make you think of something in your life that you can connect it to
Masami: A hundred percent. This past couple of years, I’ve really grown into my Japanese American identity and. Yeah, all the childhood snacks that my dad would give us, my grandma would give us. But somewhere in between like middle school, high school, college, I didn’t have those snacks.
Like it was just gone. It was, I think it was part of an assimilation, just American culture just, and not being in an Asian restaurant, Asian grocery store area. So like recently I’ve been going to more, Asian restaurants and,
Stores and picking up the snacks. And I was like, oh, this is childhood.
This is different. This is what I’ve missed. And I think that’s something that, food and culture, not only is that food into, into other cultures, as we often say is this is the first step into someone else’s culture, but [00:30:00] in a remembrance is that, sensory memory that we get that really brings in something that’s really true and true to our cultures.
I think that’s really, yeah. Really important. So she even does films because these films are a depiction of reality. And when we have these characters who live real lives, we that’s what their memories are. I think that’s really important.
Sujata Day: Yeah.
Masami: So I’m moving on from definition, please. I want to get to a little deeper here.
We’ve been many short films, feature films, TV shows, even some, web series like that, Risa Ray’s misadventures of awkward black girl and insecure. But when I look at your history, IMDV page, just endless roles of, various characters, mostly secondary characters. One-offs maybe a few episodes here and there.
In your opinion and experience, is it normal for an actor of color? It can cast in so many secondary roles before being cast into a leading role, let alone. I don’t know how many features you were [00:31:00] in as the lead, but it seems like the one that you made yourself, you become the lead. I think that’s just like you had to do it yourself to make that happen.
Is that something you find that so often I feel like it’s a normal thing, but what’s your experience been like?
Sujata Day: Yeah,
Yeah. I believe it’s a normal thing and something that I think about and bring up a lot is that, one of my favorite inspiring movies, was Bend It like Beckham because when I watched it, I was like, oh wow. I can be an actor and be the lead And and it’s a writer and director.
That’s How cool. But I always bring this up because afterwards, what happened to the leads what
happened to Parminder Nagra and what happened to Keira Knightley? I feel like that’s a normal thing that happens. So yes, we have to do so much more. To be seen as a lead actor, because so many [00:32:00] times we are auditioning for the best friend or auditioning for stereotypical roles, as a
or a techie or an engineer.
there’s not a lot of nuance to our characters and that’s something that me and a lot of my actor creator,
about. And the only way to change that is to create your own work. And that’s what ISA rated with awkward black girl, because she saw stereotypes of black women in the media.
And she was like, wait, I’m not like any of these women. And then she. Oh my God or a black girl, and it really resonated because the audience was there for it. And, Hollywood was just not aware. And so just being a part of the ISA Ray’s journey from ABG to insecure and seeing all of that inspired [00:33:00] me.
And there was no other choice, but to create my own work, instead of just waiting for that audition or waiting for that phone call and waiting for someone else to say Yes.
And I always say, I, I said yes to myself.
Masami: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Unfortunately that’s, that is what’s happening. We have to, no, one’s taking a chance or believing in us to do it, so we have to do it, which we’re going to do it because I feel like we, we have the drive, the passion and the need for it. But if someone else is going to do it, we’re going to take up that responsibility.
And when I say normal, it’s the, what normally goes on, but it shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t have to be that we are,
we’re fighting so hard for these things. And you’re right. What did happen? That actor, what do have, what does happen to people who have a really great worlds, but then never get, I think more unless they do it themselves.
I don’t think that’s fair. At all,
Sujata Day: yeah.
It’s definitely fair. and hopefully, we’re seeing some [00:34:00] change right now, so
Masami: Yeah. Especially with creators like yourself, we’re definitely seeing change that people are still making it and then, people are investing more. I think that’s great.
Sujata Day: I also think that something that’s cool is that we were all very quiet before
Sujata Day: folks aren’t afraid to call out. Things that, are detrimental to, our culture or, just the representation and that’s a really big deal. And I’m that people are starting to call things out.
Masami: Yeah. I’m very thankful for Twitter and Facebook that people are gathering and organizing for that kind of stuff. Really calling it out because I feel like that’s, the past couple of decades, this is, Twitter and Facebook are generally still new. And I know actors have been fighting for this for years.
Have the public go thousands thousand sign up or call them out. And I’m on this, that, James cordon, show, spill your guts, did a whole thing on Asian food and they’re making fun of it. And so that we’re actually go protest tomorrow at the Grove and, that’s but without [00:35:00] the internet, who would know about that unless, somebody, and that’s, what’s, that’s what our changes, we’re able to do that.
Talking about more of your roles, how often are your roles that you perform? Are you good towards your south Asian identity? Rather than, I don’t know, something that’s quote unquote, ethnically ambiguous, or they don’t, that don’t want to talk about it. Have you been able to find roles in audition for roles that are, Bengali or south Asian that you really related to?
Or have they always been something? That’s just.
Sujata Day: I think, I’ve been half and half in terms of Indian American roles versus ethnically ambiguous or ethically open to, just to just whomever and. I don’t think that I’ve ever, I actually auditioned for anything specifically Bengali, which would be really cool. Yeah, but most of the stuff over the past last five years or
generally has a stereotypical [00:36:00] element to it, which is not necessarily like a bad stereotype, but it’s just oh, this is all we’re seeing.
So something for example is arranged marriage, right? So we’re seeing that a lot in the plot lines and I’m like, wait, that’s very strange because
maybe our parents had arranged marriages, but they’re not forcing our generation do that. And so that’s what I feel is really because even my cousin whose parents are super traditional industry, They’re
even telling my cousin to have in a room marriage. So then I’m just like, why is this a thing? But yeah, I believe I’ve done it definitely booked, I did an independent film called blowing up right now, and that was super, they were just looking for a woman of color for the lead role. And, what was interesting is when I met with the director, he sat me down and he was like, yeah, [00:37:00] we reached out to the agencies we said, we want a woman of color for this lead role.
And they still sent, white women for the role. So they got 90% actresses I was Okay.
That’s part of the issue.
Sujata Day: Part of the issue is that these big agencies are not representing. Enough women of color for the role. So it all starts at that kind of executive level. It starts at the manager level, the agent level, is green-lighting shows
and movies at the studios, or even the smaller production companies. They
like us. So that’s a problem. And so sometimes, when we’re talking about things like OscarsSoWhite and EmmysSoWhite I’m like, that’s the end the road, so real lies in [00:38:00] why, in aren’t
actors being seen for films that
could actually be open ethnicity and don’t have to be, white. And like creators and writers. Why can’t they push through these projects of color? It’s just really hard. There was one pilot season. I think it was the pilot season, right after crazy rich Asians where we were all excited. because there were different Asian American projects at the broadcast networks and none of them got picked up. so that’s, part of the
Masami: Yeah, no. And what you said about agents and managers, especially for actors, like who gets to go out for those roles? Push to the studios, even if you have the studios, have, the same, what their call is for casting. If the agents and managers are over pushing their white clients, or there’s just not enough managers to [00:39:00] think you can go out for the role or, just aren’t pushing hard enough or doing that.
I think that’s a huge part of the problem. But I also find that with the writers, the writers are the ones who tell the stories. So if you don’t have the writers have agents and managers who are vouching for their stories who are working in pushing them towards the studios and getting the studios to understand why this story’s important, why and how the story will sell and why it’s important not to whitewash this cast and why not a white person to write this story that then we’re not getting the stories even to the managers or to the studios to even think about casting, it all starts with those people
as much as
Sujata Day: the writer’s room,
the room is a whole other ball game where, you know, people of color writers don’t progress up the levels as quickly as our white counterparts. And, a lot of the time, their point of [00:40:00] view is not seen as important. And so we have a kind of. A missing pipeline of high level writers in these writer’s room, who are people of color because the show runners or the producers don’t want to do the extra work of looking beyond the agency system for great writers, which is something that ISA Ray had to do for her insecure writer’s room, because she wasn’t getting, enough.
Once again, that same thing of oh, these agents and managers were not repping writers of color. And so she had to call her friends and be like, Hey, do you know anyone who has an original pilot that I can read? And that’s how she did the extra work to fill her writer’s room with the right people.
And a lot of people aren’t willing to do that extra work.
Masami: No, I think that’s super valid. Not only does it, it takes that little extra effort of work. But what I also think is interesting to think about is that definitely [00:41:00] just generally white people in general. And they want to think about this whole, we can’t ask about diversity. We can’t ask about, because if we ask about race and ethnicity, it’s like discrimination, but then we, if we don’t ask about it, we’re not going to get the stories that we need and we’re not going to get, people asking for, we need a certain.
I think that’s this same dichotomy of, if casting can say, can you be more Asian, be more black, be more urban speaking with more accent, which is totally against the law. In any other context that if they get to do that, then we should start also thinking about what are we doing about when we asking for certain types of writers, we’re asking for certain types of people to storytell and who are we bringing up?
I’m gonna to read off a few stats cause we just brought it up. One of the things that we found in our studies is the diversity hire slot, right? So that there’s always that diversity hire in this room miner’s room, which they might be the only, the first person in there, which is not great, but it said 46.2% of the piece, diverse, slot hires are not [00:42:00] being asked or promoted for subsequent seasons.
22% of them said they were told we are. 22% said, we’re going in a different direction.
Didn’t feel as the right fit. And 60% said they did not believe the reasons that they were being given were not being asked for you promoted. They didn’t believe them, right? That’s that’s just not true. And, 49% said they had to repeat staff writer at least once 15%, more likely than under overrepresented writers, 55% people calling.
And she had to repeat Sapphire, 20, 20% had to repeat it two to three times. And 16% said of all underrepresented writers had to repeat staff more than two-thirds. So that’s a little more, but there’s just so many times that just not moving forward, not moving up now becoming a story, editor, showrunner, all those things.
And that’s huge part of the process.
Sujata Day: I love that you brought those receipts because Yeah.
This is a huge problem. And this is a problem where are only a handful of people of color that are at the, the supervising [00:43:00] producer of the co-producer those high level writer, love EAP co EAP. And they’re constantly being, they’re actually too busy,
To like, be a showrunner on your show or whatever.
So then your show never goes because you didn’t get a, a name EAP, but there aren’t enough. Naimi P. For your show. So it’s all a really bad cycle that we need to get out of. And definitely the diversity hire element of it is great. And, yeah, the changes need to be made And I think changes are being made, but it’s going way too slow.
Masami: Yeah. And when people feel like they’re being discriminated against, or just on just having so many microaggressions or, general feelings against them, it’s it becomes leased or burnout, which then they don’t want to come back. They just this is exhausting to do more. One more stat is,
or would it say it’s 50, 50, 8% reported, other types of harassment and bullying [00:44:00] and 39% underrepresented writers were, the ratio and, or stereotyping of underrepresented characters.
It’s there’s just that shouldn’t happen. And that’s exhausting.
Sujata Day: It’s exhausting.
And I understand when people quit the industry because it’s is it worth the fight for your mental health and your sanity? And generally it’s not.
Masami: No. Yeah. And then they never move up because we don’t have enough. It’s just the numbers. Now you’ve talked about another, deadline article is that you’re building your own table because obviously no one else is doing it. It’s a broken system. So when you’re building your table, what does that table look like?
And as a woman of color and a south Asian woman, what is that specific table you’re looking at that isn’t just a diversity table, right? I think that’s, that’s very general in that way. There’s something specific that you’re looking for. And that you’re building.
Sujata Day: Yeah, something. I definitely started that with definition, please. And just being able to reach out to, the Indian Americans, my community in Hollywood to [00:45:00] help me make my film they were all excited to do it. so that was the start of it. And I was like, oh, this is cool. This is all working.
And even now, there are other south Asian filmmakers that reach out to me like just last week, I got a text message saying, Hey, who is your first day? D did you love him?
And then I was
yeah. So for me to be able to refer someone that I worked with that was awesome to another south Asian filmmaker feels really good.
And that’s part of building the table. It’s not being competitive with other south Asian filmmakers or actors or writers, allowing us all to succeed because we’re all telling very different stories. And another thing that I do is I’ll follow writers on Twitter, like especially south Asian female writers on Twitter that are funny.
And like, Ooh, I’m like making my list from Myra. Yeah.
Masami: Yeah, I’ve
Sujata Day: And I stayed that I’ve
Masami: Yeah. [00:46:00]
Sujata Day: full of like women of color that can be in writers’ rooms because I do get text messages from showrunners.
do you have this kind of writer that I’m looking for my room, that my show is
and then I’m like, I’m able to send them. Writers and samples 10 to 12 of them for
doing, whether it’s a comedy or drama, or a Spotify, something in between. And so I’m really proud of just paying it forward. And
lot of the time be in meetings and they’ll like, pitch me a project I’ll be like, you know what? I’m not great for that project, but I know someone who is, so I’m always happy to refer someone else to something that, that I think would be great for them, but not necessarily right for me. And that’s what I think, the whole concept of building the table is just sharing the wealth. And once you get through that door, pulling other people along with you. [00:47:00]
Masami: yeah, we’re not, we’re definitely not at that place where there can only be one. And you can definitely, everybody can share this, big sea of Hollywood that we’re in, that we can, uplift each other. And sometimes the project doesn’t work for us or isn’t the right place. Yeah. And bringing other, keeping your contacts, keeping them around, knowing who the players are as well in your community.
Because when someone does ask, you’re going to want to know who that person is and you want to refer them. And I think even though it’s don’t know, I feel like it’s a little bit of a, again, a representation burnout. You asking me only because I’m south Asian or Asian, yeah, they are.
Who else are they going to ask? But at the same time we have that responsibility to say, yeah, I want to be that person for you so that I can help my friends and help you get better storytelling. It’s part of the responsibility. Just, it’s a good and bad thing, I think. Yeah. You also talked to earlier talking about just, meeting with Justin Chong, asking John and asking him about his guerrilla style filmmaking and how I did it.
Yeah. What about that [00:48:00] spirit of doing it yourself, a building you’re building your table and building your own films. What that got you to make your project and really believe in that for yourself?
Sujata Day: Yeah. I’ve always been surrounded by people who just do it on their own. So ISA Ray is one of them, Matthew Cherry. I was in his film, nine rides that went to south by Southwest a couple of years ago. And once again, that was a project that he just did it himself. And then Justin Chon, of course, like he just did it on his own.
And then another friend of mine to new Chopra also just makes films and puts them out and to make more films. And so that’s the kind of energy that, that I strive to have, which is, yeah. I want to keep making projects. I w I don’t want to be suck on development on something for 10 years.
Sujata Day: That’s not, [00:49:00] you know what I want to do. I wanna keep making projects right. And even if it’s not perfect, I want to put it out there. And I think that’s part of something that, that Asian in general, in our culture, we need to get a grasp on
always striving for perfection. And I think that’s tar detriment because I think you can put something out and then learn from your mistakes.
And then the, in the next project it’ll be better. And that’s something that I did with, cowboy in Indiana. I put out a web series before cowboy and three episodes of Larry and Lucy that no one ever saw. So I was like, Okay,
So I’m going to learn from this experience and do better the next time. I did F for every project just gets better and better. I always want to have. More than one project that I’m working on at the same time,
is something that Justin also does. And, you just never want to put all your eggs in one basket because you never know what’s gonna, move forward more quickly.
So I [00:50:00] highly recommend people to, I know everyone usually has their one passion project, but then develop other stuff at the same time as well. Cause you never know what will peak the interest of an investor or, someone to help you. And it could be this the second or the third thing. And then you can always go back to your passion project later.
Masami: That’s honestly really great advice. I’m in that situation now. They’re like, I really want that second one. I’m like, okay, we’ll wait. That’s a great advice, in our last few minutes here, what advice would you have for other emerging Asian-American creatives in their.
Sujata Day: I would say, just go out there and create there’s so many, places where you can put your work. I G videos, there’s
YouTube. There’s TechTalk. And I would just say in any way possible, stay creative and be positive and put out your story.
story is very important, your specific story. And I want to see it and just, [00:51:00] it, just create
the, only advice I can really give and don’t worry about perfection. Allow yourself to fail.
Masami: Yeah. Yeah. Failing upwards, right? We want to keep doing that. Just keep failing and, as CIT, no, there’s another acronym for fail, but a no for no is next option. Just keep going. Just keep building and learning. I think that’s the best thing we can do, especially when we’re starting out.
Just learn because we don’t know anything. And what’s next for you? What’s next for Shu? Jada.
Sujata Day: I have a lot of projects in the pipeline of, I wrote a bunch of scripts over the pandemic, wrote a feature, wrote a treatment for another feature where like two pilots. I do have a show in development at a studio. Like I said, it’s
loosely based on and Indian. And so that’s been moving really quickly and awesome. And yeah, I’m just continuing to tell all the stories that I want to tell that I haven’t [00:52:00] been told before.
Masami: A woman of many talents and so much going on. It’s it’s it. It’s encouraging to see. So thank you. Thank you for your work, your dedication, your storytelling, and and I’m looking forward to see how your, where your career goes over the next years. I think it’s so great that you’ve already built that up.
I know it’s been a long time coming, but we’re here now. I think that’s Eric. Congratulations.
Sujata Day: thank you. Thank you so much, David. This was really fun.
Masami: Thanks for coming on and working audiences, watch your work and where can they find your social media handles?
Sujata Day: Yeah, I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, it’s at Sujata day. And then definition, please also has its own Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, definition, please. And then Twitter is D E F N P L E. A S E I really had to think about smelling that. And I was like,
oh no, that’s really good advertising for my spelling bee Paramus movie. [00:53:00]
Masami: It’s the perfect one, right?
That’s so great. And you can also watch, in, cowboy and Indian on your website or anything.
Sujata Day: Yeah. Yeah. It’s on my website and there’s also fun videos. I think you mentioned
my, a diverse film video that I shot with Tesh, and we’re both singing. And the kind of lyrics to that. So you can check that on my website too.
Masami: Yeah, for the audience, it’s a great retail, reword, lyricists, or rearranging the lyrics of a Latin, a whole new world for a whole diverse cast. And it gets, it was hilarious. So thank you for that.
Sujata Day: of course.
Masami: all right, I’ll let you go. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today in reaching out. And, I look forward to speaking with you again.