#BonfireStories — Introducing Filmmaker and Writer Ria Tobaccowala

Our Campfire
3 min readMar 1, 2019


Ria Tobaccowala | Photo Credit: Unknown

Introduce yourself to the world.

Ria Tobaccowala, writer/director. I don’t remember a time I didn’t love seeing the world through a camera lens. As a young girl, I begged my dad to let me use his camcorder. Lucky for me, he shared his cameras lovingly. My parents are storytellers and instilled in me a strong love and respect for the arts.

1. When it comes to storytelling, where do you get your inspiration from?

In Indian food, we cook with an array of spices blended together as a masala mix. My story inspirations are my own version of a masala mix. I take inspiration from everywhere — whether my own life, a piece of art, or the newspaper — I like to be insatiably curious. In many ways, I consider myself a vessel for stories to flow in and out, letting a spark ignite into a film. I remain open to let inspiration come from anywhere.

2. How did you prepare for your role as a Director?

I often think of directors as professional athletes. Directing requires full dedication of your mind and body, just like in performance sports. As a director, you make hundreds of decisions while on your feet 12–14 hours a day. I make sure that I eat well, hydrate and exercise before being on set so my body cannot slow down my mind. In terms of prep for my role, I focus on discovering the story, most importantly the characters’ journeys. I love to collaborate and improvise with actors (my favorite part of directing). However, I make sure that I come in with a thoughtful point of view based on research and personal life experience. I highly recommend reading Judith Weston’s “Directing Actors” as a great prep tool. I re-read her book before every film I direct. I also think it is key to empower your collaborators to own the project too. I wholeheartedly trusted my cinematographer and her perspective, which allowed me to focus energy on my strengths as a director.

3. Why was it important for you to have an all-female creative team?

My leadership team (producers, cinematographer) is all-female. However we have incredible men involved in key creative roles, such as our costume designer and editor. I do think it is important for women to be leaders and be managing both women and men. Films are a reflection of our diverse views on what it means to be human. With the majority of films led by male filmmakers, half our population are put in supporting roles or completely silenced. I was very proud to have women lead this film and garner respect for their talent, craft and voices.

4. What is the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far?

FIGHTING AGAINST TIME. There is never enough time to bring the ideas in your head and the words on the page onto the screen. We struggled with a very aggressive timeline to film this project. I wasn’t able to get everything I needed during principal photography so we ended up having to reshoot. We were lucky that we could find resources to do so, but often this is not a possibility.

5. What kind of world do you want to see now that your film “Freedom Shadow” is made? (For clarification) We know that there is a message you as a filmmaker are conveying to your audience, what is that message?

I leave the film’s message for audiences to interpret. This film is ultimately about family, growing up and that transitory phase between childhood and adulthood. I came into this project wanting to shine a light on people that we rarely see loved and empowered in stories. My simple message would be: no book should be judged by its cover.

6. What would you say is your unique responsibility as a filmmaker?

To be authentically me. To be authentic to what I believe is true. To be authentic to where a character wants to lead me. To be authentic to my multicultural new American story.

How can others reach out to you and/or stay informed about your upcoming projects?

Follow my projects at www.riatobaccowala.com and my instagram: @filmbyria or say hi at ria.tobaccowala@gmail.com



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