Rising Star Viduran Roopan Of En Trance Films On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Film Industry

An Interview With Guernslye Honoré

Guernslye Honore
Authority Magazine

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The people who hold you back are just as important as the ones who hold you up.

As a part of our interview series with leaders, stars, and rising stars in the film industry, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Viduran Roopan.

Australian-American filmmaker of Sri Lankan descent, Viduran Roopan is a rising star in the world of filmmaking. His first feature film, a revisionist Western titled The Company of Thieves will premiere on the festival circuit later this year.

With over a decade of experience in the entertainment industry, Roopan has worked primarily as a producer of documentary programming and reality television, including the series Growing Up Hip Hop (WE TV) and The Fixers.

He has also worked in the production of feature films, commercials and music videos, as well as in live events and broadcast journalism. While producer has been his main role, he has worn many hats, including those of cinematographer, editor, and production manager/coordinator. Currently, Roopan works in the Virtual Production/VFX space with a focus on the research and development of emerging LED volume technology and in-camera VFX. He uses this technology to drive the narrative forward in new and visually striking ways in his current projects.

A graduate from the University of Georgia in communication studies and new media, he honed his craft over the years as a filmmaker and content creator, producing a wide range of short films, music videos, corporate videos, commercials, and docu-series. Currently, he has three completed feature length scripts in the works and treatments for additional features, scripted TV series, and shorts. He founded En Trance Films in 2022.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My parents immigrated to Australia in the late 80’s as the Sri Lankan Civil War started escalating. I was born in Sydney a few years later and lived there until I was 10, after which we relocated to Atlanta, Georgia.

I also come from an especially large family that is spread out all over the world. Though I was an only child, my parents did their best to make sure I stayed connected to my people and my culture. So overall, I think I had a pretty international upbringing.

The majority of my life was spent in suburban Atlanta though. We moved to the U.S a month or two before 9/11, which I think greatly influenced my experience as a person of South Asian descent, particularly in the South. It took several years to get used to the culture, but by the time I graduated high school and started college, I had learned to love it there. Though I’m not sure I’d ever live there full time again, being from Atlanta is an integral part of my identity as well.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I think being an only child was a major contributor, especially in my younger days when we moved a lot. Books and film provided a sort of companionship that was often difficult to find during that period. Consequently, I spent a great deal of time as a kid drawing, writing, reading and creating things.

I began down this path in earnest while I was interning at a news station in India. I often skipped work in favor of exploring the country with a cheap camcorder and creating short narratives about the people I met and things I would see. There was a particular encounter with a nomadic monk, known as a sadhu, in the ancient Indian city of Varanasi that I’m tempted to share. The interaction was pivotal in solidifying my decision to pursue a career in film, however, it didn’t necessarily initiate it. It is also a long story… So in short, I found immense joy crafting stories about these experiences and documenting them. I decided to follow that feeling and it led me to where I am today.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

For the first two years after I moved to Los Angeles, I worked on a docu-reality TV series called, The Fixers. The premise of the show revolved around finding non-profit organizations all over the world and helping them build or renovate their facility to better serve their community. I plan on writing a TV series based on the many adventures we had creating this show, but there was one episode specifically that spawned one of my most compelling, albeit tragic, personal stories.

We were filming in Bolivia, deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle. Our mission was to help an ayahuasca retreat center and humanitarian organization build a community kitchen to alleviate food scarcity issues the locals were facing in this remote area. The build and filming process was one of the most arduous experiences of our lives. The show’s format required every project to be completed within six days, so we often labored for fourteen to fifteen hours in blistering heat and humidity to get done in time. Battling clouds of mosquitoes was a daily occurrence and every night consisted of bunking in groups of three in what essentially amounted to a shack. Production was grueling for everyone, but it was particularly rough on our camera team who spent the entire day on their feet with a thirty pound camera rig mounted on their shoulders.

Over the course of our previous shoots, I had become close with our Director of Photography. We’ll call him Kyle for the purpose of this story. Kyle and I shared a lot of the same interests, played music together, and lived close to each other in LA. So we became fast friends. Prior to our Bolivian shoot, we were working in neighboring Peru. Kyle befriended some locals and once our time in the Amazon concluded, he decided to return there to join them on a trip to Machu Picchu. I recall expressing concerns about Kyle joining this expedition immediately following our tortuous week in the jungle. But he insisted, so we parted ways in Santa Cruz, with the rest of the crew returning to the U.S.

The following day, I was immediately on the move again, preparing to drive to Arizona for my best friend’s wedding. Right before we left, I received a call from one of Kyle’s cousins. She informed me that he had fallen over two hundred feet down a cliffside while hiking back down from the ruins and was in a coma, lying in a hospital bed somewhere in Kuzco. The process of getting Kyle back home took several months. He was in such a fragile condition that transporting him was exceptionally dangerous. Not to mention the enormous amount of insurance company red tape we had to wade through to secure his safe transfer. Kyle has very little family left and they certainly did not have the means to bring him back. It was mainly up to us, his work family. But the bulk of the credit for Kyle’s survival goes to our showrunner. The lengths she went to and battles she fought to keep this man alive still amaze me. She even returned to Peru in the midst of our hectic production schedule to ensure he was receiving proper care.

Though he will likely never walk again, he owes everything he has to this woman. Coincidentally, they fell in love and are still together today. Kyle and I are still friends as well. I spent many nights hanging out with him in his room at Kaiser Permanente. Kept him company when the only rehabilitation clinic his insurance would cover was a retirement home. Helped him remodel his apartment to be wheelchair accessible. Even started a band with him and another friend of ours once he was able. What we went through together forms a bond that can never be broken. It also makes for one hell of a story.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career I attempted, and failed, to apply to an MFA directing program at the American Film Institute. As a part of the application, we had to create a roughly three minute short based on a prompt. That year, the prompt was “A Surprise”. I wrote a story about a wealthy man tying a $100 bill to a balloon and setting it adrift from his luxury, highrise condo. The balloon then floats through the city until it is spotted by a homeless man. The man chases the balloon for several blocks until he reaches a highway overpass. Just as he reaches out to claim his prize, the balloon pops and the $100 bill is whisked away by the wind.

At the time, I did not have any experience with visual effects, so I opted to use practical effects instead. This consisted of us tying a helium balloon to some fishing line and angling it like a kite to get our shots. My vision was to have the balloon float through some beautiful cityscapes, parks and skyline vistas. To accomplish this required us to film on the tops of parking decks and in bustling urban streets, exposing us to high winds. We were a crew of three people using a Canon T3i, a 18–35mm kit lens with no stabilizer and a $70 tripod. Needless to say, it was a disaster. The footage we got was pretty much unsalvageable and I was devastated.

However, while in editing, I found watching us try to make this work absolutely hilarious. So I cut together a very rough “making of” just for us. It never did, and likely never will, see the light of day. But it is one of my most fond memories from that time. The experience taught me that the journey is just as rewarding as the destination, so make sure to enjoy the process.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

At the top of the list would be my debut feature film, The Company of Thieves, which I’ve been working on over the past year. This project has by far been my most challenging to date, partly due to having taken this on while maintaining a full-time job… But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every part of the process. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some amazingly talented and passionate people. We’ve traveled to some stunningly beautiful filming locations, and got the chance to experiment with cutting edge virtual production tools and LED volume technology. I’m quite proud of what we’ve accomplished, especially for my first film, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

Additionally, through my current position at the Epic Games LA Innovation Lab, I’ve been exposed to some incredible breakthroughs in filmmaking technology and have been able to disseminate this information to some of the most influential figures in the industry. During my time here I’ve formed valuable relationships with individuals from prominent unions and guilds, several major studios and production companies, as well as the biggest names in VFX. The tools we are building are paving the way of the future for many industry leaders and I look forward to showcasing how they can be used by independent filmmakers like me as well.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

  1. Inclusion is a right, not a privilege

If art is an expression of the human experience, then it stands to reason that every person, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation, deserves to have their voice heard. Especially in the media that shapes us. We all want to feel like we matter to the world around us, and that is hard to do if we are unable to see the things that make us who we are reflected back at us.

2. Diversity breeds creativity

I’ve always viewed motion pictures as a means of communication, as well as entertainment. It is an opportunity to join in the collective effort of executing a shared vision, and this goes for the people in front of and behind the camera. The better we understand each other, the better we can express ourselves. More diverse expression results in higher quality art that supersedes entertainment and can actually make a difference in our lives.

3. Coalescence

Limiting the representation of certain people divides us as a society and I think that believing we are separate from each other only creates more problems. So many of our opinions are formed through our interactions with art and entertainment. They can inform our political ideologies, drive culture, and determine how we make sense of the world. Equal representation in the entertainment industry is just one of many ways we can all find some common ground. We are in this together after all, it’s better to grow together rather than fall apart.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

1. The people who hold you back are just as important as the ones who hold you up.

I’ve had one nightmare boss in my career. The best way I can describe him is to reference Tom Cruise’s cameo as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. Everything about this man was offensive. He was a bully, mean spirited, insecure, and did not treat his employees with respect or courtesy. But he was a shrewd businessman and ran a tight ship. It was hard to see at the time, but in retrospect, I did learn some things from him. Mostly, what not to do.

2.) Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me the “right” way to do things. And yes, there are certain unassailable tenets to filmmaking that we should all follow. But I’ve found things often work out for the better when I do them my own way. I’ve applied this philosophy primarily to my writing style. One example would be the “vomit draft”. I’ve never found this to work for me. I much prefer to take my time with the first draft process. For instance, returning to previously written scenes and connecting the dots helps me create much more compelling dialogue and cohesive storylines.

3.) Kill your darlings.

Sometimes I get really fixated on seemingly insignificant details in my projects. I think some of my early shorts suffered from an obsession with having things done exactly the way I envisioned them. At a certain point, your vision can’t only live in your head. You need it to live in your team’s heads as well. I think bringing in others to critique and edit my work has helped me learn how to “trim the fat”.

4.) Don’t chase perfection.

I will always strive for perfection. But there are so many projects of mine I wish I had the courage to release, but never felt secure enough to do so because I felt they weren’t perfect enough. They hid in old hard drives that eventually disappeared and now I’ll never get them back or know how they might’ve been received. So basically, don’t let the fear of judgment limit you.

5.) Failure is the fog through which we glimpse success.

There are few things quite as disappointing as sinking a large sum of money, time, and enthusiasm into a project and then watching it go belly up. A few years ago, I was working on a personal project with a friend. It was intended to be a docu-series that followed people who gave up their 9–5’s to pursue careers that brought them joy. One episode involved a folk band who financed their debut album entirely by busking (playing on the street). Another was about a woman who quit law school to start a wildlife sanctuary.

The penultimate episode we wanted to shoot focused on an Atlanta-based real estate agent who harbored a secret passion for performing in drag shows, he even shared some photos he’d taken that showed him in his makeup and designing his costumes. We were pretty impressed. Well, we landed in Atlanta ready to shoot and found out that he had been lying about everything and the photos he shared with us were of someone else entirely. It completely screwed up the rest of our production schedule and prevented us from finishing the season.

I had quit my job prior to starting this project, dead set on finally taking a shot and starting up my own production company. But after this happened, we had just about run out of money and I needed to get a paying job again, so the project went on an indefinite hiatus since I didn’t want to release an unfinished show (See Response #4). It’s hard to express how defeated I felt being forced to work in reality television again, and I wasn’t sure when I’d get the opportunity to pick up where we left off. But I kept my head down, replenished my bank account, and moved on to a better job. Getting close and missing a step doesn’t mean you have to back down to the bottom.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

First of all, and this probably sounds cliche, but pace yourself. It’s an endurance race not a sprint. There’s no cutoff age to achieving success in this business and the only way you truly fail is by giving up.

Second, be selective about the work you do for a living because it may not always coincide with what you ultimately want to do. My goal has always been to be a writer, director, and/or producer on projects of my choosing. But at the moment, these aren’t necessarily projects that support me financially. This is a tough industry that takes up all of your time and energy. So it is really important to me that the jobs I take now teach me how to achieve my goals and afford me the time and energy to keep working towards them. At least until what I really want to do can support me financially.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Increasing funding for teachers and the resources they need as well as sweeping reforms to our education system. There are many issues I’m passionate about resolving. But privatizing or putting up a “paywall” on knowledge and learning will not help us find a solution to any of them. So much suffering could be alleviated by unobstructed access to better quality education.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

In honor of his memory, I would have to say my uncle who passed away in 2015. He was the first member of my family or friends that not only encouraged my creative pursuits, but fostered them as well.

When I moved to the U.S, we lived with him and his family until we were able to afford our own house. At the time, he had recently finished building out his basement, which is where we took up temporary residence. When we moved in, he asked me what color I wanted to paint my bedroom. I said I wanted to put a Dragon Ball Z character on there, so he helped me hand draw a lifesize mural of Goku on the wall. We reenacted scenes from Jurassic Park with my toy dinosaurs, built RC cars and planes, even created a model home with working lights out of a shoe box. No matter how busy he was, he always made time for our little projects.

He encouraged me to write stories and songs, taught me how to draw, and was always immensely proud of anything I created. Not that my parents weren’t as well, but he was the person who spent the most time doing those things with me. I’ll always be grateful for that. I only wish I had the chance to let him know how much he contributed to who I am today, and that he was around to see the release of my first feature film with me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Whatever we will, will be.” — Our thoughts hold so much power over us, our thoughts influence our choices, and our choices lead to action. I believe it is our actions that truly define us. For example, if you think only in terms of the self, then you act only in your own self interest, and you’ll end up alone.

I try to condition my mind to be both pragmatic and optimistic. I do my best to give as many favors as I receive. And I strive to find the silver lining in any mistake or failure because at the end of the day, no matter how lofty my ambitions are, I’d much rather be happy with what I have and who I am than spend my life chasing a dream.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Barack Obama. I don’t have a strong opinion of him politically or anything like that, I just want to find out if he really is as cool as he seems. Does he actually read the books, watch the films, and listen to music that gets posted on his Instagram account or is that just what his PR team would like us to think?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.facebook.com/official.the.company.of.thieves

https://www.instagram.com/thecompanyofthieves

www.entrancefilms.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

About the interviewer: Guernslye Honoré, affectionately known as “Gee-Gee”, is an amalgamation of creativity, vision, and endless enthusiasm. She has elegantly twined the worlds of writing, acting, and digital marketing into an inspiring tapestry of achievement. As the creative genius at the heart of Esma Marketing & Publishing, she leads her team to unprecedented heights with her comprehensive understanding of the industry and her innate flair for innovation. Her boundless passion and sense of purpose radiate from every endeavor she undertakes, turning ideas into reality and creating a realm of infinite possibilities. A true dynamo, Gee-Gee’s name has become synonymous with inspirational leadership and the art of creating success.

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Guernslye Honore
Authority Magazine

Guernslye Honoré, affectionately known as "Gee-Gee", is an amalgamation of creativity, vision, and endless enthusiasm.