Niraj Bhatia and his journey to cinema

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(Above: Marisa Coughlan, Patrick Wilson, Live Tyler and Matt Bohmer in the film, Space Station 76.
Photo provided by Om Films)

I interviewed filmmaker, humanitarian, and executive producer, Niraj Bhatia, head of Om Films. We talked about his work, his most recent film project: Space Station 76, and the international deal they just made with Sony Pictures at the South By Southwest festival (SXSW). Here’s what he had to say.

Cat Doss: So, first of all, tell me a little about yourself.

Niraj Bhatia: Sure. I was born and raised in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I went to a school in Fort Worth called Dunbar HS. Both of my parents emigrated from India in during the 1970’s.

I went to USC (University of Southern California), in downtown Los Angeles. I graduated in 2002 with an Economics degree. I currently split my time between Los Angeles and Dallas.

CD: What made you decide to become a filmmaker?

Niraj Bhatia (Photo provided by Om Films)
Niraj Bhatia
(Photo provided by Om Films)

NB: Growing up, I always had a passion for film. Being from India, I would be exposed to quite a few Bollywood films throughout the year and was amazed at the stories. Those, along with all of the classic films growing up here in the U.S.: Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Goonies, Indiana Jones, Star Wars … (I could keep going) inspired me and kept me dreaming my entire life.

CD: Can you tell me what inspires you creatively?

NB: A lot of my inspiration comes from the backpacking trips I had through Europe. I spent three months meeting some amazing people, seeing some amazing things and getting a glimpse of how other people live and do things. I feel like film can connect the world in ways other forms can’t. It’s phenomenal to see the response different movies have on people of all walks of life.

Also, my trips to India. I have visited India over 10 times. And each visit was unique and inspirational. I saw some of the poorest people in the world, fighting for the basics. But each person had the same emotions that me and you have. They laugh, they cry, they love.

To see how film impacts everyone and the connection it has continues to inspire me and my films and I hope that I never lose that passion.

There are a lot of people that live for the newest Amitabh Bachchan movie or the latest Tom Cruise movie, and that is the beauty of film.

Sometimes, living in LA, we lose sight of how big the world really is. My travels have allowed me to see many different people in different places that share many similar emotions or ideals. It’s crazy to think that a film I could make would connect me to those people. Many different people in many different places.

I also love to help with my family’s charitable foundation, which focuses on Education and Health all over the world.

CD: That’s awesome, can you tell me about some of the projects you’ve worked on and how they came about?

NB: I started working in film back in 2004. My friend and current business partner, Dan Burks, and myself would always talk about started a production company and making a few movies. Both of us had gotten some great experience in that one year time and decided “what the hell” and went for it. We produced a few shorts here and there, our first big one being Placebo in 2006.

Our next big film, Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest came out in 2011. We were fortunate enough to be accepted into the Sundance, Tribeca and LA Film Festivals. We spent half of 2011 promoting the film, ending with a distribution deal with Sony Picture Classics.

CD: So, tell me about your most recent project Space Station 76.

Publicity poster provided by Om Films
Publicity poster provided by Om Films

NB: Well Space Station 76 is an extremely unique project. It was originally a stage play developed by a very talented group of actors. One of those individuals, Jack Plotnick, is the director of our film. We worked again with our friends over at Rival Pictures on getting this film done as well. After going out to a few people, we had some real positive responses from Patrick Wilson, Matt Bomer and Liv Tyler.

It’s a drama, comedy, Sci-Fi that delves into suburban life in the 1970’s. Honestly, it’s such a crazy and complex mix of genres that we all weren’t sure if we would be able to pull it off.

We shot the entire film during 2012 in a sound stage in Hollywood. Because it’s a Sci-fi film with a lot of VFX (visual special effects) shots, we spent most of 2013 in post-production. We had some extremely talented people working on the film, Billy Brooks being one of them. He supervised all of the post VFX and did some amazing things!

  • Billy Brooks’ special effects credits include Kung Fu Panda 2, Kung Fu Panda Holiday, Rise of the Guardians, X-Men 2, Men In Black II, Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones and more.

We premiered the film at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas this past March. Austin is a really cool city if you haven’t been! It was my first time to the festival and I must say it did not disappoint. The day before our premiere we announced an international deal with Sony Pictures.

CD: So, it sounds like you’ve done some really cool stuff. What are your plans for future projects?

NB: Om Films has a few things on the horizon. First, we’re partnering up with Michael Rapaport on a script we’ve optioned from a writer in New York City. The book is called Tough Luck, written by Jason Starr. It’s a coming of age story about a kid from New York who falls on some bad luck. Should be a really cool film, so we’re excited to have started some pre-production on it.  My business partner Dan Burks is also an extremely talented writer. We have some scripts that we’ve developed that we strongly believe would do very well commercially.

Aside from that, we’re always on the look out for great projects and people to do great things with! There are a few other projects cooking that I can’t mention just yet! Stay tuned.