By Andrew Buckner
Today I have the honor of talking to filmmaker Veemsen Lama! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?
I was born in Nepal and moved to the UK when I was 18. I am a storyteller, a filmmaker, and a YouTuber. I make a new video and upload it onto YouTube every week (www.youtube.com/veemsenlama) – they include short films, music videos, vlogs, etc.
When I was in Nepal and still a kid, we used to watch many Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Van Damme films, which have had a huge influence on me and made me want to tell my own stories. Once in the UK, I had the opportunities to both study film and start making short films.
You taught yourself how to be a filmmaker through YouTube videos and tutorials and similarly themed books while in the British Armed Forces. Later, you studied Digital Film Production at Ravensbourne in London. What was this process of education like for you?
When I was learning from the Internet and books, it was not formal education. Joining Ravensbourne gave me more confidence, more opportunities to network with other filmmakers. Filmmaking is all about teamwork and collaboration.
Film school also gave me the opportunity to use more kits such as good cameras, lighting kit, studios, sound gears etc.
How do you feel your work in The British Armed Forces helped shape the types of tales you tell as well as the narratives you choose to evoke through the medium of the screen?
I think my experience and journey in the military helped me to create and relate many stories. Filmmaking is all about teamwork and collaboration and I learnt exactly the same thing whilst I was in the army. Filmmaking and military exercises are similar in that sense. Also, neither is easy! I think a good director is a good leader because many people rely on his idea, and if he fails with his vision, then the whole film fails and so will the whole team. This is how we learn to complete a mission in the army – with good leadership, good planning, and good preparation, we achieve our aims and it is exactly the same in the filmmaking process.
What brought you to create your wonderful 2015 short, “Maya”?
A couple of years ago, when I went to Nepal, I took a picture of some street kids sleeping next to dogs. I spoke to them on one of the following days and they told me they were homeless, but they still had those dreams, those hopes of being happy, of having a good life. And after that day, I told myself I wanted to make a film about street children, who -despite their horrible situation- still had simple and beautiful hopes and dreams.
There is obviously a theme of love and optimism amid darkness and danger in “Maya” that makes it all the more emotionally stirring. This is also a common theme in your catalogue. What draws you to these topics?
I just want to tell simple stories, stories of those who are poor, those who are suffering and those who keep dreaming no matter what, those who fight and are hopeful in their everyday lives. I like to tell stories people will be able to relate to easily and get involved emotionally with too.
“Maya” is still doing well in film festivals. Congratulations! How vital are these types of gatherings to a filmmaker? Why?
Thank you so much. Stories and films are like our babies. We spend a lot of time in pre-production, production and post-production. We – as filmmakers and storytellers – give our hard work, our sweat, our time and our everything in order to bring our characters to life.
The filmmaking journey itself is an emotional one that is connected to our life, our family and our dreams. It feels relaxing and pleasurable when you know your hard work is appreciated.
I think, as an independent filmmaker, I need this sort of recognition to encourage me to do more, always work harder, and simply keep going.
You have a new short coming out called “Chyanti”. It is currently in post-production and is scheduled to be coming out in the summer. What else can you tell us about this project?
“Chyanti” tells the story of Ram, a guerrilla fighter, a father and a husband who – in the midst of the Maoist revolution – returns home to celebrate the festival of Dashain, only to realize that if he is to feed his family and send his daughter to school, he must sell Chyanti, the family goat, so beloved by his daughter, Sani.
“Chyanti” was really hard to shoot and became a very expensive short film too. I wanted to capture the beautiful mountainous landscape because landscape is one of the characters of the film.
We had to travel to a remote Nepalese village, which was a 10-hour drive from Kathmandu. Furthermore, there were no proper Internet connection, phone signals and electricity. Those really were the main challenges! And then, all of the sudden, the crew started to get altitude sickness too and had to be evacuated by rescue helicopter.
But it was worth it – despite of all those problems, we completed the shoot and returned to Kathmandu safely.
Also, you have your own production company. It is called Javiya Films. How did this come about?
I’ve always wanted to have my own production company and when I was in film school it just kind of happened and I created my own brand, which I named after my daughter, Javiya. She is my lucky charm.
You also have a feature length film in the works. What can you tell us about this?
We are in pre-production of some horror projects at the moment and planning for drama films.
What words of advice would you give those who are trying to get started in filmmaking and don’t know where to start?
Technology has made our life much easier, allowing anyone to tell stories, whenever and wherever. So my advice would be: Don’t make excuses if you really want to make films – just tell your stories! Find the best story that’ll get your audience connected and involved. If the story is poor, it doesn’t matter how good the actors are or what cameras you have used, it will fail. Finally, don’t talk about it, just do it. Take action and action creates results.
You have sixteen shorts under your belt. Your earliest was in 2013. It was called “Neema”. How do you think you have grown as an artist in the three years since this project was released?
In 3-4 years, I think I have learnt a lot. All the short filmmaking was part of the learning process. I feel more grown up, more mature in storytelling. I used to focus on cameras and gears but now I mainly care for the quality of the story and the best way to tell it.
Let me give you an example- A film is like a bus and the director is like the driver. All the passengers are like your audience. Once they are on the bus, they care about the journey from A to B. They forget about whether they are standing or sitting when the bus starts. As the driver of the bus, I have to make sure my passengers feel comfortable throughout the journey. Making a film is all about the journey and if the journey (story) is bad, then you’ll have a disappointed audience. It’s as simple as that.
Once your audience is connected and involved in the story, they can forget everything else. Nobody will care what camera you have used or what lighting you have used if the story is good. So the story is –in my opinion- the very first priority.
You are also a screenwriter, cinematographer, producer, actor, assistant director and camera operator. What draws you to these particular facets of moviemaking?
As an independent filmmaker, you should be able to do a bit of everything, I guess. Sometimes, you might have to act as one army man and if you are lucky then you will have a team of 20-100 people, who will make your life easier and help you turn your vision into a potential blockbuster. It is always good to put yourself in other people’s shoes in filmmaking, but I’d say directing is my bag.
I actually started filmmaking as a cinematographer and I think a cinematographer is the eye of a film; he or she is the one responsible for the visual elements of a film. And I personally like the visual side of filmmaking better than the storytelling. I think I can show more. Which is why it is easy for me to communicate with my cinematographer about what kind of shots I want.
Also, I normally create my own story so that it is easier to envision a film. I am a good screenwriter but I am still learning to write. And if I can write a great screenplay then I won’t have to explain each and every element of my vision to the screenwriter, which would speed up the process.
I don’t like producing because I don’t really enjoy logistics, paperwork, finding funds, etc. I love to be creative and I like that creative process! However, should there be no producer, I’d know how to do the job as I have done that job before.
I played in a few films too when I was at film school and we couldn’t find actors, but I am not really a great actor.
What modern artists (may it be writers, fellow directors, actors etc.) are you most inspired by? Why? Do you see yourself collaborating with any of these individuals in the future?
Alejandro Inarritu, James Wan, Christopher Nolan have always been massive inspirations. These storytellers have different styles of storytelling. Alejandro Inarritu’s Babel and 21 Grams are so unique in the sense that he connects many stories in one. James Wan style of horror has always inspired me and made me want to make horror films. The way he uses the camera slowly and smoothly, rather than making a lot of cuts, creates scary situations that make people scared and affect them psychologically. Christopher Nolan’s Inception is mind blowing. That will stay in my mind for the rest of my life. I want to make a film like that, one that people will never forget.
You have worked in the genres of romance, action, horror and drama. Is there any other categories you see yourself branching out into? Why?
I am a big fan of horror and drama films. So I will probably start with the horror genre and move to drama and why not become an actor later. Horrors can be done with a smaller budget, so it might be a good way to start.
Do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to discuss?
We are working on some horror features at the moment and plan to shoot next summer. I can’t disclose further information though.
Do you have any final thoughts for us?
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share my story and my thoughts. Cheers to you guys for supporting and helping independent filmmakers!
Thank you for your time! I look forward to checking out your upcoming projects!
*The pictures utilized throughout are credited to ©Javiya Films (http://www.javiyafilms.com/).