“For Here or To Go?” Writer/Producer talks immigration issues and Lean Filmmaking

Rishi is the driving force behind the new film, “For Here or To Go?” Which opened yesterday.   He’s an immigrant technologist who produced his first feature film, For Here or To Go which tells the story of the struggles skilled immigrants face.  I’ve known him for years, so when his movie came out he answered some questions about filmmaking I had for him.

Rishi S. Bhilawadikar

The film has been been called a welcome counterpart to HBO’s Silicon Valley, and both entertains and educates on a part of a hot button topic we often don’t consider.  The story has its roots in reality, and could be a way to communicate our flawed economic policies.  It may even be having some impact, as it screen before congress last year

“For Here or To Go?” follows a young immigrant looking to do a startup in silicon valley, and the trials and tribulations he faces along the way.  The film has been covered in variety, The SF Chronicle, the USA Today, Breitbart “News” (Scoff) and even screened before congress.
You can find out more about For Here or To Go? on their website or Fandango. The film itself is well worth the price of admisssion, but this interview is less about the movie and more about the process of making it.
Rishi used some unorthodox tactics to create a hybrid of the processes driving innovation in Silicon Valley and the standard filmmaking processes. Rishi, the film’s writer and producer, is a skilled immigrant from India, and the film gives us a look into his experiences.
I talked with Rishi about the film just before it’s limited theatrical release on Friday.   Here’s that conversation
Ben:  Given you’re an immigrant from India working in tech, how much of this story is based on your life?
Rishi: It is a combination of my experiences and observations. I was writing a blog called “Stuff Desis Like” which was talking about the Indian assimilation experience and was started off as a meme following the “Stuff White People Like” blog. The blog was where the main inspiration came from.

B: How has being an immigrant affected your life?

R: Like with anything there are advantages and disadvantages to the situation. The advantages have been the sheer amount I have learned coming here and the exposure I’ve had with my higher education and work experience. You tend to come in more hungry and eager to learn as an outsider. But once you learn about the culture there are some very real assimilation barriers that you encounter (socially and legally) which can make it very challenging.
B: How did you line up a screening before congress?

R: We met the congressman and his office at an advocacy event about the immigration issues that are the core premise of this film. That’s how the screening took place. Essentially, a bill [was] re-introduced in the house that aims to fixes the issue. Under current law people get hired based on skill and education but get green cards based on country of birth. So there are long wait times for people from India and China. India especially and these wait times can be as long as 70 years! That’s according to some of the latest research.

I’m collaborating with an advocacy group- skilled immigrants in America and the bill- HR 392.  The Bill aimed at making the system fair and first come first serve regardless of country of birth.

B: What do you think of the current administration’s immigration policies?

R: It is clearly fuelling a great amount of anti-immigrant sentiment. If [you] look different you seem to be in trouble. Three shootings, one fatal targeting Indians. It’s all very heartbreaking.
B: You’ve mentioned that you used Lean Startup Principles to make this film.  How did that go, and what advice do you have for other people who want to utilize lean principles in media?
R: I leaned on those principles quite a bit!
B: I see what you did there. (Chuckles)
R: (Chuckles) Anyway, the core philosophy is to continually test and learn to build bit by bit and to eliminate wasteful activities and resources. Filmmaking is perfect for it, especially at the writing stage before there’s some much risk and uncertainity involved in the process.
As indepenedent, we have to be scrappy and be sure what we are building will work. The advice really is find your story and lean is a great way to find it or what they call “product-market” fit.
B: How would you iterate on the process next time?
R:  [I Wouldn’t] be so linear, I and find the distribution first! Quality product is table stakes these days, its how you deliver to the final audience that’s become a very big challenge. Now that I’ve been through the entire process of going from idea to production to delivery, the main thing to learn will be to think and plan on these things simultaneously.
B: That’s something every filmmaker deals with, it’s a huge challenge. Your Background is in tech, What made you want to make a film?

R: This film to me is a solution to a problem. That’s how I see it. The problem is that there is no authentic mass media representation of Indians in America.

There’s nothing to influence popular perception and to create empathy and awareness of this very complex legal issue that affects lives. Storytelling in mass media is a required solution. It’s about solving this problem, shifting the narrative- film is a great medium for it.
B: What was the hardest part about making your first film?

R: Team, funding and distribution. Like any other entrepreneurial effort.

B: What advice would you give other immigrants working in film or technology?

R: Keep the passion and the curiosity. Backgrounds, qualifications and training don’t entirely determine what you can accomplish.

Rishi’s Film, “For Here or to Go?” opened in theaters on Friday! If you’re in the bay area and want to promote films shot here, you shoud go see it.  If you want others to support your film when it comes out, you have to be an active and supportive part of the community.  Get your tickets on Fandango.