Sameeksha Laveaux Katyal was born in India and raised globally. She has been involved as a writer, theatre director, and actor in India and moved to the US in 2016 on a scholarship to study at Drexel University. Katyal is now a New York-based filmmaker, actor, and writer. She has been actively involved with the Chelsea Repertory Lab at the Acting Studio where she trained in the Meisner Technique and has been a part of numerous off-Broadway theatre festivals. 2020 saw her acting and producing her third major short film, “The Interview from Hell” an office comedy which gained over a dozen selections at Film Festivals and numerous awards like the Best Director and the winner of the Best Audience Choice Award in August 2020 at the Direct Monthly Office Film Festival.
We caught up with Sameeksha Laveaux Katyal to know more about her journey and her latest projects.
DissDash: How did you get into filmmaking? Was your family supportive?
Sameeksha Laveaux Katyal: Being born into a conservative family in India where the only ‘real’ careers were becoming a doctor, engineer, or a chartered accountant, I always found myself as that girl with a voice. I struggled to earn my place in whatever I did. Early in my growing years, I was a well-ranked Tennis champion, I practiced 5-8 hours every day to gain sponsorships and maintain rankings while working through the entire academic load. It gave my parents the assurance that I can achieve anything I work towards. Then during the Asian Games trials, I got hurt. My injury was misdiagnosed which led to a gap between the bones. Two surgeries fixed the ankle but I lost my professional sports career. My creative interests came to light after I went through a journey of body image issues, self-esteem, and self-worth. I wanted to experience myself as a person and found myself at a theatre camp, I expressed there through a piece they gave me to perform and got picked by a National School of Drama director. I worked with him on multiple theatre projects as an actor and a director. Filmmaking came to me way later once I had moved to the US and people were interested in working with me. My family was not sure of this as a career choice for me. My day job is at an Investment Bank but they are seeing the wonderful response my projects are getting and are getting more supportive of my endeavors.
DissDash: Tell us about “The Interview From Hell” and how did you manage to work on it during the pandemic.
Katyal: This idea struck us in the middle of the desperate times when I was suffering long hours and one of my friends, Michael Chabbler, who co-wrote this script was fired and was struggling with finding jobs. Michael is an upcoming playwright and he wanted to express his frustration with job hunting, the standard interview questions, and working alongside crazy people. I loved the idea and asked him to put a draft involving his experiences. Michael wanted to make fun of this and write dialogues that only he wishes he could say in interviews. We particularly got stuck on one mocking question the interviewers love to ask: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” We wonder how managers in a capitalist society expect job applicants to have Five Year Plans. It’s especially absurd because we work in a world where anyone of us could be fired or laid off at any moment, no matter how well we are performing in our jobs. Yet, hiring managers expect to hear how we are willing to commit our lives to the firm. Additionally, when you work someplace long enough, you might have gone through a process to get your position. But then they hire some guy who’s completely insane. You wonder — did he have to go through the same process I did? And there you are doing this person’s work or fixing his work, plus still doing yours and trying to be reasonable with someone who is unreasonable and a bully. He will chase clients away and threaten the whole firm’s prospects, and no one will say a thing. And now we live in a world where insanity along with The Will to Power, is dominating more and more of our reality.
We workshopped the satirical comedy aspect of this script until we were happy and then sent it to our closest family, friends, and mentors from the Dramatists Guild of America for their opinion. Since this was the first major project for both me and Michael, we wanted to test waters in acceptance of our project. The script was read as a play in front of the National Writers Union in NYC for our monthly meetings. We were nervous about pleasing the tough crowd of aspiring writers and playwrights but we felt relieved when they just laughed out loud. Me and my friends even performed the piece in workshops at Theater For The New City. Someone from the local chapter of Mystery Writers of America saw the performance and invited us to perform at Plays and Pizza. It was a monthly event where Equity actors performed different plays.
“The Interview from Hell” is my first project as the sole Producer and Lead Actor, and since our script was well received I had a lot of pressure in bringing on board a director who could best present our story in a short film. Frank DeChirico is a mentor I made during my first NYFW and I sent the script to him. He has experience directing and loved this script so much that he decided to make it his directorial debut. He assisted me in auditioning for the interviewee Tom. We had a number of actors but did not find our Tom until we saw Michael explain the script to one of the actors. The look in his eyes as the character was so profound that we felt the script come alive.
We shot the script during COVID on a Saturday in a private office space owned by some family friends in New Jersey. Due to COVID, everything was shut down and our processing of the script became impossible. We had to connect to our network of friends in editing, adding background music, and finesse it. It took us 2.5 months from March to May to complete the post-production and in the first week of June, we started submitting it to film festivals.
DissDash: What are you hoping the audience takes away from this film?
Katyal: We all have experiences of crazy and weird people we work with but have you wondered who hired them, and whether they knew this person to be crazy or were just ignorant and wanted to fill the position?! We just want people to enjoy the craziness of the script as it aligns with the craziness caused by the pandemic. Hence, we bring to you a new office comedy, “The Interview from Hell” and we are sure about it to tickle some nerves.
DissDash: How do you feel about all the recognition you are receiving, were you surprised or did you expect a response such as this?
Katyal: We love the response we are receiving. We experienced a great response in person too when we read these lines at different playwriting events. It seems people are feeling the fun-weirdness of our story. What amazed us was that “The Interview from Hell” was the most-watched film for 3 straight weeks at Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and was voted the winner of the Best Audience Choice Award in August 2020. We are still nominated for awards at a dozen international film festivals. This is unexpected and exciting and I personally have so much gratitude for everyone who is taking the time out to watch and vote for our short film.
DissDash: What do you have planned next?
Katyal: As for what we have coming next, I am writing a feature film, I have offers from a lot of talented established artists in the industry to collaborate. As for “The Interview from Hell” we are getting a lot of interest from people in distributing our film to multiple platforms like Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Vudu but we are still competing in film festivals.
Not competent enough to sit idle and stare as the world goes by, Pallavi is optimistic to a fault and believes in building her world on her own rather than depending on others to make things right.