By Simon Fearn
The idea of a ‘passion project’ is perhaps overused, but it is certainly applicable to Prassana Sellathurai’s short film The Inevitable. Spawned from Durham Student Film’s (DSF) Three Week Film competition, Sellathurai made “a monster of a film.”
Sellathurai is now looking to enter The Inevitable into a film festival, but the film-making process was almost debilitating. Thankfully, like all the best Hollywood heroes, he triumphed against adversity to create a striking and daring feat of cinema.
Sellathurai is a wiry ball of energy, a budding screen-writer who caught the bug poring over Hollywood scripts in California with a family friend. Last Michaelmas, however, he was at something of a loose end. Due to ill health he’d been forced to take a year out before retaking second year. “I kind of felt abandoned,” he says. “I was in Durham and I had nothing to do.”
Over the summer he’d penned an action comedy called Samurai Joe about “a group of samurais who try to kill a former member who abandons them for a Durham University Chemistry degree.” He sent the script to DSF president Hugh Memess and eagerly awaited the exec’s feedback.
Their verdict was that the film was hilarious, but astoundingly impractical. This isn’t entirely surprising: the third act featured a samurai fight in the Bill Bryson library.
Sellathurai then got a call from Gregor Petriković who he’d worked alongside for The Box: a previous Three Week Film that Sellathurai co-wrote and starred in. This year the theme was “superheroes” and Petriković had a group of 30, no script, and time was running out.
Sellathurai agreed to help, but early script workshops were going nowhere. “My brain was kind of spinning,” Sellathurai remembers. “Someone would suggest something and it didn’t feel right.”
Finally: the eureka moment. After advising his team to sleep on it, “I walked back home and by the time I got to Gilesgate I knew the entire plot of The Inevitable.
“I put some chicken nuggets in the oven, and then sat down and wrote the whole of The Inevitable. I gave it to my housemates to read and halfway through they said ‘what’s that burning smell?’”
The Inevitable follows loner student Lucy (Bianca Skrinyár) who can see the future repercussions of each of her actions. It’s a stylish noir that owes a debt to both the fluid camera work of Damien Chazelle and the tone of Marvel’s Jessica Jones.
Sellathurai thankfully fared better with the script than he did with the chicken nuggets, but there was still a mountain to climb. He was a first-time director with little knowledge of film-making tech, and his short featured characters being ploughed down by cars, brutally beaten and seeing into the future.
Having assembled a crack cast and crew (“they’re all control freaks and passionate about their niches”), Sellathuria was ready to go.
“The first day was awful,” groans Sellathurai. “We did eight takes of the bit where Geno [Epton Naughton] comes up and knocks on the door. Eight takes is ridiculous!” Storyboarding mishaps led to the leading man juggling his shopping and a phone call while attempting to knock on Lucy’s door.
It was a long and tiring shoot, but far from a failure. The team achieved some stylish camerawork, with shots floating through walls and drifting along the grotty carpets of student accommodation. “The footage was slick and exactly how I saw it in my head,” Sellathurai says.
“The second day was the worst day,” he continues. A misunderstanding at John’s bar meant the team lost their location at the last minute. Sellathurai found himself desperately trying to find a bar to film in, all the time keeping track of cast, crew and equipment.
Sellathurai’s Facebook posts to his team at this period have a distinct flavour of desperation. His all-caps “CRISIS” and “DON’T PANIC” do little to reassure, but thankfully these were shortly followed by “COLLINGWOOD BAR 3PM.”
To make matters worse, at this point friend and crew-member Mehzeb Chowdhury told Sellathurai he “needed to relax more because someone in the crew had said they wanted to move groups. We were taking it way too seriously and it wasn’t fun.
“In that moment I just broke and cried on set. Mehzeb was like, ‘ah crap, I broke the director!’” Sellathurai was duly fixed, however, wrapping the film’s arresting opening scene in just five minutes just as their DSU room booking expired.
Finally, it was time to shoot the climactic fight scene, which for Sellathurai is the weakest part of the film: “it’s kind of passable in a world where you believe that people can get knocked out in one punch.”
“The Inevitable took five days to shoot and it was very painful,” Sellathurai concludes. “It was frustrating and I was very upset.” Unfortunately, editing the film wouldn’t be any easier.
Sellathurai had given himself three days, but quickly realised that this was nowhere near enough time. Several all-nighters ensued. “I hadn’t slept or eaten in three days and I hit around 49kg,” he recalls. “That’s very bad!”
Like all of the film-making process, the screening was a whirlwind of stress and drama. “I was editing down to the bone and Hugh was telling me that I had to screen my film now. I clicked export and I was running with my laptop. The rain was hitting the keys and I could see on the screen that the film wouldn’t be ready for another day.”
The screening was an incredible disappointment. All Sellathurai could do was screen a rushed cut of the film that wouldn’t buffer properly: “I essentially showed the audience a series of pictures as they heard the film.”
It took three months for Sellathurai to edit The Inevitable, but thankfully his harrowing film-making experience yielded incredible results and now he couldn’t be more proud of it.
“When you watch a film like Nocturnal Animals you can tell that there’s someone thinking about everything,” Sellathurai explains. “You could write an essay about Amy Adams’ paper cut. The Inevitable was kind of similar: it’s obviously cared about.”
Sellathurai took a risk with his trippy and ambitious noir and it paid off. Though he has a huge respect for DSF and the members he worked with, Sellathurai is glad to have defied the norm. “The complacency in DSF is that we’ll do an ironic comedy, so I said let’s do something really bold. My film stands out as it’s so much more memorable.”
It is extraordinary to find such a committed student film-maker with such a passion for cinema (most of Sellathurai’s points are illustrated with film references). On the evidence of The Inevitable Sellathurai might just make it big, hopefully minus the weight loss and sleepless nights.
“Learning to make films this way is the ultimate trial by fire,” sums up Sellathurai. “I wouldn’t recommend it, but I learnt so much about film-making!”
Watch Prasanna’s film The Box, which he co-wrote and starred in, here.
Photograph: Jiahe Max Luan