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Meet Shamola Kharkar

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shamola Kharkar.

Shamola, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I wasn’t the kid who picked up a camera and knew I wanted to make movies. I grew up away from the city on a rose farm in Lusaka, Zambia. I imagined studying agriculture and eventually planned to run my parent’s rose export business with my elder sister.

I was the type of person who had a terrible habit when it came to choosing careers – I would spot and research the dangers of that career. Maybe this is why I became a good producer! I went from wanting to become a pilot to a criminal lawyer to an astronaut to a solar scientist to a journalist. After this, I gave up and had no clue.

With a nudge from my dad and middle school drama teacher, I found a passion for theatre and visual creative arts. The ability to find and tell stories from any subject, location and time intrigued me. This was the beginning of my journey as a filmmaker.

Having zero knowledge on how to make movies, I pursued a degree in Film Production with an emphasis on film directing at Chapman University in Orange CA. As I was completing my degree, I had the opportunity to make a few commercials – but I realized I lacked an essential skill of marketing and business knowledge to help secure a project. These skills didn’t come to me naturally hence I continued in school and got a double Masters – MBA and Masters in Film and TV Producing.

For me, this completed the puzzle – it gave me the ability to run a production company, to know the technical aspects and yet be creative. The short films I graduated with gave me the chance to develop as a filmmaker, a producer, and a [less-introverted and more confident] person. Along with these films, I had the chance to experience film festivals – meeting filmmakers from the nation and the world, and especially the chance for my parents to see me and one of my films nominated at the Collegiate Television Awards – Emmys 2017.

After graduating, my immediate goal was to work for a studio or large indie company but being an international student made this goal harder to attain than imagined. I focused on being an independent producer and I tried as many forms of production as I could – shorts, features, music videos, commercials, and documentaries. I moved back to Zambia in 2018 and produced a 36 episode drama series that aired in countries across the southern region of Africa (6 countries with the largest viewership).

I’m still trying to find a way for some of my dreams to come true which includes producing and showcasing a lot of stories deeply rooted in my Indian and Zambian cultures, and also involves many road trips. But while I continue to develop the various ideas on my laundry list of dreams, I work in two roles – as an independent producer for content in Zambia and as a COO+Producer for vrSamsara, a VR/AR startup focusing on historical dramas. A third role would be as a baker! Do drop by for some cake!

Has it been a smooth road?
I’ve had personal struggles and work challenges. My sister passed away unexpectedly when I was 19 (just a week before my junior year in college). My dad passed away unexpectedly as well when I was 24 – the reason why I moved back to Zambia to be with my mum. At work, most times, the funding for a project may not be enough and scaling back is an option not everybody likes.

In a few cases, getting distribution hinders the ability for some content to take off. I do feel that sometimes our own thoughts can be a challenge and can make things more difficult than it seems. I find that in my free time, I tend to worry about problems that may not affect me or I worry about future issues having the largest negative impact. This “devil’s workshop” has been a personal struggle of not finding peace of mind.

But then again, we all have our own share of struggles and obstacles that make it seem like you’ve reached the end and its time to give up. People usually say “all good things come to an end” but I say, “after that end, there are good things to follow.” Or another way to put it, “to get back up, one has to fall and sit on the ground and be aware of the cold floor.” I’ve always imagined life as climbing the highest range of mountains with several ridges and valleys but I’m the one making the hiking trail.

I credit my parents and sister for the way I think. Growing up and watching my parents run their business – I’ve seen them succeed and fail, but they always picked themselves up and continued on. They defied the odds, went against cultural norms, and carved a path that brought strength and happiness to themselves and their families. Today, my mum and I are half the family but we are double the positivity. People have questioned this positivity but even on the slowest of days, I can only continue to live each day to the best that I can and to live it to it’s fullest. I’m learning each day to become a better human being, a better daughter, and a better professional – this is what my mountain range is teaching me.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I work in two roles – as an independent producer and COO+Producer at vrSamsāra. As an independent producer, I am open to all forms of content and platforms. I don’t like to limit myself to a specific area unless it’s something I’m generally not comfortable with. Currently, I’ve been focusing on TV Shows and commercials. There are a few features in development and a few features in the conceptual stage which will help tick a few stories off my bucket list.

With vrSamsāra, I am the Chief Operating Officer and Producer for the films we create. First, a little about vrSamsāra: a startup specializing in content that uses the technologies of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and animation. The mission of the company is to bring communities together, bridging the use of technology with history. The company and product seek to change the relationship museums and educators have with their audiences.

Using VR, AR, and animation, our international team of filmmakers and animators aim to craft a thematic journey of sacrifice and hope through different historical events, calamities, and journeys offering a more interactive way for people to understand and empathize how these events shaped our community and the world today. Many say not to look at our past and focus on the future. But if we don’t understand our past, we can’t lead our present into the future.

At vrSamsāra, we create 5-20 minute short films, each focusing on a specific historical event. In every case, we conduct extensive research which includes speaking to survivors and take an unbiased approach when script-developing. We create an animated VR film supplemented with short AR clips focusing on other relevant objects, facts, people, or circumstances which could not be addressed in the VR film. This is a full packaged product which we offer to museums and galleries, schools, educators, and ultimately through an open forum where we exhibit independently.

Our first film was based on the Holocaust called “Freiheit”. Freiheit follows a young Jewish boy who enters a concentration camp in World War II. With his mother by his side, we follow the traumatic events that threaten their survival and hope to be together. The film was also selected under the interactive and transmedia category at MIFA, Annecy International Animated Film Festival 2018.

There are quite a few things I am proud of at this company apart from the product we’re creating: we’re a group of international filmmakers empowered with multiple perspectives and open minds. Our different cultures help us take a unique approach to our films, making us more sensitive to different types of audiences. Along with our cultures, we all work in different time zones across the globe – though we can be very far apart, it brings us closer as a family.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
One of the greatest strengths of conducting business in Los Angeles is access to resources. Resources can be labor, technology, equipment, locations, information, and knowledge. It is also the city that moves quickly and remains most up-to-date with the type of equipment and technologies we use as a business. Working to its advantage, LA is a melting pot of cultures and diverse people from across the globe. Experts from our fields who may once have been on the other side of the globe are now in our backyard and are more accessible and available.

However, while there are a lot of experts and informed people in LA, it comes with its fair share of false promises. It is very easy to get sucked into what we thought were good deals with people who will promise to help with expertise or equipment (maybe that discount to help start you off!) What we thought would benefit us only hurt us over time and we realized quickly that you can’t take someone’s word for it – better to have contracts with a person and find reputed vendors initially before building the network of suppliers.

From the experience we had, I would love to recommend LA as a place to start out, however before you do, “research your market first”. If you have a prototype, test it and see if you need to make adjustments. LA is a rapidly moving market – you can shoot up fast and then sink equally as fast. Even though there are several people in LA, several diverse needs and backgrounds, you may think you’ll find a small segment who will like your product. But will that small segment be enough to keep you afloat? There are many strategic decisions to take – take your time in researching before starting off.

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For the drawing, credit: vrSamsāra

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