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Meet Shreya Khandelwal of Smalltown_Smarttalk in Burbank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shreya Khandelwal.

Shreya, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Born and bred in a small city called Kota (Rajasthan) in India. Since I was a teenybopper, I have always been a fan of movies. A total movie buff, formally known as a cinephile. When I was a kid, I used to memorise dialogues of the movies and loved performing it out in front of my mom! In fact, I even used to give situations to my younger sister for her to act for me. My love for movies kept growing with my age. Thus, I decided to get my bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from Mumbai, India (Home for Bollywood) to get some practical knowledge of the media industry. During my bachelor’s, I got a chance to work with two very popular TV shows in India. While working for them, I realised how much I started enjoying and appreciating my work there. This love towards my work helped me chose what I want to do in life. Afterwards, I even started my own lifestyle/ fashion blog known as @smalltown_smarttalk on Instagram which has gained over 20K followers now.

Hollywood industry fascinated me a lot, I always dreamt of working in it! So after I accomplished my bachelor’s, I decided to pursue my Master’s degree from the States to get a taste of American Film industry. Coming from a joint family, where I have always been surrounded with a lot of people, so the idea of leaving it all behind and moving to a foreign land seemed impossible at first. But the entire credit for fulfilling my dream of Hollywood goes to my parents. As they have always braced me and stood with me in every decision of my life. Their support made me robust and helped me acquire enough courage in myself that I took a step forward towards my dream and started applying for different colleges in USA. Finally, when the news came that I got admission in one of the best film schools in the world, New York Film Academy, Los Angeles. That was the best day of my life, I still remember how I was jumping and dancing all around my house. My parents felt so proud of me too. Then in no days, it was time for me to depart and I had to board the flight to my dreamland! I had mixed feelings, on one side I was extremely excited to start this new chapter of my life and on the other side, my heart was crying from inside for leaving behind my homeland and my family miles away! I could see my parents had similar feelings, seeing their baby girl go far away from them but I knew they had belief in me.

As soon as I landed in LA, the air felt so fresh. It made me feel independent and confident because I knew I have no one to help me here. So from finding a place to getting used to the new environment everything seemed challenging first. But slowly as time passed, I started adoring my life. I made a lot of friends from all over the world with different nationalities. Got the best faculties in college who bombarded me with immense knowledge about the film industry on a daily basis. All the experience I got in one year of college made me able enough to get my OPT (Optional Practical Training) approved, because of which I got lucky to stay back for one more year to finally work in the professional world. Although working in the professional world wasn’t a cakewalk but I would say the whole experience of it was worth it! Overall, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds, but it was definitely more the fun than it seems to be!

Has it been a smooth road?
Leaving your home country and residing in another one has never been a smooth ride for anyone. I come from a third world country, India which is culturally very strong and where people have great religious beliefs. Thus, it was very difficult for me to adjust with the totally different surroundings and people from all over the world. From finding a new place to making contacts and finally getting accustomed with the LA lifestyle, everything felt like a challenge.

Initially, I felt so lonely and homesick. I started missing my food, my family, and all that I had left miles away from me. I started questioning and doubting myself. It became hard for me to believe that I can be a part of this new world. Everything and everyone around me seemed beyond reach at first. But soon as time passed, I could see myself fitting in my new shoes. And in no time, I realised I made a new family in a place I call as my second home now. Today, I can totally say that the fear I had of this new place disappeared and all I am left is a feeling very homely in my heart for this city.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
There isn’t any one particular job that fascinated me towards getting into film industry, in fact, the whole itself amazed me always. And thus, right from the beginning, I tried my best to explore each and every aspect of it. During my bachelor’s, I stepped into the media industry for the first time as an Assistant Art director for a well-renowned TV show CID for Sony Channel and also did the same for another show on Star Plus. I was really enjoying my work there but I knew that wasn’t enough for me! I needed to learn more and explore other options as well. So then I decided to move to California, where I got more deeper knowledge about other aspects of filmmaking. My college had taught me to do everything. From being a writer to a director to an editor, in fact, I even knew how to set up proper lights and handle sound for shoots.

This immense knowledge had got me great experience in each and every field which later helped me get a clear vision of where my interest lies. I knew then that directing is what I love the most. Since then, I started working as a Director or an Assistant Director. Till now, I have directed three short films and worked as an assistant director in more than 15 projects, including short films, web shows and music videos. I recently finished a feature film as 1st Assistant Director which is expected to release by the end of this year or starting of next year. I feel, being a director, It’s very important to understand acting, so to get a clear vision on it, I acted too. But it was just to get a better picture of directing. It helped me to learn to direct actors, and to see the movie from an actor’s point of view.

Besides this, I also have a lifestyle/fashion blog on Instagram. I started my blog five years ago. I have always been a girl who loves to dress up and explore new things in life. And so to justify my love, I started this handle on Instagram by the name @smalltown_smarttalk and gained over 20K followers. I have also been collaborating with a lot of good brands, restaurants, and media events. To name a few of the brands I collaborated with are Daniel Wellington, Femme Luxe, Fashion Nova, Wacoal, Accessorize, Speedo, Pee safe, Gillette, Lavie, etc. I also got a chance to walk on ramp for the very first time for a fashion show in LA by Raw artists. I was showcasing costumes designed by a very talented Korean fashion designer. It was a wonderful experience and I got to meet so many different artist from all around the world.

In the coming years, I definitely see myself as growing independent director with my blog flourishing as well.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles being the film capital of the world, definitely is the perfect place for filmmakers to start their journey. But one must hone their skills and master their craft before coming here because you are literally competing with 5,00,000 people for the same work as you. There is definitely more to LA than just “Hollywood”. The weather of California provides perfect natural lightning which is a dream of filmmakers who mostly shoot exteriors. It gives the most out of the low-cost lighting setup. Lifestyle of LA is amazing, it’s worth the price of admission even if you’re struggling.

This city has surely got a lot to offer, with the biggest film studios like Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal Studios and many more situated here to three major film schools, everything that one can ask for is here. But not to forget, LA is expensive and highly competitive, you spend most of your time understanding its logistics. In this highly competitive city, after you are able to filter the unwanted crowd, you will surely find a supportive community for networking and making great contacts (but trust me it’s not that easy). This city has thousands of opportunities, tons of internships and gigs as well. But like I mentioned above, it’s hard trying to hustle, make ends meet and get your name out there if you are just starting out.

I would suggest if you wish to work within the studio system then LA is a good place to live. But for this, you need to have permission to work in the US and have savings to spend many years fighting for your place in the industry. But if you wish to produce your own independent films then you can pursue these roles anywhere in the world. There is a chance that LA will not work out and chance that LA will be exactly what you need at the beginning of your career.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
“A Conscious Mess” Behind the scene: Angelica Willberg, Ana Duran; Raw Artist picture: Jeffrey; Photoshoot Behind the scene: Jazmin Hamilton

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