The combination of a structural engineer and a filmmaker is rarely seen, and if this combination is witnessed, then it has to be INTERESTING and an overwhelming treat to the eyes.
Any film which comes from Dilip Khatri is informative and visually pleasing. We take great interest to see the skyscrapers but have we ever wondered how difficult it is for the engineer to build one. Great applause must go to the stunning aerial visuals of the building with narrative storytelling used in the movie The Wilshire Grand Story: Tech Talk.
Exchanging Words with this philanthropic director Dilip Khatri was undoubtedly interesting. Here is what he has to say about his idea of directing a Technical Short documentary segment which he named The Wilshire Grand Story: Tech Talk
“The Wilshire Grand Center is an upscale world-class 73-story skyscraper in the heart of Downtown, Los Angeles. It is the tallest structure in the Los Angeles skyline.”
CULT CRITIC – You are a successful structural engineering business owner and professor, what made you think of starting film making?
DILIP: My father is Indian and loved classic American movies. My first name is “Dilip” which my parents graced me in light of their favorite actor: Dilip Kumar. Every weekend we would watch Hitchcock, C.B. DeMille, John Ford and Hollywood Classics together. My role models were Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, and my vision of beauty was Grace Kelly. Before I was a Structural Engineer, I was also Fashion Photographer for 5 years (and an auto- mechanic, dishwasher, and construction laborer). After 36 years in my profession as a Structural Engineer, I had decided many years ago that I would “live my vision” and I am fortunate to be granted this platform. I’m just getting started as I have many more films to make.
CULT CRITIC – How did the idea of making a documentary on the Wilshire Grand strike in your mind?
DILIP: I was working in downtown Los Angeles for 5 years and my office had a window view of Wilshire Blvd with the previous hotel. One day I saw this hotel being demolished and felt sad. With further inquiry, I learned that a new 73 story structure was planned for this location and NO ONE had thought to document it? My immediate thoughts were that here is another crowning accomplishment of structural engineering that will go unnoticed, unrewarded, and unassumingly disappear into the landscape of Los Angeles. Structural Engineers and Architects rarely get the full credit for their enormous contribution to our society. Architects love to “grab the spotlight” and rarely share it with their structural engineer partners. It was finally time to change this narrative. I had spent 5 years in film school and this would be my opportunity to showcase a $1.3 Billion project with both the Engineers and Architects as the Stars.
CULT CRITIC – Can you please tell us, about the obstacles that came up directing this documentary?
DILIP: Film making is definitely NOT what people think it is. It is NOT about red carpets, award ceremonies, photo opportunities, and traveling around the world. That is certainly the fun part. However, you must first “cross the Sahara Desert” before arriving at the ocean beaches. Every film is an enormous struggle which is rarely portrayed or even mentioned by producers and directors because I think we all just don’t want to remember the pain.
I’m not a woman or mother so I don’t ever lay claim to understand their torture and suffering, but I have witnessed in person the “child-birth process” and Film Production is very similar except that it is NOT a 9-month cycle. In the case of Wilshire Grand Story, it was a “5-year extended pregnancy” mixed with numerous potholes, cliffs, waterfalls, landslides and reminds me of my hike to the Base Camp of Mt. Everest.
Money is only part of the problem but there were logistical issues of filming the drone footage. The beautiful aerial shots of this film were done in 5 hours on a Sunday morning, but the preparation took 6 months. We had to get Legal Clearances, Insurance Certificates, and the big unknowns were the “wind, fog, and rain” which no one controls. We were blessed with excellent weather on the day of the shoot.
There were numerous internal personnel issues which I will refrain from details but will say that I hired and fired multiple people through this film production. There were at least 5 Editors, 3 Production Managers, and several others that were “hired and fired” because of creative differences, personality conflicts, etc… My original co-producer was terminated due to creative differences, but we retained our friendship. She, unfortunately, passed away before we were done shooting and never saw the finished piece. These internal struggles and conflicts have made me a stronger person and remind me that it’s no different from my business. I must take charge and in the end, it is my responsibility to finish the film.
CULT CRITIC – Tell me how you organize, plan, and prioritize your work.
DILIP: I’ve been a busy person since I was a teenager and I have some basic tenets that I live by:
1.Don’t waste TIME, it is the most valuable asset.
2.Every day is beautiful, be HAPPY, you are ALIVE.
3.GOD is watching us and be GOOD to ALL PEOPLE
Every day I have a calendar which I list out the priorities, goals, and “things to get done”. I try my best to finish all of them, but I never do, which is why the next day is important. I’m 54, and I’ve decided to live to 100. I’m good for another 46 years, stay tuned more action to come!
CULT CRITIC – Walk me through how you would supervise and coordinated the work of camera, lighting, and sound crewmembers in your film.
DILIP: When I started, I was doing all of this myself and it was a total mess, and the quality of the production was terrible. So, I finally realized that this is no different from my Structural Engineering and Architecture Consulting Business. Hire the right people, and direct them but give them space to do their job. I have very talented artists working with me now and I love their collaboration. We work as a team and I suggest ideas, we draw sketches, and plan every shoot, cut, and frame. Before I show up to the set, I have spent months [maybe years] thinking about that shoot and have a graphic artist sketch out the story board for the scene. Then I work with my crew to visualize our “dream” on film.
CULT CRITIC – Who is the narrator of your documentary, is it you?
DILIP: NO. We hired a narrator because I wanted someone with professional voice acting skills. He was very good to work with and it took about 5 takes on some of the passages but in the final cut I was very happy with his work.
CULT CRITIC –Your film has visuals of Christopher Martin (Architect of Record of AC Martin), Gerard Nieblas (Structural Engineer Of Record Brandow & Johnston), Leonard Joseph and others. Was it difficult to convince them to share the screen in your documentary?
DILIP: YES! Oh my God! Engineers are “terrible” to get them in front of the camera. Chris Martin [Architect] was no problem and he was all in. But the Engineers! They are hiding behind stones and I have to chase them down, handcuff them, and bring them to the set. For Gerard and Leonard, they were very cooperative and I was very pleased with their final cut but it take some coaxing and I know for a fact that they would NEVER do this with any other film maker, which is why there are no films about high-rise buildings with level of detail. The single reason they granted me this privilege is because I am “one of them” and they trusted me for which I am enternally grateful.
CULT CRITIC – What kind of obligations did you face while writing, directing and producing Aspire to the Sky: The Wilshire Grand Story?
DILIP: My biggest challenge is TIME. I run a business and work internationally so I have to “create time” to write. But now I have an Associate Producer that is working with me on details and very soon will be collaborating with professional
production firms for my next documentary [and soon to be released feature films]. I have a passion for this art and I LOVE IT, so I am Lucky.
CULT CRITIC – Are you still a civil engineer?
DILIP: Absolutely! I will not change my career BUT will continue to make fantastic films. I have another 50 years to go!
CULT CRITIC – Since your film is widely accepted and won several awards, what is your reaction then and now? Were you surprised, overwhelmed or awestruck?
DILIP: Surprised to say the least. Because I was totally “on my own” to make this film and fully financed it, wrote it, and directed it without any support from any corporation or funder, this was a big risk. But I did it for my passion of the arts and interest in developing my career as a film maker to further ambitions towards making more high-quality docs and features. I’m now proud to display my Trophies!
CULT CRITIC – Can you please share an interesting incident which will make The Wilshire Grand Story: Tech Talk more close to your heart?
DILIP: The drone footage was a high-stakes game with the weather. We only had 5 hours on a Sunday and when the crew arrived it was cloudy and potentially raining. My initial thoughts were that I had wasted my money plus 6 months to get the clearances for this half-day shoot. But then the weather changed within 2 hours, and we got the best of 4-seasons in one day. We got the clouds in the morning with the sun and then clear skies after 10am with no shadows which allowed the Wilshire Grand glass exterior to sparkle. It was as if a supernatural power saved us, seriously!
CULT CRITIC – When can we expect another blockbuster documentary directed by you?
DILIP: You are very kind and generous with your compliment. I’m working on 3 new documentary features now, and should be hearing from me within the next one year. I will save the topic for public release but they are of great humanitarian value and hopefully, will enlighten people to think about their lives.