Sai Selvarajan was born in Sri Lanka and spent his early childhood in Nigeria, moving to Dallas, Texas at nine years old. After graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in film and graphic design, Selvarajan created many short films, including Sugarless Tea, which tells the story of two brothers who have not seen each other for over fifty years. Selvarajan talks about the brothers’ story and why he chose to illustrate this short film with watercolor paintings, and what advice he would give to new filmmakers.
Can you tell me a little bit of how you discovered your love of filmmaking?
I was a graphic design major at school and we had to take an Intro Video class as a prerequisite; the second I picked up a video camera, I just knew. I ended up graduating with degrees in Graphic Design and Film/Video
Would you say that your childhood and moving multiple times at a young age has influenced your filmmaking perspective? How so?
For sure. It exposed me to different cultures. I still see the world through those cultures and experiences.
What inspired your trip to India that’s featured in Sugarless Tea?
That particular trip was part religious pilgrimage and part exploration. It was the first time I traveled by myself as an adult to India, so off the bat, it was a new experience and I saw and experienced everything through a new lens.
Why were you so drawn to the story of the brothers who had been separated for over fifty years?
The twin brothers were an allegory for my life. One life outside the United States and one life inside the United States. I started there and added the narrative around that.
Why did you choose to illustrate this short film through a series of watercolor paintings?
My wife is a painter and I’ve always wanted to work with her on a project. The idea came to me of time-lapsing her paintings and so I thought, this script might be the perfect one to try and execute. We did a test painting and it seemed to work, so we went full bore. Also, I work as a fulltime editor at Lucky Post, so when I conceive these short films, one of my goals is how I can make these films happen and still operate at a high level as an editor.
Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers? Maybe something you wish you would’ve known when you were first starting out.
Yes, failure is underrated. Keep making films. Keep looking for your voice as a filmmaker. If you fail, then you live and you learn. But just keep making films. Be prolific. Find some truth, and then make a film about it. Rejection sucks, but regrets sucks even more.
Are you working on any projects currently? Could you tell me a little bit about them?
Yes, I am currently on the festival circuit with my latest short film, Audible Static. I grew up with a stutter and this film is about a kid who is dealing with a stutter.
And I currently just started on my next short film, which will be entirely animated. It’s a film about my mother and the ecstasy of Sri-Lankan food.