Chrysa Pikramenos and Johnny Pik are a brother and sister filmmaking team who have produced a short offbeat comedic film, Diwali Dream Garage, that is being screened at the Queens World Film Festival on March 20 at 10PM. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1233577. A winner of an Award of Merit in The Best Shorts Competition, it features the work of Emmy award winning cinematographer Sergei Franklin, and has also been selected to screen at the Garden State Film Festival. Directed by Pik and written by both, the majority of Diwali Dream Garage was filmed in Astoria Park and a couple of local businesses. A clip can also be seen at http://goo.gl/XrR2Pk. For more about their work you can go to their web site: www.piktv.tv
Chrysa and Johnny, who run PikTV Motion Piktures are first-generation Greek Americans from Astoria. Johnny develops medical surgical equipment and Chrysa has a background in media and education, and is currently working on producing her own talk show, focusing on holistic health issues. In March of 2003 their father was involved in a hit-and-run car accident, leaving him severely brain damaged, and in 2005, he passed away from his injuries. Following their father’s death, they decided to pursue their dream of writing their first full-length screenplay, which they then turned into the short film, Diwali Dream Garage. The film tells the story of Austin, who is in his mid-30s and has failed to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming the ultimate stuntman. While DDG is a comedy, the message is an important one, mirroring what the Pikramenos have learned from their own lives, which is that it is never too late to follow your dreams, even in spite of past failures and obstacles.
QG: You are both from Astoria. The area boasts Kaufman Astoria Studios and the Museum of the Moving Image. Did these institutions influence your interest in film?
Chrysa: If you grew up in Astoria, then having Kaufman Studios and the Museum of the Moving Image (MMI) is something that you are proud of as being part of your neighborhood, so they definitely had an influence on us as filmmakers. I love what MMI stands for, and the many great educational programs and diverse films that film lovers can immerse themselves in. Places like MMI are inspirational not only to filmmakers, but all people who fully appreciate the art of the moving image.
Johnny: Absolutely, Astoria is one of the initial centers of early American filmmaking. Growing up in an area where there was filming all around made it seem possible that anyone could do it.
QG: What made both of you turn toward filmmaking – since strictly speaking, your backgrounds were a bit different: developing medical surgical equipment for Johnny and media and education for Chrysa?
Chrysa: We started by writing a screenplay, so we did not have the intention of shooting a film at first. We decided to write a script because we both had a funny idea that we thought would make a great film. It wasn’t until we finished writing our script that we decided to turn the script into a film that my brother would direct. I have a background in writing, with a concentration in journalism, so I’ve always enjoyed writing and that is how I began my interest in filmmaking. In college, I took some film courses within my major and shot some things here and there, but never worked on a real production, with a cast and crew. I’ve also always enjoyed watching films, since I was a kid, so the idea of shooting our own was exciting to me.
Johnny: Ever since I was a kid I always enjoyed developing and creating things. That coupled with having a great love for watching movies inevitably led me to direct my first movie. It just wasn’t until I was stable in my career that I felt I could explore this other passion of mine.
QG: Why is your film, Diwali Dream Garage, named for a Hindu holiday, when the main character is neither Hindu, nor of South Asian heritage?
Chrysa: No, Austin is not of South Asian heritage, but his best friend Reggie is. Austin becomes friends with Reggie and his family, at a very pivotal point of his life. Austin becomes unofficially adopted by Reggie’s family because, while he has a mother, she’s not very present and he never knew his father. So, Austin is taught by Reggie and his family the many spiritual and life principles that guide them within their own culture. The night that Austin discovers what is holding him back is on the sacred religious holiday of Diwali, where Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is said to bless the home.
With Austin’s life going nowhere and his pipe dream of becoming a legendary stuntman on hiatus for the last 27 years he confesses to his best friend Reggie that there is something about his past that has been haunting him recently. In an exotic spiritual ceremony Reggie sends his mind back in time to the place in his past when he was a kid to discover what it is he has blocked out. It is during this mystical voyage on the holy Hindu night of Diwali that a young Austin finds himself in some hair-raising situations where he discovers the obstacles that keep him from unlocking the doors to his future.
QG: Wow, psychology, religion, spirituality, human relationships, and comedy – what more could we want in a film? Did recent film successes featuring India or Indian main characters, such as Slum Dog Millionaire, influence your focus for your film?
Chrysa: We think Slum Dog Millionaire is a great film, and I definitely enjoyed the presence of such great Indian characters, but our film was not influenced by it, because our characters, while they are Indian, are very different from the characters portrayed in that particular film. We introduced the Indian characters because we wanted Austin, who is regarded as an outsider by his peers, to be able to befriend someone who also was regarded as an outsider.
The fact that Reggie is from another culture, and has just moved to the United States, allows Austin and Reggie to bond, since neither one fits in. The reason we picked Reggie to be from India, is because of the many great symbols within their culture that helped us to bring the script’s karmic message to fruition.
QG: Do you both aspire to make more films?
Chrysa: We would like to turn our short into a full-length film. We have already written the full length script for it, so it’s a dream of ours. I really enjoy filmmaking and it’s one of my passions, so I am looking forward to working on future projects, whether it’s working on someone else’s, or my own.
Johnny: I would love to make more films. In particular, we would love to get the funding to film the full-length version of Diwali Dream Garage. So if you are reading this and are interested, please contact us!
QG: We hope you do! Did you make any home videos when you were growing up? If so, what were the subjects?
Chrysa: I always liked filming myself and my friends, and tended to be that “annoying” person with the camera, trying to capture funny moments on film.
Johnny: Not much filming on my part while I was growing up, except for taking pictures. But about eight years ago a group of friends of mine and I went on a snowboarding trip to Washington state and I created a 30-minute video of it and played it during Halftime of the Giants and Patriots Super Bowl in 2007 and it was well received. I realized at that moment that I wanted to direct my first film.
QG: That’s impressive! What are your favorite restaurants and places to people-watch in Astoria?
Chrysa: Astoria Park has always been a favorite place of mine to people-watch. You can definitely get some great ideas for characters by just sitting in the park and watching people hang out and walk by. Being Greek, I also find the café lounges where the older Greek men congregate to be a great place to observe the interesting characters. And understanding the language is great as well, because you get to hear what everyone is saying, which can be quite amusing, and inspiring when trying to conjure up new character ideas.
Johnny: My favorite restaurant is Taverna Kyclades in Astoria. It is definitely the best Greek food in town and for ordering in I usually Seamless.com order from Sandro’s Latin Food. It is some great food and fast service. People watching is best done at Avenue Cafe over a frappe.
QG: Who are each of your favorite film directors?
Chrysa: David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle, Clive Barker, Woody Allen, and John Carpenter.
Johnny: If I had to pick one it would be Quentin Tarantino. It’s really hard to pick just one so here are two more, David Lynch and Clint Eastwood.
QG: Do you both appreciate classic Hollywood films made decades before you were born? Which films and film stars?
Chrysa: When I was a teenager I loved James Dean, and Rebel Without a Cause was a favorite of mine. I am also a big horror fan and to this day love The Exorcist, and some other classics I enjoy include Alfred Hitchcock films like Psycho, The Lady Vanishes, Dial M for Murder, The Birds, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Taxi Driver. Also, I absolutely love the original Halloween movie.
Johnny: I really liked the old Alfred Hitchcock films and Twilight Zone. They made you really think about what was going on. With respect to film stars I would say James Stewart gets my nod.
QG: What obstacles have you faced in following your dreams to make films?
Chrysa: Probably the biggest obstacle is financial – not having enough funds.
Johnny: I would say three things for me: money, time and connections. I have none.
QG: What advice do you offer aspiring young filmmakers in Queens?
Chrysa: The advice I offer is if you have an idea and have a desire to express it through film, then go for it. Don’t let money or inexperience get in the way. I think the important thing is that young people express their creativity through a channel that they are most passionate about, and if that happens to be filmmaking, then don’t let anything get in the way. I also think that if money is an issue, there are so many opportunities available now, such as crowdsource funding like Kickstarter, or various film grants. I also think it’s important to constantly keep yourself involved in projects, working with other people, even if it’s just for the experience and to learn different aspects of filmmaking.
Johnny: Definitely take the time to learn the ins and outs of filmmaking before you jump into making a movie, and be sure to surround yourself with knowledgeable and great people to work with.
QG: Will you continue to make films that take place in Astoria or in Queens?
Chrysa: Astoria is a great place to make films, and has such great locations, like Astoria Park, where we shot part of our film. I also have so many great memories of Astoria Park, and it is very close to my heart, especially since my father who loved taking photographs would always take photos of us there, when we were young kids. Astoria is also a great neighborhood with colorful and artistic people that appreciate the arts and respect the process of filmmaking, so I would definitely consider shooting a film in Astoria again.
Johnny: I was born in Astoria and I feel it is a part of me. Besides, it makes for a unique backdrop for any film. I thought our outdoor scenes from Astoria Park and the Hell Gate Bridge provided great visuals.