A year ago, at the onset of the pandemic and as productions came to a halt, I decided to pour my time and energy into developing new work. Confined to my studio in L.A., I focused only on tabletop work centered around drinks and food. But I was craving the human element. And not just a hand strategically placed in a shot. I wanted to explore an idea that had been swirling around in my head: show the layered personalities of women set in unexpected situations.
That idea would get stored in the back of mind while I navigated the move from L.A. to Toronto, and became increasingly busy with work and kids. Over the months, as my crew and I developed a great synergy, the idea resurfaced again over the holidays. I knew I had to take this winter down time to get the ball rolling.
The concept was initially meant to be a photoshoot. That grew to a photoshoot with some GIFs, maybe even a video component. But my gut was telling me to push the idea further. It was as if I was holding back from what I really wanted to do, but felt too nervous to explore. I’ve been wanting to direct more for some time now. Yes, I have directed before in the food and lifestyle space—small branded videos for commercial clients. I hadn’t yet fully delved into the commercial/narrative space even though I had started writing short film and feature length screenplays. I knew I needed to get my feet wet if I planned on getting any commercial directing work, or get backing for any film I wanted to direct one day.
So I took the leap. What started out as a single idea had now become a series of three mini films. I flushed out scripts for each one, put together colour palettes and mood boards, and sketched out director’s boards. I opted to start with Smokescreen. The premise: a woman makes a drink after a day’s work. It was the easiest to execute from a set/prop/drink/food perspective, but I knew the lighting would take some work. I turned to Erin Reynolds, my producer from previous jobs in Toronto, to help put together my crew.
Keeping diversity in mind, we pulled together a team of women, POC and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Outside of my go-to food/prop stylist, Nicole Billark, everyone else on our crew was new. Our talent, Zanana, from Elite models was cast to play our lead; Harp Ghoman, my brother who’s also an actor, came on to play the role of our man.
We booked The Geary Studio for the shoot plus a pre-light the evening before. The shot list was heavy which was why maximizing time with a pre-light—nailing down the lighting setup the day before—was necessary. There would still be a lot of tinkering on the shoot day given how dark the set was. This was intentional; the mood was meant to be mysterious as if this woman was, at times, coming out of the shadows. So our lighting technicians had to be strategic in placing lights that mimicked streetlight, while also providing both the talent and the drink beautiful light to shine in.
Smokescreen is seductive and mysterious, yet bold and powerful. I love natural hair and have always wanted to capture its beauty. In many cultures, hair holds power. I feel the essence of that in this film.
Music was critical in relaying the mood for Smokescreen. I wanted a sense of swagger and toughness to counterbalance the sexiness of the woman. I also wanted a proper song with lyrics—not just instrumental—to help drive home the narrative. In addition to writing and directing Smokescreen, I also took on the editing role which let me guide the sequencing and tone of the final piece.
So here it is! Check out Smokescreen below!
I’m so proud to have worked with my crew who helped make this vision a reality:
Written, Directed and Edited by Deepi Ahluwalia
Producer: Erin Reynolds
Director of Photography: Ashley Iris Gill
Talent: Zanana with Harp Ghoman
Camera Operator: Chrris Lowe
Chief Lighting Technicians: Keaton Evans & Gaelen Cook
Food & Prop Stylist: Nicole Billark
Hair/Makeup: Sarah Zap
Wardrobe: Kristyn Matthews
Equipment: William F. White International
Studio: The Geary Studio