Shruti Ganguly, MBA/MFA '12
Filmmaker, director, producer, founder of honto88NYU Stern Program: MBA/MFA Dual Degree
Industry: Entertainment and Media
Shruti was featured as one of Vogue India's most influential people, is the producer who helped create Vogue's 73 Questions, and the founder of honto88, a production company that makes brave film, TV, video, and VR. We got a chance to ask her 10 questions of our own! And, in our sit-down with Shruti, she shares details about the making of 73 Questions, career advice, and more.
10 Qs with Shruti
A Conversation with Shruti
More from the interview, transcribed:
You started a production company called honto88. What types of projects do you do? What are you currently working on?
I started the company about a year and a half ago, and I had been developing a movie with a filmmaker called Chris Kenneally and with Keanu Reeves (he doesn’t need an introduction), and I remember this film we’d been putting together for a while got announced in the Hollywood Reporter and I had a company name in mind called honto88 and I thought, I guess I better set it up.
So that was the first project, and since then we’ve done a range of different things. On the branded side, we’ve worked with Thinx, Edible Schoolyard, Planned Parenthood, I just directed a project for Google, Jill Stewart’s new campaign, a new beauty brand -- a whole bunch of stuff.
And then on the TV side, we have a show with Michelle Obama’s stylist of the last nine years, Meredith Koop, and that’s a doc series on culture and politics through the lens of fashion that we’re really excited about. While it’s investigative and kind of hard hitting, uncovering a lot of issues in the industry or how we view the world, there’s also going to be some humor and levity to it. Then we also have a series on the black women of the Harlem Renaissance that we’re making with Killer Films and Refinery29. We have a scripted series about investigative journalism that changed the world. So those are just a couple of our TV series.
A lot of our work, whether it’s film, video, TV, and even VR, tends to be embedded in some type of social justice or evolving the conversation and being more responsible as filmmakers, but at the same time having a lot of fun doing it, and hopefully, if it’s funny, it’s even better.
What will you do next?
I’ve been a producer for many years and have loved working with incredible directors making films that have gone to Venice, Sundance, Berlin, and we have another project coming up in competition at Tribeca. When I went to NYU and I was getting my MBA and I was also getting my MFA in film at Tisch, I studied screenwriting and directing as well, and I know there was this tendency to say that dual degrees have to be producers. Even in my entrance interview I said I wanted to produce and direct, and finally, this summer, I am directing my first film. It’s something that I wrote and developed and have amazing producers for. That’s called "Priya, at 10," and it’s a coming of age film about a young Indian girl growing up in Jackson Heights in Queens.
What's one of your proudest career accomplishments?
When you’re looking at work that’s constantly evolving, and you’re evolving as a person and as a professional, it’s hard to look at success and accomplishments as if they’ve happened and as if I can pat myself on the back. I’d rather look at them as milestone moments which are important to take a second to acknowledge because we’re always racing.
I remember that moment came a few years ago when I got a call saying that there was going to be a committee of entertainment leaders and executives under the Obama administration in Valerie Jarrett’s office. And when I got this phone call, I thought, "but I’m not American, why would you pick me?" But I think that was also part of the point. And I think it’s a really tremendous aspect of that administration to have had global conversations around inclusivity -- that was a real privilege. I remember my father -- and my mom -- saying “You graduated with two masters degrees, why aren’t you being recruited by a network to run the division for them?” But I had been an executive in media while I was making movies and kind of starting my own company, and I remember when I got that invitation letter to go to the White House, it was a moment when my dad felt really proud, and understood that all these things I had said I was doing, I had actually done and they were being recognized. And that was an amazing moment not just for my dad, but for me, too.
Tell us about your role in developing Vogue's 73 Questions series.
With 73 Questions, I produced the series when it first started. I had left MTV to go to Conde Nast’s entertainment division to focus on the content for Vogue, and within a couple weeks I found myself in Sarah Jessica Parker’s kitchen with the director and cinematographer because we were coming up with this idea. And I’d say it was a real collective effort from the director who had the original idea of 100 questions in 5 minutes to Sarah Jessica Parker saying we need fewer questions, to the cinematographer who suggested a single shot, and I guess the rest was me making it happen and managing the project - that’s what a producer does. And I remember when the video was done, there was concern that the video was too long - it was way over 3 minutes. And I kept arguing that a great video doesn’t need a time length anymore, and a video needs to be as long as it just needs to be. And so we redid the sound design to create a sense of pace, very subtle, and those are the elements of cinema that you can apply to any video and really elevate it.
Career advice for those who want to get into entertainment and media?
I would say that in entertainment and media, there are no rules. And it’s really important to be flexible and nimble, to absorb as much as you can, and to work really hard, because none of it just happens. And to really build a good community. It’s an industry that requires spirit and emotion and the best people who have been in the industry for a really long time have maintained that.
What was the most valuable experience you took from your MBA/MFA?
I loved doing the dual degree, and I would say that one of the best things I gained from an education at Stern and at Tisch was an incredible community of friends, colleagues, clients, and professors that I learned from and that I continue to learn from.
It’s been really interesting because I work with a lot of my friends from Tisch, and my Stern friends have become my clients. I just directed some videos for Chanel commissioned by a classmate of mine, for example.
How did it feel to be named one of the Most Influential 50 Global Indians by Vogue India?
It was a bit of a surprise to be written up as one of India’s Top 50 Global Indians. At first I thought, they couldn’t think of other people. But it’s definitely been an honor and an excitement and my friends, family, colleagues, have been really excited about it.
How often do you travel for work? Do you have a favorite place you like visiting?
I travel constantly for work. And I’m Indian and I grew up in the Middle East, and I grew up traveling and adventuring. That’s a product of my family and the way I was raised -- to be curious about other cultures and backgrounds. In a way I remember coming to America and feeling like this is my foreign education. I travel for work all the time, I love going back to India, I love going back to the Middle East, to Oman where I consider home, I made a movie in Argentina and that was an amazing experience, I live in Oslo… So I feel like there’s an amazing opportunity as creators because technology platforms have allowed us to have global conversations and to be immersed in different cultures in an exciting way and it’s a really good time to be a part of that conversation.
Favorite Stern memory?
Oh, so many. When I first got into NYU I found out I was a Kenshin Oshima scholar and that was a huge privilege. I got to go to Japan for the first time which was an incredibly memorable experience. And beer blast, like it's name... was simply that. A beer pong-playing, pizza eating blast!