Ravin Gandhi is a well-established entrepreneur and businessman in Chicago who loved movies so much that he decided to try his hand at writing and directing one. His film "100 Days to Live" debuted to "satisfyingly positive reviews," he notes. It was distributed domestically by Cinedigm and subsequently acquired by Amazon Prime Video. Internationally, it is represented by Artist View Entertainment. It is currently available on Amazon Prime Video, as well as all of the major VOD platforms (Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Redbox, Xfinity, DirectTV). I spoke with the director by email and Zoom for this interview. He hopes that his journey will give courage to others who yearn to express their hidden creativity.
He is the founder and CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings, one of the world’s largest suppliers of nonstick coatings in the $10 billion dollar housewares industry. In 2017, GMM was acquired by SDK, a $9 billion dollar Japanese conglomerate, in what was heralded as the largest buyout in the history of the nonstick coatings industry. He earned a bachelors degree in accounting from the College of Business at the University of Illinois, an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and is a certified public accountant. Gandhi serves on the board of Hester Biosciences, City Year Chicago, and is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization.
Gandhi is also a venture capital investor. He was the first investor in KeyMe, a manufacturer of robotic kiosks that is revolutionizing the locksmith industry, and was an early investor in Hester Biosciences, an animal health company that has subsequently gone public. Deals that Gandhi has led directly or invested in have raised over $500M in funding. Gandhi frequently appears on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and Bloomberg to discuss business and politics, and he is a contributing writer for Fortune Magazine and Entrepreneur.
Ravin's passion for filmmaking resulted in writing, directing and producing his thriller "100 Days to Live" while he remained CEO of GMM. The film was shot over a three week period. It won "Best World Premiere" and "Best First Time Director" at the San Diego International Film Festival. He says the film made it into the top ten films on Apple TV and is available in 60 countries. It holds a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
You are a very successful businessman both in the manufacturing and startup worlds. Why did you want to direct a movie?
Besides my career as an entrepreneur, I have always loved to write, and have always been a huge film fan. So one day years ago while on a flight to Asia I downloaded screenwriting software and started writing a screenplay. I actually finished it on the flight back–of course it was unbelievably bad. However, the habit of using time on work flights to write screenplays stuck forever. It was a great way to use another part of my brain given how I am normally obsessed with the capitalistic world.
How and why did you choose the subject of suicide to explore in your directorial debut?
Years ago I had a close family member commit suicide, so that was certainly floating around my subconscious when I came up with the premise. Then I called suicide prevention lines, talked to a number of therapists, as well as recovered suicidal people, and I became convinced about the plausibility of the story which gave me confidence to keep going. And I have always loved movies with twists, so being able to marry these concepts seemed pretty original.
Did Chicago’s reputation as a theatre city help you in finding the right actors (such as Colin Egglesfield) for each role? Did you connect with a group of emerging filmmakers here?
Marisa Ross was my casting director in Chicago, and she was great with bringing in amazing actors for me to audition. I learned quickly how the camera just loves certain actors. On the other hand, in some cases even before an actor started doing a scene on-camera, you could tell they weren’t right for the role. I was very lucky to get such an amazing cast, and have become good friends with all of the actors from the film.
What lessons did you learn as a businessman that you applied to your tasks as a director?
I would never have been successful as an entrepreneur without being a good storyteller. In fact, I would say that if you look at the most successful people in almost any industry, from doctors and lawyers to scientists and engineers, the people who rise to the top are those who can tell stories well. The human brain is wired to latch onto narrative, so being able to communicate in this way separates you from those you are only good at technical details, for instance. Since I was young, I have been pretty good at figuring out the essence of a complex problem and creating a story to explain it that is easy to understand.
Once I got into "meat and potatoes" directing–casting, shooting, being up against deadlines, making fast decisions, leading people–that part felt very natural and I felt quite comfortable. I learned being an entrepreneur is actually wonderful training to be a director.
Were there particular suspense films that inspired you to explore the genre on your own terms?
One of the films that informed my writing was George Sluizer’s 1988 classic “The Vanishing,” which is just so chilling and original. From that film, I learned you can spend lots of time getting to know the bad guy in long flashback sequences, and the audience will go with you as long as you are truthful about the motivations of the killer and have lots of conflict. Also, Park-Chan Wook’s “Oldboy” is a classic and something that has always inspired me in terms of how to motivate an original villain that has an almost unbelievable plan.
What benefits does Chicago provide a filmmaker, both in terms of aesthetics and production?
First, we have such a beautiful city with fantastic architecture and parks. So much character in neighborhoods that translates onto screen. Beyond that, there is so much deep talent in all aspects of shooting - actors, producers, crew, production design, wardrobe, post production…we really have it all in Chicago. I also was happy about the Illinois film tax credit, which helped recoup some of the budget before getting distribution.
How were you able to simultaneously run your business and finish the film in the time it took?
I built a very good management team who runs our company day to day, so I am not bogged down in minutia. One of the biggest decisions I had to make was when to shoot the film, based on what we had going on with clients, and knowing that I would not be missed for a few weeks. Also, I used the same plan as it related to editing the movie. Not micromanaging is so important, both as an entrepreneur as well as a director. You have to hire people smarter than you and let them make your enterprise (i.e. the company or the film), better.
As I followed the characters of the story on the screen, there were some chilling moments where I wanted to cover my eyes. Especially since I recognized some of the locations. When you were a boy did you like movies about things that went bump in the night?
Definitely! I remember watching both “The Exorcist” and “The Shining” when I was probably 9 or 10 years old, which is clearly way too young. But, there is an important reason that after we cover our eyes, we peek - being scared is thrilling and that’s why this genre will never die. I love movies that have tension from the first minute, and that never let up.
What do you want the audience to feel about “100 Days To Live”?
The main takeaway from the film for viewers is that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Don’t give up, no matter how bleak things seem.
What was your experience in getting a distributor?
It’s very hard, and anyone who says it’s easy isn’t telling the truth (or they have big stars and big budgets – of which we had neither). It’s an endless series of pitches and rejections, and takes so much time and effort to get through the grind. But like anything worth doing, if you push hard enough you will end up appreciating it more once it happens. Just don’t give up. I was amazed when we hit the top 10 on Apple TV upon release without any marketing, and then when Amazon picked up the movie.
How did this experience in filmmaking enhance your approach to business or other aspects of your life?
It made me more confident in my ability to learn new skills, which is important as you get older. I really think that doing creative projects accesses parts of our brains that normally lie dormant. And it’s amazing how everyone, regardless of their work career, is into movies, and wants to know what it was like to make a film. Just last week, I was invited to give a speech to the 800 graduating seniors at my suburban high school, and of course those kids wanted to talk about the movie. It's also so gratifying that we've had really good reviews, which makes me want to do another film--but one that is seen by a far larger audience.
What are you working on next and what are your ambitions in the realms of both filmmaking and business?
I want to make another film, but at a larger budget versus the tiny level of “100 Days to Live.” I am in the process of optioning a dark dramatic play by an award winning Southern playwright, and having her write a screenplay adaptation. I have also been working on a comedy idea with a writer from The Onion. I won’t greenlight another project unless I attach top-tier talent, because I learned how important “names” are to getting theatrical distribution.
In terms of business, I am still the CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings, and am quite busy. But, if one of my film projects gets off the ground I will talk to my board, and take time off to shoot it. I love that I have developed this film passion and identity to the point where I can do different things and juggle multiple balls.