An Exclusive Interview Of Shreyans Zaveri On Conservational Filmmaking

August 26 14:35 2022

Filmmaker, author, conservationist, and visual effects artist Shreyans Zaveri has spent his life in pursuit of enlightening his fellow men and women about the importance and intrinsic beauty of nature. He has worked tirelessly in illuminating how important it is to conserve the world around us and he does this in a unique and eye-catching manner, using his gift for the written word and visual storytelling to imbue a deeper and more impactful experience for audiences and readers.

Growing up in Mumbai, Shreyans Zaveri currently works in Silicon Valley as a director where his latest short film ‘If Only’ has been making waves on the international festival circuit. His passion for nature and filmmaking has also seen him discuss openly the principles of Hollywood filmmaking and its impact on the environment.

He took the time to answer a few questions about conservation, his take on the film industry and its conservation context – as well as delving into his latest project and where it will hopefully lead next.

Q. Hello Shreyans, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Let’s start with you telling us a little about yourself.

Shreyans Zaveri. Thank you for this opportunity. I am from India, and I grew up in Mumbai. I moved to the USA to pursue studies and now work in the Silicon Valley, Bay area as a Senior Director. I am a published author as well and love to craft stories. On the personal front, I read a lot, do yoga and meditation and in my free time, I cook and pursue further studies.

Q. You have quite an impressive repertoire, and a noticeable tilt toward conservation-based storytelling and messaging, can you give us a little context about your passion for this?

Shreyans Zaveri. I have a background in Biology. My educational background is rooted in the sciences. I come from a family where these values of being one with nature were inculcated in me since childhood. I remember the time I spent in nature, exploring, learning, and nurturing my curiosities. My grandparents, parents and elder siblings always encouraged me to be in nature. Our family vacations were in the Himalayas and in the vast forests of India. This is when I saw the amazing wildlife up close.

Having spent so much time learning in the brilliant outdoors, at this point it comes naturally to me that conservation is important. It isn’t a statement; it is the obvious situation in front of our eyes that we need to address. So, I started blending my professional abilities with my personal fondness of nature. From there began my conservation-based storytelling.

Q. One wouldn’t typically correlate filmmaking with pollutants, especially with the virtues of Hollywood and global warming, what is it about the film industry, in general, that is contributing so heavily to environmental damage?

Shreyans Zaveri. There isn’t one particular thing or factor about the global film industry that is contributing to environmental damage. The film industry is a complex structure that brings together many departments for it to function. To give our readers a gist about its carbon footprint. Based on reports and studies from the amt-lab at CMU, a single film production generates anywhere between 391 to 3370 metric tons of CO2. This means that a single large Hollywood production produces 732 cars worth of carbon dioxide. And this means that on average 155,020 trees are required to offset the carbon emitted from a single blockbuster film.

Yes, those numbers are striking.

And as I said earlier, there are multiple factors that lead to so much waste. From set construction to transportation, to food wastage on sets. These are some of the major contributing factors. As of today, the film industry (Hollywood) produces more waste than the Aerospace industry or the Space industry! And when we take this data and apply it to other film industries across the world, the numbers only get more staggering.

Q. We’ve been slowly moving toward using less waste in filmmaking, the development of digital cameras replacing film stock being one that comes to mind, what else can be done to reduce the carbon footprint?

Shreyans Zaveri. Absolutely, there are efforts in place to bring down the waste. A lot of groups and societies have come forward to pledge the use of less wasteful practices.

As I said earlier, there are many factors that contribute to the generation of waste. Some of the broader issues can be tackled with technology. For example, using virtual sets instead of building the entire set and then dumping it once the shoot is over. Some of the other issues can be managed better.

Like, transportation costs can be brought down by better and more efficient planning. Food wastage can be reduced, and vegan or sustainable food choices can be provided on-set. Something as simple as refillable water bottles can also help substantially. It is the one thing that I do. I try to carry my own water and food on set. It seems like a small step, but it will go a long way in overall sustainability.  

Q. When crafting a story or a new project, do you typically have a message in mind, or is it more about the story itself?

Shreyans Zaveri. I let art be art. I always believe that the story tells itself. I am just the medium through which it is expressing itself. So, from an artistic perspective, no! I do not set out with the message. I create. And as I create, the message that is stemming from the subconscious becomes clearer. Once that has happened, I do go back and add value to it. I make sure that the art I create provides value to people in some way or the other. That is when the messaging also falls into place.

Again, to answer that simply, no. I do not make a movie with the message in mind. The story tells itself; the movie makes itself through me. I am but an instrument.

Q. Speaking of storytelling and conservation, your short film ‘If Only’ has been making the rounds and caught the attention of several conservation societies, can you give us a rundown of what ‘If Only’ is to you?

Shreyans Zaveri. If Only is one such example where the story tells itself. I enjoy visual effects and have worked as a VFX artist. So, I was learning some new tools and then started creating these visuals. I liked what I saw, and it began taking shape. As I said, I am an avid nature lover. I have enjoyed whale watching. These gentle giants are so majestic and calming, I cannot describe how good that feels, it is pure bliss.

While doing some research, I found that as of today whale hunting or whaling is still a thing. People still hunt these amazing creatures and kill them and eat them and whatnot. Now here is a creature that lives in the middle of the ocean and causes us no harm whatsoever. And yet, we humans want to invade their homes, capture, kill them, and eat them. It makes no sense to me. So, I made the movie, If Only.

It means, If Only whales could fly, maybe we would stop hunting them.

Currently, the film is being screened at film festivals globally. We have ongoing screenings in the USA, India, United Kingdom, Bosnia and Herzegovina currently.

I would love to educate people about the importance of saving marine life. And when I was able to collaborate with some prominent organizations internationally, it fuelled that purpose and my resolve as well. I am very happy that these conservation societies have come forward to collaborate and use my film as educational material so that we can collectively help save marine life.  

Q. What do you hope to achieve with ‘If Only’ and any future projects you’ll be directing?

Shreyans Zaveri. If I can save one whale, even if it is one whale to start with, I would be elated. My goal is to help save all the whales from hunting and other such human activities. I am hopeful, I will achieve that as well.

It is this want, that I want to show people that we can co-exist. For humans to exist, we do not have to exploit nature. We are here because of nature and not the other way around. If we are mindful of our consumption, we can easily co-exist with nature and live harmoniously. All these species are important to the ecosystem and to our own survival. As of today, we do not have the capacity to comprehend the devastating effects that are caused to earth when a species goes extinct. And by the time we fully understand it, it’ll be too late.

So, it is my hope that my films bring people closer to nature. That it will spark some curiosity in them. From there they can forge their own connection with nature and take part in conservation efforts. I want future generations to experience how magnificent nature is. Just like the elders of my family introduced me to nature, I want to bring nature into people’s houses and eventually, that will draw them out into nature.

Q. What is next for Shreyans Zaveri?

Shreyans Zaveri. I am currently in the post-production phase for my next film titled ‘Meta Tiger.’ It is based on the importance of forest and tiger conservation. Growing up in India, I traveled through the forests on foot. And I have had the privilege of seeing these magnificent creatures up close and in the wild. Through my next film, I want to capture that and bring it to the audience.

Moving forward my sight is set on making a feature-length documentary that brings out the story of the Condors. The Condors are one of the largest flying birds in the world. And very few people even know about them. They are an endangered species and their survival and future hang in delicate uncertainty.

Apart from films, my next book which is biography is all set to launch early next year. I am also learning and branching out into some exciting new ventures. 

And as always, time with and in nature will always be a part of my present and future.

Thank you Shreyans for your time.

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