In his new web series, filmmaker, writer, and actor Arun Narayanan does what we all usually want to do ourselves, record our thoughts and turn them into a movie. “Arun Considers” centers on him as he walks through Los Angeles streets and a voiceover provides a darkly comedic monologue about different issues, ranging from dating white girls to heroin to “The Matrix” movies.
As an added bonus for viewers with a low attention spans, each of the nine episodes is under two minutes. The show is about the loneliness of modern city life, told from a minority perspective. It feels incredibly relatable on many levels, which is why it works.
“Arun Considers” has played at various film festivals like HollyWeb, Brooklyn Web Fest, and LA Indie Film Fest, where it won the best web series award. We spoke to Narayanan about creating this series from scratch, his thoughts on South Asian representation, and he takes us behind the scenes of the show, episode by episode.
The Teal Mango: Congratulations on your web series, “Arun Considers.” What was the motivation behind doing something of your own, in terms of writing and acting in it?
Arun Narayanan: As a writer, I spend a lot of time a) working on projects that may never actually get made and b) waiting for people to read my scripts. So I decided to come up with a project that a) would definitely get made because I could make it myself, relatively inexpensively and efficiently, and b) could demonstrate my voice, interests, and abilities as a writer more quickly than a spec script. The most effective way to achieve both of those things was to design the project around me. I‘m not an actor, I’m just a narcissistic writer!
TTM: “Arun Considers” has been making the rounds at several film festivals over the country, including winning some big awards. Does it feel like they are a good way of recognizing the content you are creating, considering it is unique and diverse?
Narayanan: The fact that my series is unique and diverse, which I take as a compliment, didn’t really factor into my decision to submit to festivals; I submitted it to festivals because, frankly, I figured that if it got into a couple of them I would have proof that the show wasn’t absolutely terrible, which would maybe convince a few people to check it out! I’ve been very happy with the response from festivals so far, and I’ve had a great time at the ones I’ve attended, but I can’t say that any of them have had a direct impact on viewership or on my career. Perhaps that will change if “Arun Considers” is accepted into any of the handful of festivals to which industry professionals actually pay attention. But to me it’s worth submitting to even the smaller festivals because I’m an optimist, you never you know who you might meet at a festival, and it really just takes one well-connected person to change everything. It’s also fun to see the show on the big screen with an audience and hear people laughing. The laurels look nice on the stills I post on Instagram.
Mark your calendars: Arun Considers Vol. 3 drops MONDAY, APRIL 30TH! . For the three new episodes, I’m considering The Matrix, Listening, and “American Indians”. (I’m not going to explain what those titles mean right now, but they’ll make sense when you see the episodes, I promise!) Volume 3 is a bit more experimental than Volumes 1 and 2. I’m excited to share it soon! . The Matrix 🎥 @jledy Listening (pictured) 🎥 @tylereva “American Indians” 🎥 @who.is.rahul
TTM: You have starred in, written, produced several shorts in the last few years, which means you’ve witnessed the change and rise in South Asian representation in the media. What are your thoughts on this as a viewer and an industry insider? What do you think has propelled this growth?
Narayanan: Most producers and executives have a strong mandate right now to cast people of color in leading roles. As with any industry mandate, this is because doing so has recently proven to be lucrative. The number of South Asian faces in the American media seems disproportionately high, given the relatively small size of the South Asian population in the U.S. I suppose the simple explanation for this is that American audiences are disproportionately fascinated with South Asian culture, maybe because its growth in America is recent compared to that of other minority populations. Yoga and Indian food definitely exploded in popularity in this country within my lifetime. I also have a more pessimistic theory. Fair warning that it’s probably not politically correct. I assume that most of the roles that go to people of color were originally conceived as Caucasian characters, or at least conceived without a specific race in mind, because the majority of writers, producers and executives are Caucasian, and we live in a society where Caucasian is still seen as the default. So when the powers-that-be demand that one of those “any-race” roles be filled by a person of color, in my opinion the correct course of action would be to choose an actor that fits the character’s personality and then REWRITE the character to better fit that actor, which more than likely entails adding specific details that reference the character’s race to make the character feel more real. Of course, most people try to avoid extra work, and rewriting is definitely extra work. But because South Asians in the U.S. have suffered less oppression, tend to be wealthier, and have a reputation for assimilating into Caucasian culture relative to many other minorities, perhaps there tends to be less rewriting work involved when casting actors of South Asian descent, compared to casting actors from other minority populations? Comedian Vir Das said that “Indians are the white people of brown people.” I’ll go one step further and say South Asians might be getting more roles because they are the whitest of the minorities. I did say that this would be politically incorrect, didn’t I? Then again, I‘ve never been hired by any TV shows for anything, so what do I know?
TTM: Alright, then let’s talk a little bit more about “Arun Considers.” The episodes are only two minutes long. Why did you decide to keep them so short? Was this time limit a challenge in terms of process or was it actually the perfect time limit to fit the stories you wanted to tell?
Narayanan: I’m terrified of being boring. And I have a short attention span. I think most people do. There’s so much content available to watch online that choosing to watch anything new can feel like a major commitment. So, I hope that the short running time is an incentive for people to check out the show. I gave myself the firm rule that every episode would be under two minutes. On the one hand, it’s a challenge to compress everything I want to say about a given subject into less than two minutes. On the other hand, I think there would be a drop in quality if the episodes were any longer. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I try to make sure every word and every moment in every episode is significant. I’d much rather keep viewers wanting more than to have them shut off an episode halfway through.
TTM: Getting into detail about the nine episodes that are out, if you could briefly walk me through your thought-process as you were making them.
Every episode of “Arun Considers” is about something that has been bothering me, usually something that seems silly on the surface but gets at some philosophical, and often dark, truths, ideally in a somewhat funny way. I start by writing the monologue that will become the running voiceover, which I try to keep to about a page long in final draft. I don’t write any of the visuals. I bring the monologue to the director. For the first three episodes, my friend Dave Dorsey and I discuss potential visuals that could accompany it.
“Arun Considers Heroin”
In this case, Dave and I wanted a scene that might prompt my character to have these morbid thoughts about heroin. What if it really is worth dying for? The plan was to have me walk under that bridge in Echo Park past tents of homeless people. But that syringe just happened to be there on the sidewalk!
“Arun Considers VR Porn”
While there’s a clear connection between seeing a syringe and thinking about heroin, Dave and I wanted the connection between the visuals and the character’s thoughts in “VR Porn” to be more indirect. So the visual concept of this episode is that after trying VR porn for the first time, the character can only think about porn while walking around Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles. Both the monologue and the scenes stem from my fears about the huge impact that porn has on our brains. Some of the lines in this episode were originally written as stand-up comedy bits. I decided that this series was a better medium for what I wanted to say than stand-up, because although I do like being funny sometimes, I’m not that interested punchlines, per se.
“Arun Considers Shaving”
I wrote the first draft of this episode the day after Trump got elected. It was an angry five-page rant at that point, but I was able to trim it down, pun intended, eventually. This is probably my most personal episode, and really my goal was just to be as truthful as possible. As with most of the episodes, the entire crew consisted of just the director and myself, so we were able to get away with shooting in and around LAX without permission. And for the record, Dave was directing those guys to give me dirty looks. They didn’t do that on their own.
“Arun Considers White Girls”
This was the first episode of Volume 2,and I wanted to make sure it felt a little bit different from the previous three episodes that made up Volume 1. The first step was to recruit a new director, my friend Alix Spence. She came up with the idea to present this episode as if it were a sort of tongue-in-cheek lecture, with the girls as exhibits along with the charts and graphs that I created. I probably rewrote this episode more times than any of the others. I was rewriting for months after we shot. There was a lot I wanted to say about my personal experiences, but it took me a while to figure out how to articulate some of the more general insights about interracial dating.
“Arun Considers Evolution”
This was the first of three episodes directed by my friend Jordan Ledy, who is also a great editor. I had edited all of the previous episodes myself but I was happy to get his help editing this one. In terms of the writing, the second half of this episode came first. I think a lot about the way the Internet has changed our brains. This is my favorite episode of the series so far.
“Arun Considers Fame”
I wanted to introduce a little bit of continuity into the series, so Jordan and I came up with the idea to have my character meet someone at the end of “Evolution” that he could go on a date with in “Fame.” That someone is Uttera Singh, a fantastic actress and director in her own right. The idea here is that Uttera’s character’s obsession with taking photos during our hike in Griffith Park makes my character think about our culture’s obsession with fame in general.
“Arun Considers The Matrix”
This is an episode about the immense influence that tech companies have on my life, which made me think about “The Matrix,” one of my all-time favorite films. There are some obvious references to that movie in the episode, but in general our goal was to show that current state of technology can make everyday life feel like a computer simulation. The cinematography in this episode is experimental but the pacing is very precise. This is another episode that I spent a lot of time rewriting and another episode that I was glad to have some help editing.
“Arun Considers Listening”
This was the first episode that I wrote with specific visuals in mind, so I decided to direct it myself. Then I realized that my visual plan would require a fair amount of acting on my part, more than in any of the other episodes, anyway, and I didn’t trust myself enough to pull that off so I asked my friend Tyler Evans, who also directed a short film I wrote called “Over the Edge,” to co-direct. We shot the episode during the 2018 HollyWeb Festival (of which “Arun Considers” was an official selection), which added an interesting meta layer to the whole thing, because the episode is about the anxieties that I have in many social situations, and shooting this episode became my excuse to avoid the social situations of the film festival!
“Arun Considers American Indians”
I spent last Christmas in India with my extended family, including my cousin Rahul Sharma, who works as a cinematographer and gaffer in New York. He agreed to spend some time shooting me walking around near his family’s place in Bangalore and at the resort where we had our family reunion in Kerala. I had not written a monologue at that point but I figured that if the footage we shot more-or-less fit the style of the show, then I could write something to fit with it later. And a couple of months later, I wrote a monologue about the term “American Indians,” which, as an Indian-American, has frustrated me for me many years.