Soham Mehta needed a bigger stage. After arriving in the U.S. at the age of four, he found comfort in the collaboration of theater, becoming a regular presence in elementary school productions and beyond. Yet when he was attending the University of Texas at Austin, Mehta started to gravitate towards the possibilities of film.
“I wanted to break out of the bubble,” says Mehta. “I think a lot of times with plays, there’s already people [in the audience] who agree with what you’re saying, so film was an opportunity to reach wider audiences with the messages that I wanted to put in my work.”
Mehta will likely reach a bigger audience than he expected with his first feature, “Run the Tide,” a heartfelt drama starring Taylor Lautner, whose attachment came with the success of Mehta’s short “Fatakra” on the festival circuit. But even after the first-time feature director saw the project grow beyond his wildest dreams when he first sat down with screenwriter Rajiv Shah, the film, about a young man (Lautner) who absconds with his younger brother (Nico Christou) upon learning that their mother Lola (Constance Zimmer) is about to be released from prison, remains small and intimate. Following the boys up the California coastline with the two at odds over whether to trust the intentions of the recovering drug addict, who in turn enlists her husband Bo (Kenny Johnson) to track them, “Run the Tide” gradually collapses the distance between all of them so they can come to understand each other on their own terms.
Shortly before the film’s release, Mehta spoke about making the most of a short schedule, having the benefit of one former child actor working with another and how he met his screenwriter for another job entirely.
How did this come about?
I made a short film called “Fatakra” that made the festival rounds, and Rajiv [Shah] and I actually met up for coffee to potentially audition for it. He ended up not getting the part, and I didn’t know he was also writing, but when the film came out and he saw it, he really connected with it and thought the themes connected to this script he had been working on, so he approached me with the script. I fell in love with it and we spent a year developing the script together. Then simultaneously, an agent at WME saw my short and I got a meeting with him, so that’s how everything started coming together.
Since this has been said to be a personal story for Rajiv, was it interesting to respect that while making it into something of your own?
It really became something where we really connected and even for him, the specific dramatic incidences weren’t from his life – there’s a lot of fictionalizing going on – so he had enough separation from the story that he was able to let things go and adjust based on my notes and what I felt we needed to have the film work. It’s funny because a lot of times you hear about writers and directors falling out over the course of the film, but this was a wonderful collaboration and I think it actually made our relationship even stronger to go through this experience because now we have trust for one another. We’re actually working on additional scripts now moving forward.
How did you decide on Taylor Lautner as your lead?
That was one of the nice things about having that association with WME because when Rajiv and I first started, we were really thinking about a stripped-down film where you [work with] friends and family with a little bit of money and you do a Kickstarter campaign. We never dreamed of making a film with big stars, but when WME came onboard, and Pilar Savone came on as our producer, that’s when the conversation shifted. When they suggested Taylor to us, I watched a lot of his material and when I got a chance to meet him, we had a really great conversation where it felt like he was really hungry for a role like this, so I thought it would be really good.
What was it like fostering a connection between him and Nico, the young boy who plays his brother Oliver?
That was fun actually. We didn’t get a lot of rehearsal time with Bo and Lola [played by Kenny Johnson and Constance Zimmer], but we did get several days of rehearsal with Nico and Taylor. One of the things about Taylor that was so wonderful is he’s young himself – he’s only 24, but he started out as a child actor, so he had a lot of patience and a lot of empathy for a child actor, and for Nico, this is his first feature film. So we had rehearsal and we got to hang out. We improvised a lot, so for all those scenes, the actors put in the time and when they would get together, they’d have a great time. That relationship was very genuine in the film.
Was there a particularly challenging day of filming?
We just had to work so quickly – we had 22 days of shooting and 19 locations, so every day we were walking to a new location and I hadn’t really seen them dressed because there was no time for that. When I was walking into a location, it was being dressed for the first time and we’d have to shoot out those scenes and move on the next day to somewhere else. Some days, we even had to shoot multiple locations on the same day, so a lot of our days were tricky.
The fight scene between the boys, which is the climax to the film, was especially tricky because we had so much action that we had a stunt coordinator involved, not that it was too crazy, but to make sure everything was done safely. It also wasn’t like here we’re just going to choreograph a fight, it was dealing with a lot of dialogue, a lot of emotion and they’re also pushing each other around, so trying to coordinate all of that and trying to get that shot out was just a very, very tense day. The whole time, in the back of my mind, I thought if we don’t get this scene, then we don’t have a film. So the pressure was definitely on. And towards the end of the scene, [we needed a reaction closeup of] Taylor and I remember [at the end of the day] playing the scene in my head wondering if we got everything we needed I realized we didn’t get the close-up, so the next day luckily we were at the same location and I gathered Taylor and said we need this close-up and I don’t know how you’re going to get back to that emotional place, but you’ve got to do it. And he said, “Okay.” He stepped away for a few minutes and he came back and he said, “I’m ready,” and we shot it and it was perfect. Nico wasn’t even on set and it was a totally different day, but we made it work. So that’s a testament to Taylor’s ability as an actor.
Since this is your first feature, was it what you thought it would be? Was it different?
It wasn’t different, but it was a lot more intense. It was definitely a lot more going into than you realize and there’s the whole [process of] getting the film made – the producing side of it, which is really a gauntlet to go through, and then there’s the making of the film, which is just a unique experience to have that many people there to help you bring your vision to life. It’s a wonderful feeling, but it’s also a stressful one and you feel that you owe everyone to make a good film and you want to have a product that everyone can be proud of.