Setting sights on bigger dreams

An aspiring filmmaker talks thesis projects, side hustles and career goals

From a quaint dorm room in Oakville, Ont., 21-year-old Varshaa Raguraaman maintains the dream she has had since she was a young artist and visual storyteller in high school: one day getting to work for The Walt Disney Company. 

“I combined all of my passions and I was like, ‘You know [who] does all of these things really well? Disney,’” she says. “That’s the goal, to work there at some point.”

In the meantime, she has been keeping busy in her fourth and final year of studies as a film and television student at Sheridan College. Her schedule hasn’t allowed much time for her to return home, as she says it has been quite hectic trying to juggle three thesis films, a side project, commission work as well as trying to avoid getting burnt out.

“They’re big combinative film projects where you make crews of 20 to 30 people, film in the fall semester and then post production, editing and stuff is the next semester,” she says.

Recently, Raguraaman’s day-to-day life has consisted of heading to the studio, having meetings with directors, reading scripts, storyboarding and even creating mood boards for each different film (“we love Pinterest!” she says).

Raguraaman works as cinematographer on all three thesis projects, but also serves as the director of photography on the first project, the “gaffer” (the chief lighting technician) on the second and camera operator on the third. 

The first project, Raguraaman says, is the one she is looking forward to the most. Titled Cross Sect Inn, she describes it as a “planning of a murder” set in a cross section of a hotel and follows a pair of people seeking revenge on a politician who they suspect had killed their father. 

“We’re filming each hotel room head-on and then in post production, we’re gonna use visual effects to put these rooms next to each other to make it look like a hotel,” she says. “It’s been so fun and I’m so excited for the finished product.”

Outside of school thesis films, Raguraaman also partakes in creative projects separate from assignments. This includes her collaboration with a group of young artists working on a fan webcomic based on the Nickelodeon animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender, titled The Tale of Runa.

“We have two artists and we came up with a storyline and divided that into 12 chapters. There are six writers, so each of us are doing two chapters,” she says. “It’s coming along. It’s so fun to see all the stuff that we’ve done. We’re like, ‘We wrote that! We made this story!’”

Even with the time commitments that come with working on several projects at once,  Raguraaman also does commission work on the side. 

Her first venture into commission work began in high school, where she sold artwork at annual art shows. Since she began studying film, she has tackled independent projects such as music videos and infographics for social media. 

She has even been commissioned by friends to create paintings for their home decor.

With the constant hustle and bustle of her everyday life, Raguraaman admits that she has gotten quite homesick. She originally hails from Scarborough, in the eastern part of Toronto. According to her, she misses being surrounded by diverse groups of people.

“It hits you differently here in Oakville. Nobody’s on the same wavelength as me,” she says. “It was kind of like, ‘Oh my god, I’m the only brown person in my entire program!’ So it was hard for me at first.” 

Still, she was adamant about going into a field that she was passionate about, regardless of what she felt could have held her back.

“Generally, when people of colour are growing up, they aren’t encouraged to go into the arts. So the fact that I had made it that far, getting into an arts program that’s predominantly full of white people, was a huge deal to me,” she says. “I was the one who bit the bullet and said to myself I was going to do it anyway.”

As she holds onto her Disney dreams and reflects on her identity as a woman of colour in the arts, Raguraaman hopes that one day more racialized people will be represented in the artistic workforce.

“The struggling artist trials are very true. But once you get a job, you will keep getting jobs. That’s just how it goes,” she says. “It works out for some people, and it doesn’t work out for some people, but you’re never gonna know if you don’t try.”

About the author

Alyssa Bravo is a former reporter for Youth Mind. She is a coffee fiend and likes music, movies and food. She wishes to travel to Italy and Greece, and hopes she’ll live to see the day the Toronto Maple Leafs win their 14th championship. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her watching videos of dogs or baby pandas.

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