This story was discovered in a foggy corner of my brain, four coffees deep, and face down on a pillow in the middle of the day during a deep transcendental meditative vision quest I embarked on specifically to discover this story.
I don’t know the mechanics behind how film/narrative ideas come to people. In my case, some type of structure helps me begin the imagination process. The task seems simple: write a story about an issue in the American future that has a science fiction, fantasy, or magic realism element to it. That was the framework I needed; it had a little direction, but not much restriction.
About 13.4 ideas immediately hit me. End of the world, bombs, destruction, environmental deterioration, war between Islam and the West, nuclear explosion, massive disease that kills a race, space travel, scary Petri dish something-something, mutant giant Amazon sexy female aliens from outer space, India rules the world, flying cars, California separates and floats away, time-traveling monkeys, and a space wedding. My early ideas always suck. I had a two-week headache before falling on my bed face first (aforementioned) with my eyes closed. This is a special yoga pose that allows me to commune with a more authentic future landscape.
Instead, I communed with my inner nerd. I recalled issue #70 from the original Transformers comic book series where Ratchet and Megatron are simultaneously flung into the “space-bridge,” an unstable beaming device that transports robots instantly from planet to planet. When they emerged (at the same time) from the portal, the robots were fused together as this tormented skittering entity at war with itself. Ratchet was the most generous spirit of the Autobots (he was their medic and transformed into an ambulance, of course) and Megatron was the razorblade-gargling prince of destruction (who transforms into a gun), so the circumstance was loaded (no pun intended) with drama.
So obviously the “space bridge” Transformers storyline profoundly impacted me as a child. This half-Ratchet, half-Megatron mess of a lifeform kept flickering in my brain — the iconic cover where the words “help us” appeared in my mind’s eye. This idea of a fused being, a fused identity, shifting identity, the body as a vessel and the spirit as something that can be transplanted and even reincarnated … this idea stayed with me … it was more than met the eye.
The treatment and script for PIA flowed very naturally from that small kernel; I think once a main point of inspiration is unlocked, the story forms fairly fast and effortlessly from there. The rest of the details were grafted from bits and pieces of places and people I know. And of course I continued to shape the story to suit my cast and locations after those pieces were locked. But the spark for the story was simply a geeky comic book memory rediscovered in a highly meditative state.
— Tanuj Chopra
Tanuj Chopra, Director
Tanuj Chopra’s first feature film, Punching at the Sun, about South Asian teenagers coming of age in Elmhurst, Queens, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca, and won the Grand Jury Prize at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Other award-winning titles he's directed include Butterfly, Clap Clap, Carbon Dated and the ITVS/Futurestates film PIA, about a runaway, genderbending android.
Chopra is currently working on industrial and independent film projects through his production company Chops Films; projects include a $100,000 development grant from Visual Communications and the popular episodic mini-series Nice Girls Crew, starring Sheetal Sheth, Michelle Krusiec, and Lynn Chen. In his downtime, he facilitates New Voices For Youth, a filmmaking program in the South Bay Area dedicated to fostering creativity and civic engagement for at risk teenagers. He holds a BA in Art Semiotics from Brown University and an MFA in film direction from Columbia University, where he was awarded the prestigious Dean’s Fellowship.