“You’re too different,” Venk Potula has been told by more than one casting director. “You won’t have a career because there’s not enough work for you,” a Hollywood agent once counseled.
“As a dark-skinned South Asian person, I’m often defined by my race,” Potula lamented. “They make judgments about what I can do and parts I can play based on what I can’t control.”
So after a decade of discouragement at the hands of entertainment industry gatekeepers, Potula decided to build his own gate.
He enrolled in Chapman University’s Industry OnRamp Program, a post-graduate program that provides cross-disciplinary career prep for creatives who want to develop their own movies, TV shows and other projects.
Studying with industry mentors, Potula and other Chapman grad students are learning the business as well as the art of filmmaking – from securing funding and legal representation to marketing and distribution.
“The program is designed so that many more Duffer Brothers will be launched from Chapman, where they can meet their future lawyer, agent and manager,” said program director Judd Funk, referring to Matt and Ross Duffer ’07, Chapman graduates and creators of the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
Now Potula (MBA/MFA ’23) is taking his career into his own hands thanks to the program, which taps the expertise of professors and mentors from Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Argyros School of Business and Economics, and Fowler School of Law.
Tribeca Festival Provides Opportunity to Network and Pursue Deals
Potula is already applying his lessons as a producer and star of the indie film “Four Samosas,” which generated buzz surrounding its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 10 in New York City.
The first screening of the quirky comedy sold out in 10 minutes.
“We have a great team, a good business plan and momentum on our side,” Potula said.
“Four Samosas,” written and directed by Ravi Kapoor, tells the story of wanna-be rapper Vinny (Potula), who talks his friends into helping him steal his ex-girlfriend’s dowry jewels. Reviewers have lauded the film’s “genuine laughs” and “glorious lunacy.” At the Tribeca Festival, which concluded June 19, Potula and producing partners Kapoor, Rajiv Maikhuri and Craig Stovel courted support that includes distribution deals.
Such deal-making was not on Potula’s radar when he moved to Los Angeles from his native Atlanta 11 years ago, first to attend UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and then to pursue a professional acting career.
He has co-created and starred in scripted comedy podcasts, and he directed the indie short “Woke,” in which he also starred. But “Four Samosas” is the first feature film for which Potula has taken on the role of producer.
Grad Program That Unites Film, Business and Law Becomes ‘Relevant and Useful’
With the project, everything he’s learning in his OnRamp Program “became relevant and useful,” he said.
“My statistics course is really helpful, and so is data analytics. The economics course applies because you’re thinking about supply and demand, price points and evaluating the market,” Potula said. “It’s all business, it’s all storytelling, and it’s all relevant.”
After being thwarted and pigeonholed as an actor, Potula has hit the career accelerator as an actor-producer.
“It’s not a complete surprise that Venk has already landed a feature in one of the world’s premier festivals,” said Dodge College Associate Professor Travis Knox ’93, a mentor in Potula’s MBA/MFA in Film and Television Producing program. “He’s entrepreneurial, tenacious and outgoing. You add good taste to the mix and there’s no doubt he’s looking forward to a successful producing career.”
Funk, a Fowler Law and Dodge film professor who formerly headed the legal department at Universal, sees Potula growing in every facet of filmmaking.
“He’s enormously talented as an actor, but he’s also resourceful, which you have to be as a producer, especially when you’ve had doors shut in your face again and again,” Funk said. “Venk is wonderfully engaging. That’s important when you’re negotiating.”
Potula describes himself as naturally curious, so the program is perfect for him, he said.
“I’m constantly bugging everyone for advice,” he added. “I could go through every class and tell you something I’ve taken from it that’s helping me. When Chapman talks about a personalized education, that’s as personalized as it gets.”
So as he collaborated with the “Four Samosas” team at the Tribeca Festival, Potula felt prepared to make the most of the opportunities he helped create for himself.
Still, in the run-up to the festival, there was at least one more gatekeeper he was angling to get past: the person granting access to the “Four Samosas” screening room.
“I don’t know, we sold out so quickly, my seat may not be guaranteed,” Potula said with a grin.