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 Sachdev Chopra, Director
Tanuj Chopra holds a BA in Arts Semiotics from Brown University and an MFA in film direction from Columbia University. He is a recipient of the Columbia School of the Arts Dean’s Fellowship and the Columbia FOCUS Film Fellowship. His first feature film, Punching at the Sun, premiered at Sundance and Tribeca and won the grand jury prize at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. Tanuj is currently working on the film Clap Clap, a noir tale of guns, love, and betrayal, starring Tillotama Shome, Sung Kang (Ninja Assassin, The Fast and the Furious, Live Free or Die Hard, The Motel), and Manu Narayan (Bombay Dreams, Wall Street 2). Tanuj is a contributor to Secret Identities, the Asian American comic book anthology with the piece “S.O.S.” (Superhero Outsourcing Services).