‘The Blue Door’: Film student returns to childhood in new film


Graduate student Harsha Gallupalli reinvents H.G. Wells’ classic short story “Door in the Wall” in his thesis film “The Blue Door.” It officially premieres at DePaul in June. IMAGE COURTESY OF HARSHA GALLUPALLI

H. G. Wells is one of the most influential science fiction writers of all time. Prominently shown in the 2005 “War of the Worlds” remake with Tom Cruise and soon in the planned “Invisible Man” remake with Johnny Depp, Wells penned stories that still permeate the fabric of our culture over 100 years after their original publication. But it was not these timeless tales that DePaul graduate student Harsha Gallupalli drew on for his thesis film, “The Blue Door.” It was instead from Wells’ short story “Door in the Wall,” about a child who finds a door to different realities in his house.

“This is like a metaphorical piece about childhood,” Gallupalli said. “It hasn’t become as famous as some of his other writing, but I totally connected with it because I also feel like as a child I was so much happier than as an adult.”

The Blue Door” tells the story of a man named Leo, who dreams of returning to his childhood, a time when he felt more free. Suddenly, a blue door begins appearing in his life that allows him to travel back to certain points in his childhood. However, it only appears in times of crises, when Leo must choose between his adult obligations and his childhood dreams.

Gallupalli said he originally started writing the script about four years ago when he still lived in India. He was working as an engineer, which paid well, but after a while his routine lost its luster. Going to work in the mornings, going home at night, Gallupalli said he felt like a zombie. He began to question what he was doing. Was there a purpose or was he just doing it because everyone else was? That experience drove him to begin the writing process.

When he came to the U.S. for film school two and a half years ago, the script followed the “Door in the Wall” closely. However, after talking with professor Alireza Khatami (who’s film “Oblivion Verses” won the Horizon Best Screenplay at the 2017 Venice Film Festival) he made some sweeping decisions.

“He was like, ‘Why are you putting in all this dialogue? How it this any different from someone talking on the radio?’” Gallupalli said. “And it just made sense. Why am I doing cinema if I’m not going to express it visually?”

And so Gallupalli took all the dialogue out of his script. At this point, the story lost most of its relation to Wells’ original story, outside of the concept of the door. Gallupalli also began implementing animation to use during the parts of the story that take place in adulthood; he decided live action would be used for scenes set during the main character’s childhood. Once it seemed things were starting to get rolling, the original producer for the film had to drop out. Screenwriting graduate student Angel Wilson stepped into the vacancy, occupying her first full-time producing role.

“The Blue Door” follows Leo as he longs to return to childhood when he suddenly finds a blue door that allows him to do so.

Previously, her producing experience had only been recruiting crew members; this time she was looking for full-time experience. She said she knew student projects were the best way to learn and that “The Blue Door” seemed particularly intriguing. Coming off an experimental narrative class, the similarly experimental style of the film drew Wilson to it. To her, she said, it felt like “a visual poem.”

As the producer, her role had expanded from recruiting crew members to securing locations, organizing food options and managing the budget. She said she has enjoyed the experience and the director-producer relationship has been fun, but that the amount of constant changing was even more than she anticipated.

“I’ve always known that filmmaking involved flexibility and that nothing ever goes to plan,” Wilson said. “So, you always know, but it’s different from theory to practice. That has been an interesting growing experience.”

With the producer role filled, things were back on track, relatively speaking. As Wilson mentioned, every film has bumps along the way. Between working with the animation and live action teams, dealing with the “spring” weather, and a few other choice moments, Gallupalli said he feels like he’s “aged ten years in the last few months.” With work and the shoot, the 1st AD, Ben Wright, said he even carried timers, rather than alarms, to mark how long he could sleep in between the two. Still, on April 14 they had made it to the second to last day of shooting. Gallupalli knew it would more stressful than even the final day, due to the number of people required.

Rain continually spat down as actors huddled underneath a canopy in between takes, hurriedly throwing on coats stay warm. After a short break to watch the shot, Gallupalli called for another take. The actors filed out, putting their coats on a nearby table before and lining up in a procession.

They had been filming the same scene of teenage Leo, played by Lance Spencer, observing a group of people since 9 that morning. It was now 12:30. Spencer watched the crowd pass by.

Gallupalli yelled cut and the actors grabbed their things, dashing inside to find warmth in the music school. After watching the shot, Gallupalli realized he needed to ask Wright for one more take. Wright said he could do that, but he would have to sacrifice some of the shots they wanted to get to later. Gallupalli decided to take what he had and continue moving forward with production anyway.

“The Blue Door” is scheduled to release in June, when it will be screened at DePaul.