Interview by Andreea Boyer // Edited by Chris Charles of Idol Features
When Dilip Khatri was working in downtown Los Angeles, he had a view of the city’s famous Wilshire Boulevard through his office window. In Mr. Khatri’s own words; “One day I saw this hotel being demolished and felt sad. With further inquiry, I learned that a new 73 story structure was planned for this location and NO ONE had thought to document it”
Originally a structural engineer by trade, Mr. Khatari saw that as a great opportunity for himself, a person in the industry, to produce a documentary on the design and construction of what is now the tallest building on the US West Coast. That documentary, entitled Aspire to the Sky: The Wilshire Grand Story, has since earned praise at several prominent international film festivals.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about yourself and where are you from?
Dilip Khatri: I’m originally from India, born in Nigeria, West Africa, and came to Fresno, California in 1968 at the age of three. I grew up in Pasadena, California from the age of seven and have been in Southern CA for 47 years. I attended USC for my PhD in structural engineering, MBA in finance, and Caltech for my masters. I graduated from Cal State LA in 1983 with my bachelors degree in civil engineering. My 37 year career in civil and structural engineering has taken me around the world and also done a lot of work in Malibu. I started my film pursuits approximately 10 years ago by attending the New York Film Academy, American Film Institute, and coursework through various workshops in Hollywood.
Andreea Boyer: How long have you been working as a engineer?
Dilip Khatri: 37 years, and I was also a professor of civil engineering at Cal Poly Pomona.
Andreea Boyer: Your short bio says that you are “a professional structural engineer, design professional, construction manager, and former fashion photographer.” You are now an accomplished documentary filmmaker with three documentary films to your credit, and working on four new projects. You strive to makes films with “‘human impact and educational value.” Also, you started working in the flied of engineering and construction management?
Dilip Khatri: YES, I’ve been a general contractor as well and built houses, seismic retrofit work, and lots of projects in Malibu as well.
Andreea Boyer: Is there something specific that you can you tell us about your engineering work?
Dilip Khatri: My focus in my PhD research was on earthquake resistance of tall buildings. Specifically, I studied analytical methods to predict the failure of high rise concrete buildings and where, why, and how they would fail under extreme earthquake loads. This was my research topic at USC and remains an important facet of building in California. Earthquake risk is a predominate consideration. Since I graduated, I’ve run my firm from 1991 and worked on a variety of projects dealing with commercial buildings, bridges, seismic retrofits, landslide analysis, soil subsidence, and issues dealing with unstable slopes in Malibu California. You can visit my website and also I have an educational series online. (Links below at the end of the interview)
Andreea Boyer: When did you started to combine your passion for the techniques of engineering and filmmaking?
Dilip Khatri: Interestingly, my first profession in high school and college was as a fashion photographer. I also worked as an auto mechanic, dishwasher, and construction laborer. My interest in film making starts from the age of five when I watched the classic movies with my dad. He introduced me to Hitchcock, CB DeMille, John Ford, and the great movies of the 1930s-60s. I’m definitely a “Hollywood throwback” and not part of the “in-vogue culture” of today. You will see that in my film style and themes.
Andreea Boyer: Have you been working in the film industry mainly in USA or also somewhere else around the globe?
Dilip Khatri: I’m active in Southern California and have recently procured an agent and law firm to represent me. The success of my first three docs have garnered over 50 awards worldwide, and now I’m looking forward to my next three film projects. Hopefully to sign a deal with a distributor/network to fund my next innovative documentary topics.
Andreea Boyer: How did you start your career as a filmmaker and what has your motivation been? What has inspired you?
Dilip Khatri: My inspirations are collectively from CB DeMille, John Ford, John Houston, Cary Grant, Bogart, and the like of the Film Noir era. I admire “true cinema” and stay away from mediocre fiction, which has flooded our theaters I’m sorry to say. My goal is to be the “Hollywood director from 1950” that is alive and “reincarnated.” Sounds ridiculous? Well, I guess I am a little crazy.
Andreea Boyer: When did you start with your career as a filmmaker? What has always been your main focus?
Dilip Khatri: My focus, for now, is high quality, important topic, relevant documentary subjects that have “not been done before”. Originality is my theme and my purpose. I’m not interested in repeating the work of others. I started with my educational training at various academies about 10 years ago. I was 44 and the “old guy” in the classroom. For the first time in my life, I was the “old guy” because I graduated from college at the age of 18 with my degree in civil engineering, and was always the “kid,” but now I was the “old guy.” I remember my first day in the script writing class, when everyone around me was under 23. One man walked in, about 40 years old, and I was relieved, but he was the instructor! At that moment, I was shuttered but not disappointed only to be amused at the film topics proposed by my classmates. My realization was that I had a lot of life experience and much share that others could possibly learn from and so I persisted through the program for three years.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about the story from your movie Aspire to the Sky: The Wilshire Grand Story and who did you interview?
Dilip Khatri: Aspire to the Sky is the original first documentary of its kind to tell the designer’s version of the complexity involved to build a tall structure in earthquake risk Los Angeles with the technical aspects highlighted. There are many docs that have presented this topic before, but they are not written/produced by a person of the industry, such as myself. Similar to any documentary about child birth would be difficult to write for a man because he has never experienced it, only a mother can tell that story. We interviewed the chief structural engineers and architects that were the main principal figures for the design. Given the $1.3 billion budget, no one was making a documentary about this monument right in downtown Los Angeles! So I said; “well, here’s my first documentary in my field” and dived into it.
Andreea Boyer: Where did you film Aspire to the Sky: The Wilshire Grand Story?
Dilip Khatri: All of the filming is downtown L.A. but here are numerous clips and vignettes from around the world to keep my audience interested. You will see Paris, Rio de Janeiro, New Delhi, New York, Dubai, Chicago, London, and glimpses of the Moon and Mars in my film.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about your other films and work?
Dilip Khatri: My theme to create more documentaries about engineering and architecture is alive and continues forward. I have a trailer in place for my next series and will wait for my agent to allow me to release it at the right time. We are currently pursuing negotiations with networks on this subject.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about your best experiences and which moments in your career have been the most influential ones for you?
Dilip Khatri: A career is not defined by “success, money, or things” in my judgement. People are everything and so all of my experiences revolve around great people which automatically links to great work. I take tremendous pride in my engineering work and have been involved in renewable energy projects around the world and designing wind towers. This is a positive impact for the world to reduce our carbon emissions and make safe, clean, affordable energy around the world.
Andreea Boyer: What is your advice for all young independent filmmakers on how they should work on their goals and reach the best audience for their individual work?
Dilip Khatri: For filmmakers; this is a rough, tough, and very cold business. Seek out your ORIGINALITY and don’t try to copy others. This is your path to a future in the film business.
Andreea Boyer: What advice can you give all the young engineers and construction managers?
Dilip Khatri: PATIENCE, PATIENCE, and cordiality are the most important traits of a successful professional. It’s hard to remember, I have to remind myself every day, but the art of being a “gentleman” seems to be lost in today’s society. Kindness will get you far.
Thank you, Mr. Khatri. We wish you continued success.