During his freshman year at IU, Devin Das found himself failing miserably out of his pre-med psychology classes, and wholly uninterested in going to medical school.
Unsure of what he wanted to do, Das said he remembers talking with a friend about their telecommunications major with an emphasis in production and design. With that conversation, a realization clicked for Das, a lifelong self-proclaimed movie and TV nerd.
“My mind was blown,” Das said. “I had never taken the time to consider what I wanted to do. I never thought of (filmmaking) as an actual thing to pursue.”
Das said once he began pursuing telecommunications and film production, he finally knew what it was like to be passionate about something. After graduating in 2012, he moved to Los Angeles to intern at comedy studio Funny or Die. There, he dove into the job, and sought out as much hands-on learning experience as possible.
Since then, Das has paved his way into independent filmmaking. Most recently, Das wrote, produced and starred in “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 9. Das’ first feature film, “Keeping Company,” premiered in February 2021 and was released for video on demand on June 7, 2022.
Das said he appreciates the creative freedom that comes with making independent films because it’s difficult to convince studios to take a chance on filmmakers.
“I do feel more confident than ever that this was exactly the right path for me and my friends to take on in either film,” Das said. “Some of the reactions we're getting from people who are watching these films, they just can't wrap their heads around how we pulled it off.”
In Los Angeles, Das met his future co-stars in the studios of Funny or Die — “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” director and star Parker Seaman, and the film’s namesake, actor Wes Schlagenhauf. Shortly after meeting, the trio started producing comedy sketches and eventually moved in together. They’ve been friends for almost 10 years.
“Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” reflects the lives of its writers and leads — Das and Seaman said inspiration for the movie struck after they took a trip to visit Schlagenhauf in his hometown of Boise, Idaho. There, Seaman said the group had a psychedelic mushroom-induced, emotional conversation that led them to reflect on their decade-long friendship.
“At that moment, Devin and I were like, ‘Maybe this is what the movie is about,’” Seaman said. “Writing about the very classic friendship intricacies that come with being friends for so long.”
In the movie, Das and Seaman’s characters set out to create the next great indie film during their final roadtrip to visit their dying friend, played by Schlagenhauf. For Das and Seaman, the film is a self-aware satire, commenting on the vanity and pointlessness that can come with filmmaking, especially during the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We're sort of making fun of the movie that you're watching in real time,” Seaman said. “You're also accidentally feeling something because these are about real people.”
Because so much of the film is based on the friends’ own experiences and includes old footage of them through the years, Seaman hopes viewers leave with an understanding of who they are as filmmakers.
Das was no stranger to producing with friends – he wrote and acted in 2021’s “Keeping Company,” a satirical comedy-thriller, with director Josh Wallace. The pair wrote and produced the passion project out of Wallace’s one-bedroom apartment.
For Wallace, indie film production can feel like putting out little fires everywhere. He said that halfway through production of “Keeping Company,” he and Das were still missing half of their filming budget. While Wallace was panicking that production would have to shut down, he said Das kept his cool – and thankfully, the pair reached out to more investors and were able to finish the film.
“I've always appreciated that about Devin,” Wallace said. “Just how talented he can be in terms of being able to keep that steady hand, but then do some silly scene in a movie. It's truly impressive. I don't know what they're teaching at IU but it's working.”