Four years ago, Rohit Lila Ram arrived at UNCSA from Karachi, Pakistan, carrying only two suitcases. In 2023, he will be graduating with a B.F.A. in Filmmaking with a concentration in Producing and a minor in Arts Entrepreneurship.
In addition to his diploma, Lila Ram departs from UNCSA with both a C.V. teeming with projects, positions and accolades and an enormous community of mentors, friends and colleagues.
Growing up in Karachi, a city of almost 15 million, Lila Ram never could have guessed he’d end up at an art school in a small North Carolina city. His high school years were spent studying business in a rigorous academic system. By chance, he began participating in his school’s annual performance show; it was here that Lila Ram first became immersed in the arts. Then, in his fourth year, one of his mentors asked him to help make a film for an international film festival.
Lila Ram’s team won first place and he discovered the medium that combined all other art forms: film. Soon he was making short films and even winning prizes at local festivals. Still, his parents were shocked when he told them he wanted to pursue filmmaking. “They thought I wanted to go into finance,” Lila Ram says. He was passionate and determined, however. “Don’t think about the scope of things. If you like something and are passionate about it, you will get somewhere.”
That somewhere ended up being UNCSA. Out of the ten universities he’d been accepted to – in places like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles – Lila Ram chose the School of Filmmaking. “I just loved the program," he says. "You have all five art schools, so you’re not in your film bubble, which is extremely important for exposure.”
Lila Ram chose to concentrate in film producing for its wide range of responsibilities. “Producing includes creative planning, scheduling, problem-solving, negotiating and so much more,” he says.
Of the numerous films he’s produced at UNCSA, Lila Ram’s favorite to work on was 'Masterpiece,’ a grad-developed project and the university’s first episodic series. As executive producer, he helped transformed 30 pages of content into episodes packed with stunts and special effects. “It was the most stressful project I’ve done but it redefined my purpose for filmmaking,” he says.
The "Masterpiece" trailer was produced by Rohit Lila Ram and edited by Cameron Wofford, with music composers Geet Chaudhari and Pierce Martin.
Meanwhile, Lila Ram learned how to live sustainably as an artist through his Arts Entrepreneurship minor. He took courses on managing personal finances, running a non-profit, presenting himself as a brand and more. “I believe that, as an artist, it's crucial to know the business side of things,” he says.
Lila Ram thrived in both programs. In 2022, he was awarded the Sarah Graham Kenan Scholarship of Excellence, the most prestigious scholarship at UNCSA. The scholarship, awarded annually to one rising undergraduate senior, provides a stipend and fully covers tuition, fees, room and board. “That was an unexpected day,” he remembers. “I was going through a hard time financially and it just really changed my life. Tom Kenan’s service is on another level and has inspired me to do that one day for others on an even bigger scale.”
Despite his academic accomplishments, Lila Ram’s degree will not define him. Instead of Film Producer, he prefers the title of multi-hyphenate artist. “Film producing is my focus, and I want to pursue it, but there are so many sides of us and so many art forms to explore,” he says. “It’s why I dive into so many things.”
Lila Ram truly did dive into so many things during his time at UNCSA. He worked for a litany of departments at the university, including Film Archives, Student Affairs, Student Engagement, the Advancement Office and Strategic Communications. Meanwhile, Lila Ram secured off-campus contracts with notable companies such as Aureolla LLC, GDavis Productions, Cannes Film Festival and Shoreline Entertainment.
As he wraps up his final semester, he is also several episodes deep on a contract with PBS, working as a line producer and director. And he's doing so from thousands of miles away – Lila Ram has been completing his final weeks of undergraduate courses while in Germany, simultaneously taking masters classes from the Konrad Wolf Film University of Babelsberg. After producing a film for German exchange students at UNCSA, he received an offer to study abroad from the renowned German film school. Despite the logistical and financial obstacles, it was too good a chance to turn down.
“The sky is not the limit; it is just a milestone,” says Lila Ram. “I believe hard work beats talent, and I don’t really believe in giving up or settling. My parents have suffered a lot to empower me to dream big, and I want to make sure I dream big with practicality and use that rationale to execute it.”
In addition to hard work, Lila Ram believes in service. His student advisor, Steve Gallagher, quickly became an inspiring force for the artist. “Through him, I explored what purpose is, what service is,” he says. “It’s not about accumulation; it’s about giving. Because if you keep giving, the world will be much better.” Before long, Lila Ram was joining multiple on-campus organizations and teaching art to local children and seniors as an ArtistCorps member.
But one of the biggest ways in which Lila Ram practiced giving was by helping UNCSA become a more welcoming place for international students. He started with Student Government in 2020. “I made my team aware of international students’ concerns and voiced those as a representative,” he says.
For the past three summers, Lila Ram also was the cohort leader for international students, “guiding them through that stressful and emotional time where they’re leaving their whole life and coming here.” Meanwhile, he supported the International Student Association, engaged in many discussions with Student Affairs, and was in constant contact with the international student advisors.
Of course, Lila Ram also shared his voice with the School of Filmmaking by bringing “a different perspective so that students could learn more about the international aspect of things.” And, when the university was looking for a new Dean of Film, Lila Ram served on the search committee, asking candidates questions about how they would support international students.
“In my opinion, an institution/place becomes rich when people from different backgrounds become a part of a single community,” Lila Ram says. “When I arrived, there was less of a platform, and I wanted to voice it so we could become a rich community where there’s a sense of belonging, learning and relatability.”
Lila Ram had faculty and staff members to support him every step of the way. Those who had a huge role in shaping him as a person include Lauren Vilchik, Agatha Dominik, Dean of Filmmaking Deborah LaVine, Ron Stacker Thompson, Kim Zubick, Bob Gosse, Darren Miller, "American mom" No. 1 Trish Casey, father-like figure Steve Gallagher, Kenan Scholar Liason and American mom No. 2 Erin Edge and Director of Community Engagement Rebecca Nussbaum.
“This school has taught me to be thankful and live in gratitude and humility,” Lila Ram says. “I work hard to be thankful, humble and appreciate what the world and people have to offer. I feel the industry may consume me one day, but I have a lot of people I’ve told to pull me down.”
Lila Ram is still exploring post-graduation possibilities. His experience in Germany has him considering searching for a position in a European distribution or production company. Otherwise, he’s headed to Los Angeles. “I want to be in the mainstream media, making good, independent movies with the help of studios, like ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ or ‘Get Out’ – movies that are raw, relatable and pure.” Whichever direction he chooses, Lila Ram will continue to dream big, work hard and help others.
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May 03, 2023