Meet our Script House 2019 winner: Deepak Sethi

man on mic on stage

The member behind the winning 'Coffee Shop Names' script shares the inspiration behind the story

In March 2019, we launched our second-annual Script House competition, a now-global initiative for members from around the world to prove and strengthen their skills as screenwriters and filmmakers, with help from IWC Schaffhausen. 

By May, we had our two finalists: Soho House West Hollywood member Deepak Sethi, who was a semi-finalist in last year’s Script House competition as well, and Shoreditch House member Abraham Adeyemi, who is also a participant in our Soho House mentorship programme Open House.

Our panel of judges in 2019 featured an international selection of filmmakers and industry leaders including Barry Jenkins, Anurag Kashyap, Marco Müller, Ben Roberts, Giona Nazzaro, Erin Simms, Soo Wei Shaw, Sharon Badal, Lulu Wang, Alex Connock, Minhal Baig, Megan Halpern and IWC Schaffhausen CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr — two of whom will provide mentoring and feedback to our winners.

After receiving hundreds of submissions from across 11 different countries, our team narrowed it down to 10 semi-finalists: Janey Miles Feingold of Soho House West Hollywood with More Than This, Jess Dowse of Soho House 40 Greek Street with Little Men, Sunnie Sidhu of Shoreditch House with The Blues, Jenny Rei of Soho House Mumbai with Trash Mermaid, James Lucas of Shoreditch House with Paint The Dragons’ Eyes, Josh Lanzet of Soho House Chicago with Aphrodite’s Pawn & Loan, Abraham Adeyemi of Shoreditch House with No More Wings, Olivia Nixon of Soho House 40 Greek Street with You’ll Learn, Deepak Sethi of Soho House West Hollywood with Coffee Shop Names and Danny Chan of Soho House 40 Greek Street with Do You Remember.

Over the following months, the finalist members Sethi and Adeyemi collaborated with mentors from our panel of judges to workshop and refine their scripts. Once finalised in June, they began production for their shorts, with funding from IWC Schaffhausen. Once completed, Soho House hosted a premiere event during the BFI Film Festival in London, followed by Soho House screenings around the world.

Here, hear from Sethi, who was named our overall winner at the BFI event, in this interview which took place as his film was about to go into production. 

Deepak Sethi is a television writer and stand-up comedian based in Los Angeles. He has written for shows including Family Guy and Brickleberry, and regularly performs stand-up across the country. Last year, his script for The Perfect Shot earned him a top-10 finalist spot in the inaugural Script House competition.

His 2019 winning script, Coffee Shop Names,'tells the story of three Indian immigrants who use their "coffee shop names" to avoid the mispronouncing of their real names — and how they finally question why they do it.

Which aspect of the Script House process are you most excited about?
“All of it. I'm excited about every element of directing this project. Being able to have control over the story I'm telling is tremendous, and it’s something that I could only do through a program like Script House.”

What’s the last great film you saw in theaters?
“I loved Crazy Rich Asians. It reminded me of my childhood and watching Bollywood movies with my family in the theaters. It was a fun time at the movies.”

Who are some filmmakers you admire and why?
“Peter Farrelly has been an inspiration to me and I’ve been lucky enough to know him and watch him work. He’s generously given me opportunities and advice throughout my career as a writer. Ricky Blitt is also a great writer and mentor. Without him, I wouldn’t have gotten my break in entertainment. I love the way Adam McKay tells stories, too. He has a unique style. Jordan Peele has the same thing — a defining voice. Mira Nair is a fantastic Indian director I admire, along with Deepa Mehta, who is Canadian like myself.”

Where did you get the inspiration for this script?
“Like a lot of people, I have a ‘Starbucks name’ which is an Americanized name, so there’s no mispronunciation when they call out my drink. I hate that tiny, microscopic feeling of unrest when you hear your name butchered in public, so I use ‘Derek’ all the time. Even though Deepak Chopra sort of helped my name become popular (thanks Chopes), so many times it’s called out as ‘Deebak,’ ‘Deepag’ or ‘D-Bag’ (which might be a personal indictment by the barista). So I just go with 'Derek' to avoid issues. One day, as 'Derek,' I noticed they spelled my name ‘Derrick’ on my cup and I was upset. I thought, ‘I’m not a Derrick! I’m a Derek.’ Then I realized I was upset over the spelling of a fake name I created. It made me laugh. I told the story on stage during a set in Las Vegas and it resonated with some people in the audience who also had Starbucks names. I realized right then that I wanted to do something with that story, so I wrote it.”

What was your writing process like for it?
“I knew what the ending was and then I just wrote it backwards to lead up to that ending. Then I rewrote it a ton of times until the deadline.”

Have you had a similar experience to the characters in your script?
“Definitely. I picked ‘Derek’ and in my mind somewhere, I must have had an idea of who this persona was. I’ve always had a backstory to Derek and all of his adventures. So I gave all three of the leads in this film Starbucks names, and the film is about who they envision themselves to be under the persona of their alternate name. It raises the question, why not use your real name and be proud of it?”

What do you do when you’re not writing or filmmaking?
“I teach a course at Penn State and love it. I do stand-up, watch sports and think up fake names for myself.”
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