The First Thing is a short film exploring the emotional conflicts of an American couple attempting to have a baby with a female surrogate in India.
The story follows New Yorkers RJ, a radio personality, and Rosemary, his businesswoman wife, who have been trying to have a baby for the past eight years. After failed fertility treatments and three miscarriages, they are at the end of their rope - financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Surrogacy is their last chance at having the family they desperately want.
But once RJ and Rosemary arrive in Mumbai and begin the process of embryo transplant, things start to go awry. Usually a rock solid couple, the pressure in the last 24 hours leading up to the transplant brings surprising revelations about each other. RJ, originally from India, has a radio show meant to entertain and shock an American audience about controversial news topics, though he is ironically engaging in the very process of outsourced pregnancy he is publicly bashing. And Rosemary, not from India, tries to connect to the experience through their surrogate Roopa, but is unable to bridge cultural barriers and truly connect to her husband’s home country. This leaves them both vulnerable as they face one of the most important experiences of their lives.
Will RJ and Rosemary's relationship survive the controversial process of surrogacy to have the family they've always wanted? Or will their new revelations cause doubts that consume them before it’s too late?
A Note from the Director
"Why I'm Making This Movie"
I conceptualized the story for The First Thing after living in Mumbai for a year after graduate school at Tisch School of the Arts, Asia in Singapore. The idea of surrogacy became apparent to me as I started encountering travelers, particularly Americans, coming into India for medical tourism. But it wasn’t just for heart surgeries or dental work – it was to rent out the womb of another woman to have one’s own genetically related offspring. I found this practice of “renting a womb” in a developing country sparked so many feelings, thoughts, and observations I have made about outsourcing, and I felt I had to explore the emotional reasons that would drive people on both sides of the spectrum, to engage in such a risky and personal exchange.
India is a place I spent a larger part of my life and love dearly, but I also feel this subject touches on an issue not only contemporary and relevant to India but also my home country – America. The sometimes perilous exchange and uncomfortable place between these two cultures, and ultimately, between two people, is at the crux of The First Thing. These characters are people in a situation close to my heart, and I couldn’t think of a better way to explore this emotional and political landscape than through this film.
The First Thing doesn't take sides on the issue of surrogacy, but rather, explores the various needs and desires each character has, and the personal turmoil they experience in relation to those desires. By focusing on the emotional conflicts of RJ and his wife, going through a very personal process in a foreign place, my goal is to make a film that is emotionally engaging to my audience, visually evocative, and thought provoking.
Our crew is an eclectic mix of industry professionals and the director's colleagues from NYU Tisch Asia and the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. They hail from India, Japan, France, Spain, and the United States – making this a truly international production.
What we have in common is our hard working attitude, our kindness, and our dedication to making great cinema.
For detailed information on our crew, please visit our website: www.firstthingfilm.com
Our Star Cast
Ankur Vikal: RJ (lead)
Ankur Vikal is a renowned theater and film actor from India of Slumdog Millionaire fame. Ankur's raw and subtly nuanced performances in groundbreaking Indian and international films (i.e. Slumdog Millionaire, Maqbool, Striker), and his work in theater for Motley Theatre Company have been praised by critics worldwide, making him what many believe to be one of the most talented actors coming out of India today.
Ankur will be teamed up with a prolific actress from Los Angeles to play the role of RJ's wife Rosemary. Auditions in Los Angeles are currently in-progress.
For a full bio of Ankur Vikal and the rest of the cast, please visit:
Budget Breakdown: Where does my money go?
The First Thing is Anya Leta's Masters thesis for New York University - Tisch School of the Arts Asia. With the completion of this film she will earn her Master’s Degree in Filmmaking, and jumpstart her career as a writer/director.
Anya has been living in Mumbai for the past year to research, write, and prepare this film and assemble the right production team. She is confident about the network she has created to allow this film to be shot in a creative yet economic fashion, without sacrificing professional quality.
A professional short film shot in the United States could cost up to $100,000, but our team is asking for $25,000 to the "kickstart" our $50,000 dollar total budget. At a fraction of the cost of a comparable film in the United States, we are excited to bring a most professional film to the screen, shot on location in the beautiful chaos of Mumbai, India.
Our director, lead actors, and key crew are contributing their immense talent, time, and energy for free to make this film come to life. Your contributions will go directly to fulfill the artistic vision of the film. Here is a broad breakdown of the budget:
20% goes towards flights of our extremely skilled crew and our star cast from Los Angeles - 5 flights in total from Japan and the United States .
15% goes towards food, transport, and lodging for our international team and star cast for 10 days of shoot, and a week of prep for some crew members.
50% goes to equipment rentals, production design, costumes, extras, and location fees, to get and create some of the best locations in Mumbai.
15% goes towards post production fees like scoring, color correction, sound design, and VFX & Titles.
What Is Surrogacy?
"Commercial gestational surrogacy" is when a fertilized embryo is implanted into a genetically unrelated carrier, or "surrogate," who brings the child to birth. A miracle of modern medical science, surrogacy allows infertile couples, gay couples, or single persons who desire to conceive, to be able to create their own genetic child through another woman's body.
How It Works
The embryo grows inside the surrogate, sometimes resulting in twins or triplets from multiple embryos transplanted. If the pregnancy is successful, the surrogate will then give birth to the child, who will be given away to the persons desiring the child.
The Business of Surrogacy in India
Commercial surrogacy became legal in India in 2002. Since then, it's popularity as the "destination of choice" for surrogacy around the world has grown exponentially.
Surrogacy makes up a large part of a 2.3 billion dollar "medical tourism" industry in India. Commercial surrogacy is estimated to generate 450 million dollars into India this year.
Because of the relatively inexpensive price compared with other countries, and because there is little regulation controlling the industry, it is a popular destination for people outside of India who desire their own genetically related offspring without the risk of legally losing the child to the birth mother/surrogate, as is the case in some countries like the United States.
The Debate on Surrogacy
There are currently no laws that protect the rights of surrogates in India - only guidelines. Women who agree to be surrogates in India are overwhelmingly among the nation's poorest. The legal agreements they enter into are complex and make them vulnerable to exploitation by corrupt middlemen.
The most vulnerable people to exploitation entering this contract sit on each side of the spectrum - not just the poor women becoming surrogates, but also the infertile couples desperate to have their own child. While both sides face the commercialization of their bodies, all of the facilitators of surrogacy - agents who recruit surrogates, clinics, doctors, and lawyers - stand to make a huge sum of money.
Critics of surrogacy call it another form of exploitation the West engages in with developing countries, considering it an exploitative form of outsourcing, or "rent-a-womb." Supporters of surrogacy say it's altruistic - women helping other women, and argue that the Indian surrogate receives large sum of money not possible otherwise, improving both the life of the infertile couple and that of the surrogate.
Other Ways You Can Help
Thank you for reading about The First Thing! We are thrilled to bring this vision to life, and we thank you so much for any contributions you can make to help this film a reality. No contribution is too small!
However, if you cannot make a contribution, we completely understand (we’re broke artists too). But can you help us spread the word in the name of the indie-filmmaking revolution? We know you want to pitch in! Here’s how you can help:
“Like” us on Facebook, and share our page on yours: http://www.facebook.com/firstthingfilm
Follow us or Tweet at us @FirsttThingFilm – we’ll follow you back, and keep your feed updated with interesting facts about about #surrogacy, #TischAsia, #filmmaking, and #FF YOUR indie-filmmaking cause!
Join in the surrogacy debate on our Surrogacy Forum at our website http://www.firstthingfilm.com. You’ll be amazed at how much people have to talk about the complicated issue.
Stick with us, and we’ll stick with you – let’s make this thing happen!
How to Contact us - stay in touch!
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