Fortunately, as they had a budget "way under $100,000," says Morrison, the film school where they had taught for two years gave them equipment and editing software. And they had a built-in international doc-style crew of 8 or so students who came back to work with their former teachers.
They flew Kakkar to Prague, where they shot all her material first for 11 days. Then they flew back and shot Pastides' material for 10 days in New York, all during a three-week break from school. There was no margin for error. "When we shot all of Mahira's letters, what we worked with was what was she trying to make that person feel, what she was trying to do with the letter emotionally," says Duff. "We did each letter 10 different ways, to have options in the editing room. We changed things when we went to NY, we didn't know how the sequences would fit together. We wanted the letters to be awkward at first, as if they were recording a letter for the first time."
"We knew we had overshot," says Morrison. "And we didn't want to paint ourselves into corners, to allow it to be loose. We continued to work on it in the edit." That took a long time to get right. "We found the story in the material that we had. And we did debate doing a later chapter crowdfunding thing but there's only so many hours in the day. We were juggling so many things. We ended up deciding not to, so that we could work on our next project."
So what did they get out of the film? Did they make their money back? They're hoping to use "Hank and Asha" as a calling card for actors. And they won some prize money, which they plowed into marketing and theater booking. And they landed an advance from the digital distributor, which is rare. "We are hoping to at least recoup some money," says Morrison.
What they liked about the festival circuit--with exotic locations such as Thessaloniki in Greece, Glasgow in Scotland and Anchorage in Alaska-- was interacting with audiences who watched the film on big screens, including some old movie palaces. (The festivals pay to fly and house the filmmakers.) They also made friendships that they will be able to tap in future. "Our circle of fellow filmmaker friends exploded," says Duff. "We didn't know nearly as many as we do now. Once we're ready, we'll be reaching out to people."
Awards and trailer are below.