After pitching the film in 2017, the fledgling writer/director decided not only to finance the script that he had written, but also to temporarily relocate his family from their Streeterville home in order to film there.
“When you’re a first-time director, you ‘ve got to have thick skin because everybody is more than happy to tell you that you don’t know what you’re doing,” Gandhi says. “You’ve got to listen, but, man, you better trust your own gut and have the spine to disagree with anyone and say, ‘this is my vision.’”
100 Days opens on a peaceful Chicago afternoon before turning into a confidently layered thriller. The story follows a romance between a woman who runs a suicide support group and a man who shares some, but not all, of her therapeutic philosophy. Along the way, their relationship gets tangled up in murder, police and a psychopathic messiah.
The San Diego International Film Festival awarded 100 Days with Best World Premiere and Best First Time Director honors in 2019. Sun Times critic Richard Roeper described it as a “well-filmed and ambitiously creative first effort.” But many of the people who heard the initial concept responded by saying, “dude, no one would do that,” according to Gandhi.
“I did not ever think anyone who was considered a professional was going to see this movie,” he recalls. “I thought it would be this very expensive file on my computer.”
Behind 100 Days to Live
Gandhi is a suburban Chicago-born Glenview High School graduate who earned a degree in accounting from the University Illinois and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He founded a company called GMM Nonstick Coatings in 2007 and sold it ten years later.
Before launching into production on 100 Days, his directorial canon was mostly limited to “little videos for my kids on their birthdays.” The experience taught him that, “shortening everything makes it better,” he says, adding, “I was pretty relentless about ‘killing my darlings.’”
His screenwriting expertise is another story. A fan of “serial killer films and big twists,” Gandhi has been submitting his work to sites like The Black List for years. “I’ve probably written 15 scripts,” he says. The idea for 100 Days came while he was running along Lake Michigan and listening to bands like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Metallica. “That’s where I do a lot of thinking,” he says.
In 2017, the script’s feedback scores began to “skyrocket,” prompting him to take it to the next level. “As a business guy, numbers mean a lot to me,” he explains. A Google search on “how to make a movie” pointed him towards Chicago-based casting director Marisa Ross. “She read the script and said, ‘this is not awful,’ which was surprising,” he says.
An industry veteran who supplies networks and studios in Chicago, LA and New York, Ross has an instinct for talent. After reading Gandhi’s inquiry, she did her own Google search and learned that, “obviously, he’s an important person in the business world.” She felt that his experience running a large company would translate well into managing a major production, and she was intrigued by the subject matter of 100 Days.
“It’s controversial material,” she says. “We read through the script, found some holes and I recommended changes.”
Gandhi followed-up on her advice by adding a flashback to “pull off a twist” and rearranging some of the chronology to prevent the film from being “too depressing.”
“Audience members don’t like self-pity,” Gandhi explains. “The challenge was to keep everybody likable.”
The likability comes through superior performances by Heidi Johanningmeier (Proven Innocent) and Colin Egglesfield (Rizzoli & Isles) as Rebecca Church and Gabriel Weeks, the couple in love. It sustains rhythm and credibility with help from Gideon Emery, Yancey Arias and Chris Johnson, who blend urban romance, serial murder and police investigations into a seamless narrative.
Ross supplied the cast, remarking that Johanningmeier demonstrated the “perfect example of giving a great audition and making the part hers.” She also introduced Gandhi to writer/director Rhyan LaMarr and producer Chris Jennings, the Chicago-based duo behind Canal Street. LaMarr and Jennings eventually agreed to produce 100 Days, and Ross signed on as one of the executive producers (joining John W. Bosher, Chris Charles and Gandhi).
Before production began, Gandhi experienced an epiphany during a script reading organized by Windy City Playhouse Artistic Director Amy Rubenstein.
“That was the first time I had heard anyone say these words, and I thought, yep, there’s dramatic tension,” Gandhi remembers. “I started to envision how to direct it.”
He put great effort into properly structuring a “pull-the rug-out from-you” climax at the end of the film. Besides reviewing Master Classes, YouTube videos, seminars, and personal favorites like The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects, he studied Walter Murch’s book, In the Blink of an Eye. “When I want to learn about a topic, I go deep into it,” he says.
On set, Gandhi learned to listen to other people, especially Director of Photography Nicholas Puetz. “In the beginning, if I had a lighting issue, I would just go to the person who was responsible for that light,” he recalls. “Nick would say, ‘I speak their language.’” Once he learned to “respect the hierarchy,” he became amazed at the team-oriented flow.
Choosing locations was a no-brainer. “I’m a born-and-raised-Chicago guy, so this film was damn well going to be set here,” says Gandhi. Besides shooting in his Michigan Ave. high-rise, he filmed in Pelago Restaurant on Delaware Pl. and several other familiar Windy City settings.
Gandhi also sought pre-production advice from the mental health community by calling suicide prevention lines. “I said, ‘I’m not suicidal, but I’m doing research,’” he recalls. “One hundred percent of the time, the people said, ‘that is awesome.’ When I told them about the story, they said, ‘that is chilling, and it’s possible, but you’re a psycho for pursuing this.’”
100 DAYS TO LIVE is available on all transactional VOD platforms in The US and Canada. The film’s trending well on Apple, for example, currently at #22 on their rental queue.
Daniel L. Patton is a veteran journalist who covers the Chicago landscape of advertising, music, people and more.