Game Changer Spotlight: Gingger Shankar

As part of the Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month collection, X1 Asian American Film & TV will highlight various Game Changers, influential Asian Americans across entertainment.

The following interview is with Gingger Shankar, a singer, virtuoso violinist, film composer, model and songwriter, who was born into one of the world’s most acclaimed and influential musical families. Her accomplishments include working with top producers and film composers like Mel Gibson, The Smashing Pumpkins, Trent Reznor, Mike Nichols, Mike Myers, and James Newton Howard. In addition to her film projects, she has also has lent her voice and violin to several diverse projects ranging from soundtracks to pop and electronic hip-hop. An accomplished artist and performer, Shankar is the only female in the world that has mastered the 10-string Double Violin, an instrument that covers the entire range of the orchestra’s double bass, cello, viola and violin, and of which there are currently only two in existence. 

Image Credit: Gingger Shankar

You’re extremely well-established and one of the most sought-after musicians working today. You’ve had a long career in film composition, from contributing to “The Passion of the Christ,” to Bollywood hit “Heartbeats,” to social justice documentaries like “Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock” and “We Are the Radical Monarchs.”  What is your creative process when you’re working on the music of a particular film?

Gingger Shankar: Honestly, it’s different for every film. Sometimes I read a script and imagine the characters and start to write themes. I love this process, because it’s completely in my imagination and I can be as creative as I want. Other times, I watch a rough cut and then go off and create themes that have been inspired by what I have seen.

Heartbeats” was interesting, because there were so many songs I had to write and they had already choreographed massive dance sequences to songs! So I had to go in and figure out the BPM (speed) of each song and create new songs from the ground up and make sure they hit the way the choreographer had intended with the dance moves. That was quite a challenge and so much fun.

What types of music genres or musicians inspire you and inform your work?

GS: It depends on the day! If it’s been a long day, I listen to classical music to relax. Other times, I actually prefer silence, since I constantly work in sound. I find silence to be incredibly inspiring.

For “The Last Hour,” an upcoming series, I am currently wandering around Sikkim in the Himalayas and taking in the sounds and music before I start composing anything because the series is set here. I am always inspired by people, travel and local musicians.

What are your favorite films and/or filmmakers who have inspired you?

GS: Wow, there might be too many to list here. Off the top of my head, I would say Satyjajit Ray, Mira Nair, Ang Lee, Alfred Hitchcock, Alfonso Cuaron, Steven Spielberg, Deepa Mehta, Barry Jenkins, Guillermo Del Toro, and Wes Anderson.

Each one has created their own magical space in cinema. You just need to watch a few scenes and you know whose world you have entered into. I also do love fantasy films (I’m a bit of a nerd). Any time I’m on a long flight, I am usually watching “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit” or the “Harry Potter” films.

Gingger Shankar tunes her double violin before her show at The Annie O Music Series at the Standard East Village on Wednesday, October 21, 2015. Photograph by Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times

How does your Asian heritage influence your work?

GS: It’s funny, because I don’t even think about it. I think now that we’re constantly hearing these words like “diversity” and “representation,” I’m more aware of it. I have always been an artist and I make art that influences me. So much of that comes from my heritage, the fact that I grew up in the States and in India, and of course my family. So I guess it’s a huge part of my voice! And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more and more determined to tell my own stories and have become much more personal and vulnerable about my own work, which isn’t the easiest thing to do.

What is your outlook on the state of Asian Pacific American film and TV?

GS: It’s such an interesting time for all of us. For many of us that have been in the business for years, we are finally seeing executives realize that people want to see our stories on the screen (duh!!). With films like “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Late Night” and “The Farewell” and shows like “Killing Eve,” we are seeing the ground shifting. It’s a great time to be making films and I think now more than ever, we have to tell our own stories. It’s time to break the door all the way down.

What’s next for you?

GS: I’m really excited about the projects I am working on. At the moment, I am producing a documentary called “Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock” directed by Cody Lucich which will be released next year. I am also working on a documentary about the women in my family called NARI as well as my own album. Later this year, I am scoring an Amazon series called “The Last Hour” directed by Amit Kumar.

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