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Interview with director Mojtaba Mirshekari


Mojtaba Mirshekari is a Los Angeles based Iranian Film Director and Editor with experience in editing short films, documentaries and commercial clips. Being fluent in English and Persian, he has contributed to many film projects as an Editor, Assistant Editor, DIT and Sound Designer. He also directed several short films that helped him to get closer to director’s point of view as an editor. Mojtaba started his journey in filmmaking by getting MA degree in cinema studies in Iran. He is currently an MFA student in film production major with emphasis on editing at Chapman University.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

For me, it all started when I was a Civil Engineering student back home in Iran. Over my undergraduate studies, I started watching movies more seriously and I found my passion for storytelling. Especially, the works by Stanley Kubrick and Jean-Pierre Jeunet captured my attention. I vividly remember the first time I watched Clockwork Orange. I was mesmerized by the visuals and Kubrick’s point of view towards human psychology. From that moment, I realized that I want to be a part of filmmaking world. Thus, I decided to change my career from engineering to filmmaking.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

That’s a great question. In my opinion, people should find their own way to become a successful filmmaker. I got two master degrees, one in Cinema Studies and one in Film Production, but, in my case, it was part of a bigger plan to be able to move to US and pursue my filmmaking dream here. Personally, I think there is no need to go to film schools at all. Nowadays, you can find the answers to all of your questions by simply searching in the internet. Filmmaking is all about experience. The only way to become a successful filmmaker is to make new films, criticize your film, learn from your mistakes, go for the next film and try not to make the same mistakes.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

For me, it’s always harder to get started. Back in my undergraduate studies in Civil Engineering, it wasn’t easy to decide to change my career to filmmaking. I knew that it wouldn’t be an easy life and, probably, I wouldn’t make money as much as an engineer. Furthermore, I didn’t know anything about filmmaking and I was the only one in my family who was deciding to have a career in art. That’s why the beginning was really hard for me. To answer your other question, we all have sacrificed a lot in our life to become a filmmaker. At some point, you have this doubt that whether you are going to become a successful filmmaker or not. I think this doubt stays with all artists in their lifetime and the only solution is to keep going and try to make better films each time.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

In making “Birthday” film, I learned about the importance of the improvisation. As I said before, I came from Iran to US a few years ago and when I’m writing a script, dialogues can be a little bit rough as English is not my first language. So, in our rehearsal sessions, I was asking actors to know the lines, but also letting them to change the dialogues with sentences which seemed more natural to them. This helped the film a lot as the audiences thought dialogues were written very naturalistic. Also, there is a scene in the film that is totally improvisation. In the rehearsal, I gave the actors a general direction and, then, let them improvise a conversation. After listening to them for a while, for continuity and editing purposes, I picked some of the lines and asked them to rehearse those lines and stick to them for the scene. So, it was more of an improv in rehearsal than the actual production, but that scene worked really well.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Directing a film is really about being able to find the best solutions in the moment for problems that happens through the whole period of Pre-Production to Post-Production. In my experience, these problems exist in every single production. The only way to deal with them is to be really prepared and have backup plans for everything. In this film, I lost one of the actors one week before the production. So, I needed to contact my backup actors. Money is always a factor that keeps changing your plans. As I said before, the only way to deal with it is to be prepared as much as you can, have backup plans and stay calm if something surprises you and try to find the best solution.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

Finding the right actor for “Frank” character was the real challenge. This film is all about him and I needed to find a reliable actor for his character. I think we found the best actor for his role. Joseph Lopez did a splendid job bringing him to life and I think that’s the reason he got the best leading actor award from “Short to the Point” festival.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

Lots of my network comes from Chapman University where I’m getting my master degree in Film Production. I think filmmakers can grow their network by helping other filmmakers’ projects and try to be in touch with people as much as they can. It’s really important to find and know new people even with having a cup of coffee with them.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

This is a very difficult question. First of all, I believe that every artist needs to have an audience. Your art work has to be seen and you as an artist need to get feedback, praises and criticisms about your work. That’s the reason that I can’t say audience’s opinion doesn’t matter. But in the same time, I think you should know who your audiences are. Of course, if you’re making a film outside of the mainstream cinema, your audience is going to be different from blockbuster movies’ audiences. So, if you know who your audiences are, then you can think about if your film is going to connect with them or not and why.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Film festivals are playing a key role in filmmakers’ life, especially for the ones who are in the beginning of their journey. Nowadays, there are too many films that are being made and it’s really hard to get your film to the audiences. Film festivals are great places to show your film to your audiences and let people know about you and your work. Also, they are a very good opportunity to communicate with other filmmakers and grow your network.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I believe it’s necessary to know the classic cinema and its rules, but just to break them. I think in today’s world, filmmakers should have a very unique vision in order to be seen in between thousands of other filmmakers. If you believe in yourself and let the vision comes from your sub-conscious, then I think you have a unique film that nobody else could make, except you.