weeks ago the Tower Theater held their 6th Open
Mic Night film
festival for local filmmakers to showcase their work. When all was
said and done, a western piece walked away with the Critic's Choice
award. Appropriately enough, entitled "Western".
A tense back-and-forth discussion between two gentlemen outside a
saloon while being served drinks by the charming saloon gal. I got a
chance to talk with the film's director Sohrab Mirmontazeri about his
piece and other various topics.
Gavin: Hey Sohrab. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into filmmaking.
Sohrab: Hello there. Where to start... it started with acting actually. When I first came to America at age six, I saw a TV show called Home Improvement. At the end of the show, they ran the blooper reel. I thought to myself "people standing around laughing, for a living... that's unreal." So I pursued acting with a passion, but in Utah there aren't many auditions that end up going anywhere, so I decided to buy my own camera and began to write my own films... I planned to star in them, but no one could hold the camera the way I wanted them to... so I ended up doing it myself.
Gavin: Did you go through any education for it, and if you did, what was that like?
Sohrab: I did. In 2004 I moved to Orlando, Florida where I went to film school at Full Sail University. It was a great school, one of the best for hands on experience with top of the line industry gear. But it wasn't the best choice for me. I wanted to learn more about the theory of directing, but Full Sail only had a one month course on the subject. Everything else was based around the gear and pretty much every other position aside from Directing. It was a great time though. I made great connections and I made my first "official" short film while in my second month. It went on to win the Audience Choice Award from the New York Film Festival -- so that made going to that school and racking up an insane amount of student loans well worth it.
Gavin: Do you think of yourself as more independent or do you prefer to work with a group?
Sohrab: Definitely independent. I don't think Rembrandt ever asked someone else to create different shades of color for his pallet.
Gavin: How did the concept of "Western" come about?
Sohrab: It was pulled from a hat for the 48 Hour Film Project. We lined up and one by one chose a random genre. I remember seeing people in other groups picking out theirs, and one person in a different group pulled out the same genre as me and when it came his turn to read out the genre to the public, he said "Musical Western." I thought to myself, "Man I hope to all things holy I don't get that." Well, I go up to the hat, put my hand in and pick out a small piece of paper. I open it from its fold and read "Musical or Western." My heart dropped for a moment, but then I realized I was given a choice between the musical genre and the western genre. The person before me had just forgotten to mention the "or" part. Needless to say, I picked Western.
Gavin: How long did it take you to film and then edit it up?
Sohrab: Friday at 6:59PM, 44 groups stand outside the Salt Lake City Library so we can be given our genre, our character, our line of dialog, and our prop. From that point on we have two days to cast, write, prepare, shoot, and edit. After I got the announcement, I rushed home and began working on the script. I finished around six am the following morning and at around 2PM we were on location at Young Living Farms in Mona, Utah. We spent quite a few hours rehearsing and lingering around due to the fact that we didn’t have some of our props/wardrobe yet. My sister/co-producer went out and about on a hunt for cowboy boots, wrangler jeans and a cowboy hat. If you’ve ever been to Mona, UT, you know there isn’t much around that neck of the woods… she searched and searched, and about two and a half hours later she returned with everything we needed. After that, we got the actors dressed and ready. We had a late lunch, ran through a few more rehearsals and then sat around waiting for the sunset. When that occurred, which was around seven, we started rolling. We began with our master shots, locked on sticks, and then moved to our close-ups via handheld. It was quite the rush as we only had two hours of sunlight. If you watch the film you’ll notice some of the shots are dimmer than the rest…those are the ones we did just as the sun was about to go into hiding – and that happened around 9AM or so. We wrapped and got out of there by ten or ten thirty. I spent the next day and a half cutting it together and by 7PM. Monday it was turned in.
Gavin: Any difficulties come up along the way?
Sohrab: Yes... all in post production. It started at the earliest stage. We shot on two mini DV tapes. Two hours total. I hook up my DV Capture device and begin to digitize. Starting time was around two am. At 4AM, the digitize process is complete and all the footage has been transferred from tape to harddrive. We are ready to edit. I click a button. I don't remember which button, but I'm positive it was a button that I have pressed hundreds of times before... however, the outcome this time was devastating. My computer crashed. It restarted on its own command, and when it booted up, the two hours of footage that was just captured had now mysteriously vanished. I had to start the process all over again. Three or so hours after that there was another incident. This time it was much more serious. I had edited about 70% of the film together when another mysterious accident caused my entire timeline to wipe out. This was a breaking point. I remember standing up for a moment, but after rising three inches from my chair everything started to get wobbly and fuzzy. I couldn't catch my breath, so I quickly sat down... I knew then it was time to throw in the towel. I went to sleep knowing the deadline for the 48 Hour submission would pass me by. But after two crushing events of computer failure, passing out was all I could do. I don't regret a thing though. We still got our film submitted in time to have it screened at the festival, and that's all I wanted.
Gavin: When you finished the film, was Open Mic the first time you showed it to a group, or did you do a private thing? And what was the general reaction to it at first?
Sohrab: We showed the film for the first time at the Broadway Theaters as part of the 48 Hour Film Festival. The crowd reaction was very good. Every person in the room cheered loudly, and after the event many people approached us and said how much they liked our work -- especially Dave Kranig's performance as the main Cowboy. He was stellar, and I think most everyone who saw the film loved his performance, as well as the film as a whole.
Gavin: How did you hear about Open Mic Night?
Sohrab: I heard about it at the award ceremony for the festival. It was mentioned that we could screen our films for a second time so we can be eligible for IMDb credit's.
Gavin: What was your reaction to seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction?
Sohrab: I believe they showed fourteen films that night and they showed it in two different sections. They did half, went to intermission, and then the other half. Ours was the last one in the first showing. After ours ended, I remember thinking to myself "Hmmm... I think people clapped louder for other films." But maybe I was just having a bad hearing day. I left right after intermission so I didn't hear anything said about it in particular.
Gavin: How did it feel being the Judge’s Selection winner?
Sohrab: I was extremely happy, especially for the fact that my cast and crew got something out of it. I felt really bad not being able to get the film submitted in time for the competition, so this really helped in making us feel a little better.
Gavin: Putting you on the spot, what would you say are the top films that have had an influence on you?
Sohrab: Braveheart. I've seen it over sixty times and at one point I had every line of every character memorized. It wasn't a film that made me want to make films - it was a film that made me realize how much you could communicate through motion picture... as far as a film that’s inspired me to make films, I don’t think I have one. It just started with watching Home Improvement and being inspired to become an actor… everything else just progressed from there.
Gavin: If you had to pick an influential director, who would you say is the most influential on you?
Sohrab: I have many favorite directors, but there is only one that has had a direct influence on me. Abbas Kiarostami. I don’t know how well the Utah community of filmmakers and film-goers know Kiarostami, but in the grander world he has been regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers alive. With that said, he is also my uncle – the brother of my mother. To have that sort of a connection with a person like that really makes me believe that achieving success in film is just time away.
Gavin: What’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?
I’ve been making films in Utah since June of ‘07. I tend to stick
to my same cast and crew for each project - but sometimes have the
need to cast new people based on my scripts. I’ve been very
fortunate to have the great help of Shielia Erickson from Broadway
Talent. She’s made casting quality actors one of the easiest things
to do. With that said, I’ve found some really good talent in this
state -- and of course I’ve also found some really horrible ones.
There are a few in particular whom I believe will be the new
A-listers of Hollywood - and I sure hope it’s with my films that
they’re discovered J On the crew side, I’ve gotten by. When I
lived in Florida, I had access to anybody and anything as far as crew
and equipment was concerned. Here in Utah it’s a lot harder to come
by quality crew members, especially quality crew members who are
willing to work for no pay. Of course it was easier in Florida
because most people knew who I was and they were willing to jump on
the wagon for bread crumbs and water. Aside from that, I haven’t
really been too immersed in Utah’s film scene. I tend to stick to
myself around here, so when I have a project, not many people hear
about it… that makes it difficult to be involved in the "film
Gavin: Any local directors you feel are at the top of their game?
Sohrab: I don’t know of too many local directors here. I know the names of a few LDS directors, but I’ve never seen their work. There was one guy I was impressed with at the 48 Hour Film Fest… his name was Michael Ori (I hope I’m spelling that right,) and the film he made for the genre he was given was quite interesting and well made. So there is definitely talent here…but it’s all about being discovered.
Gavin: Anything you think could be done to make it bigger?
Sohrab: To make the film scene bigger? Sure…have an annual gathering of directors and crew who all have work to showcase to one another. I would love to be able to get to know other filmmakers and at the same time see their work play on a big screen. You can go to film society events all you want, but I don’t think just talking to other filmmakers lets you see their full potential of work. Of course people hand out business cards with links to reels, etc… but I think an event bringing together film and filmmakers is something that is greatly needed in a community of aspiring artists. And I’m not talking a competition like the 48 hour film project, I’m talking a gathering of people who can help and want help in the future, based on work they see that night. I don’t know if something like this already exists…if it does, let me know.
Gavin: Do you know what you’re doing for your next film?
Sohrab: Currently I’m in pre-production for a $2.4 mil. live action feature based on the life of The Big Bopper – one of the musicians killed in the 1959 plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. But until we start rolling cameras on that, I’m free to do other projects. I have loads of short film scripts written, and I have an idea or two for some really original television pilots . At this point it’s all about picking a project and going forward with it. Oh, it wouldn’t hurt to get some funding either… that would make the choice for my next project much easier.
Gavin: Anything you’d like to plug or any final thoughts you wanna voice?
Sohrab: Yes, yes…many plugs, if you don’t mind. I never had a chance to stand up in front of the crowd and thank all the wonderful people involved in making this film. So, here it goes…a bit late, and in writing format. I want to thank my three amazing actors. Dave Kranig, Kyle Paul, and Reisha. I had many people audition for this film, but at the time I had no idea what film I was making - so I asked everyone to be on stand-by and wait for a call to see if they fit a role that I wrote in. These three were on standby every step of the way, even the morning of shooting when we still didn’t have a location secured. I remember calling them all and saying "Okay, hang in there…I’m working on a location." …and they did just that. They hung in there, and when it came time they magically appeared, dedicated and well groomed, ready to film marvelously with no questions asked. Wonderful people, and they did it all based on nothing more than just simply meeting me beforehand. Blind faith, I call it.
Sohrab: I’d also like to thank a most wonderful crew for helping make a film come together. Stephen Driggs from Midsummer Studios, you rock, man. I don’t know how I got so lucky as to have him be on my team, but I believe it was mainly because of Pamelia Cambell, one of our associate producers. She put me in touch with Driggs after her incredible praise for the man’s work. Based out of Las Vegas, NV, he was in Utah working on a feature film during the festival. It only took us one phone conversation for him to agree to help out. Blind faith again, as he had no idea who I was…just a cool guy wanting to work in his free time…thanks Driggs, you’re the man. I’d also like to thank our co-producer, Sahar Mirmontazeri, who has been working with me on films ever since I started making them in Utah. Without her help our productions would not run anywhere as smooth as they have. Thanks for that, sis. I’d also like to thank some ‘behind-the-scenes’ peeps…Pam Lockwood, a great friend who I’ve yet to meet in person. Only her voice has enlightened my ear, but it is a great voice. She was the one who helped me in finding our shooting location. Let me tell you, it’s hard to find a "western" setting within a days notice, but with her help it was beautifully easy. I’d also like to thank Robert Palmer at Young Living Farms. He was the guy in charge of the facility and allowed us to film there free of charge. Super cool guy and very kind. Thanks, Robert! Aside from that, everyone else who was involved, thank you! My brother, Alireza Mirmontazeri was a great hand on set, Phillip Cambell, our Associate Producer’s husband, made some killer coffee when it came wrap time. Thank you to Shielia Erickson for casting help and thank you very much to Lance Youngberg from the 48 Hour Film Festival for answering my 30 phone calls. If there is anyone I’ve left out, I’m so sorry…but I hear the music playing so they are cutting my speech short. Thanks again to everyone involved.