Posted // 2011-08-23 -
The last time we chatted with our old friend Sohrab Mirmontazeri was back in late 2008 as a finalist at the Tower Theater's Open Screen Night. Since then, he's been working hard to get his directing career on track, creating small pieces for several festivals as well as taking part in other films behind the scenes. But for the past couple years, he's been working on one major project...
Blue Door is a film about husband and wife who share a secret about a terrible accident, following their efforts to keep it from their family. The film shot all 118 pages of the script over the course of 10 days, making it one of the quickest independent films before post-production. The film recently made its local debut at Brewvies Cinema Pub to positive reactions, with one more showing on the way with the Utah Film Commission while awaiting responses from festivals. Today, we chat with Sohrab about his career and the film, plus his updated thoughts on local film.
Gavin: Hey, Sohrab. First thing, how have things been with you since we last chatted?
Soharb: Hello, Gavin! Thank you for having me back. The last time we spoke was for a short film that won the Utah Film Critic’s Choice Award. Since then, I did one more "48 Hour Film Project," and then made my first feature. Things are good.
Gavin: You've continued to make short films and competed in more festivals. What kept you coming back to the small festival circuit, and what did you learn during that time?
Soharb: I like to create more than anything. The shorts I’ve stuck to making have all been just another way of learning and moving forward with my craft. Small festivals are a great place to showcase your work and expand your “brand” and name to the people.
Gavin: You've also been working on other projects to the side with other filmmakers. How has it been for you working on those while putting together your own material?
Soharb: It is tough, at times, but nonetheless, you must put your hours in -- be it on your own project or the project of someone else. Being a filmmaker consists of knowing how a movie is made from every single department. My education went from film school to set after set, position to position. It is definitely tough to work on various projects for other people while still finishing your own – but definitely the way to go.
Gavin: Where did you get the idea for Blue Door?
Soharb: My producing partner, Renny Grames, and I sat at Joe’s Crab Shack in Salt Lake City, just before the 2009 “48 Hour Film Project” criteria announcement. I was drinking my coffee as she was eating her shrimp. We were excited to start the "48" for that year, but at the same time we were unhappy with the fact that there we were, three years in a row, still making a short film for a short-film competition. It was at that table that we decided to make a feature.
Gavin: How long did it take you to write the film, and what were people's reactions to reading the final product before you started filming?
Soharb: The script began as a seven-page short our writer asked me to look over for a screenwriting competition she was submitting to. It was such an amazing scene that I asked her to expand on it and create full characters and story. From there, it was only a month or two before a first draft was written. The reactions for the read through were very well taken to, which is what made us continue forward into filming.
Gavin: How big of an undertaking was it for you personally to jump from short films to doing a full-length feature?
Soharb: I had been attached to direct some pretty major features in the past – the farthest those projects ever went though were nine months to a year of pre-production. Those projects prepared me as to what to expect and anticipate on a feature, but no matter how much experience you have, I believe you learn something new on every single project – which I did, over and over again. Other than that, going from short form to feature for me was not really difficult. Everything came together in pre-production, and when we got on set, it was just like making a short film on a daily basis – granted with much bigger crew and cast.
Gavin: During this process, you've also started your own production company, Mirmont Pictures. What made you decide to start your own company rather than partner with an existing one?
Soharb: I’ve always been the type to do it myself. That perhaps started out of an idea that “No one else can do it like me.” As I’ve grown older, though, I have learned that statement may not be as true as I think. The people, however, that I would want to partner with already have their own companies – and those companies are the major studios. Given that information, self-created opportunity has been and will continue to be my main focus.
Gavin: What was it like putting your cast and crew together, and who did you bring on board to work with?
Soharb: That was one of the funnest parts of making this film. I love bringing people together, especially when I’m bringing them together to make film. Our cast and crew choices stemmed from wish-list people I’d like to work with, and people I have worked with on movie after movie. It all began with attaching our director of photography, Tristan Whitman, who I had met at the premiere of one of his projects, Take starring Minnie Driver and Jeremy Renner. I bugged Tristan for years before I convinced him to shoot my film. After he was on board, it was easy to hire the best, most-experienced crew in the state. There are too many people to list, but you know who you are.
Gavin: How long did it take you to film and then edit the film, and what difficulties did you encounter along the way?
Soharb: We filmed 118 pages in 10 consecutive shooting days. After that we spent about eight months in post-finalizing the film. We did test screening after test screening, only to learn the linear storytelling process of our film was not working. After almost 15 test screenings, we decided to take the film back to the editing room and re-cut the film. Another nine months later, we had re-cut the film to a non-linear storyline and had spent an additional four days doing pick-up shots.
Gavin: You started leaking scenes from the film last year online before the film was complete. What influenced your decision to promote the film so early?
Soharb: When you’re not a major studio with big advertising bucks behind your project, you have to do something to make yourself and your project known. The best way I knew to do that was to create awareness and excitement around the project at an early age. A brand takes time to burn itself into the human mind, and that is why we began at an early stage.
Gavin: You premiered the film last month on a local level at Brewvies Cinema Pub. Why did you premier it in such an nontraditional venue as opposed to a festival?
Soharb: This also was a branding decision. We do have an official premiere we are working on in the next few months – but Brewvies was just another way to bring awareness to people about the film. We asked everyone to go online and post a blog or review about us, and a lot of people did. This way, when we announce a major festival or official premiere venue, people will already have reviews and information on the film when they Google us to see if it’s worth attending.
Gavin: What was the audience reaction to the film, and what was it like for you seeing it on the screen after spending so much time with it?
Soharb: It was great! Before we began filming, I called the genre of this project a “Dark Comedy.” Spending so much time in the editing room, I began to lose sight of where the comedy was. It was kind of sad to think all we had was just a dark film. However, from the first minute to the last minute, the full house at Brewvies Cinema Pub was laughing. I loved it because during the Q&A, a lot of people were wondering if they should have been laughing or if they just had sick senses of humor. To watch it on the big screen…well, the moments before it went up, I was very nervous – which doesn’t happen to me often. But at the end, given the audience reactions all the way through, I knew we had done well.
Gavin: What's the plan going from here? Any further local showings or will you dive straight into the big film festivals?
Soharb: We’ve got one more official screening planned for Utah to be sponsored by the Utah Film Commission – but we haven’t confirmed anything yet. Aside from that, we have begun submitting and await anxiously for confirmations…
Gavin: Moving onto local stuff, what’s your current opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?
Soharb: I think Utah has a lot of amazing talent in the film scene. There are the established filmmakers in Utah, and there are those who are aspiring. The only thing that separates those two groups is experience and evolution in knowing what is good and not. The ones who make film after film but do not evolve in their craft are hobbyists, and this state as well as any other is filled with them. But there are also those who consistently make film and evolve on a grand level. Those people are among some of the most talented I’ve seen.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?
Soharb: Yes. There needs to be more support for in-state directors and producers. Obviously, the big bucks for film come from outside productions employing our crews when they film here – but to create a self-sustaining film structure in Utah, you need to create the work from within. It’s up to us to keep making film and build a presence that cannot be ignored.
Gavin: Who are some local directors you feel are at the top of their game?
Soharb: There are a few, but you don’t need me to say who they are.
Gavin: What's your take on other film festivals and competitions in Utah and what they do for the film community?
Soharb: They are helping build our in-state presence of film. Give it a few years before they become solid enough to be recognized nationally and internationally, but I have no doubt it will happen.
Gavin: What's your opinion on organizations like the Salt Lake Film Society and the Salt Lake Film Center and the work they do to bring films to town?
Soharb: To be honest, I have not been too involved in those organizations, nor have they been involved with me. This doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything to help spread and bring to fruition the film life in Utah, it just means that my experience with them is limited. I assume they’re doing something great, though.
Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and the film over the rest of the year?
Soharb: It’s too early to tell. We finished the film, premiered it, and two days later, I left for LA to work on another project. I still haven’t had time to analyze and head forward with the film, but I’m pretty sure whatever comes of it will be great. I do know the next year will be spent getting Blue Door out, and developing my next film, which is still in the script-finding phase.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?