Be Prolific Series: Ebrahim Ghaeini

My second interview in my Be Prolific Series of local artists was a sheer delight. I’ve known local filmmaker and director Ebrahim Ghaeini indirectly for many years, a crazy amount of years actually. I’ve been quietly on the sidelines watching him create his art and his production company and what better opportunity to interview him for my blog and find out more about him! I wrote about one of his short films here and was so excited to find out more about that film and his filmmaking process.

Ebbie is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people I have ever had the pleasure of talking with. I cannot wait for more deep conversations with this man because there is so much I want to learn from him and talk with him about. He has such a sensitive eye for people, film, and the world. He has a beautiful labyrinth of a mind; you can see him actively walking through that labyrinth as he talks, picking the perfect words before speaking. I loved having the honor of interviewing him and can’t wait to share his words with you all now.

*All photos in this post used with permission from Ebrahim Ghaeini.

How would you describe the style of your films?
In terms of stylistic choices, we really like going on location and going to nature to film things in real environments. We want things to look as natural and believable as possible. And this is my personal directing philosophy, but I feel that when an artist or an actor, when you are in an environment, you are sensitive to that environment. Writers need to write in a certain environment and they draw off the stimuli and they draw inspiration and information from what is around them. It’s important for actors to draw from that in nature.
I come from a place where I can’t stand seeing a thousand props on stage or in a movie and people don’t touch them. We don’t do that day to day, we are constantly interacting with our environment. I think that makes our style. We have this raw edgy look where it’s maybe outer-worldly but it’s also very tangible. We want people to believe that whatever is going on, fantasy or psychological, we want people to believe it’s real. That’s what I want to do stylistically and that’s also very connected to my introverted side. Nature is the best medicine and therapy you can get. When you go to nature you are going home. I always see nature as home to me.
What aspects of film do you take part in? 
I do it all. I write, I direct, I’ll help design lighting, I’ll do sound editing. With music, I know how I want it to sound. I send it to the editor and I know the specific emotion of how I want it to sound. I do dabble in everything. I don’t know if that’s me being a control freak or if it’s because our company doesn’t have the big crew or anything yet. Anything that involves the design I like to be involved in. I like to do that because I find it to be a crucial part in our films.
What sparked your interest in filmmaking?
When I was two years old, I was obsessed with the movie ET. I would watch it three times a day probably. At two years old, there’s a video of me getting the VHS out and putting it in myself. My mother would say that even at that age, if I was in the other room and I could hear the music, like when they are flying over the moon with their bikes, I would stand up and say “bike bike!!” and I recognized that part of the movie. I was very sensitive to films at a very young age. I have a vague memory of setting up all of these animal figurines I had into a stampede resembling Lion King and my mom found me taking pictures of it with their camera.
I think it was something I did in my free time just for fun. To say what sparked it was, I think, I was just always kind of emotionally empathetic to films and to storytelling. I would cry like a baby to many films and still do. My parents eventually got me a VHS camera and I would film with my friends in the backyard and then immediately take the tape out and go watch it. It was just always a part of my life and my childhood.
Do you work full time as a filmmaker?
Yes, currently I am. Sometimes it’s editing work, it’s not always directing. Sometimes it’s just being the film crew or being a PA on another set. I’ve done weddings and wedding photography. I’ve shot dances and stuff like that as well.
What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
There’s a lot of parts that really speak to me and get me intrigued and one of the main ones is just in the beginning. The brainstorming, the research when you are developing a new idea. It just sends tingles down your spine when your brain is starting to fill with these images. The other day we were discussing a new short film we wanted to embark on Someone will say something and describe an image and someone else will add to it and suddenly you’re building this emotional story in everyone’s brains. I think the reason that’s so exciting is because it’s when you are most vulnerable in a creative sense. You aren’t worrying about the technical side or if we have the budget. It’s so organic and definitely my favorite part.
What’s the hardest part of the filmmaking process?
I’m a big perfectionist when I watch  my creative work, not on purpose or because I want to see the negatives. I see where things can get better and improved. So if on a Tuesday you say this is great, three days later you say I should have done this and then five years later you can be grateful you didn’t change it. I think that’s an interesting comment on art because art is so relative. Art is changing even after it has been abandoned. There’s a lot of different things that you feel all over again when you revisit a work and that can be hard.
I think on this most recent film it was hard for me to re-edit because I had to go feel all of these emotions again. I had to feel the pain and the sorrow and it’s hard to become attached and detached and attach again. It’s hard to watch and then go live your real life again. That’s very hard for me actually, letting my projects go. It’s like saying ok, I’m not going to touch it anymore but it’s my baby that I’ve built for two years. Letting go is the hardest part, you know?
How do you get the ideas for your films and the scripts you write?
Something I love even more than filmmaking is storytelling. I wish my official title was storyteller because that’s what I feel I truly am. I get my ideas from that feeling of wanting to impact people. Everyone I work with during the entire process is a storyteller and they are drawing experiences from their life or fantasies they create with what they take from the world. It’s because I want to say something or express something just like we all do, which I think is fascinating. It’s a human necessity to tell stories, it’s a natural instinct. Filmmaking allows me to impact and that’s the cool part of it all, you have power to control or bring out emotions. You can make people feel things they never though they could feel for someone or something. You’re dream creators. Sure we can feel empathy in their daily lives but it’s in dreams where you find out how deeply affected you are by a real life situation. I think it’s much the same with storytelling.
Do you prefer directing your own scripts or working with the works of others?
I’ve done both. I think the reason I write is because it helps me connect emotionally to a project I want to express and then I can direct it more purely. I’ve done some other scripts where I’ve tried to direct it but I didn’t feel the story. If I don’t feel completely in it I will have a hard time making the audience feel. It’s like it doesn’t sound with my soul. Artistically I’ve always been that way. In school I remember when someone was telling me what sort of art to do, I’d flip because to me art works as an expression. No one is gonna go up to Van Gogh and tell him a shadow shouldn’t be there.
To choose a script it has to morally sound with me and choose me. It’s something I’m always surprised at and sometimes I can shut it off. I mean, I’m not at a place in my career where I can pick and choose but if I can take that power, I will if I can. There are many stories I come across, however, that I would love to take part in. I want to experience what those writers felt while they wrote it. 
Tell me about starting your own production company.
My friends Josh and John and I made a film called Blooming my senior year of high school and into the beginning of college. That really changed, I think, all of our lives. Josh and John were the primary actors but they were behind the scenes all the time. Because we were such young kids it was a huge learning experience for us, better than any sort of workshop or college class I could have had because we did it ourselves.
I remember being absurdly frustrated with college because they wouldn’t let me get a camera or get any hands on experience until my last year and so I just started doing stuff on my own. After that original film we thought, “Now what?” Do we stop here or do we keep going?” Josh and John were the ones who wanted to make these stories and experiences. We knew it was going to be fucking hard but why not?
What does that business mostly entail? 
For a while it was us trying to get any type of video/film related work as possible. Even if we found a production on craigslist we would take those jobs and represent us to get our name out there. The company is geared to us and people like us, young entrepreneurs trying to get work with their craft. We see everything as an opportunity to learn. Even for a wedding, you need to tell their story on their day. It’s training for us; it’s a chance to use our storytelling art. 
Describe your creative process?
When I stay away from film when I’m creative, that’s what gets me juiced about it. I take books camping with me and I read a ton. I’m quite introverted and I think that’s how I operate. I read, I camp, I go back to classical works. Also experiencing life is the best thing you can do. You have to live life if you want to be creative. You’re gonna draw from those experiences. Sometimes I think the best thing to do is just to go to Europe for three months and live and see what sort of creativity creeps up after that journey. Why not, right? But yeah, experience. That’s where you find the heart and gold of any story you are going to tell.
How did acting change how you are as a director?
I loved learning how to tell stories through theater. I have taken the lessons I learned from acting and put them into my career. I learned about the energy you want to give to the actors and the team. I can give them what they need so they can be the artist they are and contribute who they are to the film. I’m not the only creative individual on set. I don’t want my films to be a boring job for my actors. You know when the creative juices are flowing on set. I want them to be passionate about their project and excited to work with me and the rest of the team. Every actor is different and I’m glad I learned that now that I’m directing. I try to be sensitive to the actor’s needs so they are free to express themselves.
Shooting Moments of Clarity
What was it that inspired your short film Moments of Clarity?
A lot of things. I never perceived making Moments because before I made this movie, I was very strictly narrative and very classical in my film making. I didn’t think too much about how stories were told. I had a very clear vision of how they needed to be told. I was going through my life, I was dating and experiencing relationships with people. I think loss, not necessarily in relationships but loss of childhood and change and moving on and almost watching our life change in front of you. All of these things happened to me and people around me and I couldn’t explain it. I’ve used film as sort of the only way to express those feelings. It’s honestly one of the reasons I do art is to express when I can’t speak. With Moments I couldn’t write it down or say what it was verbally and that’s why I had to make it; because it was undefinable. I can’t tell you exactly what it is or where it came from. Moments was a big surprise to me and everyone else, especially how abstract it turned out.
How are festival submissions for Moments going?
We successfully did our KickStarted, so thank you to everyone who supported and believes in us. We just got our discs set up for submissions and we just attended our first film festival, FilmQuest, which was absurdly awesome. We have submitted to 42 festivals so far which I don’t think is a lot for normal submissions but this is all new for us; we’ve never entered this circuit before.
But it’s not about festivals to me. I mostly like meeting other artists and filmmakers. It’s the opportunity for our film to speak to people and that’s all I can ask for. Even if it doesn’t win awards or go to more festivals, I take it all as a blessing.
What do you want people to get from your films? What do you want to be known for?
I think I just want people to feel something. I think if someone feels something, negative or positive, it’s a good thing. I think if they felt nothing, it’s bad. Even if it was negative, at least it affected them. It made them question themselves or react a certain way. I don’t want people to feel like they are wasting their time. With a movie, we don’t think about time a lot nowadays because it’s everywhere to be wasted. Time is pocket change now. But I respect time and I want to be respectful of viewers who are giving their time to my films. I don’t want people to feel like they are wasting time. I can never give that time back. If it’s not effective, I don’ want it to be a waste. Like what the fuck is the point if it doesn’t change you? If one person is affected I feel like I’ve done my job as an artist. that’s all I could ask for.
What other filmmakers inspire you?
I’ve been on a Daniel Day Lewis binge lately. I’ve very awed by a lot of the cinematic world, all of the roles in it. Musicians inspire me so much; I was blown away by the score of There Will Be Blood. Directorially, Spielberg rings with my childhood. Scorsese has a fantastic way of telling stories. Darren Aronofsky is very insightful. I love the Coen brothers. Ron Howard is extremely touching. It’s very hard to hard to pick just one!
How do you find inspiration when you hit a road block?
I be alone. I search and I go out and experience other forms of art. I dance, I paint and draw, I play guitar and piano. I write poetry, I read. I inundate myself in other forms of storytelling and artistic mediums. If whatever I’m trying to say isn’t coming out through filmmaking or if I’m not read for another film, I must be feeling a feeling that I need to express elsewhere. I go to other mediums. I recently took a pottery class because I just knew I had to do it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your next big project?
There are a lot of ideas in the air. Right now I’m taking time to just do some work and maybe wanted to act a little bit to take a break. I don’t feel the need to pump out a film every month but that’s not to say I haven’t been struck with some fascinating ideas in the past few months. I have been flirting with the idea of a literary adaptation for a while because I have a very sincere place in my heart for literature. I want to honor it and if I don’t I may kill myself. I’m a bit morally nervous about that. I really want to do a short film of Dante’s Inferno and I want to be respectful as a scholar.
If not that, I think we are moving to a very science fiction direction without using too many special effects. I’m very upset with the digital world that film has started to depend on. If we go that direction, we want it to be prop and set based and alienesque, make it more tangible. Very heavily related on the science of it all. We are about teaching people things.
What is your advice to other artists/ filmmakers?
Listen. Listen to everyone and no one because no one knows what you are going through. No one knows you and what you have and you need to listen to that. At the same time you need to observe, see, and learn. Learn form other people. That doesn’t mean you have to follow them or learn from them directly.
If someone tells you your story isn’t work doing just say, “Well fuck, you don’t know, do you?” Take in what they say but do you. Be passionate, take your time. All good things come. Good things come through a process. Learn from other’s experience; it’s relative to everyone. I could give a thousand advices but at the end of the day, do what is best for you.
A huge huge HUGE thank you to Ebbie for sitting down with me and filling me with more inspiration and passion than I can fit in one post or on one whole blog. Also I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again… Ebbie… if you do decide to do Inferno, I will play Satan so hard. Just, you know, let me know.
Thank you for reading the interview and giving my blog your time. Like Ebbie, I don’t believe in wasting time and can only hope that you have gained as much as I have from this interview and my writing in general. Til next month, lovelies.
Also, please check out Blooming Studio’s Facebook page and the page for Ebbie’s short film, Moments of Clarity. Links abound below!

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