The aesthetics of filmmaking with Nuh Omar

  • 26 Jun - 02 Jul, 2021
  • Alina Qamar
  • Interview

Making a career as a filmmaker requires painstaking determination, resilience and vision. It can be a tough road to travel. Film directors are typically hired on the strength of their track record making it very difficult for aspiring youngsters to get a foothold in the industry. The only way in which young filmmakers can build up a portfolio of work to attract potential producers and investors is to start off as an independent filmmaker. The award-winning Pakistani writer and director from Los Angeles, Nuh Omar, shares his insights and experiences with MAG as one such filmmaker. Excerpts follow:

When did you become interested in working as a filmmaker, and what influenced your decision to pursue this career?

I became interested in filmmaking when I was five years old. My family were movie buffs, back in the day of VHS, we had hundreds. I had a lot of exposure. When I saw Jurassic Park I remember asking my mother who made it, and she told me Steven Spielberg was the director. I decided then and there to become a director.

I solidified my choice in my early teens after my late great-uncle, Omar Kureishi, told me my storytelling was strong, and not to give up my pursuit. He often encouraged me to write, even when I was very young.

What do you hope to accomplish as a director?

It’s hard to pinpoint one accomplishment. You evolve as time goes by, but there are messages you profile in your stories that do reoccur. I try my best to spin tales that have meanings of hope, altruism, empathy, encouragement, and support.

Mental health is important to me. I’m very open about my struggles with depression, and I try to reflect those constant internal battles into my work, if only to show others and myself that there is a silver lining.

The world often feels bleak, and sometimes even my stories have bitter-sweet endings, but my goal is to show people that the world is a better place.

Tell us about how you effectively communicate your directions to the cast and crew of a movie production.

The keyword there is communicate. You have to be prepared for anything, and having a game plan and a clear mind is extremely important.

Listening to them is just as important. If you disagree with the direction your talent wants to take with a character, or with a decision made by a department, communicate why it’s not the right choice for the story. Explain it, in detail. Give examples. Listen to their side, maybe their suggestion is better. It’s a collaborative process.

At what point do you recognise a film is finished and ready to be released?

As a director or writer, it’s never finished. Even today I look at projects I made a decade back and think “Three frames less and the pacing would have been perfect”.

You work on it, and hone it, you craft it, but eventually you need to realise you can’t touch it up forever. It really helps to have a second pair of eyes with you to tell you to step away as well.

That being said, sometimes it’s just your gut feeling. If it works for you, if it looks good to you, and you feel it’s telling the story you set out to tell, then you know it’s ready.

What advice do you have for filmmakers and videographers just starting out?

“Just go out and shoot!”parI’m kidding. Half-kidding.

Know what your goals are, and know your worth. A lot of blooming filmmakers get swindled or discouraged because of a few bad eggs in the industry. It’s very easy to fall into their trap, and I’ve seen a lot of great filmmakers give up because they aren’t reaching their goals fast enough, and to top it off they feel a great amount of push back that leaves them wanting out of the game.

You will not hit it big overnight; that is the reality. It could take a year, it could take 10 years, but do not sway from your goals, and do not compromise. You are worth more than that. Take that extra time to hone your skills, and eventually you’ll get there. But don’t give up on your dreams. Be patient, everyone starts somewhere.

Lastly, what projects are you working on next?

I have a few things coming out the gate. I can’t go into detail on most of them at this time, that’s the politics of filmmaking. There’s a lot of TV pilots and shorts I’m working on now, but I’m also writing two features.

Perhaps my favourite is what I’m working on with New York based writer, Mark Davis. We’ve been working on The Alexandrian, a TV historical drama about the life of Cleopatra.

I have another pilot I finally wrapped up called I’m Here, about a tabloid journalist who interviews monsters of folklore and legend to tell their side of the story. It’s an examination of my own experiences in the American heartland, told with a magical realism-fantasy twist.

I’m penning two features, The Imaginary Friend Society, a family film about what happens to imaginary friends when children are done with them. And Ghosts, a film set in the 90’s about two journalists of colour who travel the south chronicling the growing American Militia Movement, while coming to terms with their own relationship. •