People in the film business are gangsters. In Iran, it's extreme.
July 8, 2004
I never thought making a film would be easy. And
when I decided to make my first one in Iran, it often seemed as
though the idea of finishing the thing was more of a fairy tale
than something that might actually happen.
It was almost two years ago that a friend and I
started to write our proposal. There were characters and interviews,
scenes in mosques
and the bazaar. We were going to do it all and we were very excited.
We even raised a considerable amount of money to get the project
of the ground, getting non-profit status to further help our
From the beginning I was committed to making a film
that would be different than all of the others I'd seen about Iran:
it would question, not confirm, the many stereotypes by Iran and
Iranians held by Westerners. Since that was my primary goal and
I believe we have accomplished that, it's okay with me that
we have veered so far from the original plan.
You may have heard that people in the film business
are gangsters. This seems to be true around the world. In Iran
Film people are worse than rug merchants. When I first arrived
in Tehran I was invited to meet a well-known Iranian director who
told me of his colleagues, “Stay away from these people.
They're the scum of the earth.”
I assumed that he and the others I met had been
jaded by all the restrictions in Iran and the cutthroat approach
of movie producers.
They were artists and couldn't be bothered with the business
side of making films I thought. I was wrong.
During the first two months in Iran I began and
cut negotiations with several companies who wanted to “produce
which is a loose translation for wanted to “take my money.”
would stay in only the finest hotels. They told me. A chef will
be with you at all times. You will have a driver and perhaps
he will speak English. Your crew will be the best in the Middle
We will have Kiarostami's cameraman and soundman and the
one who does the lighting for Beyzaie. We will find the finest
young actors in the land...
It went on and on like this. I tried to explain
that the film was to be a very intimate documentary. A crew of
no more than three
or four at a time, including myself. And there was to be no actors;
we wanted real life.
But the producers couldn't get passed the green they were
envisioning that, as I young American who actually made it to Iran
and was in negotiations with them, I must have had access to. They
Finally, I realized I was wasting too much of my
money by not getting started. The expenses were piling up; an apartment,
to my girlfriend back home, food. I knew I was in trouble when
I had to give up dar bast taxi rides.
Instead of dealing with the problem head on though,
I ignored the producers. They would call and I wouldn't answer. They'd
leave a message, I wouldn't call back. For a couple of weeks
I even stopped answering my door. They were that persistent. At
the end of June they stopped calling.
I thought, naively, that when we began shooting,
all of our problems would magically disappear. I have to admit,
once the camera started
to roll things got more fun, but by no means was it easy.
Our production manager was a famous TV actor named
Behrouz, who was able to get us the required permits in a couple
of hours, which
none of the others who I spoke with was ever able to do, and
he did it before I gave him a single rial. This feat won him the
And his recognizable mug would get us out of several jams along
the way, as well as save us money and make sure that we were
fed on a couple of occasions when shooting went well into the night.
Our cameraman was a good friend of Behrouz's named Hossein.
Hossein had worked with many outstanding directors, and had a reputation
as having a steady hand. He did his job well, but no one warned
us of his propensity to talk on the phone, which he did almost
constantly between takes.
We set out on a location trip to visit the young
people I had chosen to tell the stories of Iran's contemporary generation. They
were scattered around the country in Mashhad, Esfahan, near the
Caspian and in Tehran. They had all agreed enthusiastically to
participate in the film. And when we arrived they all gave us the
excuses of why they couldn't do as promised. In this instance
tarouf would turn out to be very expensive.
My partner in the projects and its director Nader,
one of the last honest guys around, tried to keep it all together.
On the third day Nader and Behrouz came to me. Our
approach of filming a single character wasn't cutting it. Not only were
our characters not giving us the access we needed to see into their
lives, they were hamming it up for the camera, too. It made for
some very boring home movie type footage.
After a long chat we decided that I should be part
of the picture, as a sort of bridge between Iran and America. And
soon, as documentary
films often do, we were on a different path entirely.
For the next two months we traveled around Iran filming in locations
that truly represent the contrasts and beauty of Iran. We give
a window into the Iran that actually exists at the moment. Not
a complete view, but an honest one. I am always encouraged when
someone sees our footage and asks “Are you sure that's
Iran?” It's a question I get all the time from non-Iranians
and Iranians alike.
It looks like the dream of completing
the film is becoming a reality. We've produced a work in progress
piece that has been getting
very positive feedback from the audiences who've seen it [iranian.com
film festival in San Francisco]. With any luck
(film speak for: more funding) we'll be finished by the end of
If you'd like to learn more about
the film or how to contribute, visit my
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