Tell us about your background and when did you decide to become a filmmaker?
I come from Lebanon and theatre was part of my curriculum in school since I was 3 years old from religious plays to stories of the 1001 Arabian nights. (I even played baby Jesus which was my biggest role yet!) I came to Canada in 2006 to visit my grand mother, but due to the dangerous situation in Lebanon at the time, my family decided to stay in Canada. It has been 14 years that I’m in my home away from home and in that time frame, I saw plays in primary school, I acted and hosted shows in high school. The first play that I’ve seen in Canada that changed me was Romeo and Juliette at La Salle Odyssée in Gatineau, Québec. The charisma of the actors/actresses on stage inspired me to change the way I act on stage; to have fun on stage and to not be afraid to elevate myself. My drama professor saw that and he encouraged me to pursue this as a career! When I want to College, I studied cinema to see what goes behind the camera and the front of it and I went on to study in theatre at the University of Ottawa. Seeing other people making theatre or cinema projects, having the courage to release them into the world and receiving all kinds of encouragement pushed me to have a bit of perspective on myself: I want to tell cool stories too. That’s why I started writing, I started to collaborate with other local filmmakers in their projects as an actor and finally decided to do something for myself as a director with SCREECH.
Films that inspired you to become a filmmaker?
It’s a tough one, because the play Romeo and Juliette inspired me to become a better actor, but if I have to pick a movie it would be either Serpico (1973) or Scarface (1983), because Al Pacino’s performance in both of these movies were gold and influenced me as an actor. I say that “James Bond: The Man with the golden gun (1974)” is a movie that inspired me to become a filmmaker, because of how it is filmed and the theatricality of its set is so amazing! Capernaum (2018) by Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaké is so good and heartbreaking from the first frame you see from the movie. The way that it’s filmed with the hand held camera makes you feel like you are not watching a movie and the subject matter of it is so real it’s sad; there is a reason why it was nominated at the Oscars!
Who is your biggest influence?
My parents, because they worked so hard to give me the comfortable life that I have and to let me do what I love. My father liked and still listens to plays from Ziad Al Rahbani that he grew up with and his love for this art grew on me.
What were some of the challenges you had to face in making your films?
The biggest challenges that I had to face in making films was to work with people. My first short film was very simple, it was just a karate man and a ninja fighting off gangsters…it took me a YEAR to finish it, because my actors were dropping left and right, I had to change the story, there was problems with the editing and in the end, I just gave demo reel footage to my one and only co-actor. They say your first short film is always the hardest and its true! My second one wasn’t too bad, it was a music video done professionally for a relative who sings in a Lebanese choir in Toronto, it was just promoting it on TV or online that was a challenge I struggle with to this day. I was glad that with SCREECH, we shot everything within 4 hours, we had lots of fun, the editing was great and we got recognized for it! I am grateful that all went so well!
Do you have a favorite genre to work in? Why is it your favorite?
Technically my favorite genre is comedy, but I haven’t really done anything with it yet. I like comedy, because you can experience different things with it. You can laugh at a situation that could be very dramatic and it shows you how human the situation can be. Vice-versa, a funny situation can become very dramatic. You see it in the case of SCREECH where the couple is having intercourse and all of a sudden after the tv screech, you see the same act, that is supposed to generate happiness and pleasure, seen as a tool to give pain to someone else.
What’s your all-time favorite movie and why?
There is a lot of movies that I love, but one that has a special place in my heart would be Zorro (2003), because the action and the fight scenes were so cool and plus I remember watching it when I was a kid in the big cinema of Beirut in Lebanon’s capital. Ever since that day, I couldn’t help but love fighting in films. It got to the point, I would find a quiet space in my house to let my brain imagine fight scenes between fictional characters and acting them as if they were real…My family still thinks I’m crazy when they catch me in the act! In conclusion, this is how my love for writing fight scenes and coordinating them came about.
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
There is multiple people I would like to work with :
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I beatbox even though it has been a long time, I’m a black belt in karate and I draw!
The one person who has truly believed in you throughout your career.
There is many people who encourage me to pursue my passion, but if I have to say one person it would be God himself. I wouldn’t have the resources, the passion and the will to put in the work if it wasn’t for God.
What was the most important lesson you had to learn as filmmaker?
That every experience, good or bad, on a film set, in front of a laptop writing or just in life, will shape your knowledge on how to become the best version of yourself.
Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
These two things are both equally as hard. I was guilty of giving myself the satisfaction of saying what I want to do to other people and when time came to do it, my brain already got the satisfaction and I said to myself: what’s the point of doing anything at all? The thing that I had to conquer and, that I am still struggling with, is letting my ego or procrastination get the best of me and not letting me do anything. What sucks as well is that there is a lot of ways to deal with a problem, especially in acting or filmmaking, you just have to find the ones you like by trying and failing; what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for other people. At some point you are going to get impatient and frustrated, because of that, but I feel like if you trust the process, if you are patient enough and if you break down the project into steps, its more clear and you are able to do it!
What keeps you motivated?
How has your style evolved?
I think my style evolved by knowing clearly WHAT I want and HOW I want to tell a specific story through cinematography, lighting and sound, but also to not be afraid to try things on the fly.
On set, the most important thing is:
The project(s) you’re most proud of:
The most challenging project you worked on. And why?
It was a short film called Catharsis (2018) directed by Julian as well! I was playing a very small part which was Alex, a young teenager who committed suicide and in the scene I had to cry for the first time! I was worried about it not feeling natural so I was a lot in my head, but as time went on in my acting training, I realized that just doing it without thinking works just as well!
What are your short term and long term career goals?
Well, with our current situation with the COVID-19 virus, its really hard to tell what’s going to happen, but I would like to continue writing and acting as much as possible. Maybe professionalize myself as an actor, investing in one of my finished scripts and hopefully bring them to the screen professionally, maybe booking a professional opportunity as an actor in the near future.
Your next projects?
Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so our readers could keep track of your career:
People can find me on Instagram at @abouacting and on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/user105005527