Why, hello, inner geek! Sure, I’d be happy to. I am Greek-Lebanese, born in Beirut, raised in Dubai. As in Dubai 1980 – 1998 – old school Dubai, although I do go back once a year. In 1998, I started USC Film School and majored in Cinema-Television Critical Studies before going on to get my MFA from the production program.
My film journey has led me to some amazing corners of the art form. My first feature, The Man Who Shook The Hand Of Vicente Fernandez was the last feature film of the late, great Ernest Borgnine. Needless to say, that was an extremely pivotal and moving project to make. Since then I have been building foundations in immersive entertainment as well as traditional mediums, all in the pursuit of the next great story to tell.
How did you get into directing and filmmaking?
My parents are both avid film lovers. They watch a lot of content. Even to this day they consume an insane amount of films and tv shows, so it’s always been ingrained in me and a huge part of my life from a very young age. Also, being raised as an ex-pat in a diverse, international environment during the 80s, we never latched onto the rating system. The minute my folks could see that I was old enough to tell the difference between art and life, film and reality, that I was able to identify make-believe as make-believe, I was actually allowed to roam free and explore any title from Nightmare on Elm Street to The Postman Always Rings Twice at a pretty young age.
From there, one thing led to another until I picked up my first camera around freshman year of high school, then soon after ended up at The New York Film Academy for the summer when I was 16. Spent the next at Harvard studying theater acting, which kept me focused on the Thespian club and video classes at school, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What prompted you to create Filmatics and what sets it apart?
I opened Filmatics so I would own the rights of my thesis film out of USC in 2006 instead of the school. And kept it open from there, running my productions through it. Now the company has an amazing team behind it that supports our productions. It’s different because it sits at the top of a transmedia network, parenting and providing the production arm of Fever Content on immersive entertainment agency campaigns. I have a strong passion for telling stories across platforms, building transmedia universes, and staying relevant in how to engage with audiences as generations change. That’s why the relationship between Filmatics and Fever Content means a lot to me as it lets me express myself in whole new ways.
Talk to us a little bit about Jesca Hoop’s video for, “Red, White, and Black” and the inspiration behind it.
So for this one, before drawing on my skill set as a director, I actually dug into my principals as a creative director first. Here was this incredibly detailed, nuanced track and artist that was communicating a complex commentary on social injustice to fans. How do you pair it with a video that brought everyone into the conversation as the song wanted to do, as opposed to creating something that might be combustible? And then it came to problems I was seeing in the creative phase when people were discussing the piece. That, alone, became enough story for me to tell.
And then the high concept actually came really fast. Someone at the table said to me, “I wish people could see how much we’ve had to go through, the oppression, and the struggle, to just get here, just get to a place where everyone is talking.” And I took it literally…How MUCH we’ve had to go THROUGH…turned around and said to the room, “Who has seen Atomic Blonde? Who remembers that fight scene?” It just felt right because combining broad entertainment with big, complex ideas is the part of the art that excites me the most. Come for the fight scene, stay for the conversation; groundings and balcony. That’s why I am a fan of Hollywood. Show. Business. Or else I’d be making national cinema somewhere. And as a creative director, I was trying to sell this idea through to a broad audience.
Everyone in the diverse team at that point got super excited. And then the cold sweat kicks in. One take fight scene with the most awesome choreography shot in a day? It took them 5 weeks to pull off that scene in Atomic Blonde! But I don’t really mind the cold sweats, you can work through them as long as that moment of inspiration is really sturdy and lasts for the entire journey, which it did.
You’ve done 5 music videos with Jesca. Describe the relationship between you both.
Jesca makes songs that make me want to make movies. It’s that simple, really. I love the music itself, I love the footnotes, I am very much a fan and I think the body of work is really impactful. Every one of her records takes me back to a place, a time, and a pile of specific memories scored to the music. She’s an artist that has played a very formative part of my own artistic evolution by contributing a large chunk of the soundtrack of my life. We’re also old friends so we know each other’s quirks by now, we know how to laugh something off, how to hear each other out, and how to support each other in our distinct mediums to feel empowered and ready for anything. So it’s just a lot of fun getting into it together, figuring things out, devoting creative energy, but at the same time not overcooking it.
There are so many music videos out there. How do you make every one of yours stand out above the crowd?
Good question. I try to stay in tune as to where I’d like to go as a filmmaker. Why did me and the music found each other? If I’m going to push myself as a filmmaker using a cool technique I always consider there’s nothing to gain by doing the best version of that technique, instead, I have much more fun doing MY version of a technique. I could never do “the best one-take fight scene ever.” That creative idea was bred for a reason. What is it? What’s the human truth there? I try to stay in tune with that reason and make a scene like no other because of the unique human signature on the dotted line. If you look at the other Jesca Hoop videos I’ve done, you’ll find ghost stories, Hitchcock dream loop thrillers, grade school musicals, all driven by a human truth of the song and my own personality’s relationship to it.
What’s next for Filmatics?
We’re putting a slate together of more music videos and narrative-driven content. Our sister company Fever Content just released an immersive entertainment campaign for Intellexual – Nico Segal and Nate Fox – which included a 360 piece, AR filters on Snapchat, Spotify canvas videos, social media, and behind-the-scenes follow-ups. It’s for their track Popstar off their debut album and the 360 piece is about 2 girls in a relationship who are at wits ends, about to break up, while their reflections are still very much in love. So the reflections step out of their mirrors, reconnect, go on a trip down memory lane, through a mirror maze of optical illusions. When they return, they might just have managed to have the couple change their mind and stay together. It’s a classic love story, told through a modern couple and I’m really excited to share it with the world.
What advice would you have for aspiring directors?
Make, make, make. You have no excuse. You have a camera in your pocket all day long and a billion different places to put content up. Also, don’t expect to compete if you’re actually not GOOD at something. Get good at what you do. Devote yourself to the craft. The camera, acting, screenplay structure, scene work, post, camera techniques, lighting, all of this matters because having a command on it gives you value as an artist. That’s why you should make as often as possible if not to simply learn everything there is to learn along the way. And for heaven’s sake WATCH content. Advertisements, trailers, films, TV shows, etc…consume as much as you can to stay relevant in the conversation. Art is constantly evolving, try not to get left behind or shut yourself off, unless it’s on purpose.
What’s your life like outside of film?
I write, play, and listen to a lot of music. I’ve been playing drums and piano since I was 13. I have a small Gretch waist kit with an 18-inch bass drum and a loyal upright piano and I love them both dearly. I also have a dog called Rex. He is a small purebred Maltese who has 12 champions in his tree. But I don’t show him. He wears a man bun. And puts it up himself every morning, with painstaking attention to detail. God forbid, that dog ever let me do his hair!