Elia Petridis

Raised in Dubai, Hollywood director and writer Elia Petridis is creating waves with his most recent movie, The Man Who Shook the Hands of Vicente Fernandez. As a young kid in Dubai, Elia followed his passion and was accepted for a Bachelor and Master Degree from The USC School of Cinematic Arts, the highest ranked film school in the world. After graduating from university, Elia started making a difference with his internationally recognised contemporary movies that are relatable to everyone. The writer-director features renowned American actor Ernest Borgnine who performed his last and final movie with Elia before passing away shortly after the film was released.

Our team had the opportunity to meet with Elia Petridis and ask him about his latest movie.


Tell us about your background experience?
I was born in Paris and then came to Dubai, since my parents already lived there. I went to DESS (Dubai English Speaking School), DC (Dubai College), EC (English College) and back to DC then to ASD (American School Of Dubai) because they had a film program and by the time I was 13, I knew I wanted to do film. I then graduated from ASD and went to USC School of Cinematic Arts and did my undergraduate and graduate degree from there.

Do you feel that since you grew up in Dubai that it was more difficult to excel in the filmmaking business than if you grew up in America?
Well, I’ve been making films since I was sixteen years old, but getting into USC had its own difficulties. I was always trying to do things that would make me different and unique from the next, which definitely helped me to get the filmmaking background that I needed. The main difficulty was getting into the film industry especially in LA, but I have learnt that you must really stick with it and be open to doing many other things. That is why I have learnt so many different parts of the business.


How did you know that filmmaking was your dream job?
Up until I was eleven years old, there was a moment where my mind flipped. I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist like Indiana Jones, but when I turned eleven, I realised I didn’t want to be Indiana Jones, I wanted to be the guy to tell him what to do.

What kind of equipment do you use?
The movie “The Man who shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez” was shot on a 35mm vision camera, whereas all my music videos are shot on the canon 5D. I prefer the 5D to the 7D when I’m shooting digital because it works for me in the scope of what I want to do, but when the price is right and the content fits the medium, I like the 35mm.

What special technique do you like to use and why?
When it’s film, I like to storyboard. I will draw my shots and choreograph them as drawn and stage them and then actually do them. I’ll have a storyboard artist sitting next to me and I’ll describe the shot, however, when I’m doing very quick projects, I always trust my DP and have him film what I want. I would rather get more footage than just look through the monitor.

What advice would you give to people just starting out with the industry?
It’s very obvious. If you want to make films, just make films. Get your iPhone or whatever device you have and make films.

What type of software do you use to edit the films?
Right now, I’m using Final Cut 7 since I’ve gotten used to it so it’s easier for me.

What inspired you when making the movie “The Man who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez” ?
The story was told to me by an old man who had gone through the experience. He went to a nursing home because of his injury, he mentioned he once shook the hand of Vicente Fernandez and all the Latino staff started treating him like a hero. I thought it was a really great idea along with a western theme. I actually wrote the film backwards, I wrote the last scene first and then in reverse.

Can you share with us your favourite behind the scenes moment while shooting the movie?
What I loved most was when Ernie (Ernest Borgnine) would be sitting around telling stories and the entire crew would be surrounding him and listening to him, just like in the movie.

What inspires you to make movies?
I like people to go have a night at the movies and “play towards the groundlings and the balcony”. Shakespeare used to say that a good play, is one that is made available to everyone who can and can not afford the balcony. I personally feel like everyone from a bus driver to a stockbroker is equal when they go to the movies and they are united by the experience of watching a movie.

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