Faisal Hashmi : Filmmaker and Content Creator

Award-winning UAE-based independent filmmaker, Faisal Hashmi, is a self-taught, confident and multi-talented young individual whose short film ‘Perfect Living’ screened at the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner in May 2011. Since then he has become a force of nature. Catch him as a regional guest at this year’s Middle East Film and Comic Con Festival, one of the biggest pop culture events in the Middle East. We had the chance to speak with Faisal before the festival and learnt more about how he initially started off within the film industry.
How did you get interested in filmmaking?
Unlike some filmmakers who knew they wanted to make films since childhood, I didn’t have something like that because I never really thought being a filmmaker was an attainable thing to dream of. But ever since I was in school, I was interested in telling stories and used to write short stories after school and keep them to myself. During college, I realised that my stories are visual in nature, so I started writing them in screenplay form and learning how the structure works. After about a year of just writing things, I realised that in the UAE it’s not feasible to just be a screenwriter, unlike Hollywood. I wanted to pick up a camera and make one of my scripts to actually see it as a real thing but I knew I had zero resources. So I wrote a short thriller script that takes place in an apartment with mainly one actor and approached my best friend to star in it. We shot it one Friday on a small handy-cam. I loved that process so much that I knew instantly that I didn’t want to be just a writer, but a filmmaker instead, and I haven’t looked back since. I don’t have any formal film training because I got my degree in marketing, but I am lucky to be born in a time where you can learn everything about a craft by simply researching it online and by doing it a number of times to see what works and what doesn’t. Filmmaking for me has always been born from the passion of sharing stories and that’s something I always keep in mind whenever I’m doing something.

What did your journey in filmmaking look like?
While I never went to film school, the first real breakthrough for me was when I did a short film in 2011 called ‘Perfect Living’ and it was selected by the Abu Dhabi Film Commission at the time to be a part of the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner to represent cinema from this region. It really solidified by ambition and gave me faith that this is something viable to pursue in the UAE. My next short film ‘Bubble’ won an award at Tunis Human Rights Film Festival and I was invited to fly and attend the festival in person, which was a dream come true. Since then, my short films have screened locally at festivals like Dubai International Film Festival, as well as various film festivals in the United States, Europe and Africa. A lot of the short films I do lately are horror thrillers, which are very well received by people and festivals internationally that truly love the genre. On Youtube, my short films have over 600,000 views combined, which is insane. Just last week I watched a ten-minute reaction video of a bunch of guys reacting at watching my last short film ‘Sleight’, so it’s surreal, to say the least!
When do story ideas usually hit you?
I’m think of story ideas every single day no matter what I’m doing. A lot of my story ideas come from me brainstorming ‘what if’ scenarios. What if a man who can’t sleep at night realises that someone is leaving fridge magnet alphabets on his door? What if a radio host who hates magicians gets a call from a so-called magician on the show who wants to do a live magic trick on air to prove him wrong? The last one is the plot of my lastest film ‘Sleight’. It’s these cool scenarios that really get my brain going and I start thinking of all the different possibilities and directions I could take the story in. I’ve had dreams where I vividly imagine a scene which becomes a basis for an entire short film. A lot of other times, I get great ideas for films while I’m watching mediocre or bad films in cinemas, because I’m constantly trying to guess what twists could occur in the film and then when sometimes they don’t, I write that down as something that I could use in the future since the film failed to capitalise on it. So, the inspiration strikes me everywhere.

After the critical acclaim for ‘Perfect Living’ in 2011, are expectations absurdly high for some of your newer projects?
The combination of ‘Perfect Living’ and ‘Bubble’ achieving great things really led to a lot of people from the film industry in Dubai discovering me, including other actors and filmmakers. The industry is so tiny here that if you create something good, people notice you and connect on social media. Because of that, I realised that I have a fast-growing number of people focusing on the work that I do, so I made an active effort to step up my work further and ease into the kind of films I really want to make, horror or genre short films. Currently, I have a lot more people watching the work I put out so there’s certainly a lot of pressure in my head about expectations and sometimes that can be a barrier when you start thinking about how others will perceive your work. I did come close to really overthinking that a few times but I’ve learned to really trust my gut and do the unique and interesting things that I want to do rather than cater to an audience’s expectations.
What according to you was the hardest thing to film so far and how did you manage to overcome that challenge?
In 2012, I did a horror short film called ‘Scrambled.’ It was a short film set entirely in a house and starring one actor throughout. It was especially challenging because I didn’t have a crew helping me. This was because we were filming at the actor’s company accommodation and he was allowed only one guest, so it was just me taking care of the camera, audio, lighting and everything else, with no one to help me whatsoever. It was very challenging to make even a ten-minute short film that way, especially since there were scenes where the light goes off. I had to remember to hold the camera in one hand and switch off the light with the other, mid-recording. The way I overcame it was to do my best by learning about different aspects of it like using microphones and how to create fake blood, because I knew it was just me who could do this. The result was a film that I’m very proud of, despite the rough edges, because I know the backstory of what an insane feat it was to get it made.

What advice do you have for young adults that wish to get into the film industry?
There’s no better time to be a filmmaker. Today, you have a higher resolution camera in your iPhone than most professional film cameras 10 years ago. The tools have become accessible to anyone, so now there are no excuses and the focus is on good content. So if you’re young and want to become a filmmaker, spend lots of time researching online everything you can about how to make a film – from writing a script to using a DSLR or phone and how to frame shots, to how to edit it together. Watch a lot of feature films and short films to learn from how they did it. Once you’re ready, write an engaging script, make a film with your friends and put it out there on YouTube, then write something else and do it again. That’s exactly how I did it and eventually, you will get better at it and suddently you will be a filmmaker. I know it’s hard to find the perfect location, actors or gear to make your dream short film but it’s better to have an imperfect but finished short film that you can learn from, rather than a perfect short film that doesn’t exist. So go out there and learn by doing. And remember, don’t just move the camera, move the audience.
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