It?s said that in times when everyone is outgoing and bold it?s best to be cautious, and in times such as these when everyone is cautious and conservative, it?s best to be bold and forward-thinking. I believe now is a time to not hold back. To really make an impression and push yourself. My belief is to make ?lms that belie the budget they were made for, ?lms big in scope and ideas.
The ?rst ?lm I made, at the age of eleven using my cousin?s Hi-8 camcorder, was an epic story of a robbery in a post of?ce, followed by a car chase, a shootout in a canyon and ending with a Western style standoff. And all of it was shot in the living room. But in my head I saw all of these locations – and that, for me was the magic of cinema. The places it could take you with just a little suspension of disbelief.
My name is Azhur Saleem and I?m a freelance ?lmmaker based in London. I studied at the London Film School which was an amazing experience for me. I?m working on several ?lms at the moment, two feature scripts and a short ?lm currently in the pipeline.
To push oneself is a scary prospect. A lot of people prefer safety and security. But being scared in what you?re doing is a good sign. It means you?re treading new ground. That can only be good. There?s no point in doing something if it?s just a retread of work you?ve already done. Before one shoot (the 50th Anniversary trailer for The London Film School) I was so terri?ed that I may have bitten off more than I could chew, that I was seriously considering breaking my arm so that I wouldn?t have to go onto set and tackle the project!
But I?ve come to learn that it?s a good sign if I?m terri?ed of doing it. It?s a good fear that keeps the ?re alight and the passion in me. Anytime I don?t feel that about a project I know I?m not pushing myself.
The short ?lm I?m currently working on is Caul. The story is based on an old Polish folktale about vampires – and vampires in the traditional sense. The folktale goes that if a child was born with a caul over its head, essentially the amniotic sac, this meant that your child was doomed to become a vampire. The only way to prevent this would be to keep the caul, dry it, grind it and feed it to your child on its seventh birthday. Wonderfully and terrifyingly gross!
With this story, I?m interested in how superstitions can take such a hold over people to cause them to act in questionable ways. The ?lm is set in the seventeenth century and takes place entirely within the family?s home. The story revolves around the dinner scene where they try to feed their son the caul. It?s rooted in that very human situation of being force fed food you don?t want to eat as a kid. Only this time, it?s weighted with a life and death situation.
For a short ?lm, it?s very ambitious. Being a period ?lm means that pretty much everything will have to be designed and built for the ?lm – the set, the costumes and the props. This isn?t to mention the make up effects I want for when the young boy does actually turn into a vampire.
To get this ?lm off the ground I?ve turned to crowd-funding site IndieGoGo. It?s the ?rst time I?ve ever done crowd-funding and has been quite an experiment to see if an ambitious ?lm with a high budget can pull in the ?nances this way. The results haven?t been as strong as what I was hoping for and to tell you the truth, I?m not really sure why. Maybe it is too ambitious and people aren?t willing to part with their money for something that they believe may not reach the screen. Or maybe it?s that, due to the artwork we?ve got for the ?lm and our pitch video, people may think we?ll be successful in raising the funds without their help and hence don?t donate. It?s an interesting process and quite tough to ?gure out what needs to be done to secure our budget.
But despite that, it?s de?nitely not something I want to give up on. It?s a fantastic story and I know I need to make this ?lm. It?s going to be terrifying and atmospheric and it?s a story that I for sure have never heard of before. With this ?lm I want to exercise and exploit everything I?ve learnt so far in areas of performance, design, color, cinematography and sound design.
So the last thing I want to do is get downhearted about the funding! I believe that things have a way of working themselves out – they have for me in the past and I know there?s someone out there who also believes the same thing, who would love to see this ?lm realized. Maybe it?s you reading this right now.
You may wonder what keeps me going when faced with such obstacles. I?m de?nitely not the only one who has the issue of raising money – that?s the hardest part of ?lmmaking and we all have to suffer through it. People tell me to make ?lms that ?t to the resources that are available and to be frank I believe that if you can make a ?lm that pushes beyond the boundaries imposed on us it will get the right attention from the industry. It?s this belief that keeps me going.
This belief can be interpreted simply as passion. Passion for this industry and passion for telling stories. Yes I?m sure a lot of people say they have passion but I think many mistake passion for pleasure or excitement. They?re different things. The word passion comes from the Latin passio, which implied suffering and the endurance of hardship. To be passionate, truly passionate, demands a willingness to suffer for the object or cause of your passion. It is unswerving commitment in spite of pain and loss. Rooted in either cocksure con?dence or calculated commitment, a passionate person earns their title because of their un?inching persistence in the face of opposition.
Knowing this suddenly makes it a whole lot easier to deal with the obstacles facing you and it?s what I remind myself of everyday. I hope with this article I can inspire other people to make those grand ?lms they?ve always dreamed of and to make them now. Sure we all need help along the way, but if you really want something you?ll create the right environment to make those opportunities appear – despite the dif?culties we face.
To ?nish off, I have a quote that pretty much sums up my attitude to ?lmmaking. It?s pinned to my wall above my Mac and whenever any doubts creep into my mind I just glance over to it and it reassures that what I?m doing is the right path for me.
The quote is from Chicago architect, Daniel Burnham and is perfectly suited to any creative endeavor.
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men?s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.
Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Thing big.”
Azhur was born in Manchester, UK. With a lifelong passion for ?lmmaking, he has been working towards his dream since being a young boy. After university, he became an assistant editor at a post-house in Manchester, then moved to London to work in the production of?ces of a music video company.
He then enrolled onto the MA course at the London Film School where he was involved with many short ?lms as director, producer, editor and numerous other roles. He speci?ed in writing and directing for his graduation ?lm. Azhur also won two awards for his spec commercial for Pilsner Urquell, “The Travelling Magician” at the Kodak Student Commercials Awards in 2005, the ?rst time an LFS student had won in over a decade.
His ?rst commission was to write and direct the ?lm school?s 50th Anniversary Trailer, which is now screened at all ?lm school events and screenings across the UK as well as events in Europe and the US. The spot was nominated for a Young Director Award at the Cannes Golden Lions in 2007.
Since becoming freelance, Azhur has worked for clients ranging from BBC Films and HBO Films, WaterAid, Ford Motors and General Motors in the US. His last commercial was for Ford Mustang, commissioned by JWT Team Detroit and Filmaka.com and screened on NBC with the latest Knight Rider series. He also wrote a viral for Snickers through BBDO New York.
He is currently working on two feature scripts, “The Marionette Unit” and “Earth 2.0”. The proof-of-concept trailer for “The Marionette Unit” has garnered a lot of interest and support for the ?lm. The ?lm?s of?cial website has reached almost 3 million hits and interest has come from various producers and ?nanciers in London and in LA, including people from Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox.
He is also developing a 13-part television series as well as a number of shorts and spec commercials and is repped for commercials through Irresistible Films in London.