Being A Film Director Is Not A Career Path by Occidental College Professor Aleem Hossain

Film Courage: You are sitting in traffic on Wilshire Boulevard. I’m sure it was a lovely Los Angeles intersection with lots of commotion [recounting how he developed the idea for his feature scifi film AFTER WE LEAVE], was this your first feature script that you were planning to write? Or had you written prior feature scripts?

Aleem Hossain, filmmaker and AR/VR creator, assistant professor in media arts and culture at Occidental College: I had written many feature scripts. Most of them I had written right after I got out of film school. Largely with an eye for trying to sell them or get them set up to be produced sort of within the studio system, a few of which I even liked.

Some of them I’m glad I wrote just because I think you need to write a certain amount of bad scripts just to get to a better script.

But yes I had been writing a lot and with a few things that had been well-received. I was still running up against the roadblock of people saying this is a potentially makable script but not with you as a director. You’ve never directed a feature. No one is going to take that risk.

And so AFTER WE LEAVE was my answer to that recurring complaint. I was like Fine, if that is the case I’m just going to go make my own movie and get that one excuse out of the way. I will be a feature filmmaker by making my own film and then I can hopefully return and get something bigger budget off of the ground.

Film Courage: And these were producers that you were pitching that were saying this?

Aleem: Producers, agents and never by the way in a mean way. I think appreciative of the work that I was trying to do and interested in the stories that I wanted to tell. But just being frank about the reality of who they were going to entrust “X” dollars with and that it would be a hard fight for someone who hadn’t made a feature. Which is sort of a catch-22 right? We talk a lot about access to the industry and if the access point is how come you haven’t already made something we get caught in this vicious circle. And so I just wanted to break out of that. For me the solution was just making a very small budgeted film that I could direct and craft in the way that I wanted, which again I did primarily as a form of self-expression.

I made the movie not as a career calling card primarily, not as a strategic movie in Hollywood, I made it because I just wanted to tell that story. I think the benefit is it now makes me a director in a lot of people’s eyes and it has opened more doors, but it wasn’t really my main reason for doing it.

Film Courage: Speaking of access…and I know we are taking a little bit of a…we are diverging a bit.

Aleem: That’s fine.

Film Courage: What are some of the misconceptions whether they are from students or other people in the industry about access and what have you seen from going through this process yourself, being told this yourself that you can’t do it…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).


Occidental College


AFTER WE LEAVE by Aleem Hossain


I’m a film writer/director, virtual reality creator, and professor. 

I grew up in a Connecticut town so small that Pizza Hut would not deliver there until 1997… but my family was very diverse and international. My father is a Muslim from Bangladesh who immigrated to the US. My mother was born and raised in Connecticut in a Roman Catholic family with roots in Italy, Spain, England, Ireland, and France. I grew up watching baseball and Bollywood, eating curry under a Christmas tree, and waiting for the day when Oreos would no longer use lard as an ingredient… also not until 1997! This multi-cultural mashup has shaped me as an artist.

Most recently, I wrote and directed AFTER WE LEAVE, a gritty sci-fi drama feature film won Best Feature Film at SCI FI LONDON in May 2019 and will soon be released theatrically in the United States.

I was selected for the initial Oculus Launchpad program, a VR incubator run by Facebook/Oculus, where I began developing my ongoing documentary VR series, I NEVER TOLD YOU.

I was an artist-in-residence at the 2017 VR Action Lab where I created NO EASY ANSWERS, a VR anti-bullying project, in collaboration with Google, Harmony Labs, and Screenwriters Colony. It has been translated into several languages and is used by Google Daydream in schools around the world.

I’m currently developing YOU ARE FOREVER, YOU ARE EVERYONE, an interactive narrative sci-fi VR experience with the support of the Tribeca Film Institute.

I am also the ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF DIGITAL STORYTELLING at OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE in Los Angeles where my teaching and research are focused on expanding how we tell stories and who gets to tell them.


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SAWGRASS on Youtube by Jack Peterson. Jack is an American filmmaker based in Chicago. He’s been featured in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and ABC News for his work as an activist. His first feature film, Sawgrass, is a psychedelic journey through Florida, featuring an extensive interview with the brother of the Las Vegas shooter. Sawgrass also features a performance by the Rock-afire Explosion, a vintage animatronic band created by famed inventor Aaron Fechter. Jack’s next feature film, My Perfect Everything, tells the story of a magician chasing an imaginary woman he met in 1989. My Perfect Everything is currently in the early stages of pre-production.