Being A Film Director Is Not A Career Path – Aleem Hossain

Being A Film Director Is Not A Career Path – 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 I 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 appreciate 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. Aleem: I think if we are specifically talking
about feature films, I think the biggest problem with access is that the business entirely
has changed since a lot of us fell in love with movies. There are just so many fewer smaller movies
being made but the studios and the big production companies that I have to think that opportunities
for new directors or less experienced directors aren’t even there. I actually think that a lot of that access
problem is they are not in the business of making those movies that they used to give
to a younger director. They are just making these huge movies. That being said I definitely think for sure
the overall industry has biases against and they are structural biases, they are biases
that come not from necessarily bad intentions but there are barriers to women, to people
of color, for sure. I think the hope right is that there is an
antidote to that where we can now make our own content. And I do think that that is a valid idea. That the way around the access problem is
to make stuff. But I think the funny thing these days is
I don’t know if the model anymore is make a low-budget film so you can then jump up
to a lower mid-budget studio movie. Because those don’t even exists. I think that really I have sort of re-thought
how I think about my career. I’m just going to keep making movies. I don’t actually expect there to be this
moment where all of the sudden where now I don’t have to self-produce or at least partially
self-produce my own movies because I don’t know if that path exists anymore. I really think that if I want to make these
movies then I will make them. The career of directing movies in Hollywood
there are so few films made these days that I don’t know that that is a path that one
sort of incrementally gets to. Sometimes you make a film good enough on your
own and you get that lightning strike and you can level up in a big way. But I don’t think there are more incremental
steps because I think there is nothing in between. Film Courage: When your students come to you
with questions about access are you telling them the same thing basically? Don’t try to make something just so you
can get to that next level so someone can “endorse” you? Aleem: I mean the very first thing that we
talk about at Oxy [Occidental College in Los Angeles, California] that the skills involved
in filmmaking and media making we don’t think of those as skills that are inclusively
for Hollywood. I think we live in a world where the ability
to tell your story and express yourself visually is something that everyone needs to do. Individuals, companies, non-profits, governments,
cultural institutions, all of them need to do that. So I think of this toolbox (artistically and
logistically) that we are giving people in the classroom as applying to a huge amount
of life. When we talk specifically about access to
Hollywood I do tell people that I don’t think that film director is a career. I think film director is an aspiration. I think independent film director is a calling
or I wish I had a better word than hobby because I don’t think it’s a hobby. But I don’t actually think it’s a career
path. I think it is a thing one does because you
are compelled to do it. If you were to corner even who you think of
as a successful independent director and ask them “Do you pay your mortgage with filmmaking
income this year?” So many of them will say no and that is just
the reality. That is not a reason to stop making movies. It’s a reason to ask myself “Why am I
making movies?” If you are making movies because you just
feel compelled to do it, that is the right answer.

20 thoughts on “Being A Film Director Is Not A Career Path – Aleem Hossain

  1. I think it’s a hustle, you don’t need a career to make money in the USA or 1st World Countries, if you got the Talent, the calling, the passion and knowledge there is always ways to make money out of anything. I’m not originally from The USA, I was born and grew up in Mexico and where I was living you only had 2 options to make money; doing things you don’t like legally…or make money doing things you don’t like illegally… At least when I moved to the USA I was able to make some income from My Passion of Filmmaking. In Mexico is a BIGGER struggle to just get a Camera alone lol, it’s hard to get money in filmmaking anywhere in the world I think but if you live in the USA it’s easier

  2. I agree with what he said. I think if you’re going into Filmmaking expecting to get rich then you have a long, long, long path ahead of you. Your heart of telling stories needs to be there first and not the career move. If it becomes a career that’s great but that shouldn’t be the drive I believe. I’m a filmmaker myself that only has shot short films but I will be shooting my first feature next year. My 9-5 at the moment is a video producer/ editor for corporate work. It can be a career for me but my passion and heart is in narrative storytelling and that’s what I have to do on my own. Keep the grind up and go for what you dream. Thanks Film Courage for always passing great info.

  3. My plan is to blow up then act like I don’t know no body😂
    Jk I NEED to be a videographer for a news station to make money for a living but i WANT to be a film director writer DP

  4. If you get into filmmaking expecting to be a millionaire then you are in for a rude awakening. Filmmaking is about making films. Big or small and a lot of them will be small. Success in the film business is decided upon the individual. Not everyone is Spielberg, Nolan, Scorsese, Kubrick.

  5. Totally agree, it is better to have another income and just make it because you have to make it. Else you will be force to take on projects just for the money and to pay rent

  6. You will know in your heart of hearts if you truly want to tell stories for a living. If you’re looking to make a quick buck and get rich, there’s always banking.

  7. I think that if you can't pay your mortgage, either you are not yet good enough, or you're swimming in the wrong pool.

  8. There’s only one reason why I wanna be a director. It’s because I have stories to tell, and I want to show them to the public.

  9. What barriers exist for women and "people of color" when anyone can make a film and there are lots of avenues for distribution?

  10. He’s right man it’s so crazy to see all these people you looked up to doing online courses and selling products online about being successful in the industry instead of just making their living doing what they’re talking about

  11. If you are making movies mainly to be famous and go to Hollywood. Then forget it. Tell your stories first but don't think Hollywood is waiting for you.

  12. I think people who haven’t made it a career, have made a career out of telling people that you can’t make it a career. You have to be kind of delusional to follow any of your dreams.

  13. What "barriers to women and people of colour"? There are many grants and schemes open to women and BAME people that exclude others, who have to compete on their merit alone. Down vote away.

  14. Well said. I've been a director since 1980 and things have changed drastically. Today, the only chance you have to work for the studios is to make a film that is not just good but makes the tops of people's head blow off when they see your film. Then you need to be blessed and "kiss the ring" of a major director or producer. It's your only hope.

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