Last year, ÉCU handed the short script prize to Tannaz Hazemi and James Grimaldi’s heart-wrenching drama, BEFORE THE BOMB. Tannaz has since taken the story from script to screen and returned triumphantly into our Official Selection. We caught up with her to see how she got from self-funded micro budget films to her latest project being picked up by Vice.
Who is Tannaz Hazemi?
Tannaz Hazemi was born in 1979 in mid-revolutionary Iran and raised as a refugee in Sweden, until the age of 13 when she moved with her family to the US. After high school in Chicago she lived and worked in NY, Milan and Paris, and ultimately moved to Brooklyn where she currently works as a writer-director. She speaks 4 languages.
At 19 she published a book on contemporary music in conjunction with MTV Italy (“99,” Oscar Mondadori) and worked as a freelance journalist covering pop-culture for Italian publications such as GQ, Grazia, and Panorama. This led to an on-screen career with Italian Tele+ and later VH1. She began writing fiction and published a short story edited by Hisham Matar for UK-based To Hell With Publishing.
In 2010 she wrote her first screenplay and was represented by Darin Friedman at Management 360. Since then she has been commissioned to write scripts for directors Ace Norton, Nabil Elderkin, and Henry-Alex Rubin. She began directing in 2011 and has written and directed 4 short movies.
Her most recent short Before The Bomb was completed in January 2015 and won several writing awards (including Best Short Script of ÉCU 2015). She is currently in pre-production on a short movie produced by VICE.
#1/ How’s it going?
At the moment I’m freezing my ass off because it’s 7 degrees in New York [-14 Celsius] but honestly, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. I love New York. It makes so much sense to me and I will endure almost anything to be here.
#2/ What are you up to at the moment?
I’m basically on these two projects. BEFORE THE BOMB is finished and it’s being sent out to all the festivals. We kind of finished everything earlier this month, all the sound and everything so I was busy doing that. It’s a great feeling being finished with all of that and I’m starting pre-production on this new short [GARLIC IN THE GLUE] which is really exciting because it’s the first time in my life that I don’t have to raise a fee for a short or go on KickStarter or beg, borrow and steal. They’re paying for it!
#3/ Do you feel like you’ve made it?
Haha. I feel like I have! My family disowned me, they’ve financed everything I’ve tried to do at this point and my poor friends. I always try to give back when other people do their projects too. It’s a community.
#4/ What kind of films are you into? Old, new, long, short?
Short films definitely. I think they’re wonderful and I don’t understand why they don’t have a bigger market considering people’s attention spans seems to be getting shorter and shorter. People don’t want to commit that much time but they wan’t to be entertained so it’s such a great format. I was a programmer for Slamdance Festival this year and I watched roughly 250 short films. I loved doing that. I recently re-watched DOUBLE INDEMNITY. The script is just incredible.
#5/ What was your inspiration for Before The Bomb?
When I was fourteen I had my first girlfriend and when she had been ten or eleven she had been removed with her brother from her alcoholic pill-popping mum and she had been in her adopted family without her brother actually for three years before I met her so it was very fresh in her mind, everything that she went through. It’s one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever experience first-hand because I was so close to her, it wasn’t something you read in a magazine, it was right there. These things happen in your life and you don’t think about them for a long time, but they stay there and they grow into their own thing and one day they just come out. There are a lot of really strong feelings around that story for me, still, even though I’m now in my thirties.
#6/ What changed from script to screen?
A lot. Your writing brain is much more complicated than your eye. As we started shooting things i could have saved money from a whole day of shooting because I’m now using about two thirds of the script in the final product. You need more time if you’re going to make it that complicated. There’s a lot of emotions, there’s a lot of characters for a short movie. I learnt a lot about how simple it needs to be. Coming at it from a writer’s point of view is way more intricate. Directing is a different skill-set. I’m very green at directing so I’m learning how your writing brain goes to your directing brain. It’s very different.
#7/ Is there anything you’re sad that got cut?
There was a beautiful shot of the kids asleep on the couch where you could hear the news and they had garbage on them but they’re so sweet. It was such a perfectly lit shot but the truth it’s 23 minutes and I just didn’t need it so I said my goodbyes. It was really sad but it had to go.
#8/ Was there anything that made it into the final cut that wasn’t in the script?
There were wonderful moments of what the DP and I would call “fifty fifty” which was a codeword for keep shooting. You almost have to trick kids a little bit, to get them comfortable enough to do what they want to do and one of the great tricks is to pretend you’re not rolling. The opening voice over for the movie when they’re just chitter-chattering. We stole that from one of the “fifty fifty” shots. That’s one addition that we didn’t plan for.
#9/ How do you work with your co-writer James Grimaldi?
James and I have worked on a couple of projects together. He’s a screenwriting teacher at SVA (School of Visual Arts, NY) He gives me his notes and writes what he thinks. The way that we work together is I will write something and send it to him, and he will tell me what he thinks and I will make changes and I will put his name on it, and vice versa. He’ll write his stuff and send it to me because our strengths are very different. He’s a wonderful writing partner who really made the film what it is.
#10/ If you had unlimited budget, what would be your fantasy project?
I’ve almost finished my script for a feature. After all the different things that I’ve written, I can’t imagine anything else that I could be more excited about. It’s the story of these two women who go to jail for very petty crimes in a Canadian prison where everyone is very nice and polite to them. The crimes that they committed were basically not crimes. They become friends in prison and decide they’re going to break out and there’s no violence involved, there’s no trickery involved, there’s a couple of really bad ideas and they make absolute fools of themselves but because of the system they’re able to get out. It’s a ridiculous comedy friendship story set in Canada.
#11/ How did Vice get involved with your latest project?
Vice is going very heavily now into scripted material, which they never did before. They have a film division, which they announced are going to start with micro-budget movies. Through some friends I managed to get my script into the hands of the person who is responsible for general content at Vice. He liked it and sent it around and I ended up with an executive producer there who was interested in producing it and now finally it’s for real happening.
#12/ If you could talk to your younger self, what writing advice would you give yourself?
A couple of things. Keep writing. When you hit hurdles, keep writing. You get so disappointed and frustrated and then you just want to give up or you want to throw that project out but don’t throw it out, just put it aside or just keep writing. I would also say don’t write for an end result, write because you feel something and then the end result takes care of itself. I wasted a lot of time trying to write something which became so contrived instead of being excited about this character or dynamic or situation and letting it shape itself.
#13/ Are you coming out to Paris in April?
Of course! I’ll see you there.
Watching “Before the Bomb”, you’ll recognize the song “The Great Pretender”, originally recorded back in the ’55 by The Platters. Now Soko’ s reworked it once more to soundtrack Hazemi’s short film Before the Bomb and it has just become available on Noisey/Vice.
Here the itunes link.
“Before the Bomb” from Tannaz Hazemi on Youtube.