by Yasir Masood (writer/director, The Last Hunt)
In this special filmmaker blog post, AFF 2017 Alumni Yasir Masood recounts how his experience at AFF led to him creating his next viral project.
So there we were, a 3 car caravan full of dark-brown men and a small (unloaded) arsenal heading towards the Mexican border under the star-filled Texas night sky. We couldn’t use Google to navigate so we traced our fingers along a print-out physical map under the lights of our phones. I wasn’t thinking about my practicing my lines, our hotel reservations, or the risk of being mistaken for a small militia, I was just hoping that this place, Indian Head, existed.
“Can you just give me the address, so I can plug it into Google?” I remember saying to John Green, Head of the Big Bend Film Commission 3 days earlier. It was past my lunch break, so I walked out of the office for what I thought would be a quick phone call. I applied my sales cadence from working 50-hours a week as a freight broker into cold-calling for set locations. We were in a pickle; our current location would not allow for our 3 unloaded assault rifles (although legal) into the national park. Somehow John mistook me as someone who had produced a movie before. “There’s no address for where you’re going son and I doubt you’d have signal for your phone anyways,” he said in his West Texas drawl. We finally made it to the hotel and quickly piled up on the floor of the room and slept until sunrise. We didn’t have a strict shooting schedule, craft services, and weren’t even sure where our exact location was yet somehow, we managed. We were extremely lucky.
Fast-forward a year, my partner Quoc Huynh and I had a couple more projects under our belt and The Last Hunt, our West Texas shot first film, had been accepted to premiere at the Austin Film Festival. As a young filmmaker, I believed there was an artistic merit in the run and gun style we directed, wrote, self-produced, and managed the set and crew. What I soon learned, however, was that we were doing a huge disservice to ourselves and others by spreading ourselves too thin and not doing things the right way. At times when we should have been talking to actors we were worried about getting people fed, when we should have been editing our scripts we were scrambling to get permits for locations. There was a beautiful madness to the way we operated our sets and that energy seeped into our work for better or for worse. We were missing one thing, a rockstar producer.
Screening at AFF was one of the most formative experiences of my filmmaking career. I went from meeting my idol, David Simon creator of The Wire, to having intimate conversations with some of Hollywood’s elite screenwriters and producers at the AFF Roundtable Discussions, to soaking up every bit of other filmmakers’ journeys through their respective workshops. I learned how to perfect a crowdfunding campaign directly from the CEO of Seed & Spark, Emily Best, and at night we were usually in line for some of the most critically acclaimed films of the year like Ladybird, Call Me By Your Name, and I, Tonya, 6 months or so before they came out. I even recall Jason Fuchs, the screenwriter for Wonder Woman, stating that some of the most powerful agents and producers in Hollywood, people who were very particular about who they’d speak with, could all be found late nights drinking at the Driskill. The veil that shrouded Hollywood’s elite playmakers had been lifted for that week in Austin nonetheless. Naturally, we went by every after-hours party and social gathering. Little did I know, however, the most important relationship I’d make was within the first hour of the festival.
Aishwarya Noubad was a UT student and registered our badges as we checked in for the festival. She recognized me from Hunt, a film she really liked that she saw screen at the AFF office beforehand. She told me that she was a producer and that she was actively looking for projects to take on. I was excited and soon pitched her the script that I was working on right then and there about a Muslim-American undercover cop in Houston, who by coincidence went by the name, Aisha. She loved it, and not a week after AFF we began working on our next film.
In her, we found someone who was not only equally ambitious and passionate but believed in the power of films to entertain, enact change, and ultimately bring us together. She was our powerhouse producer. Naturally, we still had our ups and downs with production but she took on each task gracefully and helped foster a family-like environment amongst the cast and crew, just how the filmmakers from AFF advised. There are always things on set that you can’t change, you’re always going to have to make quick decisions, you’re always going to feel somewhat rushed, but with the stern schedule that Aish laid out for us, I felt really confident moving from scene to scene. That confidence that she instilled upon set made every challenge feel small and allowed me to be the best director on set that I could be. We were now the antithesis of what we were, our sets were organized, our shot list was efficient, our crafty was excellent but that entrepreneurial spirit was still and stronger than ever mostly because of Aish’s tenacity.
The teaser for Aisha, produced by Aishwarya Noubad was released in May. In a matter of days, it struck a chord on Houston Twitter amassing over 1,000 retweets and 40,000 views in a couple of days and around 175,000 views on Facebook. As young filmmakers, it is very assuring to have people respond to your work but more importantly, it was a testament to how much we pushed each other to become better filmmakers and how that energy almost always permeates on screen. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort so when you begin to work with individuals that complement your own shortcomings the journey becomes so much easier to navigate.
For Houston. By Houston.— Yasir (@Yasirio3) May 29, 2018
Aisha is a about an undercover police officer who attempts to balance her day to day cultural responsibilities with her career in law enforcement. New film aims to explore the cultural landscape of Houston, TX the most diverse city in America. pic.twitter.com/zLwg4fmQgn