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Working With The Tools You Have As A Filmmaker (Or How I Learned To Love Iranian Cinema)

If you are a young, idealistic indie filmmaker, scraping along, just looking for some angle into getting your work on Funny or Die or win Best Short at the Venice Film Festival, look to the East. More specifically, the Eastern world and cultures. Even more specifically, Iran. Yes, that Iran. No, seriously. Iranian director Jafar Panahi was just another independent film artist, making deeply emotional and provocative films under a very oppressive regime, one of the worst oppressive states in the world. So, what does a government like that do to an artist like Panahi? Well, they arrested him and throw him in jail, of course, for making “propaganda against the regime.” In 2010, he was sentenced to house arrest, awaiting appeals on his six year prison sentence, and a 20 year ban on producing any film of any kind. Now, this is where the average amateur filmmaker can lean in and learn something. What do you think our good friend Jafar Panahi did when he was confined to his apartment, and been banned from making films for two decades? He invested in an iPhone, and he made a film inside his apartment, of course. Rule 1: make sure the lighting is correct. Faces should be front lit, with soft diffused light. Don’t be afraid to move the camera around, and find interesting angles from unusual POVs (where would the cat go?), and finally keep the audio clear and deliberate. The dialogue should be clear, purposeful, and pushing a narrative of the situation. In short: be interesting. No jello-shot slurry babble that melts into everyone else’s incoherent nonsense. Basically, play with the camera (phone), use light in an interesting way, and make sure those that have a speaking role, they have something interesting, introspective, witty, and true. Our stories’ hero Jafar Panahi shot on his iPhone from inside his barricaded apartment, and he smuggled it out of the country on a flash drive stuffed into a wedding cake. That film, perfectly titled This Is Not a Film, make it to the Cannes Film Festival, The New York Film Festival, and the Warsaw International Film Festival. Iran is not a country that makes filmmaking easier; sometimes it can even be dangerous or illegal. But some of the greatest film directors, some of the best actors and some of the most innovative filmmaking techniques come out of this place, with modest tools and little public support inside their country. So nothing is stopping the American film artist from creating wonderful and interesting content that can be creative, provocative, and mostly legal. So get to work.

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Whenever you feel like you don't have what it takes to make an award-winning film, consider this story from Iran.

It's all about the story, people...

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