Faisal Hashmi, a Dubai-raised expat, has dreamt of becoming a filmmaker from childhood. Beginning his journey as a writer, the self-taught serial short film maker has made it his life’s mission to crack into the big leagues.
He arrives at ITP Media Group towers for his photoshoot ahead of the interview, Hashmi is buzzing. “I’ve never really been in front of the camera,” he confesses to Efraim Evidor, ITP’s senior photographer.
After wrapping up the shoot we make our way to the cafeteria in ITP’s offices. Hashmi takes a keen interest in the large open space, the direction of the sun that’s peeking through the tall glass windows catches his eye. “This is a great location to shoot a film”, he says ponderously. Hashmi never stops thinking about his next move.
His love for cinema was instilled from a young age spending his youth writing stories. “I’m a story teller, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be,” Hashmi says. “I never knew I could become a filmmaker because this region didn’t have many examples of regional filmmakers, at least when I was growing up.”
In his teenage Hashmi revisited the stories he wrote and began looking at it from a cinematic standpoint. “I spent six months learning how to write screenplays and nuances involved. I spent another six months writing scripts and screenplays hoping that someone would direct it. I soon realised that you can’t sustain as a writer in this market, which is when I decided to write a script that I could direct myself.”
A decade to the date, Hashmi produced his first short film using a handy cam. “The film was shot in an apartment, and had two characters, both of whom were played by my friends that kept things easy. I chose to do a sci-fi film which, along with horror, is an easy genre. That’s when I realised I enjoyed the directorial aspect of filmmaking.”
He wrote, directed, produced and edited the film all by himself. “I decided to analyse my short down to every minute detail and critique it, but most importantly I learnt plenty from the experience.”
Hashmi was now firmly considering a career in filmmaking. He was, however, midway through pursuing a degree in marketing, and starting afresh in a film school wasn’t an option. It would have to be a self-taught exercise.
Fast forward to 2019 and Hashmi is hot off the plane from the United States having visited several horror film festivals, where his latest short movie Wicken was screened, earning much more than a pat on his back.
“Even though my previous films have been selected to screen at US film festivals, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit in flesh. Wicken screened at more than 20 horror film festivals across the USA. It was quite a surreal experience because at all of these film festivals, I was not just the only horror film from the UAE but the Middle East,” he notes.
A few of the film festivals that Hashmi was featured in include the NEPA Horror Film Festival in Scranton, Mesa International Film Festival in Arizona. Wicken also played in Los Angeles at the Skiptown Playhouse Film Festival as part of the horror short films category.
Hashmi shares key highlights over the last decade that have helped shape his career. Armed with a tight budget, Hashmi had to resort to call in favours from like-minded professionals who agreed to work with him on a barter deal. “I put my films online, with no avenue for student films in this market. I’ve always put up my films on YouTube and Facebook making all my connections via social channels.”
By the time he produced his fifth film Hashmi realised the importance of having specialists in their role, which would free him up to work on the directorial aspect of the film.
During this time Hashmi also developed a deep seated affliction for the horror / thriller and sci-fi genre. Since it was “cheaper to produce and didn’t need the extravagance of chic locations”.
Opportunities have been born out of adversities. Take his singular location settings, for instance, Hashmi says the constraints of finding, and then shooting at multiple locations, has made him focus on writing scripts that unfold in one location.
“It’s isn’t easy to take your camera and crew, and start filming on the streets of this country, there’s a lot of permissions and pre-approvals that’s required. It could also cost a fair bit.
“A lot of it is reverse engineering, I take a look at the location and figure out how best I can use all the elements within to tell my story. The genres that I work with can do well in indoor spaces.”
Show me the money
“Everything has been self-funded apart from the latest few movies that I’ve done,” he says.
“Short films don’t make money unlike feature films that have theatrical and commercial shelf life. I’ve only once made money back on a film by winning a cash prize of $2000 at the Tunisia Human Rights Short Film Festival in 2012. There aren’t many grants in this region that we can take advantage of either.”
Money or the absence of it, Hashmi’s appetite to make films has never deterred, churning out a short film every year on an average ever since he began in 2009. Relying on assistance from professionals has been critical to his journey and success. “I’ve been lucky that a lot of collaborations with lighting or sound professionals have been mutual agreements and barter understandings.”
Hashmi says it’s simple to convince professionals to collaborate as they all “crave a creative outlet”, which he is able to provide.
“Commercials fuel about 90% of our market, and professionals have bought into the dream of filmmaking. Commercials keep them in business but they are passionate about filmmaking as well. I do commercial projects to stay afloat. Involving sound, light and make-up professionals for a weekend is as appealing to them,” he says.
Wicken, however, needed funding, more so than his previous projects. “It was a two-and-a-half day shoot, it also required stunt work and special effects.”
Hashmi turned to friends and well-wishers in a bid to crowd fund his project. “My friends chipped in with funds because they wanted to see this film happen. I’ve been building it up for the last four years.”
The big move
Hashmi’s next goal is to direct a full-length feature film and he’s aware that it will not be viable to strike barter deals this time around. “We need a month out of people’s life, it’s a professional commitment that I will need from an entire team.”
Hashmi plans to pitch the script to Dubai-based businessmen to secure finances, in return offering them a chance to become profit-partners or producers. “I’m writing a horror film that will be shot in a few locations. If the budget is AED200,000, for instance, all I need is AED50,000 from each stakeholder.”
Hashmi is confident of getting the good graces from the local business community. “It’s difficult to convince people for a short, it’s a lot easier when you have a feature in mind. In the past people have expressed their interest to support me, it’s a matter of taking them up on their word.”
The plan is to make a “best possible” movie within the budget, “I don’t want to make a Transformers-style movie for AED200,000. Paranormal Activities was shot for $7,000,” Hashmi says.
Hashmi is working on a few scripts for his feature film which will be in the science fiction / thriller genre.
“I’ve finished a few versions of the script, and once polished I will approach people to finance it.” He is also working on a horror anthology that is set in Dubai. Regional appetite for the horror genre keeps growing and according to Hashmi not many are based / shot in the UAE. He says: “They are mostly made in Lebanon and Egypt.”
Hashmi turn 30 next year and is clear about his goals. “I hope to start filming during the summer which tends to be quiet for our industry. If everything goes to plan the film will be ready in early 2021,” he concludes.