LACE SPOTLIGHT is our magazine's way our celebrating particularly influential artists and creators that are using their skills and passions to create pieces that positively affect the art community and our culture.
"goddamn I wish I was good at science so I could just become a doctor."
This month we meet director, Arshum Rouhanian, as he discusses everything from his grievances with the caped crusades taking over film, his latest work, and creative strife.
How would you describe the current state of film?
Oh man, there’s no way to answer this question without sounding incredibly pretentious, but I’ll try -- I am so goddamn sick of sequels and superhero movies. As long as superhero movies continue to get as much attention as they do, less and less original movies will come out each year. Let’s talk about "Star Wars" -- I mean, those are some of my favorite movies of all time. If you walk into my room, you’ll see "Star Wars" Legos in every corner. However, I can confidently say we do not need any more "Star Wars" movies. That almost hurt to write. Overall, I think filmmakers are losing incentives to create original films and are relying too much on nostalgia to win audiences over.
Describe to us your latest project?
It’s a sequel to my last film. Haha. Just kidding. It’s a short about two Iranian kids who open up a Persian tea stand in their predominantly white neighborhood. They don’t speak any English and no one can even read their signs. Meanwhile, two white kids open up a hot chocolate stand next door. Naturally, everyone in the neighborhood goes to their stand. So the film follows the competition between these two stands. It’s loosely based on something I did as a kid. I remember setting up a Persian tea stand in my neighborhood and no one understood what I was selling. People approached me expecting to see hot chocolate or lemonade, and then I would have to explain to them what Persian tea is. I spoke English, so it wasn’t that hard. I feel like if I an 8 year old did something like that today, they would get a much different response from the white people in their neighborhood. Depending on the neighborhood. So I thought this would be a good time to make a film like this.
What filmmakers do you look up to or who do you think is making waves right now?
If you’re looking for up-and-coming directors, look at music video directors -- Mikey Alfred of Illegal Civilization, Alex Lill, Hiro Murai, Sing J Lee, and Emily Kai Bock. If you’re a filmmaker, please please watch everything Emily Kai Bock has made. Her music videos are so simple yet so brilliant and are the perfect example of how you can make an incredible film with little to no resources, as long as your message is strong. I have been lucky enough to speak with her and something she said that has stuck with me to this day, is that I shouldn’t wait for someone to tell me I’m good enough. She thought the biggest issue with student filmmakers is that they are always waiting for someone to tell them they are good enough, when you should be deciding this for yourself. I never forgot that and it has forever affected how I approach filmmaking. Spike Jonze is also one of my biggest inspirations. The Pharcyde’s “Drop” is the greatest music video of all time. Also, the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” is absolutely incredible. I have stolen so much from Spike’s style of filmmaking and he is another perfect example of how you can do so much with so little.
Favorite part of filmmaking?
I love when everything seems to be going wrong in pre-production, and then you walk on set and realize all these changes you were forced to make due to logistical reasons or whatever were for the better. Those are moments when it genuinely feels like everything happens for a reason. It’s also cool when I have an idea I like, and I still like it 6 months later. I write a lot of my ideas down at night, and I usually end up hating them when I wake up in the morning. So it’s cool when you make something you actually like. Aside from that, every other part of filmmaking is extremely painful and goddamn I wish I was good at science so I could just become a doctor.
Favorite pieces you’ve worked on?
I am really excited about this short film I talked about earlier. Also, I recently directed this music video for Babeo Baggins. She was incredible to work with and I am very excited for it to come out. It’s apparently going to be premiered on this magazine that I have been reading since middle school. I don’t want to say which one, as I don’t want to jinx it, but oh my god I would flip. Also, this short film I made two years ago called "Moonlight Suburbia" will forever hold a special place in my heart, as it really signifies an important part of my life. I don’t know if it is the best thing I have ever made, but it is my personal favorite thing I have ever made.
What are some issues you run usually run into or what is one big obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
During the summer of 2016, I was writing this deeply personal short film titled "Moonlight Suburbia:. Making that film really tested my dedication to filmmaking. I don’t want to call out anyone in specific, but I remember having readings of the script with my cast, and certain people did not take it seriously at all. They would either laugh at it or carelessly insult the film. It really felt like some people in my own cast wanted to see me fail. I even asked members of my family to read the script, and they tried to convince me to cancel the whole project just a couple days before the first day of shooting. On top of that, my best friend since kindergarten continuously put me down for even trying to be a filmmaker. I put up with it for a couple years, but the comments I received from him during the making of this film really felt like the last straw for me. He knows who he is, so it’d be interesting if he was reading this right now. Needless to say, we are no longer friends. Best thing I have ever done for myself. Hope he’s doing well though. So in summary, the biggest obstacle I have ever faced as a filmmaker, is dealing with loved ones who didn’t believe in me when I found it especially difficult to believe in myself. Anyway, the film went on to win best picture at a national film festival and is now available on Xfinity On Demand.