Don’t binge-watch.

Bismillah

I know, dude, this is a really strange thing for a filmmaker to say, eh?
Look, cinema is a DARK DARK art okay? You can get people used to all kinds of dehumanizing nonsense by showing them IMAGES of it first.
No one knows this better than Muslim hijab-wearing women.
And I’ve been studying and working with cinema now a good ten years. Yeah I’m old. Never you mind how old I am! Just kidding, I’m 34 this year. Growing old is a privilege.
The standard method of creating, at least the way I’ve been taught, is to have a theme.
What is a theme, you ask, assuming you are one of the many lambs my kind lead to slaughter.
It is the ‘meaning’ of the film/show. The question we try to explore. Its essence. Its beating heart.
The more robust the heart, the better the show/film. The more the theme permeates every aspect of the film/show’s existence, the more enjoyable it is to watch. You feel like you’re in good hands. You relax. You enjoy the ride. You binge-watch.
You turn off your thinking brain.
Don’t do that, my love. You’ll drive into a ditch.
Because films and TV always have to leave out SOMETHING. That something is usually something really important.
This is because neither form can tolerate that level of complexity (at least not yet). The real world has multiple layers to it. The world in entertainment can only have a few, otherwise it would cease to be entertaining and just life. And nobody wants to watch life.
The most important questions is…what is the creator of this piece of art leaving out?
Take for example the show Dark.
It is essentially about the inevitability of destiny. This is not destiny delivered from God. It is genetic destiny. Sons are doomed to walk in their fathers’ footsteps. We cannot escape our family’s trauma. We cannot outrun grief. We simply cannot let the people we love go. Even if we escape to another time period. Even if we escape to another dimension.
There is no God in Dark, only time. Which no one worshiped, but everyone tried to control.
There is also no therapy in the world of Dark. Which, given some effort, could have solved all of its problems. But then what do I know?
You see? In order for the TV show to work, you have to leave out something. The creators of this show chose to leave out joy, hope, trust, the acceptance stage of the grieving process, etc.
If I hadn’t stop to think, I wouldn’t have recognized that.
So now what do I do?
I make du’a before I read or watch something, even if it is only a tiny Youtube video or article. (Or at least I intend to. There’s so much content everywhere, that mindfulness will take some practice).
I ask Allah (God) to show me what the creators have left out. I remind myself that all power belongs to Him and we will all return to Him. I confirm that He is the only One who can change my condition. This is a affirmation of my values.
I also try not to watch things for too long. I make notes every so often on what I like and what I hate.
Dark is a beautiful TV show. It was densely and thickly plotted. I loved that time was a tight knot and I loved following along as each strand unravelled.
But as I’ve said above – no God, no joy, no love that doesn’t immediately destroy itself. What a well, DARK, way to live.
Anyway, this is what I do or try to. Be interesting to hear what you think.

I lost a child.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

I’m not even sure it was a child. All I know is that it was a blighted ovum – a child that could have been, had those cells decided to multiply.

The easiest kind of miscarriage, from what I’ve heard.

So what did I lose exactly?

Hope.

Optimism.

A chance to start again.

I lost and then I lost again.

Month after month.

It’s been a year almost since we lost our baby.

There’s a part of me that knows that I am being shackled by social mores. The only way to be isn’t as a mother. The only way to love children isn’t just to give birth to them. There’s a whole world of children that I could love. If that is indeed my calling. And it is.

There’s also a part of me that is gaping, empty. Wounded beyond recognition.

One year later I still feel grief. My body convulses in pain and anguish and refuses to get pregnant again. For fear I will cling to this small piece of flesh and then die over and over when what was never mine is taken from me again.

This is the opposite of peace. This is the quintessential attachment.

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it. Other than to allow myself to feel it. I loved that little empty thing. That little empty white sac that passed out of me took a piece of me with it. No, not just me. Me and the man I’m going to love till the end of time.

Maybe my kid is playing with my mother in heaven. Maybe my mother felt lonely and asked God to send her someone to talk to. Mama and I used to have the most hilarious conversations. Mostly because I would never agree with her. Then she would get mad and she was funniest when she was angry.

And God said, “It’s not Sabina’s time yet, but here’s her child.” I hope you’re not giving your grandma too much trouble. Scratch that – give her trouble, she enjoys it. If she’s not tearing her hair out, she’s not alive.

But then neither of you are alive.

This isn’t one of those miscarriage articles with a soaring ending. “Two months after, I was pregnant again.” I’m not. I may never be. Who knows? I don’t.

I hate those blasted gloating articles. Everything doesn’t have a happy ending. This is not a goddamn Disney movie. Sometimes it’s shit and we need to sit in it. #pottytraining #ongoing

I’m learning to be okay with that. Like humans adjust to all situations, however intolerable they might seem.

Do you have a child I could borrow? I promise I’ll give them back in the same condition.

But some days I also need a break. I feel like it was my fault. And I find myself pleading with God. “Please. Give me another shot. I’ll have more vitamin D. I’ll eat more fruit and vegetables. I won’t bathe my child in my own trauma. Please. Give me one more chance to get this right.”

It’s amazing to me how well I can beat myself up. Guantanamo wouldn’t do as good a job.

There has been a little upside to the loss of my child. Just a tiny one.

I’m paying much more attention to my general well-being. I’m much more aware that if Mama isn’t well, baby isn’t well. I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to make peace with anxiety, depression and fatigue as a part of my life. When I should be kicking it to the curb as quickly as possible. A more joyous life is possible for me. With a few changes.

I stumbled onto a functional medicine practitioner. She diagnosed me with leaky gut. To my astonishment, she said there could have been a link between leaky gut and my mother’s ALS.

I have an autistic five year old. The last thing I want to do is die. At least for his sake if not for mine.

So I’ve started an anti inflammation diet. I’m taking every vitamin under the sun. I’m working on getting my five servings of veggies a day. A cultural bias towards meat isn’t helping but I’m working on it.

I’m fighting anxiety. I’m not killing myself like my mother did. I’m letting things go.

Some days I feel better. Some days I slip into my old bad ways and feel much much much worse.

I’m grateful to my body to waking me up. To love. And to me.

I alternate between compassion and self-loathing, sometimes in the same moment. It’s painful to be so alive.

Why am I telling you all of this? Am I using you as my garbage bin or what?

In my usual fashion, insha Allah (God willing) I’ll be making a web series on this very topic. Trying to turn my frowns into smiles.

It’ll be full of muck like Just Food. The way I like it. We’ll really get in there. Watch this space, lovely. 

The lazy person’s guide to learning film-making

I know, dude, the pull is strong. To run away from it all and enter a secret garden with a whole lot of other crazies like us and make movies. Wild films. Subversive films. Offensive films dripping with sweat, crap and blood. REAL films with real talk.

And spend our time speaking with and looking into the faces of people who GET IT. My God, that would be a relief.

Amirite?

Let me tell you what stopped me.

The money.

That’s pretty much it. It costs almost as much to learn film-making as it did to go to medical school. Guess which one my parents would rather I went to. 15 years later, it was a priceless decision.

Right now, you’re thinking, ‘Everything good costs money. I’d sacrifice an arm and a leg for my dream.

You’re right; everything good DOES cost money. I just don’t think film school is worth it. Here’s why.

  1. You know this but I will say this again. I have clinical depression. In my early twenties, I also had anxiety. For me, that showed up as perfectionism, an all-or nothing mentality. If I had studied film, I would have told myself that I HAVE to get a job in the film industry. There being none in Dubai, I would have ended up in LA. Or Vancouver. Or some place with a hub. I would have done one of those assistant jobs that would have eaten me alive. I would have been suicidal. Again. Not fun.
  2. If I had ended up in Dubai in another industry, again, that would have been uber-depressing.
  3. What I ended up learning in uni was film theory. This. Was. Gold. Why? Because I never  thought for one moment that films didn’t have cultural or political impact. Out and about on social media, I often hear, “Why can’t films just be entertainment? Why does everything have to be political?” As a film theorist, we had moved well beyond that tired debate. Every piece of art had meaning. There was no question. It was our quite enjoyable work to figure out what that meaning was. As a filmmaker, I am never going to simply make a film and assume it ‘means’ nothing. I already know it carries weight in the universe, so I choose my work carefully.
  4. This leads to my next point – meaning matters to me. Meaning = story and theme. Story and theme are CHEAP. If I had gone to film school, I could have fallen in love with form over content. And form i.e. production value is EXPENSIVE. VERY EXPENSIVE.
  5. And lastly but to me the most important point – film schools tend to be very white. If I had come of age as a filmmaker in a white racist institution, I would have internalized that racism. As it is now – I’m learning film by making films. I make the films I want to make. I write with confidence, knowing from experience (not a diploma) that I’ll figure out a way to make it. I’m more generous because I feel less insecure. I’ve realized my own power. As I said, not going to film school may well have been priceless. All of this doesn’t change the fact that it may take decades and a few box-office smashes before the film-making industry looks and me and thinks, ‘That’s a filmmaker’ as opposed to ‘That’s a deluded creative.’ But I don’t agree with that notion myself.
What have I lost by not going to film school? Two things….
  1. Quick and focused knowledge
  2. Contacts

I can get both of those with time and patience.

Film-making can be quite cheap if I use my tools wisely. And storytelling is free. I’m not slowed down by my lack of a formal education and the contacts it might have yielded. In fact, I’m like a kid in a candy store.

I’m always looking for more and better resources for learning how to make films. I’m going to start a page on here with my favorite resources.

Please share any that have been particularly helpful to you.

To all my fellow post-partum sufferers: I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. 

Trigger warning – birth trauma, post-partum depression, breastfeeding failure. But I promise this has a happy ending.

Here’s my story. You’re not alone.

I wrote this to Suzanne Barston over at Fearless Formula Feedera little while after my son was born. In ‘celebration’ of Just Food releasing, I thought I’d share my full labour and delivery and breastfeeding story.

I’ve edited it to protect the guilty. Because nothing can protect them from God’s wrath.

I’ve also added a few things in my usual parentheticals.

So here goes:

“I’ve been trying to come to terms with my traumatic labor and breastfeeding journey and how it’s changed me. I hope telling my story will do that.

I would like to tell you I glowed and felt wonderful during pregnancy. I did not. Copious amounts of vomit aside, it seemed like the whole world was out to tell me that I would miscarry or harm my child. From random women I was sitting next to at Eid prayer (“I lost my baby at six months. Don’t do anything stupid. You’re not normal. You’re pregnant. Just because you feel you can do it, doesn’t mean you can.”) to my very own father (“You’ll lose the baby”).

I never felt adequate. I never felt up to the task of growing a baby inside me. Leave alone taking care of one.

And almost as a giant middle finger to my naysayers, I had my heart set on a natural childbirth. I wanted to give birth to my child, feeling every contraction like a wave of pain. And get through it. For once, I wanted to feel like a warrior. I wanted to feel strong.

I did Hypnobabies in preparation for this. Because I needed to calm the heck down. I’ve tried this ‘woo woo’ stuff before. It’s never worked. I don’t know why I thought it would work now. But I was still hoping against hope that it would still work for me.

I had a 38-hour labor. My body didn’t know what to do to get my son out. Also every time I stood up, my son’s heart-rate would go down. So I was confined to the bed. Not part of the plan. After about 24 hours, the contractions came hard and fast but my cervix was not dilating. I gave up and got an epidural so I could get some sleep.

During all of this time, the nastiest person in Colorado was my L&D nurse. The woman taunted and demoralized me every chance she got. “Are you okay?” “Do you want to talk about pain now?” “This is going to be the hardest push of your life.” No sh**, lady. She didn’t help me experiment with positions. She didn’t help me get comfortable. She even wanted to stop me going to the bathroom, going so far as to suggest a bed-pan. All as if to say, “you’re on my turf and you’re my b**** now.”

I don’t curse this much usually, but I’ve never felt more trapped and powerless.

Finally by some miracle, my child came out of me. By the grace of God, a vaginal delivery. I think my nurse and my doctor decided that they were going to ‘let’ me have a vaginal delivery. out of the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps because my doctor didn’t want her rate of C-sections to go up. Perhaps because the hospital didn’t want the rate of C-sections to go up.

Regardless, my son was born and he was stunning. He still is.

Oh, but it was about to get worse. So so so much worse.

The first few days, he latched and nursed like a champ. Trouble was, he was never satisfied. The nurse kept telling me that his stomach was only the size of a grape and he didn’t need much. Well, he had some grape in there. He screamed every time he stopped nursing. My nipples became cracked and sore.

One day, I broke the latch and put him down. I couldn’t take the pain anymore.

A few days after we took him home, he refused to nurse. He lay on my nursing pillow as I tried to put my nipple in his mouth, kicking and screaming and crying. His big beautiful eyes looking up at me in fury and hunger as if to ask me, “Why are you doing this to me?”

And you know what the worst thing about this whole time is? My son looks like me. And it killed me. I would look in the mirror and see his face, not mine. I wanted him to look and be like his father. I wanted his ‘screw-up’ mama to be a footnote in his genetic make-up.

Too many times in my life have I been bullied. Too many times have I looked into people’s faces and asked, “Why are you doing this to me?” I never wanted that for my son. I never wanted to become the bully.

He didn’t latch again for two weeks.

In this time, I went to see a lactation consultant. She was more concerned with talking to my mother-in-law about whether she nursed or not and what they do in Sri Lanka (where I’m from) rather than helping me. She treated me very much like a ‘magical person of color’ – as if us ‘Eastern’ cultures have this breastfeeding thing down pat.

Not true.

Her comments to the Caucasian ladies who also attended the session were more comforting and more accepting of their feelings.

So I was paying 15 dollars a session to this woman for nothing new.

(What I described as nothing new was actually some top-shelf shaming.)

One day though, he miraculously latched – with a nipple shield. He nursed for a week or two with a nipple shield.

The nursing, though, made me feel better, much better.

One night, he and I were up for two hours trying to get him satisfied. I refused to give him formula, thinking to myself, “No! This is going to be a breastfed baby!” Finally, just as I had made up a 4-ounce bottle out of frustration, he tired himself out and fell asleep.

Did I just starve my son to make him breastfeed?

The ladies at the La Leche League Facebook group, of course, had plenty of advice. “Maybe he’s just one of those babies who wants to feed 24/7.” “You should wear your baby.”

All of their suggestions seemed undo-able to me and sent me spiraling even deeper into depression.

 But then of course he stopped nursing and started screaming again. Right after that, about 5 weeks postpartum, I got my period. My milk vanished.

I went to another lactation session. The consultant looked at me wearily and said, “What are we going to do with you?” The other ladies laughed. I felt like a kid who’d failed an exam.

Am I a sack of sh** like everyone says I am? I know I’m not. After spending a day Googling suicide, I decided to see a therapist and take medication.

I hope my son turns out okay. I hope I turn out okay.

I’m sort of glad that breastfeeding didn’t happen. It’s like I needed a knock upside the head to figure things out, to finally turn off all those mean voices in my head. For my son’s sake, if not my own. Though really, we need each other. I’m also glad he refused to nurse and demanded the bottle. Who knows what might have happened to him if he was as dogged to breastfeed as I was?

And according to the research, my little boy will be fatter, sicker, poorer and less popular…because of formula???

I’m not sorry I gave up breastfeeding and pumping.

My son learned to turn over recently. I can’t remember being so excited about anything in my entire life. And one day, when he and I were doing laundry , I found him studying the cabinet with great interest. I decided to lie down beside him and figure out what in the heck was so amazing. From his perspective, it was like a cross between the Empire State Building (which I’ve never seen) and the TARDIS (which I’ve also never seen).

It was truly amazing.

If I was still struggling to breastfeed, I might never have had the joy, the love, the perspective to see things from where my son lies.

This must be what poverty feels like. Not knowing where your child’s next meal is coming from. Weeping because you can’t feed them. Counting pennies as you do. Why are we impoverishing each other? Why are we creating artificial forms of privilege? Don’t we human beings have enough weapons to hurt each other with?

There’s always going to be something. Women are always going to be trained to look askance at each other. ‘Oh you’re not skinny/married/single/straight/lesbian/dating/studying/pregnant/breastfeeding/whatever enough'”

(I don’t know if I’m going to have any more kids or how I’m going to feed them. Whatever happens, I hope they always believe that they are loved and that they are enough.)<

(oh yeah and that happy ending? I’m still here. And I made a film Alhamdulillah!)


And if you’d like a postpartum double bill, this is my friend Shoshana Rosenbaum’s horror thriller on early motherhood:

How to make your dream film a reality without selling your kidney or giving someone a blow job

Assalam alaikum!

So you wrote a script. I already know it’s amazing. It came straight from your soul. It feels like lightning on the page. I do not doubt that it is.

 

This is the part that will hurt, so let me hold your hand – be prepared to make it yourself.

In fact, the more fiery and human it is, the more likely it is that you will need to be this baby’s midwife.

I know you already know that. That’s why you set it in one location.

But I also know that in your gut, you’re hoping someone is going to love it enough to make it their own. You’re setting the bar low enough so that your script has a wider pool of suitors.

It’s alright. You can say it.

No one is going to marry your script.

I mean, I can’t say for sure. But I can make an educated guess. You know how I know that? Because you don’t have any produced credits. Even if they are crap, they are worth their weight in gold.

But you can’t get produced credits without someone loving your writing. And then deciding to produce it. Then taking it through development and pre-production. Then production. And the last and most important hurdle – post-production.

That’s a lot of love. Who’s going to love that script that much except you?

(To be fair, there are a few people. But the person who has to start the love train rolling is you.)

I gave up on being only a screenwriter. I now call myself a filmmaker because I will do whatever it takes to get a film I’m passionate about made.

Why did I give up on writing, something I’ve done since I was six years old?

  1. I was spending too much money for not enough results.

I spent about 200 to 500 dollars a year on competitions, courses and writing-related stuff. The more desperate I got, the higher that number went.

I spent much more than that on films. The budget for my first short was 2350. The second was around the same.

However, the first led to the second being commissioned by Blacktown Arts. I got a grant of $2000. So that covered most of the budget. It is also a proof of concept for the project, I’ve been gnawing on for close to a decade now, Whose Wife Is It Anyway.

Do you know what it’s like to see characters that have been in your head for eight years come to life? To borrow Mastercard’s tagline – it’s priceless.

Just Food played at the Lonely Seal International Film, Screenplay and Music Festival. And it’s a semi-finalist at the Made in the West Film Festival this year.

Now those are results.

  1. I got precisely nowhere.

Well, not nowhere. But all of the movement that happened in my career happened at the same time. In the summer of 2014 just before Isa was born.

I got into the second round of the Sundance Screenwriting Labs. Plus, Geoff LaTulippe selected me to be one of his #sixweekspec ten.

And since that time….a good three years later, the needle has not even moved a single jot. No, not even quivered.

Now you might be thinking that perhaps my screenplays weren’t that good. I would have liked to have known that. Anyone who wants to master a craft needs feedback to do so. None of the contests I entered gave me feedback. Only one of the courses did.

Now you might also be thinking, that since I only write Muslim female protagonists, that the industry is racist, sexist and Islamophobic. I will not disabuse you of that notion.

  1. I got very poor feedback.

I am actually pretty grateful for this.

A few times, the feedback I received was demeaning, even pejorative. Some people were definitely on a power/privilege trip.

Other times, the feedback was tough, no doubt, but still loving and kind and encouraging. People said to me, “Yes, there is a problem. But you definitely can fix it. Here’s a few ideas, take ’em or leave ’em.”

Those few disappointing conversations taught me what good feedback looks like – lovingly honest, not brutally honest. We want to elevate both writer and script, not crush both.

  1. Writing was tough on my mental health.

I often had severe bouts of depression. Usually preceded by the constant rejection. It was less the rejection and more the feeling that I had no way to measure my success that got me down.

  1. Even if I were to become a professional screenwriter, it appears I’d still be doing oodles of free work for little or no actionable feedback. It’s just that unlike now, I’ll be getting a paycheck once in a while.
  1. The change I want to see starts with me.

With all of the above in mind, the question became like a clanging fire alarm in my brain. Why am I doing this? Why am I writing films? Because I love films. And there aren’t many with people that looked the people I love i.e. my family. Ordinary everyday confused complicated wonderful weird Muslims.

I waited and waited and watched and wrote. But it became apparent that, unless I made them, my children will grow up in a world much like the one I did.

The TV and the news will demonize us. We will seclude ourselves in cultural enclaves and nurse an ever-growing list of resentments. We will live and die not knowing what it is to be heard or to be seen.

 That might sound rather dramatic but it feels like this has been going on for generations.

If pop culture is our collective unconscious, why aren’t the 1.8 billion Muslims of the world featured in it? Except in terrorist or victim garb? Growing up, when I didn’t see myself or anyone like me onscreen, I didn’t feel like my contribution to society would be valued. Which means I was either depressed or mad. Never healthy places to be.

I have a few friends who are doing very well as screenwriters, so I’m not saying at all that my way is the highway.

However even they wouldn’t disagree with some of the liabilities I’ve mentioned above. What do you think? Is it worth it?

Look, I’m not going to lie. Film-making is a tough gig. But dude. There are many many many upsides to it too. Plus, my roundabout jack-of-all-trades history is actually an asset in film-making. More on that in another post.

P.S. Are you Muslim? Would you like to see a Muslim not be a terrorist or a battered woman onscreen? If so, please fill out this teeny tiny itsy bitsy survey. It’ll only take 4 minutes but give me heaps of valuable information.

 

 

To my artist friends: 8 reasons not to pay for that next course.

I’ve wasted a lot of money on gurus, books and courses. I was panning for gold, looking for someone to tell me the secret password to entering Hollywood.

Here’s the things I wish I’d done instead.

  1. I could have made a film instead.

You can make an amazing 7-minute film with $1500.

PARTNERS from Joey Ally on Vimeo.

  1. Recognize that the best work for me was descriptive, not prescriptive.

They didn’t tell me ‘do this or die!’. They gave me a zillion examples of films I love doing this thing that causes this quality I love. It was more analytical than prescriptive.

And the best works came up with theories about why these works were so great. From these theories sprang a set of tools that would get me closer to creating a piece of transcendent art. That’s all most advice is – a set of tools that may or may not work.

  1. I could have made a film instead.
I could have made a killer 4-minute film for $700.

  1. Each screenwriting guru has a set of tools that might be useful for one set of issues but not others.
The Coffee Break Screenwriter became vital after I became a mom. Tim Ferguson’s The Cheeky Monkey has been my go-to comedy resource lately. I’m trying to figure out what I find funny, why I find it funny and how I can replicate that quality in every thing I do.
    1. I could have made a film instead.
I could have made a knock-your-socks-off 2-minute short for $400.

This is a whole series of-2-minute shorts.)

  1. Listen to interviews instead of buying their courses

Interviews take a lot of prep to do. And the best interviews are the meatiest interviews.

But also interviews are a great way to figure out if you’re on the same wavelength as someone. Because some people’s tools will work for you and some will not.

  1. I could have made a film instead.
I could have $0 dollars on a 1-minute short and still been better off than I was, looking for geese that lay golden eggs.

    1. Read their books instead of buying their course.

Books are denser in knowledge and cheaper. And I like reading. You can borrow a book from a friend or your local library. If you like it, you can buy it#bringbackreading.

What I’m saying is: I should have been more like my mother. I should have been stingier.  My mother would have tried every which way to get stuff for free till she couldn’t anymore. Then she would have paid the smallest amount of money she could.  Because I should be using that money to make films.

Create. Don’t just gestate.

(I’m not saying the above films cost that much money. I’m saying that it’s very very VERY possible to make a film of that quality with that much money with the right script.)
What’s your take on gurus? Are they full of BS, just another way to screw hopefuls out of money? Or are they a necessary and fruitful part of the industry?

 

Do you like what you see in the mirror? Me neither. Until now.

I’m mildly embarrassed to tell you this, but here goes.

Last year I took a course on how to dress myself.  

Yeah. I did that. I spent money on it.

Why the **** would I do something so  ******* dumb when we could have been making ******** movies, I hear you say?

But you know what? It is, hands down, one of the best investments I’ve ever made. And I have spent a crap ton of money on ‘courses’.

And that’s because I learned so much.

I love clothes.

I love colour.

I love movement.

And I’ve realized that I’m 33 years old and nobody gives a hooping funt what I wear.

Nope, not a a flying flamingo

Not even a defenestrated fizzwaggle.

So I dress for me. If I like what I see in the mirror, dayuummm. Mashallah. I give myself a grin. I’m keen to slay my day.

I need not get a single compliment about my outfit. That’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking after me.

But make-up?

I’ve spent a lot of years poring over my face. Poring over my pimples. Poring over my pores. I wish I could grab my 20-year-old self by the shoulders and shake her, “Don’t buy that make-up. It will do precisely jack all. All it will do is make you look like a reject from Twilight. Or a mime that managed to escape their box.”

Seriously tho. Make-up is expensive. It goes bad (what? Are there bananas in foundation? Why does it go bad?) And and and….have you noticed how the number of freaking things we need to put on our face to look groomed keeps growing?

Ten years ago, had you heard of highlighters? No, right?

Yeah. That’s something that appeared in the last five years.

I don’t know about you but I sweat. I don’t need to catch the light. The light catches me.

Let’s wear clothes that make us feel good. Really really good. Like I-could-swing-from-a-chandelier good.

View this post on Instagram

 

Assalam alaikum and Eid Mubarak, family! Marvel at the orange I finally have the courage to wear.

A post shared by Sabina Giado (@sabina.giado) on

 

I never would have the courage to wear this Fanta shade of orange if I hadn’t internalized this belief:

No one cares what we are wearing except us.

What if we attract too much attention on the train? What if someone attacks us?

That person would have attacked us if we were wearing only black o the fliest pair of Chuck Taylors in the country. Violent Islamophobes don’t see clothes. They see targets.

We’ve got only a limited amount of years on this earth. Let’s choose joy. We’re privileged enough to have a choice.

P.S If you love make-up, more power to you. I can’t be bothered anymore. It’s no fun.

P.P.S. I just spent a whopping $10 on a BB cream. And I started using it yesterday. I look exactly the freaking same. My problem is, if I spend money on my face, I expect to look like Miranda Kerr. It’s make-up, not plastic surgery.

What I wish I could have said to my parents about filmmaking

Assalam alaikum dear parents,

I know you were terrified.

If it makes you feel any better, I was too. I had the nervous runs every day.

I mean, there I was, the daughter of Sri Lankans. From Sri Lanka! A tear-drop in the Indian Ocean! Most people don’t even know where the heck we are!

And here I was, telling you I want to make movies for the rest of my life.

Why shouldn’t you be scared? And angry at me for making such mad decisions?

You’d leave home at 7 am and get home past 11 pm every night. Just to send me to uni. And I was going into an industry where living wages aren’t guaranteed, even for mid-career professionals.

You’d raised me to walk with my head held high. And I was going into an industry known for its abuse of women.

Worse still – I wear a hijab. I may as well have been wearing a target.

I’ve been writing screenplays now for about 9 years. I’ve been a filmmaker for two. I’d like to tell you something – you were right. You were right about every. Single. Thing.<

You were right to be mad at me.

You were right to be scared.

All of your reasons weren’t judgments; they are facts. This industry doesn’t pay. And well, the #metoo and #timesup movement are testament to its treatment of women.

But please hear me when I say: If there was anything else I could have done, I would have done it. My other jobs gave me severe anxiety disorder.

I went to work every day with dread like a suffocating blanket. Every Sunday night, the chest pains would be so bad I couldn’t do much more than cower under my blanket.

Apart from the physical pain – those grandchildren you want? They weren’t going to happen. Not with my body like that.

But crap, who the hell do I think I am?

You ran from cages I cannot imagine so I didn’t have to live my life in them. I’m safe. I’m fed. I’m clothed. I’m sheltered. And now I want to make films.

Who does that? People who are free.

Safe minds dream. From those dreams spring art.

Why do you think there are so many white people in the creative industries?

Doesn’t that make you mad? It makes me furious.

But I want you to know how blessed my life is now. I still have anxiety but it’s much reduced. My chest feels expansive, not contracted. Yes, my work is hard. It’s thankless. It doesn’t pay very well. Or at all. There are times where I have felt such deep shame at my perceived inadequacies that I haven’t known what to do with myself.

But I know deep down that this is where I’m supposed to be. This is what God put me on Earth to do. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have given me joy. He wouldn’t have given me freedom. He wouldn’t have given me a head bursting with stories and ideas.

I love you. I always have. And I always will.

There are 1.8 billion of us. And none of us have any good TV. (Until now)

My dearest friend, assalam alaikum!

I should put my glasses on for this, right? Hold onto yours if you’re wearing them.

What?! You’re looking at your phone in bed?! Go to sleep, child. I’ll be here in the morning.

Fine. I’ll just tell you.

An idea has been knocking around in my head for quite a while. It’s wild. Well, no, not really. But it seems hard. Especially with what I’ve learned.

“What have you learned?” I hear you ask from beneath your covers.

I’ve learned that we Muslims don’t trust each other.

I sent a survey out a few weeks ago to three of my favorite Muslim WhatsApp groups. I loved them and they love me. I assumed.

I asked them very simple – absurdly simple! – questions about their viewing habits. I want to know what makes Muslims tick when it comes to visual content. These 60 or more people whom I already had a relationship with might be the easiest and most willing mine, right?

Wrong.

Maybe this means I need to work on my friendships. Fair assumption.

Maybe this means Muslims in general do not trust the mainstream media. This would explain why I got crickets when I asked the local Muslim community for help on my latest film. (To be clear – I wasn’t asking for money. I was asking for locations and discounted catering, if they were up to it. No one was up to it.)

This suspicion is understandable. I mean people like me made Homeland.
Fox News.
Donald Trump. (Yeah it was us.)

But it’s also distressing. And I’ve been wondering how to bring down those walls. What are your thoughts on why we trust each other so little?

Here’s what I think: we need to build a worldwide Muslim filmmaker network. Dare I say it – a MAFIA. Movies and TV could be a powerful dam to stem the tide of Islamophobia.

When you actually engage with a story, you’re inviting strangers into your house. You’re giving them a cuppa. You’re asking them where they’ve been. If we get more people to do that with Muslim stories, we may lose a few enemies and gain a few more vocal allies.

I mean take the LGBTQIA2s+ community for example. The fact that I even know that acronym means that, at least among the ‘liberal progressive’ media, people are sympathetic to the queer cause. I ask people for their pronouns before speaking with them or about them. Through shows like Queer Eye and Soldier’s Girl (Lee Pace is insane in this one), I was given a peek into the life of a transgender person.

Do people have that level of knowledge about Muslims? There are 1.8 billion of us!
Do people know what halal meat really is?
Do people know why or how we pray? (Watching Homeland, the answer is definitely no.)
Do people know why women wear the hijab and what’s the appropriate etiquette when meeting one in the wild?

Movies and TV could change that. But we need to band together to do that. We need to start trusting each other.

These are all ideas that Lena Khan, a fellow hijabi and filmmaker, has floated in her talks.

  1. Muslim organizations and businesses need to support local Muslim filmmakers. That means money. If not money, free in-kind services. If not that, free locations and free consultations on their areas of expertise
  2. We need to have grants for Muslims films, TV and web-series. See above: money. Film-making is an expensive business. A few less Audis, a few more films.
  3. We need to support each other with time, resources and expertise. And money.
  4. We need to recognize the value of using visual art to change things.
  5. We need to NOT sell out. We need to be as loud and as proud and as MUSLIM as we can.

What do you think? How can we create a thriving global Muslim film scene?

Okay. You can go to sleep now. With that bee in your noggin.

P.S. When you wake up, watch these shows.

Yes, my friends made them/are in them, but I have no affiliation with the projects. So many hijabis. Wallahi, it warms my heart.

5 Steps To Finding A Producer

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

I have cried. I have bled. I’m sweated. I’ve fought. This script has cost me money, time and a whole heckuva lot of peace of mind.

But I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to make a feature. Specifically my ode-to-my-mother romantic comedy Whose Wife Is It Anyway.

For the few – or many – of you, who have never heard  me talk about it, this is the logline:

When her terminally ill mother asks her to get married before she dies, a Muslim female comedienne dives into arranged marriage again, but with a new twist – she tests her suitors with improv games.
Whose Wife Is It Anyway is like Bridesmaids but they’re trying to plan love badly as opposed to trying to plan a wedding badly.

What I need most right now is a producer. 

Where does one find these miraculous creatures?

This very long 27-minute article has a few tips. And I’ve decided to summarize it for you.

Finding a producer is like falling in love. (Oh. I thought it was going to be hard.)

When I am an established director with my own production house…pfft, I can produce anything I want in-house. Though I might go after certain producers to fulfill certain ends like funding or getting access to stars.

What is a producer’s role?

Producers will have to know the film’s value in the market. Based on budget, they can attract foreign and domestic buyers. Script, director and cast all have to be calibrated towards that goal.

However first time filmmakers’ films are rarely presellable. They are what is called ‘execution dependent’.

Producers have to think from the outset how to distribute if a traditional distribution deal does not happen. 

So what exactly does a producer do?

  1. Helps ‘make’ the film.
  2. Finds financing.
  3. Rides point on distribution.
  4. Also controls marketing.

These roles can be divided or shared based on each individual’s strengths.

I should think about what kinds of skills I need for my specific project.

I do need to find that creative soulmate though. This is a peer who’ll be with me in the trenches. 

Executive producers are good in the outset for money and for those extra credits.

To find a producer, take these steps.=

Step 1: Understand your project’s 

  1. Tone
  2. Genre
  3. Audience.

AND why? Why this genre? Why this tone? Why this audience?

Step 2: Look for comparisons.

What films influenced me to make this film? Reach out to those filmmakers.

  1. Who’s making the kind of film I want to make, especially in terms of size and scope?
  2. Which people are working in the region I want to work in?
  3. Which producer would be familiar with my mode of production?
  4. Who has experience attracting cast and crew?

It’s a good idea to follow these people on Twitter.

Watch their movies.
Read their press.

Consider the motivations of each producer.

We can discern tastes from Twitter, track record, etc. But also from the producer themselves or their assistants.

What we are looking for is not content similar to our film, but thematic and emotional similarities. 

Good resources: 

  1. Hollywood creative directory
  2. IMDB
  3. Industry mentors.
  4. Agents who are interested in my short films might facilitate meetings.

Step 3: Make a presentation package.

This includes a:

  1. Script
  2. Look-book
  3. Mood reel
  4. Director’s vision statement

I should know reference points in film, literature and theatre as well.

Personal connections to that person are always the best. This helps cut through the pile. Because birds of a feather flock together. 

Timing is key to meeting with producers. Festivals and markets are good – we’re taking a zillion meetings anyway. However, just going to film festivals to support other filmmakers is great too.

Other ways to meet:

  1. Producer speed dating.
  2. IFP Project Forum
  3. Sundance Film Lab.
  4. Film Independent Lab
  5. Filmmaker magazine.
  6. Tribeca All Access
  7. “Script development markets — i.e., CineMart, Sundance, IFP, Tribeca, Film Independent, Berlinale Talent Campus

Step 4: Submit: Follow submission protocols on their website.
If there aren’t any, email or LinkedIn.

Step 4: Send a reminder after a week. 

How to conduct electronic communication: 
Write a three or four-sentence email with logline. The email should describe what films they have produced that inspired me. What is it about their approach that beckons me?

If requested, send a 1-page treatment and look-book. 

Don’t act helpless.
Don’t act gimmicky.

After I find my producer:

  1. Rewrite script.
  2. Plan different budgets at different tiers.

Producer can get me into the room – but I’m the one who is going to have to inspire. 

What is a film collective? Directors and producers banding together against the system.

What if I just want to make a film with my friends?
This is a viable option. But that may or may not look good enough to move the needle.

Another possibility: Work with someone who has never produced but a) is passionate about the project and b) is super organized.

We can also work with a producer after the film is made to get good marketing and distribution plans in place.

If anyone has anything to add to this discussion, as you might have guessed, I’m listening VERY closely.