From the reigning queen of a #girlboss empire to a soulful singer-songwriter, we’ve been profiling some pretty powerful women in our Make it Happen video series. Our next subject, Montreal-based artist MissMe, is a prime example of how vital it is to move to the pulse of your own heartbeat. MissMe left behind a glamorous job in the ad industry to literally take her message to the streets with her powerful wheatpastes. To capture her unique story, we enlisted the help of San Francisco-based Iranian-American filmmaker Mohammad Gorjestani. Gorjestani’s own resume is equally impressive: He was named as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film for his ITVS-commissioned film, Refuge (an official selection at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival). We caught up with the busy filmmaker to get the full scoop on MissMe, what’s next on his plate and why authenticity is everything.
Tell us about your creative process.
It’s a pretty simple process for me. Something gets under my skin, or I can’t stop thinking about it. I then think about how to create a film that speaks to themes I’m resolving internally or fascinated in. From there, I begin to explore what that might look like. I don’t try to overplan because I really believe in a fluid and organic creative process. I often have a framework of what I want to make, and allow a lot of room for a project to take form while we are shooting or in the edit. The only filter I have is how authentic what I am doing feels. As long as the feeling is pure, I go with it. To me, this is more similar to real life. I don’t want to have an overly manicured world; I want to live in a world of imperfections and mistakes, but also a world that is passionate and intentional in all its aspects.
What was the most surprising thing about working with MissMe?
She is the real deal, truly. Her values and beliefs are actualized in how she lives her day-to-day life — there is no front or talking out of both sides of her mouth. I think that’s very refreshing. Few people are actually taking what they say they believe in and putting it into action that disrupts the convenience of their daily life. We all live in a society where a “like” or a “retweet” is accepted as a sufficient vote, when in reality we all need to do much more than that. More than anything I think MissMe reminds us that we are all consumers and how we spend our money is a direct political vote. She reminds us that we all need to have an accountability and critical awareness of how we spend our money, the brands and people we support and how we decide to engage in labor.
Where is the coolest place you’ve traveled on a shoot?
I’ve shot a few projects in East Oakland, CA. It’s an incredible place everyone needs to visit. East Oakland is one of the most crime and drug ridden neighborhoods in all of America. But when you are actually there and meet the people who live there, you meet amazing individuals and families who have been systematically casted out of society through politics and the hand that they have been dealt. You realize the toll the war on drugs and the unequal distribution of wealth in this country has taken on people and how they really have been placed in a position to fail. Meanwhile, just a few miles away there is San Francisco, a thriving economy that is coming at the cost of people being forced out. You ask yourself: How would my life be different if I were born here, and how would the lives of these individuals be different if they were born outside of here?
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
There is no substitute for work ethic. In addition to that, surround yourself with people who are more talented and smarter than you. Take in as much advice as you can get, but be fearless in making decisions. Make sure that your decisions are being checked by asking yourself if the decision is being made by ego or what is actually best for the project. I also believe that you should make stuff that says something important and is meaningful at its core and isn’t just “cool.” Lastly, live with integrity, discipline and continue to work to be a good human. Who you are deep down will eventually infiltrate your work and craft. The real “you” will eventually reveal itself in your work.
Who is your dream subject?
Any subject that talks about morality and overcoming adversity. I’m also very vested in creating stories with minorities as protagonists. I think there’s been a lot of amazing progress made into driving awareness into the lack of gender diversity in film, and while there is plenty of more work to do in respect to that, I believe we need to put equal attention to the lack of minorities, both men and women. If you look at the statistics, and gender aside, it’s still a mostly white-dominated industry. The reality is that film needs more ethnic representation from the leadership levels down to the roles of the latest hit TV show. Until that happens, I think that we’ll continue to see similar social inequalities in real life as well. At the end of the day, I believe art and life imitate each other on a two lane road. One impacts the other, and vice versa.
How has technology changed the way you do your job?
I think technology has allowed us to work faster and cheaper. It’s allowed us to create higher quality work that has wider reach potential. On the downside, it has also overly saturated our lives where there is just too much stuff out there. There’s a lot of stuff that looks really cool and beautiful, but stripped back there isn’t as much substance as it first appears. I think the more dangerous thing though is the trend of art and music being experienced for free or close to it. I don’t think it’s sustainable. If creators can’t afford to create, eventually they won’t, or art will return to being something practiced by the upper class.
What affordable apps and equipment do you recommend to aspiring filmmakers?
I like Celtx for screenwriting, and I also really like the Darkroom app for photo editing. I think practicing composition is awesome and having our phones and apps like Instagram has been great for that. I also really love Exposure.co as a place to tell photo stories. These aren’t all specific filmmaking apps, but I think storytelling whether as a film, a photo essay or even just a photography is something that should be practiced and refined as often as possible.
What’s your next project?
I am one-half of Molecule Films, based here in San Francisco. We have a lot of creative projects in the works. We’re developing my first feature film, based on my short film Refuge, that we premiered at SXSW in 2014. We’re also working on a series of short films about the working middle class of hip hop pioneers. We recently finished one on Boots Riley, front man of the The Coup, and are currently editing one on Zumbi of Zion. I’m developing all these projects while in residency at the San Francisco Film Society.
(Featured photo via @miss_me_art)