Following a rigorous selection process, AFI selected 25 alumnae from the AFI Conservatory and the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) to advance to the next phase of the Fox Filmmakers Lab. From a previous post, the Lab is a partnership between Twentieth Century Fox Film and AFI, who will together work to increase the number of female directors working on major studio films by giving the alumnae opportunities to direct short films based on the studio’s film franchises and titles, such as: ALIEN, CHRONICLE, DIE HARD, ERAGON (Fox 2000), THE FLY, THE MAZE RUNNER, THE OMEN, PLANET OF THE APES and PREDATOR.
The 2017 Fox Filmmaker Lab directors/AFI alumnae are:
Alexis O. Korycinski
Rosita Lama Muvdi
Deborah M. Pratt
Following the conclusion of Lab Week at Fox — which provided participants with tremendous access to the process of studio filmmaking — the filmmakers were celebrated at a cocktail party kickoff event in Beverly Hills, CA on Thursday, January 12, with Stacey Snider (Chairman and CEO of Twentieth Century Fox Film) and Bob Gazzale (President and CEO of AFI) in attendance in support of this groundbreaking partnership and to welcome the incoming filmmakers to the program.
In the Spring, following further mentored development of their material, the directors will pitch their franchise or reboot ideas to Fox executives. One or more filmmakers will be chosen to make their concept into a short film.
Fox is committed to providing significant resources to the projects, to reflect the quality and scale of the films that they support. The filmmakers will be able to add the projects to their portfolios and pitch Fox feature films unrelated to the shorts in the future.
Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi — this year’s Artist-in-Residence at the AFI Conservatory — returns to his neorealist roots with THE SALESMAN, the suspenseful tale of married couple of theater actors, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), starring in a performance of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Their lives are thrown into turmoil after Rana is attacked in their Tehran apartment — during the play’s opening weekend — and Emad becomes increasingly obsessed with exacting vengeance.
Like Farhadi’s previous films ABOUT ELLY (2009), the Oscar® winner A SEPARATION (2011) and THE PAST (2013), THE SALESMAN dwells in the domestic discord struck by class conflict in Iran, and the moral ambivalence of the film’s protagonists. Farhadi re-teams with his longtime collaborators, editor Hayedeh Safiyari and cinematographer Hossein Jafarian, to craft a dramatic “whodunit” that leaves the audience gripped, and with more questions than answers.
On the AFI Campus recently, Farhadi — who taught a workshop for Directing Fellows this September — fielded questions from AFI Conservatory Dean Jan Schuette and from Fellows about THE SALESMAN for the Conservatory’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar series.
How did you begin to develop and approach this story, which begins and ends on a theater stage?
I always have an image in my head and the story starts from the image all the time. From the period that I was in student theater, I had this image in my head that I knew that I would have to use someday. I could see a house in the theater stage and different parts of the home would light up, and then all of the lights would go dark and then all of them would come on so you could see the whole house. I gradually thought of my themes like this as well — dropping light on different parts of the family and at the end, you feel like you know the whole family. So, the story started with this image and this image was like a magnet, it went over my brain and grabbed all of the things that were related to the story.
How do you collaborate with your editor and your cinematographer?
The biggest quality of both the cinematographer and that editor is that they hide behind their work and don’t show themselves — this is something that comes from Eastern art. In some periods of Eastern art, artists wouldn’t sign their pieces. They were thinking that when the audience sees the piece, they shouldn’t think about the artist but [instead] think about the piece itself. In Western art, when you see, for example, the statue of Michelangelo, you applaud Michelangelo rather than the statue itself. It means that the artist, or the shadow of the artist, is in between the relationship of the audience and the piece. I did my best to hide myself behind the work so nobody can see me behind the scenes, behind the film. So they can feel like no one wrote the dialogue and it’s just actors, the characters, who are really saying these things. This is the most important thing that I have in mind when making a film.
How did you craft the audience experience of the mystery and thriller elements of THE SALESMAN, which blend realism and fantasy?
There are so many movies made that have suspense and drama. Some of the best ones are Alfred Hitchcock. Part of Billy Wilder’s work is like that as well. On the other side, there are so many films that have the feeling of everyday life, a documentary feeling. I think the best example is [Iranian director] Abbas Kiarostami. But, we haven’t seen that much of this combination, both drama and documentary. By that I mean, you see a drama and you feel like that is real life. By watching Hitchcock films, you get very excited and applaud Hitchcock’s craft, but don’t get anything about the people who are living at that time in those conditions. I really tried to make my film go in that direction, mixing drama and real life.
What is the process after you’ve finished your films? To whom do you show them first?
The whole thing is a torture. And the whole process is very enjoyable as well. It’s like giving birth. Full of pain, but it’s the best thing that can happen to the person in the end. But the hardest part for me is when the movie is done, when the movie starts to have its distance from me.
I feel like that part is not really my job. You go to the festivals, and then you have to just talk about something where you were hired on purpose. When the movie is over, I don’t show it to actors because they just look at themselves. Their opinion wouldn’t help you. I show it to some people who have nothing to do with cinema; same with the script. I passed my script [of THE SALESMAN] to the French teacher of my daughter. When normal people see the film, they can’t tell you what they feel right away. But while they are watching the film, you can sit with them and see at which parts they are getting bored and at which parts they’re excited. The most important thing for me to understand at the end of the film is if it’s boring or not. I don’t like anyone to go out of my films, even if they have to pee. My film has to do something where you have to finish it, and then leave.
THE SALESMAN is Iran’s 2016 entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar®. The film opens stateside on December 9, 2016.
Twentieth Century Fox Film and the American Film Institute have entered a new partnership to help increase the number of female directors working on major studio films. The initiative will provide alumnae of the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) — the American Film Institute’s unique female filmmaker training program — the opportunity to direct short films based on the Studio’s film franchises.
With the necessary expertise, tools and access to the Studio’s extensive intellectual property, the filmmakers will be invited to contribute to building the narrative world of Fox’s film franchises, and in the process, create sample work in genres, particularly action and science fiction, in which female filmmakers are often underrepresented.
Fox is committed to providing significant resources to the projects, to reflect the quality and scale of the franchise films that they support. Fox will finance, produce and distribute the short films, via its many platforms. The filmmakers will be able to add the projects to their portfolios and pitch Fox feature films unrelated to the shorts in the future.
Kicking off the trailblazing partnership, 35–50 graduates will be selected for an introduction to the terms of the initiative. Ten finalists will present original pitches to senior executives at 20th Century Fox. One or more filmmakers will be chosen to make their concept into a short film.
“The dearth of female directors is not a matter of passion or talent,” said 20th Century Fox Film Chairman and CEO Stacey Snider, who made the announcement today. “Instead, it’s often a question of access and resources. We’re excited to offer these to talented women filmmakers who then can build upon this practical work experience.”
“AFI believes that the future of this American art form is a true symphony of voices,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO. “We have been committed to this issue from our founding, and we look forward to this landmark collaboration with Fox to impact the art and entertainment landscape in a profound way.”
The AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) is a hands-on training program committed to increasing the number of women working professionally in screen directing.
The selected participants will receive guided instruction and direct a short film or new media project. All completed projects will be showcased the following year.
DWW offers participants intensive training in narrative filmmaking in an innovative workshop. Each participant is required to complete a short film or series by the end of the program. DWW is open to women with three years or more of professional experience in the arts. The program is tuition-free though participants are responsible for raising the funds for their projects. For more details on the program click here.
Applications are open now through August 30, 2016. Apply here.