Featured Filmmaker: Keyvan Sheikhalishahi
Can a 21 year-old write and direct a feature film?
Keyvan Sheikhalishahi already has! Divertimento, his new thriller starring Kellan Lutz, just released its trailer.
We reached Keyvan via email to ask him some questions about the film and his career.
What was it like to shoot a movie at age 21?
It’s great because most of the time, people are curious and interested to work with me and some want to help. There is a good energy during the making of the movie and I’m always open to new ideas when they make the movie even better. Of course, for Divertimento, I was more experienced than when I made Vesper, my first short with Götz Otto when I was 18, and this was a huge project. I’m lucky to have a very experienced team with people working in the industry since 20 or 30 years with big movies on their CV. It’s very important to have a clear vision for the movie and for each department so everyone knows how to work and what is the expected result.
What attracted you to this project/idea?
I wanted to make one of the biggest indie shorts ever made so I wrote the story in this way. I’ve made two other shorts and I wanted this one to be like a remake of my first short, but in a very different way and a hundred times bigger. I wanted the biggest set and the biggest cast I could have. It was also the first time I worked with special and visual effects teams, for the visuals we worked with a LA company from Paris. Concerning the story, ideas come always naturally to me and I liked this idea I had that each character represents a chess piece.
What films and filmmakers inspire you?
For Divertimento in particular, I was inspired by [David] Fincher’s The Game. The movie begins with a mysterious game but then rapidly moves in a different direction and becomes more like a ghost tale. Amenábar’s The Others is also an incredible ghost tale!
I love also the James Bond movies – I would love to make one one day. And Hitchcock’s and Nolan’s movies are my favorite. I really enjoy Brosnan’s indie movies, The Greatest, Remember Me, Love Is All You need and lots of his other movies. Yes, I’m a big fan of Pierce Brosnan and it would be awesome if I have the opportunity to work with him in the future!
What was a challenge that came up during filming? How did you improvise or solve it?
The biggest challenge was the set itself. We shot the movie in a big French castle built in the 18th century. It includes large rooms, so you need lots of props, decors and lightings to light them! We decided to have 100 lightings and a big crew to make the shooting possible.
During the filming, the biggest personal challenge was to make a key scene with more than 30 extras and all the actors, Kellan Lutz, Torrey DeVitto, Ola Rapace, Götz Otto, Christian Hillborg, Ellie Heydon and Brittany Gonzales. The scene lasts about 8 minutes in the movie, and I had to shoot it in 3 or 4 hours. Everything needed to be very clear and exact for everyone, and it was a great pleasure to film this scene!
What’s something that regular moviegoers don’t know about filmmaking?
I think moviegoers can’t imagine how much filmmakers can play tricks to make the movie, from the pre-production, the shooting to post-production and also all the possible and unthinkable visual effects. Personally, while I totally agree with Hitchcock, who stated that a filmmaker doesn’t have to film the set like it is in reality but to make it real from the eye of the camera and that’s essential, I always prefer when movies try to make “real” or practical things and avoid visual effects or stuff like green screen.
What advice would you give to a young filmmaker making their first film?
My advice would be that today, you have the chance to make a movie with a phone or a basic camera – that’s how I started myself. This is good, but most of the time the story that people tell and how they tell it are not good enough. So, make your movie! But work on the strength of your story and think about how you can tell it.
Divertimento will be released later this year.