Your new movie It's
a Strange World - in a few words, what is it about?
It's a psychedelic journey down the deep dark hole of our own mind. A
picture that provokes emotional contact of experimental and surrealistic
imagery to evoke a reaction in the viewer’s eyes, losing grasp of what
to follow and surrender to be immersed in the visual and musical orgasm
pouring in their mind.
Simply, a story of Eve who decides to escape her lonely reality,
traveling into a world of past, present and future.
were your sources of inspiration when dreaming up It's
a Strange World? And how structured was the screenplay of the
movie actually, how much was improvisation and found footage?
film came as a challenge between me and cinematographer Lautaro D’Amato
we both were studying film at the academy of art university and found
ourselves baffled by the expectations of story telling we faced in our
day-to-day life. We were young at the time with a lot of various film
stocks and access to old double 8 cameras, 8 mm, 16mm Arri cameras, some
1CCD cameras, HD, 3 chip cameras - the world seemed endless in possibility.
I was very young and driven to explore new territories of storytelling and
visual stimulation. At the time I was watching a lot of Bunuel, Tarkovsky,
Bergman, Miike, Lynch, and the various other surrealist history that
fascinated me not only in film but also in photography and fine art. I was
very drawn to the idea to tell a story that is inspired by fantastical
fairytales i.e. Alice in
Wonderland, to old Hollywood classics, mixing it
with the variety of mediums we have to explore and telling a story in the
very visual, artistic, and timeless way. But it all started coming to me
when I craved the desire to shoot a full on circus on film and revolving
the story line around the circus. It was one of the most unique
experiences I have ever experienced in making a film, whenever we had free
time or available film stock or access to a new camera, we always made it a
discipline to go out and shoot right away. The screenplay was never fully
developed from the get-go, we would come up with a treatment on the spot,
and push it as far as possible logically. I would always write every week
for three years in developing the arc of the story and the character up
until the last minute of actual shooting, and as I grew as an artist the
story kept pushing and multiple different directions evolved with time.
The day of the shoot I would brief the talent on what it is that we're
doing without them having any idea or concept of what will be shot that
day. So you can say that there's a thin line between improvisation and
planning, keeping a fresh perspective at a different approach in making a
film in creating room for other artists to stretch their own boundaries in
a collaborative effort to tell the best story possible. None of the
footage in the film was found footage, all the picture you see on the film
was originally shot by either me or Lautaro.
wrote the story for It's
a Strange World together with Lautaro D'Amato - so what can you
tell us about him, what was your collaboration like, and how did the two
of you first meet even?
Lautaro is an amazing talented
photographer and cinematographer from Argentina, who I met the first year
attending film school. He was very eccentric and like me thought outside
the box - we related on so many levels and we're both big fans of
experimental cinema. We both were very interested to tackle new
territories been trying to explore the medium of film and digital by
shooting as much as possible and experimenting with both mediums to the
furthest extent possible in look or latitude. I worked with Lautaro at
first on a small project he was shooting, I gaffed for him. Later we
collaborated on telling a French film come later called Macondray Lane,
which was a non linear love story between two foreigners living in San Francisco. Later, and after a lot of searching, I was shooting the circus
after getting permission from the Haight and Ashbury School of Performance
Arts with three of my colleagues. we shot on 16mm, did triple exposure and
some DV footage as well. I showed Lautaro the footage, he really liked
what he saw. He was also venturing at the time to shoot long exposures
late night footage and other beautiful imagery that he captured on 16mm
film. Made perfect sense for us to join forces and collaborate on a much
bigger idea, manifesting simple guidelines to follow in the long journey
of shooting this film.
a Strange World is at times very associative, even surreal in its
approach - so did you ever run the risk to lose your narrative along the
way ... or did you even encourage that?
I knew going into
this that my ultimate goal was to encourage an experience that the
audience could lose themselves into, the ultimate escapism. Seeing as how
we kept writing and developing on the spot and as we awaited footage from
the processing labs to see what we needed to do next, we felt obligated to
stretch the boundaries of narrative storytelling that's shy away from the
typical orthodox hero's journey guideline. We know we had our main
character Eve, we wanted her to enter into the psychedelic hallucinatory world of her subconscious without being tied down with
time - creating a
heightened sense project that does more than just tell a story. From the
beginning the whole goal was to challenge the audience's perception of
what a story is or how a story should be told. When you tackle a story shot
on multiple formats, silent, with a non linear structure, then you are
intentionally encouraging to not loose narrative, in our case to escalate
the concept of narrative into more philosophical levels. I think it was a
major risk that played in our favor and helped us create a memorable
You have shot It's
a Strange World in a wide variety of formats - why was that then,
and what do you think the different formats brought to the table
At the time I began developing It's
a Strange World I was up in my knees in debt already from second year of college. It
was hard to spare whatever money you have between making films or
surviving, so under difficult circumstances one had to be creative. It was
a blessing in disguise as the timing was perfect: Yes we didn’t have
enough money to budget a full film, but using old and new film stocks,
borrowing short-ends from friends, renting out cameras from school or
borrowing cameras from other filmmakers, we were able to bring these
elements together to create a unified, colorful, multi-layered picture and
perspective that was unique to a film. It made people question how the
effects in the film were made, which were mostly in camera. It manipulated
people's perspective on whether the Awakening section for example was found
footage because of the old look but don’t realize we shot every single
frame of the film and used triple exposure to distort the image and create
a more timeless look. Your eyes never get used to a certain look, or color
palette or aspect ratio, it all gets manipulated and distorted to push the
boundaries of picture. The mixing of formats from direct manipulation to
hand processing to various frame rates to double projection, just to name
a few of the techniques that we were able to utilize in mixing the formats
of the cameras and stock or digital imagery we were shooting.
How would you describe the
overall look and
feel of It's a Strange
Imagine tripping on acid or mushrooms, while
listening to a beautiful orchestra as you wander through nature, with no
conciseness of time. The intention with It's a Strange
World is to pay hommage to the greats who inspired us to experiment and push boundaries of
story telling. It plays like a silent fantasy jumping from one point of
mental memory to the other and interpreting it in the most lucid possible
way. It is a clash between fine art photography, classic Hollywood and
modern surrealism, at times soothing, in other intense, also scary, silly
and happy. It triggers all the familiar emotions in us through joy, anger,
disgust, fear, and contentment.
Do talk about your cast for a bit, and
why exactly these people?
With this film I wanted to cast
strictly non-actors, I wanted the film to have a very raw and organic
approach to the expressions of the players in the film. Nicole Calhoun who plays
Eve, a talented musician who had no acting experience, was our lead
from the beginning of the film all the way to the last frame, she is our
main protagonist through telling this story. With every setup, whenever we
shot, and as Lautaro would prep-camera and get the lighting in place, I would be working with Nicole on the beats she had to nail, rehearse over
and over the blocking with the intent of emotion needed to be portrayed.
It wasn’t only challenging for me to direct but also more challenging
for Nicole and the actors who for the first time in their lives had to
surrender themselves to a performance that demanded them to explore new
territories of self-learning. I remember there was one day when we
were shooting the bunny laundromat scene and Nicole was extremely sick
with a cold and physically tired - we decided we had to incorporate that in
the character's arc as the character and Nicole to me are inseparable. We
used her illness and fatigue to convey her exhaustion and fear of one of
her major real phobias, which is bunny rabbits - and you can imagine on
that scale for three years creating this piece and the work and dedication
put in by all the talent involved. The other cast are a lot of my favorite
people, friends, and other crew members who were interested to play in
front of the camera.
You of course also have to
talk about the wonderful music of It's
a Strange World for a bit, and was it composed especially for the
Yes, this is a singular original music track,
composed by Lautaro and Nicole together, I was there to guide and express
exactly what needed to be played and conceptualize the flow and mood of the
sound/music of the picture. I also knew there had to be a trumpet in
there. They both did a phenomenal job accurately creating a classical and
haunting music that was emotionally provocative and complimented the
picture to new heights. The production reached out to Ex’pression
College in the Bay Area, with help of some musician-friends and students,
and awesome Bay Area’s finest sound engineers, we were able to create a
10 personnel performing orchestra for the film that we called The
Strange Orchestra - cellists, violinists, violist, trombone player, trumpet, among
a few. Luckily with the film’s premiere at the De Young Museum and
other venues the film was accompanied with live orchestration, which
brought the whole experience to another level. The foundation of the music
was based on the locked edit of the picture, we wanted to create sounds of
nature in correlation with classical inspirations. When we would see an
image of a flower in the sun, the music would be specifically composed to
convey the emotional uplift and serenity of the moment- at times we would
see our character running away from danger and push then the music to
intensify and have instruments clash conveying eruption. It was physically
and mentally an important marriage for the film to be what it is -
reflecting the emotional truth behind the visuals we are seeing.
As far as I know, It's
a Strange World was shot over the course of three years - so what
can you tell us about that process, and about the various shoots?
this was the only time I felt I had a freedom to explore with a film, yet
there is a lot of uncertainty this project has presented to us. The idea
of knowing when to stop was not a question, we just kept shooting and
expanding on the story, the journey for long into three years, which
started in 2006 and evolved to the film winning the Silver Palm Award
at Mexico International Film Festival in 2010. It first started with the
circus, and whenever me or Lautaro had time, or film left over or a class
we had an assignment for, we always made sure to shoot something we
previously wrote for the film and utilize it to our advantage. Through the
time it took to shoot the film, we moved around the city twice to
different places to live, and shot multiple projects in between, but this
was always our fun late night film, the one we were free to do whatever we
wanted to, by any means, to express and experiment. We ended up shooting
hours of footage that could’ve extended this picture into a feature, yet
we wanted to achieve more than just ideal timing. It was challenging with
every month trying to keep the idea fresh, creating and writing more
content for the film, and keeping everyone involved excited for that many
years - it was immensely hard yet very rewarding. As we kept developing and
shooting the story, we kept growing as filmmakers and changing our
perspective with what it is we wanted to tackle or talk about. It was
noticeable when we would watch the footage linearly as we shot it, and
that's why the film had to take a form of its own to bring together the
various styles, approaches, looks and formats.
The $64-question of course,
where can your movie be seen?
The film has recently been
available online for free, for the public after making its festival rounds
for the past couple of years. You can view the film directly on my website
and also can be viewed on Vimeo:
/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2unWdQJnJLA
can you tell us about audience and critical reception of It's
a Strange World?
After many years of work, that was
ultimately the purpose in creating such a picture, and I couldn’t wait
to see the audience and critical reception. The film was first exhibited
at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, which was my first time to see the
public reaction, and it was divided. Some people seemed to be frustrated
with the lack of direction they expected out of the film, trying to
literally identify and analyze every motive/shot, yet others became
involved with the picture, the story, the characters, and the visuals, letting
themselves be totally immersed and developing a desire for multiple
viewings. The film was received very positively by critics, which I was
surprised by and very happy about. Josh Samford from Rogue Cinema said “It's a Strange
World from director Hassan Said is a 27 minute free-form bit of
surrealist cinema, similar to the work of David Lynch or Luis Bunuel… I
can only tell viewers that this is a picture that is beautiful for its
craft and not simply for its storytelling.” The Independent Critic’s
Richard Ropes wrote
“Destined to be wildly popular on the indie and underground film fest
circuit, Hassan Said's It's a Strange
World is easily one of the
best shorts I've seen yet this year and an unforgettable experience for
the open-minded cineaste who is able to surrender and surrender again to
the cinematic experience.”
future projects you'd like to share?
I am currently in development of two feature films to be shot in the US
and one feature to be shot in Egypt.
Recently finished my Spanish film Sal y Limon, which won Best
Cinematography, Best Actor and Best Actress at the International Euro
Film Festival, the trailer can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/22475884
Finished the first season directing an awesome web series with a
talented writer Aaron Keene called Death Will Tremble, which can be
viewed on blip tv: http://blip.tv/deathwilltremble
- and more projects to arise on the surface soon, it is a neverending grind.
What got you into
filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal education on the
I got into filmmaking at the age of four, not
necessarily directing but wanted to be part of an art form that mixes all
the elements of artistic expression into one. I would watch old classical
westerns, horror films, foreign pictures as young as eight years old. I
decided when I moved to the US to attend the Academy of Art University in
San Francisco, where I earned a B.A. in motion picture and television.
What can you tell us about your filmwork
besides It's a Strange
I have been making films since 2004, I have
been very fortunate to exhibit every film I have done in a national or
international festival. One of my proud projects and one of the most
challenging was called Mute, which won the German Independence Award at
the Oldenberg International Film Festival. I was also very fortunate to
produce a short in Angola, Africa sponsored by the ministry of culture,
the film was called Alambamento, which was picked up for distribution by
Shorts International and now can be viewed on iTunes, Amazon, VOD and in
over 40 countries. I recently joined the Screen Actors Guild and have been
fortunate to work in front of the camera, in smaller parts, on films with
directors like Clint Eastwood, Dave Guggenheim, John Singleton to name a
few. I've built all my work from scratch and with almost nothing, it has
landed me recognition and accolades in the US and abroad, over 50+
festival selections and awards.
would you describe yourself as a director?
A taleteller of
stories of self-awareness and vivid realities. Poetic use of striking
characters and imagery explores the psychological impact of both life’s
shocking and heartwarming moments. For me, films are about
“glimpses of a person’s life, a situation, or experience; that’s
what makes films more powerful than having a beginning, middle, and end.”
My work tends to be provocative or controversial at times, the topics I like to explore are expected by audience to be super coated. I am drawn to
character-driven stories of people that need an audible voice in the
world. I directed films in English, Spanish, French and want to continue
to explore more cultural stories and various languages.
who inspire you?
Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Paul Thomas
Anderson, Wong-Kar Wai, Roman Polanski, Billy Wilder, Sergio Leone,
Alejandro Jodrowsky, Alejandro G. Innaritu, Joel Coen, Federico Fellini,
Lars Von Trier, Youssef Chahine… this list can be really long.
Your favourite movies?
is the hardest question by far, but to name a few off the top of my head:
Mulholland Drive, Once Upon A Time In America, 2001: A Space
There Will Be Blood, The Holy Mountain, The Long Goodbye,
La Dolce Vita, 8
1/2, Last Tango in Paris, Oldboy,
Breaking the Waves.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Oh, that is a whole interview on its own. But dare I say Lord of The
Rings trilogy? It’s very well executed with superb craftsmanship, yet
to me it's an utter dull experience.
Transformers, all or any of them, fell asleep watching one of them in
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
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you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
but I'll let you think about that one for the next interview.
for the interview!