Cyrus Mirzashafa of Thulsa Doom Video: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A…

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Cyrus Mirzashafa of Thulsa Doom Video: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

I would say to any aspiring filmmaker to get a handle on every aspect of production, … Because whether you’re making a low-budget indie short by yourself, or an indie feature with an eight-man crew, OR a commercial feature, you will have the knowledge and skillset to communicate your vision.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Cyrus Mirzashafa.

Thulsa Doom is an award-winning indie film production company pushing the boundaries of cinema with high-quality, low-budget films with big stories to tell.

The brainchild of Cyrus Mirzashafa, Hector N. Helsing and Micheal Davies, Thulsa Doom was conceived during the pandemic. In just three years they have produced over 40 shorts and two features.

We catch-up with Cyrus Mirzashafa to share the company’s key learnings and future plans.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Well, I grew up in a melting pot that was called Grangetown in Cardiff, South Wales. Community & family oriented where everyone knew everyone. We joke it’s a little like ‘Shameless’ the TV show… People always had goods that ‘fell off the back of a lorry’ and pirated VHS films, which is where my early love for cinema came from. We played football in the streets and drank cheap cider from the corner shops…Every day was an adventure before mobile phones and social media were a thing.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Along with the dodgy VHS tapes, I was always the ‘arty’ person amongst family & friends: drawing, painting, and taking photos with the family Polaroid camera. However, what really drove my imagination was the fact that I was the youngest sibling, the youngest cousin… so often enough, I would be left to my own devices, playing with my toys, coming up with stories and drawing them all into my sketchbooks. Everything was always a story; I just didn’t know I wanted to be a storyteller.

So with the creative bug deeply rooted, I took night classes in fine art and eventually a foundation in art, which was wonderful, then a BA in graphic design, which, erm, wasn’t so wonderful.

After much huffing and puffing as the ‘tortured artist’ (jokes, of course), I asked myself, ‘what do I really love?’… I had a lightbulb moment. Film!

So, I completed my BA and then enrolled in an MA in film and haven’t looked back since.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

Well, the funniest one is probably illegal, so I better not. However, you kind of accept in film that what can go wrong will go wrong. You become less phased by the hiccups from deleted rushes, broken lenses, or bad scheduling.

However, after I graduated from my MA, one of the first interviews I went for was an editor’s position; I was 24, still wet behind the ears and nervous. I didn’t have the verbal skillset at the time to articulate myself clearly, and after an evidently ‘not good’ interview, the interviewer thanked me and said, ‘we likely won’t progress with your application as you are a bit intense’… Buhahahaha. In hindsight I get it and it is funny, but at the time it was a difficult pill to swallow.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I’m quite lucky, having worked on some big campaigns for F1 where I met the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Merky Airways and Stormzy, or even more recently, we interviewed Rio Ferdinand…

…However, the most interesting people to me are the creatives, from Wim Wenders and attending his masterclass at the BFI, Mike Figgis, who told me how he invented the ‘fig-rig’ or Ken Russell, another mentor who is British royalty in cinema and was totally bonkers in the best of ways with his outlandish personality.

The most interesting people are my peers. Nic Booth, for instance, a DOP I’ve worked with since film school. Massive talent, and ‘interacting’ with him for the best part of 16 years has been fascinating. The first film we shot was beautiful. It consisted of Nic, myself and a friend T (Tabasim), with no mode of transport, so we stole a shopping trolley, filled it with an Arri 16mm camera & lenses, tripod and lugged it around Grangetown to make our film.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Well, it’s not fair to single out one, as ‘help’ comes in many forms. From my cousin Ryan for bringing me pirated VHS tapes and sparking my imagination, to my parents always allowing me to pursue my creative tendencies, and the friends I’ve met since living in London…

However, there is always that one person who believes in you when you’ve misplaced your potential or lost your confidence. My partner was that person. We met in 2018 on a music video, and one of the early things she said to me was, ‘why haven’t you done more?’… That resonated deeply; why hadn’t I? It was the kick up the arse I needed to get my filmmaking back on track.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Mmmmmmm, there are too many! However, one that always comes to mind is ‘I dream my paintings, and then I paint my dreams’ by Van Gogh. I feel that privilege with the films I make.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

First and foremost, diversity is important in all industries.

Regarding film & television or any other infrastructure… I feel deeply that we are failing at the first hurdle, and that is to sit and have a conversation wherein people are not divided by their differences yet instead focus on what is common between us, and that is the human experience, telling stories. Everyone must feel included in a sincere way.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

How long is this interview? 🙂

We are building our slate of films that will ‘level’ us up as a company. However, from a purely selfish perspective, I’m most excited for the ones I am writing or co-writing and directing. That was always the dream, to write, director and edit. Everything else outside of that was a means to an end.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

Creatively problem-solving. As soon as you put words on a page, you have a problem. You need actors, location, lights, camera, wardrobe, hair & makeup, a dog!

I’m most proud of being able to ‘reverse engineer’ what I see in my head… an example would be the first music video I did a very long time ago. We wanted the paint to drip from the ceiling and built an elaborate contraption of balloons that could be popped from above for the desired effect. Cheap yet visually on point.

In short, all of the restraints and limitations you feel on a production actually force you to be better, and I’m proud that I’ve been able to accept that instead of moaning like a petulant child.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Don’t do it!… filmmaking is for the mad.

Seriously, I am amazed that a film ever gets made. From script to sales and everything in between is a constant cluster of obstacles.

I would say to any aspiring filmmaker to get a handle on every aspect of production, … Because whether you’re making a low-budget indie short by yourself, or an indie feature with an eight-man crew, OR a commercial feature, you will have the knowledge and skillset to communicate your vision.

So, don’t wait, stop making excuses and just go and find out… and the best way you can do that? Learn the rules, research how other films have been made, and then you’ll know how you can break or bend them to your will.

Learn about film finance.

Even if you are making a £30 film, learn the traditional models and waterfalls because, at some point, you will want to ‘level up’, and that inevitably means needing a budget… And with that in mind, it comes back to ‘reverse engineering’ the process. Tax Rebates, presales, debt finance, gap financing, equity finance, and then couple that with how actors/agents and sales agents usually play their role in the machine, equip yourself with that knowledge so you can keep the integrity of your film.

Read scripts

What’s your favourite film? Go read the script. What’s a film you hated? Go read the script. Everything you need to know about filmmaking begins with the script, and filmmaking is storytelling, so get back to the basics. Read, read, read, and you’ll understand structure and narrative better than you ever thought you could.

Network & Build a team

When I was little, my aunty said to me, ‘show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are’. The same is relevant to film, so get yourself networking asap and surround yourself with good people.

I was the shyest person when I began in this industry, and I still am. However, get over your inhibitions enough to put yourself out there, as you’ll also learn your value and how to sell yourself.

Accept that you will fail.

Failure is a beautiful thing; however, sadly, we are not taught this as acceptable from a young age. Failure gives us a chance to learn and experiment, and the artist/creative needs this. It’s basically your own character arc as a filmmaker. Tarantino didn’t even complete his first feature; however, from making that film and not completing it he leant HOW to make films. So don’t make decisions based on fear of failure; instead, push yourself into uncomfortable & new territory that’ll bring the best out of you.

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

It’s you. You have to make any film for yourself because, ultimately, you are the storyteller. Commercials & promos aside, when you have a client, all the other facets are just a means to an end, obstacles, challenges or beacons of support to effectively make you the best storyteller you can be.

I make films that I want to watch, and that means aligning with my gut feeling and the little voice in my head.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Learn to be alone. There is a lot of value in having time to yourself. As a kid, I learnt not to depend on other people. Enjoy your own company and find happiness within your own creativity and don’t put pressure on others to provide you with fulfilment… Because time is your greatest commodity… you literally exchange it every day for work, conversations, social media, yoga, the films & TV you watch… So know the value of being alone and what your time is worth before you give it to everyone else.

How would you do this?.. I don’t know, but I feel we should look at older ways and ancient practices. For example… The Cherokee Indian tribe of North America have a practice that goes back longer than anyone can remember. It’s a ritual right of passage where a boy becomes a man. In order to become a man, he has to go and sit on a stump in the forest.

He has to sit there for a whole night, blindfolded. Now the forest of Native American Indians is not a friendly place. There were bears, there were lions, and of course there were other tribes looking for a quick scalp. But the boy had to sit there from sundown to sun up.

Once they had endured the night then, they were deemed to be a man. It was utterly terrifying. Once you blindfold yourself and the darkness descends, the forest comes alive; every noise makes your heart leap. Every shadow seems to promise death. Once the first rays of sunshine begin, the boy takes off his blindfold. It’s then he discovers the secret…sitting right alongside him, ready at any moment to protect him, is his father. He never leaves his side, not saying a word, his actions speak for him.

I’m not saying let’s send our children out into forests alone at night with wild animals; however, there is a deeper meaning there to consider.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Kurosawa, Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Muhammad Ali,Tesla, but sadly they have passed on. Kirastami, Terrence Malick, Cohen brothers, Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Scoresese are filmmakers I deeply respect and are still alive, and it would be wonderful to have a dialogue with them.

However, I also love innovative thinking and someone like Elon Musk for all his good and endeavour towards a solidified human existence here on earth and beyond to Mars, well that ultimately starts with the arts, poetry, pictures, a need to express ourselves… and I feel if we go too far down the corporate rabbit hole, we fear losing the core of the human experience and someone like Musk could assist with a cultural revolution.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Also, filmmakers should be supporting filmmakers, so drop me an email, and I’ll reply if/when I can:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Cyrus Mirzashafa of Thulsa Doom Video: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.