Interview: Shahin Sean Solimon (SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE)

Shahin Sean Solimon is a DIY filmmaker, the kind of guy who doesn’t wait for opportunities, he creates them. He makes the type of films he enjoys himself and has a vision all his own. He’s about to make some serious waves with his next feature film: a sequel/re-imagining of the Ed Wood classic, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. I recently spent some time talking with Shahin about his previous work in film, his love of nostalgia, and why making PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: THE SECOND COMING could be a very exciting idea.

Corey Danna: Can you give me a little info about your background and what led you to pursue film?

Shahin Sean Solimon: I was born into a family of artists, my mom is a very famous Persian singer, and my dad was a classical musician. I’ve always been very intrigued by visuals, both in front of and behind the camera but wasn’t sure if it was I would pursue as my career. I had to ask myself if it was something I was actually good at and the answer was yes. So about ten years ago I began to pursue it professionally.

CD: How has your heritage influenced your work as a filmmaker?

SSS: I’m Persian-American but I was raised in Florida in the early 80’s with an American family, who adopted me for a few years, until I was reunited with my biological family…long story, but I have a very unique outlook so growing up in both those worlds allowed me to sink in with lots of different cultures and enjoy the beauty of everyone on the planet. As far as influences, it really helped me growing up in the average American home watching old school shows like Saturday morning cartoons or THE INCREDIBLE HULK, so it helped shape me artistically now. It’s easy for me now since I know what I like and other people like, so those really helped me a lot.

CD: When you did your first film, you didn’t wait for the opportunity to come to you, you created it for yourself. How difficult was it to get DJINN off the ground?

SSS: In my estimation at that time, I was a single dad, I had a house and mortgage, I wasn’t living with a bunch of roommates, and I couldn’t afford to take a bunch of chances. I’m a very aggressive person when I want to accomplish something, in a positive way, so I just came up with a strategy. My strategy is to go to film school or a film workshop, give it six months, if I felt it was something I would like to spend my time doing I would pursue it. If not, then at least I knew I gave it my best shot. I didn’t want to go around auditioning for this guy or that guy, getting small parts. I know guys who have been working in films since the eighties and nobody knows them. They’ve done a ton of movies and done well for themselves but they’ve never had any parts of major significance. That’s not what I wanted for me, I want people to stand up and take notice of what I’m doing.

CD: After DJINN was finished, how did people respond to it?

SSS: Originally, to be honest, after the film workshop I went to and finished, I was very excited. In fact, a teacher, Dov Simens (he also tutored Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez) told me that 99.9% of the people in the workshop will not pursue film. He told me I was crazy enough to do it, so that was a good sign in the beginning. So I wrote this script based on everything that I had learned up to that point. I was going to shoot a test, and if it turned out good, I would step up. So the test on DJINN was supposed to be just me in costume and a short story I had written. I found a Director of Photography and shot the test but my DP said, “Why shoot on this crummy camcorder, lets get a better camera!” . I thought it was a great idea so we got the best camera we could get and shot the test. It looked like a real movie so I gave myself a few more weeks and before we knew it we had ourselves a full movie. I learned to edit, I did it myself, and suddenly our film was done. It was baby steps so it started out with no pressure on anyone and I felt it was the best way.
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CD: When did you decide you wanted to do a SINBAD film?

SSS: After the experience of the first film, we had a theatrical reception for it, and the funny thing was how the crew and I were the only ones who knew it was just supposed to be a test in the backyard. Now, we’re at a theater in Santa Monica, it’s a full house, and everyone is watching it. After it was over I realized I had just wrote, directed, produced, and starred in this feature film. So I was taking a break after having finished it so I could spend time with my family and one night I started watching THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD on AMC. It was midnight, I was tired, and it just hit me like a rock. I had to check and learned it was in the public domain, anyone could use the character. So I went ahead and did it, I wrote an original Sinbad script and it was an amazing experience. That movie has gone all around the world and distribution companies are still picking it up, I think it was Korea who just offered to pick it up for them. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to make that movie and to have learned from it.

CD: I personally enjoyed the visuals and the overall look of the film. Can you talk a bit about what inspired that?

SSS: Thank you! SINBAD was a movie I had first seen when I was six and I loved those stop-motion monsters and wanted to bring them back. I like to strike chords with people so when I make a movie I strive for it. As much as I love originality, I also love nostalgia and thought it would be extremely cool to have this film that we couldn’t do as a $40 million dollar picture but we did have the funds to do this nostalgic piece. I think they came out better than they would have if they were CGI. The texturing on the creatures just came out great, I couldn’t be happier! Some of those scenes were re-written on the fly and were animated on the fly. Our budget didn’t allow for a whole lot but we were able to come up with some stuff on the fly, we animated on the fly, and made it come to life. The crab monster battling the cyclops was something I came up with in the middle of production and we were able to pull it off, old school style. I couldn’t be more proud of the artists who did those.

CD: So tell me a bit about how you were able to involve Patrick Stewart as the narrator.

SSS: One of the guys I worked with contacted his camp and he liked the script and my work. We met and talked and it just came together. He’s probably the most professional and sweet human being I’ve ever met and he deserves everything he has. I’m really looking forward to working with him again.

CD: You’ve scripted both of your films, can you take me through your writing process?

SSS: It’s a combination of writing from your gut first without worrying about the technical aspects. Second, you go through and break everything down. Third, that’s when you worry about the technical writing. I’ll start out with a tagline, with SINBAD it was, “Sinbad is tasked with traveling to a magical island full of monsters and mayhem to save the princess”. Sometimes, I’ll get a group of people together with a camera and we’ll shoot a scene. Then when we see how it’s going to come together, I’ll write the rest of the script.

CD: How do you juggle all the the responsibilities when you’re jumping all over acting, directing, etc?

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SSS: Anyone who enjoys something so passionately, ironically, Ed Wood did it too, that’s 90% of it, the mental. The passion will drive you until the film is finished but I’ve dont it that way since I was a kid. I have home videos that I hope to go nobody sees, but their all movies, horror, comedy, etc. and I made them with my family. On the first day of shooting SINBAD, everyone was asking how I could say cut if I was in the shot and it was being messed up behind me. I don’t know, it’s just second nature to me and I’m used to it. With technology the way it is, those things are so much easier to do, not like film where you have to develop it.

CD: Since you brought up ED WOOD, you’re doing a re-imagining of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. How close is your script to the original story?

SSS: It’s very different but it’s also really alike. For the fans of the original movie, they will get their fix with certain nuances and different symbolic things from that movie they’ll find here. I don’t want to give away too much but as far as the story, PLAN 9 is a favorite of mine along with the movie ED WOOD, I love Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Back in the mid-90’s when that movie came out it was a huge influence on me to even get into film. With PLAN 9, there really isn’t much story there so I want to sit down and write something that Ed Wood himself would enjoy. I’m making something original, hopefully enjoyable, with a character driven story, but will still retain certain nuances that audiences and myself loved about film. This isn’t going to be campy, this is a serious version of it, and I hope people will enjoy it as well.

CD: I know you don’t want to give away too much but how are you going to make your film stand out? There was a remake called PLAN 9 that came out last year.

SSS: Yeah, and it was really campy and I’m not sure it should have even been called PLAN 9. It was something totally different. I glanced at it and we are nowhere near it. It’s a campy, goofy kind of film where mine will be a serious, stylized motion picture with special effects and all sorts of cool stuff. Think of it like this: It’s a very serious, post-apocalyptic film called PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE:THE SECOND COMING with the nuances that Ed Wood created like UFO’s, zombies, and aliens. Right now, that’s all the information I can give.

CD: You’re obviously a huge film fan, which filmmakers have influenced you most over the years and which modern filmmakers do you admire?

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SSS: I am, thank you for noticing that! Akira Kurosawa is my favorite of all time! Even more now than before I’ve found myself influenced by his work since i started to realize how beautiful his idea of character driven action stories are. George Lucas calls them space operas but basically they’re action driven character stories. George Lucas obviously, he changed the planet with STAR WARS, and I was changed by it as a child. Steven Spielberg, amazing, beautiful, adventurous filmmakers with great stories. INDIANA JONES, E.T., were just amazing movies. From the early 80’s to the mid 90’s it was just one kickass movie after another. Robert Rodriguez because of his rebellious style, you grab a camera, a Home Depot light, a couple of actors, and hit REC. I like Quentin Tarantino because he has the same style as Rodriguez though his movies are a bit more violent. I’m not a big fan of blood and guts in film, it’s too much of a gag. But with Tarantino, his films are very character driven so it works. Those guys are by far my favorites!

CD: It’s cool to hear you give props to Rodriguez. I just love the fact he built his own studio in Texas, has his own network, and everything he does caters to the same audience he is a part of.

SSS: He’s a really nice guy, he’s not one of those glammy, pretend-to-be Hollywood types. He’s down in Texas having fun creating stuff and not trying to fit into the Hollywood scene.

CD: Do you have any plans beyond PLAN 9?

SSS: I do!! PLAN 9 will be a public funding campaign and should be launched at the end of August. I really want the fans to get involved mainly because in this day and age in technology, the fans want a quick turnaround. There’s no reason to wait something like four years trying to pitch it to a studio, going through development, bringing in a bunch of producers who all want a piece of the pie, etc. It’s this weird secret in Hollywood where all these producers come on to a film then end up fighting over it. There are hundreds of films that are sitting on shelves having never been released because of it, and they’re good movies. And the only people that’s getting hurt are the fans and the filmmakers who put in all this time and work for nothing. So instead of going through all of that, I’m sure the audience wants to see it now so I’m going to speed this up with public funding and I hope it works. If it does, I have four or five scripts I’ve written, a sci-fi time travel script unlike anything you’ve ever seen and it’s a lofty script. I have a horror movie I’ve written that’s in the works, a deep, old-school, scary horror movie. People who have read it have told me it gave them goosebumps. I also have a spy-thriller I’m working on as well. I also have something else in the works I can’t tell you much about. It’s a series and it’s a very mind-bending, sci-fi, drama.

CD: I appreciate you taking the time out to chat with me.

SSS: And I appreciate you taking the time to interview me!