Ameer Kazmi stepped out of the shower on a recent Monday morning to find his phone lit up with text messages and voicemails.
“I knew it was either something really bad or really good,” the 20-year-old student at New York City’s School of Visual Arts said.
Luckily, the messages were celebratory. Kazmi’s friends and classmates were reaching out to congratulate him on winning the 2016 Coke and Regal Films’ grand prize for a 30-second film he wrote, directed and produced this summer.
The program, which has evolved and returned this year after a brief hiatus, is one of the country’s longest-running student film competitions. In 2016, Regal Cinemas joined
This competition challenges filmmakers to create a short film about the specialness of the movie-going experience. Students who make it past the script review section of the competition are tasked with managing all elements of the creative process – from scripting to casting to editing.
A panel of experts from
We caught up with Kazmi to learn more about his winning film, his approach to storytelling, and how programs like Coke and Regal Films help kickstart the careers of young filmmakers like himself.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
As a kid growing up in Queens, I always had an attraction to cameras. And when I got into skateboarding at age 13 or 14, I filmed my friends and rediscovered the great feeling of holding a camera in my hand and telling stories and documenting things no one would otherwise get the chance to see. That’s when I started looking into doing it for a career. I did a few filmaking workshops on weekends and shot whatever was going on in my life at the time. I saw film school as a great opportunity to take things a step further. I decided to stay in New York because I knew it was important to be in the heart of the industry, artistically and creatively. I also wanted to get to know the city I grew up in a little more.
How did you hear about the
Coca-Cola and Regal Films program, and why did you want to enter?
My professor approached me with the idea this summer while we were in Sweden for a traveling film workshop. I decided to give it a shot, and wrote the script there during my free time. It was an exciting challenge to take on. I worked earlier in the summer as a production assistant on a few commercial projects, so I was curious to be on the other end and see what it would be like to direct, with a more traditional sense of filmmaking and my own approach to storytelling.
How would you describe your storytelling style?
One thing I try to push in my work is a sense of community. It has always driven the stories I want to tell. This brief focused on how the movie-going experience brings people together, which was a perfect fit for this project.
Tell us about the experience of writing and shooting ‘Blindfold’.
It was a major learning experience. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work in different aspects of filmmaking, from pre-production to production to post-production. But what this allowed me to do was approach, with great detail, every stage of the process and be very attentive to every decision I made along the way. It helped me realize how precise and effective you need to be.
How did you find the talent seen in the film?
Casting was very important to me. I’m a huge fan of working with people I know, and of using non-actors in my films. The male lead in “Blindfold” is a good friend I grew up with who doesn't have acting experience, and the others were professional actors we casted. I wanted to pick personalities and energies I could relate to, and who would bring an authenticity to the project. Because first and foremost, I wanted to tell a real story. Once we got everyone together in one group, it all clicked.
Did the fact that the brief called for a 30-second short film make your job easier or harder?
It made my creative process more difficult because I’d never done something that shortform. So it was challenging to get everything in the scipt across on screen in such a limited amount of time. It challenged me to be super precise and eliminate fluff. But the production process was just as extensive as it would have been for a longer film.
What does winning mean to you?
It’s a huge milestone. This opportunity is not something kids in film school often get! Working with these two great brands was an eye-opening experience. You never know what doors might open in the future; it definitely lit a fire under us all to keep going.
Speaking of the future, what’s next for you?
I’m working on a short film for my thesis, which will be in my school’s film festival at the end of the year. And I’m trying to explore other mediums and 3-D artforms to see how everything can fit together, creatively – from fine art installations to interactive experiences using light and video. I’m trying to discover what I want to create, and how. Every day is a new experience.
How has the evolving technology and media landscape changed the game for aspiring filmmakers?
The accessibility to create media has grown tenfold. There’s a production happening on just about every block you walk down. So many people are shaping our culture, and instead of viewing it as intimidating or stressful, you’ve got to use it as inspiration. There are so many beautiful things around you… you just have to go out and find them. To be in the driver’s seat, it doesn’t get more exciting that that. Young kids today are going around with DSLR cameras shooting full HD-quality, and high school students are premiering at Tribeca. It’s an exciting time to be a filmmaker.
Despite the many ways we can consume film content – from streaming services to Snapchap – the experience of seeing a movie on the big screen is unrivaled. Agree?
Absolutely. There’s nothing like sitting down at a theater with people you love and having a shared experience. People keep asking me where they can see “Blindfold” online, and I tell them to wait and see in the theater! In today’s world of instant-gratification media, patience is rewarding. We have plans to bring the whole crew to the Regal Cinemas in downtown Manhattan where we shot the film and see what we created on the big screen with the masses.
Coca-Cola and the moviegoing experience such a perfect match?
They go hand in hand. You can’t think of going to a movie without the sounds and taste of an ice-cold