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Bangladesh Talent Shines In Hollywood

 

1. Tell us about yourself, about your youth and where you were born and raised.

-  I was born in Dhaka, but I was raised in Narayanganj. My father is from Sonargaon and my mother is from Feni/Noakhali, but they used to live in Narayanganj.

I went to Narayanganj Preparatory School till I was in 5th grade. I was a very introverted kid and still am to some extent, which sounds odd because I work in the media industry. Since I am an only child and the first grandchild of my maternal grandparents, I was pampered a lot by all my relatives.

I spent most of my childhood reading books. It was my favorite hobby which has led me to be very imaginative. I still remember coming up with a story about a ghost which wasn’t actually a ghost but a football stuck in a tree.

I grew up with my cousins who lived nearby, and we all played together. I was never really a good student, and I think the only time I achieved good results were back in nursery, haha. I got the 1st position in class, and that was the only time I became 1st in my school life.

In 5th grade, I was transferred to Government Laboratory High School because my father got elected as a parliament member and so my whole family had shifted to Dhaka.

I’d say the best part of my childhood was mostly just reading books and watching cartoons on tv.

 

 

2. You have worked with Unmad since the beginning and now you’re doing great in Hollywood. Did you always have a plan on working in Hollywood someday?

-  I’ve always wanted to work at Unmad, it has been around since before I was born. My uncle used to read Unmad, and even before I could read or went to school, I used to go through the magazine because I liked the cartoons. I grew up reading it and I always wanted to work for them. So, I was fortunate enough to start working for them in 2001, and I did for 19 years.

Working in Hollywood wasn’t actually my dream. My dream was to tell a story or be a part of telling a story which reaches the maximum number of people.

I used to have a huge stack of comic books and I knew of Captain America even before I knew America itself. I even used to wear blue trousers and carry a red bucket-cover to be used as a shield, haha.

So, I’d say cartoons, comics and that side of entertainment always intrigued me. And, when I decided to study filmmaking, I went to Canada. I wanted to work in the industry, I wanted to work in North American movies, but I didn’t know if I could.

By the time I came to Canada, I was already an established writer back home. I was the Head Writer at Grey Worldwide and I had my own TV show. I was already established with a backup plan and I knew that if I failed, I’d just go back.

The backup to my backup was to become an engineer as I had a degree in mechanical engineering from BUET. To be honest, I didn’t know that I’d be actually working on Hollywood films. But, yes, I wanted to study and work in the industry here, and that’s the reason why I came to Canada.

 

3. You worked with both Marvel & DC. How was the experience?

-  It was very exciting because my first DC project was ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, and back then, it was one of the biggest films of DC and Warner Brothers. It was a very big deal to bring together two of the most iconic superheroes to the big screen, and I got to work on that project.

I worked on the very first comic-con trailer that was released. It was the one that somebody recorded with their phone and put it online. This project was one of the most expensive project that I had ever worked on, as they were going all out to make it the very best.

I also got to work on the last bit in which Doomsday was revealed. It was very interesting because around 500 people were working on that project and only 50 of us got separated into a group that worked on that last part. We were not allowed to talk about it with anyone, including people from the studio, it was that strictly confidential.

I also got to wear batman’s cape which was pretty cool. So, what used to happen is that they sent the costumes to our office for a 360-degree photoshoot and we used that reference to do a digital copy. And, when they did, I had the batman costume in my office, and I tried the cape on because it was the actual cape that Ben Affleck wore in the film!

Later, we sent the package to our office in London because they had the proper setup and they were supposed to do the photoshoot. But, the next day, someone from that office called us, saying that they didn’t get any package. I was the last person with the cape, and so the producer looked at me, and I was like “I swear to God, I did not steal it”.

It was very funny because then he had to call The Warner Brothers and ask how many capes they had for the film, and if they could send us one more because it got lost at the FedEx. But, thank God, the people at FedEx found it in 2 months.

At Marvel, it was an adrenaline rush. There was relatively less workload because they tend to distribute it amongst a lot of vendors. I went from ‘Captain America: Civil War’ to ‘Doctor Strange’ to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’, and there was no gap in between.

The thing with Marvel is that they are already established. They already knew what they wanted when working on ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ and ‘Captain America: Civil War’ because they were sequels. But for ‘Doctor Strange’ it was a little different because they didn’t know at that time how the magic would come across in the Marvel Universe as nobody had seen magic before their cinemas.

We had seen Wanda doing her semi-kinetic moves in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ but we had not seen actual magic. There was a lot of R&D for that project and our company did the psychedelic scenes. It was challenging with them constantly changing things because they had so many ideas that they wanted to try out.

I know three of our artists that worked on it for six months and at the end of the day, they had nothing to show for it, because all the stuff they worked on didn’t make it to the final cut or even the DVD extended version.

Probably the most stressful time in my professional career was when I was a production manager on ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’, and I had to work from 9am to 3am for 7 days a week with no breaks whatsoever for approximately 6 months.

 

4. What differences have you found when working for DC and Marvel? Is there any difference in working pattern?

-  Behind the curtain, they are all in very good sync. And, I’ll tell you a story. When we were working on the big battle between Doomsday, Wonder Woman and Superman in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, that entire sequence was supposed to be in one shot. After a few tries, Zack Snyder, the Director, didn’t like where the animation was going with it and so he decided to change it into 9 different shots. We didn’t have any reference for that, and they said that they would shoot a reference and share it with us soon.

An online meeting was conducted with Zack Snyder when he told us, “I had to find a place to shoot this in a very short time, and so I did it in my friend’s garage. This is how I want the fight to be”. They did the entire choreography showing us the shots as to how he wants the characters to be played and we were going to digitize it and apply it to our digital models of the characters. They filmed it in a giant garage where I could see a couple of porches in the background, and I kept wondering “Where is this garage? It’s huge, it’s about 10,000 square feet!”

At the end of the call, we asked Snyder who the friend was, and he said it was Robert Downy Jr. and I kept imagining Batman and Superman fighting in Ironman’s garage, haha. So, that’s when I realized that when you’re working in this industry, it’s all one enormous creative force channeling in different directions.

 

5. If you are asked to choose between DC & Marvel, which one will you pick?

-  I do like both of them, but I tend to lean towards Marvel a bit. My most favorite superhero is Spiderman because I think he’s the funniest one, with my second favorite being Batman, and the third place is shared among Captain America, Hulk and Wolverine. And, among the villains, my number one is The Joker, with number two being Thanos.

 

6. You have worked on ‘The Game of Thrones’, one of the greatest TV series of all time. How was the experience?

-  That was actually my first job in VFX.

I had just finished working on ‘Rick and Morty’, and they were not sure if they would get a second season of it at that time. They wanted me to work on the ‘The Adventures of Puss in Boots’ but I was not really a fan of that movie and so I wasn’t sure how the TV series would be. At that time, a company called, Moving Picture Company (MPC) where I did ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, was hiring and so I applied for the position of the VFX coordinator.

During the interview, they asked me where I was from, and when I told them about Bangladesh, they said that they have an office there. I corrected them, saying that they had an office in Bangalore which is in India, the neighboring country of Bangladesh. They were a little flustered. I said to them, “No worries. Bangalore is actually very close. I can see it from my balcony.” They laughed at the joke and offered me a job.

They said that I was going to work on a show called ‘The Game of Thrones’, and the episode that I worked on was when the wildlings first attacked the wall. I was one of the VFX coordinators, and we were in charge of creating the whole wall. That’s when I got my first exposure to VFX and it was a mindboggling experience to see the amount of work that goes into everything.

All the arrows and fire you see on GoT are CGI. I remember them continuously giving notes as they wanted movie level quality-work put into this TV series. People were working overtime and it was very stressful, but the show was this good because of the amount of hard work and effort behind the scenes.

 

7. What are your thoughts on Bangladeshi TV series and on Deepto TV’s latest animated Short Film?

-  I am a huge fan of ‘Tomorrow’, Mohammad Shihab Uddin (Arif) Bhai with Murad and his team at Cycore, did a fantastic job. It is definitely the best Bangladeshi animation short and I think it shows that if you put in time and effort and have a good budget, you can actually produce very good content in our country. But, unfortunately, people in Bangladesh don’t usually understand that.

I had a lovely chat with Deepto Tv when I was in Dhaka last December. I had a couple of meetings with where I told them that their work in ‘Tomorrow’ was fantastic and that I’m a huge fan of that short film. I also told them that people should invest more time and money to create such content.

In terms of Bangladeshi TV series, a lot of people are trying, and there’s a lot of different work being done. I think that we’re just missing on some good substance and good story-based content, and not many people out there are working on that.

‘Bohubrihi’ by Humayun Ahmed, the tv series on BTV, is one of the most amazing tv shows that I have ever seen in my life. And, it is not only my favorite Bangladeshi TV show, but it is one of my favorites of all time. This should tell you that if your content is strong enough, people will remember it and love it forever.

I think we need to concentrate on creating better stories/scripts which would drive us to much better content. You know a lot of young filmmakers are doing great, such as Ashfaque Nipun, Mabrur Rashid Bannah, Nuhash Humayun etc. But, we have around 35 channels on which approximately 5% of the overall content would be up to a certain standard and the other 95% of the content would not be up to the mark.

We have a tendency of finishing up things quickly just to put it out there without considering the quality. I used to work in the Bangladeshi industry and I’m guilty of doing that myself. And, that’s something we should focus on and change as well.

 

8.   What suggestions/advice would you want to give to others who also want to pursue a career like yours?

-  The first thing that people need to understand is that it really is possible. Some people are under the impression that it’s impossible right from the beginning, and they get scared and nervous and never take a chance. But if you do not take a chance, you will never know your worth.

If your dream is to create content that would be enjoyed by the whole world, nobody is going to just hand it to you. You need to work hard starting from the bottom and slowly move towards the top and hopefully with the experience you gain, the skills you develop and the connections you make, you will earn that role.

If you want to work on Hollywood films, you need to first understand what you want to do, and once you know that, you need to focus on developing skills for it. There are many ways you can develop your skill, with the first thing being - getting an education on that subject. You can get a BFA/MFA/Diploma and slowly develop your skills, and when you develop your own network, through that you might be able to work in Hollywood films.

Now, unfortunately, this type of schools can be very expensive and not many people would have the ability to afford it. But, nowadays, make a film with your cellphone in theory. You can start making your own content right off the bat and send the final product to festivals, and when you do well in a festival, you will be building a network. When you get approved for funding and/or you get hired, you will slowly start to move up the ladder.

You can also make short films and put it up on YouTube and hopefully you’ll generate a lot of views. You should make the type of content for a broad audience instead of your own country for a better chance at working for Hollywood films. When you get views, you can reach out to international representation to land international work.

A South African student of Vancouver Film School was very good with VFX. He made a sci-fi short film and uploaded it on YouTube. It became ridiculously popular and successful and he got a call from the production company of Peter Jackson which was looking for a new director for a film adaptation of Halo. So, he went there, and they worked on Halo for two years, but the movie didn’t pan out. They asked him if had anything else because they liked working with him and he was very talented, and he came forward with one of his projects called ‘District 9’. They then gave him the funding required for ‘District 9’ and his career in Hollywood was made. This person is Neill Blomkamp.

Now, along with directing various Hollywood mega projects, he runs his own VFX workshop in Vancouver and he produces web-series based on his stories and his own content. So, my theory is that if someone from South Africa can do it, why can’t someone from Bangladesh? You have to take a chance and not be afraid. Otherwise how would you know?

I think the world is very small, no content is not accessible around the globe anymore. I always tell my friends and colleagues that the GoT they are watching, I’m watching the same GoT in Bangladesh. I might be downloading it illegally, but the content is the same. Similarly, the Harry Potter book that they are reading, I’m reading the same book even though it’s a photocopied version. So, the content consumption is the same. So, there’s no reason to believe that the idea that I am developing will not be of the same standards. It’s how we are expressing it is the challenge here.

Bangladesh has such a rich culture with amazing literature. Our daily struggle prepares us for anything and everything out there. So, the expression of our ideas might actually be more exciting than someone from Canada. I don’t see a reason why we can’t do it; you just have to believe in it and work hard for it. Of course, luck is a big factor in this industry. The stars need to be aligned, but that’s why this is the industry of the dreamers; We all dream about something we want to do. But if you never take a chance you won’t get anywhere, and there’s no excuse for it. If you give it your 110% and if you take logical steps, it is possible.

 

9.   What is the impact of the pandemic on your industry?

-  Well, luckily, I have been working on animation for the last 2.5 years. We were able to work from home almost instantly, but the VFX studios will struggle because the live action filming is not being able to be done. The people working on set must have been hit significantly hard because they don’t have any work now, and its looking really grim as to when the filming will begin.

Even when it starts, things will change significantly, and it will have an impact on a lot of things because VFX studios depend on the actual filming. And, those of us who are working on animation from home are actually working more because everyone is bored with nothing to do.

 

10.   What are your future plans and your life-long dream? When you are planning on coming back to Bangladesh?

-  I go to Bangladesh all the time, and I just came back in the first week of January. In terms of permanently moving back to Bangladesh, that might not be in the cards, but I visit Bangladesh once or twice a year.

My dream is to create content for the whole world to enjoy. I got to meet Genndy Tartakovsky, one of my idols while working in the industry. He is the creator of ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ and ‘Samurai Jack’. I grew up watching his work and I met him when I was working on ‘Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation’. When I told him how much I loved his work, he thanked me, and I thanked him for making my childhood a wonderful and memorable one. And, then I realized that how I felt at that moment, I want someone else to feel the same way about me 20 years down the road. That’s the legacy I want to leave behind.

I’m working on a couple of short films right now, and hopefully one day, I’ll get the chance to tell my story on a bigger platform for a movie or a TV series that would be accessible for the whole world to enjoy.

 

11.   What is your view on the current film industry in Bangladesh?

-  I think the Bangladeshi film industry is changing significantly. We struggled for the longest period of time. It’s not really there, but everything is getting better including the concepts and the technology.

Also, there are people who are coming back to the industry after studying all of this from abroad. So, there will be knowledgeable crews that have exposure to world cinema.

 

12.   Name your recent favorite Bengali movies.

-  I think one of the movies I really enjoyed was ‘Matir Projar Deshe’, directed by Bijon Imtiaz. It was a lovely film showing our marvelous green Bangladesh. The story was beautifully told, and the characters were amazing.

Bijon is a UCLA graduate, which is the number 1 film school in the world, and that was his thesis film. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should check it out. It is wonderful.

 

13.   We see that you are directing a film called ‘Surviving 71’ based on our 1971 war. Since when are you working on this project and when can we expect to watch it?

-  ‘Surviving 71’ is an animated short film, we have been working on it for a while. Animation takes a little time and we didn’t have a lot of budget.

We released the trailer in March 2019, and it was a proof of concept in order to get money for the project. We just secured the funding this January and now we are working on it. We hope to release it on the 50th anniversary of our victory day, which will be on 16th December 2021.

You can watch the teaser here: https://youtu.be/0jx3-pRmMdo

 

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