About Sara Zia Ebrahimi

Persian bohemian, indie films cheerleader, Social Media Specialist at American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Love to: write, read, sew, eat, cook, run.

HBO Seeks Diverse, Emerging Writers for HBOAccess Writing Fellowship

hbo“HBO has announced the launch of the HBOAccess Writing Fellowship which will begin accepting applications on March 4, 2015. The program will give emerging writers from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to attend a week of master classes held at the HBO campus in Santa Monica, California focusing on character and story development, pitching ideas and projects, securing an agent, and networking. Each participant will then enter into an 8-month writing phase where he/she will be paired with an HBO development executive and guided through the script development process. At the conclusion of the program, HBO will hold a reception and staged reading for industry professionals where the writers will be introduced to the entertainment industry.”

Read the full story here on Indiewire.

Creating interactive “choose your own adventure” videos

timebomb music videoEvery other Tuesday Seed & Spark hosts a Twitter chat with a few discussion questions for indie media makers, which you can follow with #filmcurious. I’ve gotten great tips and made new connections with dozens of filmmaker through these chats.

One of the recent chats was focused on interactive storytelling–what stories work well interactively, and what ones don’t? What tools have we used for interactive storytelling and what were our experiences.

I asked a question about peoples’ experience with Interlude, a software that allows you to create interactive videos where audiences can make choices throughout a piece that leads to different outcomes. Nathalie Sejean, who writes for Mentorless, gave an example of a project she worked on with Interlude–and it’s fantastic.

It’s an animated music video for Aloe Blacc’s “Ticking Bomb” that has 16 possible endings. When you watch, you’ll see moments that give you an option to click between two choices. If you don’t click, the video will continue with a randomized choice.

My first time I wanted revolution, but ended up with self-medicating on the couch. I won’t tell you how to get other results–experience it for yourself! Enjoy.

[unfortunately WordPress can’t embed it, so you’ll have to go here]

Fermented foods and saying hello to strangers: Two unique arts events in Philadelphia this weekend

monaiqbal

Sunset at the Edges (2014), acrylic painting on canvas by Mala Iqbal

There’s two unique (free!) art events in Philadelphia that are worth checking out.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 6

As part of the First Friday reception for a new exhibit at the Asian Arts Initiative featuring work by Mala Iqbal and Matthew Lee, the are holding a community meal called “Pallets and Palate: Placing Taste, Sound and Sight“. Sample an array of fermented foods curated by Heidi Ratanvanich and Eileen Shumate.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 7

How would the world change if everyone said “Hi” to a complete stranger? duplicate. until response., a group concept exhibition curated by Laris Kreslins attempts to answer this question.   Dozens of artists mailed artwork to unsuspecting strangers randomly selected from phone books and asked for feedback. The artwork, and the communication exchanges are on display for this exhibit.

Parenting isn’t hard. Being in community with non-parents is: A reflection on my first year of motherhood.

me and squish twoI’m not someone who ever dreamed of having a child. My daughter, now almost one year old, was a delightful surprise.

When my partner and I discovered I was pregnant, one of our many conversations amidst the flurry of panic and excitement was about our commitment to our art practices. No matter how hard it was, we would not stop being artists. One of our main priorities, in addition to the health and wellness of our child, would be to support each other in being able to have creative time.

We were determined to not to become parents whose lives only centered around their children, not as judgement against those people, but because we knew we wouldn’t be happy.

And I have to say, we did a pretty good job all things considered. He taught himself how to do VJing–live time video projection–and video projection mapping and performed several shows in 2014 at venues like the Trocadero and Underground Arts. I wrote and directed the first two episode of a high production value web series when our daughter was 6 months old, pumping on set and waking up three times a night after 15 hour days on set to breast feed. I also was on the screening committee and volunteered at the BlackStar Film Festival (where childcare for filmmakers and committee members was offered).

I was so worried that the lack of sleep, breastfeeding, enduring crying sessions and all the craziness that comes with living with an infant would be too hard for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were absolutely difficult moments. Surprisingly though, overall it wasn’t that bad.

What has been devastating and unexpectedly difficult, however, has been trying to stay connected with communities I used to share with non-parent friends.

I describe my cultural background as “kebab, grits and kale.” I am an Iranian-American, raised by hippies in the U.S. south. I grew up in communities–both amidst the (mostly white) hippies and the Persians–where intergenerational connections were strong. When someone threw a party, all the kids were thrown into one room and the older kids took care of the younger ones. If anyone got hurt, you went and got an adult.

I grew up with visions of adults who were whole people, fun and a little crazy. There was always space for children of all ages.

I guess I (wrongly) assumed that would be my experience as a parent in arts and activism circles here in Philadelphia as well.

After having a kid in 2014, my social options were suddenly minimal. I receive dozens of invitations from friends, well intentioned and in the spirit of inclusion, and over and over again have to ask them: is there childcare at this event? Is there a space set up for kids? It’s exhausting. And, depressing.

After a year it’s finally becoming clear what’s been so difficult about my first year of motherhood: segregation from my non-parent friends.

I no longer can go to workshops on filmmaking, discussions on cultural representation, literary salons and poetry readings, board game night at a friend’s–because there is no childcare or or space for children made.

I can’t pursue my interests and dreams of learning to DJ better, join a writing group, or tear up someone’s living room floor dancing–because there is no childcare or  space for children made.

I can go to mommy groups and talk about breastfeeding, poop or how tired we all are. But that doesn’t feed me. I don’t feel whole or alive in those spaces. They are segregated spaces for parents only. My vision of the world and the communities I existed in have never been monolithic in any way.

When you don’t offer childcare or make space for children, you exclude people from your community and deny them their humanness. Same as when you don’t offer accessibility options at your events.

What you communicate by making these decisions is that parents and disabled people are not welcome in your community. It is particularly hurtful and problematic when that message comes from people who claim to be committed to social justice.

Before my daughter was born, I wasn’t great about inclusion myself. I admit. This isn’t finger pointing, but awareness raising.

My commitment in 2015 is to challenge every invitation I get with the question: will there be childcare or a space for kids to play/sleep? I encourage you to make yours to figure out a way to say yes.

4 reasons why I’m loving Agent Carter so far

Agent-Carter-Peggy-2After a somewhat weak reviews of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, at first I was unsure how I’d feel about the new series Agent Carter. But I’m here to officially join the hype and say that so far, I’m loving it! Here’s a few reasons why:

  • It passes the Bechdel test. The Bechdel Test, briefly, is a way of testing if a film is “feminist” and not just featuring a strong female lead. The markers are, two or more female characters who 1. have names 2. talk to each other and 3. whose lives and conversations revolve around more than seeking the romantic attention of men. Peggy Carter not only is femme fierceness in an all male work-place, but she has other femme friends.
  • It doesn’t rely on super powers or smashy-smash for excitement or to move the story along. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate good action scenes in a super hero flick. But it’s refreshing to have a Marvel series that is about people who, while super, are not super heroes.
  • It has excellent fashion. I’d wear any of the outfits she’s worn so far.
  • It is only eight episodes. Because it is short, the story and script is tight. You can permanently love it, rather than cringing like many TV shows make you do as they drift into irrelevant story lines and add filler episodes (eg. I would have loved Scandal forever if it stopped after one season).

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The Martian: One of the few times I think the movie might end up better than the book

The Martian coverThis week I finished reading The Martian, Andy Weir’s best-selling novel about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and uses his scientific knowledge in innovative ways to try to survive.

The book is a fun read–though light on human emotion and heavy on the science. Reading the author’s bio this science-over emotion makes sense since his background is as a scientist, not an artist or writer. There’s minimal time spent on the loneliness or terror the character (presumably?) feels, and more time spent on the chemical reactions he created to be able to make water. Despite it driving me to try to remember chemistry lessons at times, it really was gripping and worth the time to read.

In November of 2015, a film adaptation of the book directed by Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon will be released. Usually, books adapted into movies fall short for fans, unless the filmmakers do something that emphasizes the cinematic form. Films that try to be like the book will always fail, in my opinion. But, films that do something that augments the best aspects of the book by doing something that the printed word can’t–utilizing sound, color, and editing instead of words for exposition and mood–I can appreciate as a separate piece of art.

This book, however, is one that I feel will actually be better experienced as a film no matter how it’s rendered (unless there’s a weighty voice over narrative that explains all the chemistry dilemmas and calculations). It likely won’t be brooding and quiet like Gravity, but we’ll see what direction Scott takes it.

Shooting indie films in Philadelphia: a tip on sound

apple boxes and slateIn September 2014 I directed the first two episodes of a web series I wrote called Bailout. It was a terrifying–but exciting–choice to do this shoot. I did it because I realized the only way I was going to get any good at directing was by practicing.

I spent all of my time in the MFA program I did years ago hiding behind my skills as a producer rather than challenging myself to experience new things as a director.

I played it safe.

I was scared of making mistakes.

In recent years, several things inspired me to face my fear of making public mistakes–my mom’s death and resulting reflections on my mortality, my daily meditation practice, and about a million inspirational quotes from artists on the creative process like this one from Neil Gaiman.

I plan to write a series of short blog posts over the next few months reflecting on some of the experiences of the shoot, the highs and lows, the practical and the theoretical. Enjoy!

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Thinking about sound when you don’t have the budget to shut down a road

After working enough small-to-no-budget shoots, you start to build a list of potential sound obstructions to look out for in a location that could slow down your shoot. Is the location on an airplane flight path coming into the Philadelphia airport? Is there a church near by that rings bells regularly? Is there a guy on the corner in the summer time who has blasted music while sitting in his fold up chair every hot evening for the last 10 years who can’t be moved?

It would be funny–and actually kind of useful–to start a public shared google document that is a location scouting check list of Philadelphia specific sound obstructions for indie makers.

For this shoot, I discovered a new one to add to this list: SEPTA. How I’ve gone so many years in this city and not encountered that challenge, I’m not sure.

But yeah. No. Don’t pick a location on a one way street that is on a bus route. Not only do you get the distinct voice of “WELCOME TO. ROUTE XX. SERVICE TO. YY” what feels like every 10 minutes (though they never seem to run that frequently when you’re actually waiting for the bus), but you also get the start and stop of traffic on the street as the bus inches its way from block to block. It forces you to rush takes in small chunks when there is an ebb in standing traffic and no bus, and also requires dedicating a crew member to staking out down the road with a walkie-talky to notify you when a bus is approaching.

Sound tip: check the SEPTA bus route map before picking your shooting location.