My name is Sheikh Shahnawaz, I’m a 23-year-old British-Bangladeshi film director, screenwriter and producer (well I’m trying to be anyway) from Birmingham, England.
I’ve known since I was 15-years-old that I want to make films but how does a broke Asian kid from Birmingham with no connections make it to Hollywood?
So at 18-years-old I did what everyone else was doing and went to university to study media production. I quickly found out that I wasn’t learning anything useful that would help me get to Hollywood. Instead, I used my student loan to buy my own camera and taught myself how to make films.
As I honed the technical aspects of filmmaking I researched how my favourite filmmakers got their careers started. I discovered Christopher Nolan’s first feature film Following, a little micro-budget noir film made for £6000. This was a huge eye opener for me because I didn’t even think it was possible to make a feature film for so little!
After that, I started researching micro-budget filmmaking techniques. I discovered the Raindance blogs. I found other micro-budget feature films such as El Mariachi by Robert Rodriguez and Primer by Shane Carruth just to name a few.
After university things took a decline though. I had to get a job editing wedding films to make ends meet and my filmmaking career was put on hold. Even while editing those wedding films I would always think about making a micro-budget feature someday. But it seemed so daunting. How do I write a captivating 90-minute film since I’d only written 2 measly short films up to that point? Where will I find actors that will work for free since I wasn’t exactly making lots of money editing these wedding films?
After a year of editing wedding films, I had had enough. I decided for 2018, I might not be able to make a feature film but I can at least make 1 short film a month.
I contacted the only 2 actors I knew in Birmingham and told them of my plan. Luckily for me, an aspiring film composer studying at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire saw my previous short films and had gotten in touch with me a few months prior and said that he would compose the score for my next short film for free!
I convinced my actors to work for free by writing them exciting roles where they could showcase their talent. I wrote the script based on locations in Birmingham I knew I could film in for free. I shot everything in 1 day since we all had day jobs. I filmed as a one-man crew so we could move quickly. I already knew how to edit. I already knew how to use Photoshop to make a poster. I already knew how to sound design since I studied music & audio production for 6 years prior to university. Everything was falling into place.
I had done it. I released my first monthly short film Sleepless on the 31st of January to my YouTube channel. And then I continued to release a short film every month. I posted on social media about them. Other actors and filmmakers were finding me and wanted to collaborate. I honed my craft with each short film and they kept getting better. The Birmingham Mail wrote an article about me. I was on the BBC Asian Network radio. People were actually watching my little movies and giving a damn!
My advice to other aspiring filmmakers would be to just go out and make your movies with whatever camera you can get your hands on. Embrace all your limitations and challenges. Don’t wait around for funding. Don’t expect that 1 short film you made at university to be accepted into a big festival and launch your career (because chances are it won’t, trust me). Like Mark Duplas said at his SXSW 2015 speech “The cavalry isn’t coming”.
2018 has been a truly incredible journey for me. I can finally say I think I’m ready to make my debut micro-budget feature film next year. I’m still a long way away from Hollywood but at least I’m on my way now.
You can find all my short films on my YouTube channel.
REVERSAL Thriller – 3 minutes
The death of an unknown man and the moments leading back from it.
THE INITIATION Crime Thriller – 8 minutes
Two childhood friends are tested when they meet with a local mob boss for their gang initiation.
THE WOODS Supernatural Thriller – 7 minutes
A man wakes up in the woods with no memory of how he got there. He must find his way back home but the woods are not exactly what they seem.
GAMER Psychological Thriller – 9 minutes
A man battles with his addiction to FORTNITE, a popular online video game after he starts to see his in-game avatar in real life.
DUALITY Psychological Thriller – 11 minutes
After years of being in an abusive relationship and isolated from her friends and family, a woman develops a split personality to confide in.
WITNESS Crime Thriller – 6 minutes
A robbery goes wrong and 2 gangsters must decide what do with the witness.
BLACKMAIL Thriller – 10 minutes
A teacher finds himself being extorted when he receives incriminating photographs of him with a 15-year-old student.
SLEEPLESS Psychological Thriller – 7 minutes
A man suffers from chronic nightmares and wears an anklet that electrocutes him whenever he falls asleep. After being awake for so long, he can no longer tell what is real and what is a dream.
STALKER Thriller – 12 minutes
A struggling writer has his phone stolen by a stalker who uses it to upload strange videos to the writer’s cloud storage. Instead of going to the authorities, the writer uses this experience as writing material for a new novel. Things quickly turn sinister when the writer is drawn deep into the stalker’s dark world.
FRIEND REQUEST Horror – 6 minutes
A lonely man receives a friend request from Satan on Facebook.