top of page

The Various Facets of Independent Filmmaking Ft. Taha Ismail aka Director Shaheb

Pursuing an MA in Screenwriting at the London Film School, Taha Ismail is an independent Writer-Director from Dhaka, Bangladesh; currently based in London. As a young and upcoming filmmaker on the rise, he is currently developing his first feature. Needless to say he works with a multiple artists and brands, directing music videos, fashion films, as well as produce his own film projects.

In this exclusive Interview with The Bedroom Journal, Taha takes us through his intimate process of storytelling, his personal journey as an independent maker, his latest short film "This Is Me" which recently premiered at the Coalition of South Asian Film Festivals (COSAFF), the possibilities of improvement for the Media Industry in Bangladesh and some practical notes for aspiring filmmakers and creators.

1. How did you start your journey as an independent filmmaker?

Well, my journey started back in August 2012, when I started a content network called TITV - We were releasing content on Facebook and YouTube. It was mainly me making videos with a bunch of my friends and cousins. We started with a GTA fan film and branched out into short films, web series, sketches, music videos, and more. Looking back, it was an absolute blast - we made some amazing memories and had the best time. I’ve got too many stories to tell my grandkids. What initially was just a hobby, turned into a passion over 5 years. I’d say the next chapter of the journey started in 2017, once I applied and got accepted to study film in London - and had decided to pursue filmmaking as a career. Things got serious from that point onwards, and led me to where I am at the moment.

2. For the people who don’t really know you, give us an idea of where your passion for visual arts stems from and how has your educational background in the arts contributed to your filmmaking journey.

"I think I’ve always been interested in the visual arts medium from a young age. I loved drawing when I was a kid and wanted to be an architect growing up. I later got interested in photography and videography, which I must have subconsciously inherited from my dad - he documented a lot of my childhood, taking photographs and filming home videos. It probably had some sort of deep, hidden impact on me."

Going to film school has definitely helped greatly in building good connections and also strengthened my existing skillset. It was a very practical course, and it made me understand the theoretical and logistical side of filmmaking quite well.

3. What three things does anyone starting out in your industry need to know and what are some of the changes you would like to see in the Bangladeshi movie industry

"Always be on time on set. Connections and Relationships will probably get you further than your talent and skill, in most cases. Be nice."

More than the industry, I think audiences need to change. If we have better audiences, we’re going to get better content. Mindsets and tastes need to evolve. The whole censorship issue is terribly, backdated and needs immediate fixing. Theatres generally need to be improved, but it all starts with the consumers. I believe we have the talent already, but they aren’t being utilized properly. And of course, we need a lot more funding to actually see the results we wish to see.

4. What are the current opportunities for aspiring storytellers in Bangladesh?

Depends on the medium of storytelling. In my opinion, there are opportunities in the film/tv industry but the industry itself isn’t great.

"Lack of freedom in storytelling, lack of finance/investment, and the general consumer’s taste (mass audience) is terrible. This pushes people to mainly work in the advertising/commercial industry rather than film/tv, and most of our talent end up there. The opportunities are better in that sector and the industry itself is much, much better."

That being said, we do have some great filmmakers at this moment who are doing amazing things and opening new doors. We just have to be a bit optimistic about the future and see how things advance.

5. From your understanding and experience, do you think you would recommend content creation and filmmaking as a sustainable full-time career path for aspiring young adults in Bangladesh yet?

It would be ideal to have a couple of sources of passive income or other sources of revenue if you are thinking of pursuing content creation/filmmaking as a full-time career, especially in the early-mid level career stages. I wouldn’t limit this to just Bangladesh either, I personally think it is good practice in general. It depends on what industry you’re in and what your role is, but the nature of the job, i.e freelancing is generally tricky anyway so it’s just safer to have backup options.

6. What are the three special attributes that describe your ethos, genre and the concepts that you put forth through your work? What makes a Taha Ismail film stand out?

"I’ve been told my films are generally darker in tone/story and I would have to say I agree. I’m usually leaning towards those kinds of concepts/genres. I think over time I’ll have a more noticeable or recognizable style, but at the moment my films probably stick out due to its personal themes, character-driven narratives, and darker nature."

7. What are some of the creative rules that you swear by while creating?

No strict creative rules per se, but I realized recently that in one way or another, my projects tend to be somehow influenced by my personal experiences or observations.

"There is always a connection that isn’t necessarily evident to the general audience’s eyes, but it is something only I will know, along with my close friends and family. This doesn’t always happen consciously, so once I become aware of it, things become much more interesting."

I make sure to trust my instincts as well as understand how I am feeling at that point in time, and hopefully, that gets translated into the project. I believe that a solid pre-production process makes the film, so it is a requirement for me to spend a lot of time with the script before progressing to shoot. That being said, I also believe in experimenting, hence I leave adequate room for improvisation and on-the-spot idea generation.

8. Tell us about your new film ‘This is Me’ (what’s it about, how did the concept seed, the message you wanted to convey, the process of making the film and now the response you’ve been getting).

‘This Is Me’ is a coming of age social drama revolving around generational conflict. Inspired by various true events, the film explores topics such as brown identity, growing up Muslim, cultural upbringing, and societal conditioning while having underlying themes of guilt and acceptance. We worked with a majority South Asian cast on this project, and it recently premiered at the Coalition of South Asian Film Festivals.

The concept has been in the back of my head for just about 2 years, and it was partially inspired by personal experiences and observations made while growing up in Dhaka and living in London. The main message behind the film is to put differences aside and to let love win over all things.

The filmmaking process started late November 2019 and ended in June 2020. We were in pre-production till March, which is when we shot the film over 5 continuous, intense days. We luckily managed to finish two days before lockdown, and I flew back with the project files to Bangladesh and edited the film during Lockdown. Post-production was completed remotely (across UK-Bangladesh-Pakistan-Austria!) during the whole lockdown period.

The response to the premiere has been overwhelming. I received hundreds of messages from strangers, well wishers and long lost friends, who either emotionally connected or resonated with film. It was amazing to hear and I am truly grateful that our film was able to ignite some meaningful conversations.

9. A director, actor and editor, you are certainly a triple threat who has had to work on the backend nitty-gritty as well as be the face for projects. Which one do you enjoy more, what are the best and worst parts of each of these labels, what are some of the struggles you’ve faced if any and what have you learnt from it?

Writing & Directing are my primary roles. Editing and acting come in secondary, although I really do enjoy both. I never planned on starring in ‘This Is Me’ initially, but as things progressed it eventually led to that. To be honest, acting and directing at the same time is quite challenging - but it gets easier over time, once you figure out different ways to approach the situation. Acting for me depends solely on the nature of the project. I really enjoy editing as well, but I’m not sure if I intend on cutting bigger projects in the future.

"Directing can be generally stressful throughout the whole process, but ultimately it becomes the most rewarding experience. I would compare it to giving birth haha."

10. What are some of the most fulfilling working experiences you’ve had?

‘This Is Me’ is easily my most fulfilling working experience so far. From its inception to the final delivery, it was just amazing to see it come to life. Honestly, I poured my heart into that film - it has been an emotional journey. We had a successful crowdfunding campaign and I’m so

grateful to everyone who supported us, along with the cast and crew who worked on it. Music videos for Dameer & Hozho were a lot of fun as well, along with my short ‘Innerbloom’ which is still unfinished - hopefully it will be released soon. Going way back, creating the ‘Dhaka’s Finest’ web series was also a wonderful experience - I managed to get almost all of my friends from Bangladesh involved in that series, so it was a blast.

11. Where do you see yourself and the industry you’re working in, over the next 5-10 years?

Difficult to say considering the current situation of the world - but ideally, I would want to be working in London and Dhaka - on narrative films, music videos and commercials. Let’s hope that turns out to be true.

BTS images by Archie Baker and Tom Russel.

bottom of page