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Director Talha Bin Abdulrahman shares personal experiences in ‘Film School Musical’

A film set, says Talha Bin Abdulrahman, is no different than an orchestra. When using this analogy, Bin Abdulrahman’s role is the conductor. As a director, he makes sure everything is harmonious during the entire filmmaking process. What is in front of the camera is his priority: actors, props, and whatever the scene needs has to be captured on film at their best possible conditions. If anything sounds out of tune, so to speak, it is the director’s responsibility to rectify this before it impacts everything else, just as it is the conductor’s.

Whatever way you look at it, Bin Abdulrahman is an extremely talented director, and one of the best to recently come from Saudi Arabia. He has worked on a series of successful films, all of his own creation. Amongst these include the dramatic thriller The Scapegoat and Served Cold, a film telling a harsh story of the drug world. That being said, the versatile filmmaker does not limit himself to any one genre or medium. He directed Jo Blankenburg’s music video for his hit song “Jellyfish in the Sky”. However, for the award-winning comedy Film School Musical, Bin Abdulrahman merged his filmmaking and music video experience together to create a captivating musical.

“The film is based on some real-life experiences we went through when my brother Maan and I were both film students, so we wanted to bring them to the audience in a funny and entertaining way,” said Bin Abdulrahman.

The film tells the story of an ambitious, happy-go-lucky, soon-to-be film school graduate named Tommy. Directing his own film is a dream come true for Tommy until he experiences equipment failure, difficult actors, and set drama, which threaten to make his dream to into a nightmare. Tommy struggles to keep everyone happy without compromising his vision. It shows the real drama so many experience on a film set when the camera is not rolling.

After premiering at Burbank’s famous Warner Brothers studios in Burbank in February of last year, Film School Musical had a tremendous film festival run. The film won the Best Short Award at the 2016 Irvine Film Festival in addition to Official Selections at: 2016 Directors Circle Festival of Shorts, 2016 Miami Short Film Festival, 2016 Lone Star Film Festival, 2016 Oxford International Film Festival, 2016 Holly shorts NYFA Night, 2016 Uptown Shorts Film Festival, and the 1st Annual Hollywood Comedy Shorts Film Festival. It also won the Award of Merit at the Best Shorts Competition, was nominated for Best Musical at the 2017 Orlando Film Festival, and the 2017 Rochester International Film Festival Certificate of Merit.

“All of this success made me proud of everyone who made making the film possible, because it was one enormous group effort. This project got Maan and me lots of attention, which is a director’s dream as you hope your last project will open doors for you to work on the next one, especially during the film festival run which lasted for two years,” said Bin Abdulrahman.

Bin Abdulrahman’s vision was achieved with the success of the film, and none of it could have been possible without him. As both director and writer of the film, his personal experiences were perfectly reflected on screen, captivating audiences and critics alike from all over the world. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of the cast and crew, and assigned everyone various responsibilities with this knowledge in mind. He also gave the cast some room to improvise, something that was greatly appreciated. After scenes were finished the way they were written in the script, Bin Abdulrahman would shoot a few other takes with improvised lines, leading to the funniest takes that were then used in the film. Not being attached to his lines and his script take a modesty that many don’t have, and that is what makes him one of the best.

“I worked with Talha on Film School Musical and it was a wonderful experience for me as an actress,” said Actress Danielle Stritmatter. “Talha has a great eye for film and is extremely knowledgeable about the film industry. Working with him was a wonderful learning opportunity and I have great appreciation for his creativity and openmindedness to explore exciting new aspects of film. I think what makes Talha great at what he does is his passion for the art of film, which comes through in his directing and his dedication to this business. I believe he has a bright future in the film industry and will continue to come up with new ideas and execute them to their highest potential. Talha is extremely professional to work with and pushed to make our film successful, landing it in several different film festivals. I am very grateful to have gotten to work with such a talented filmmaker and know he will take his talent far.”

When Bin Abdulrahman and his actor brother Maan decided to make Film School Musical, they then spent weeks finding the right person to help write the script and the musical lyrics, as writing music was something neither were experienced in. Eventually they found Dominique K. Pierce, and their film truly began. Bin Abdulrahman describes the project as a love letter to film school and Disney musicals. When the script was finished, it was a breath of fresh air for the director; he was going to embark on a film with a mix of genres and music, making it a daring experience he was excited to be a part of.

“The level of professionalism we had on set was highly admirable. We didn’t waste any minute we had and I think it was the least stressful set I have ever worked on. Everyone knew exactly what to do and how to do it, which is definitely something that doesn’t happen on every film set,” Bin Abdulrahman joked, as his film portrays just the opposite experience.

Bin Abdulrahman decided the film should be shot in a style of long takes. This meant the choreography had to be practised and perfected by the time the cameras started rolling. Keeping this style was important for the director, as he wanted to give it that special musical theatre feel where an ensemble cast dances and sings together. Because they had prepared weeks in advance and pre-recorded all the songs and choreographed the musical numbers, Bin Abdulrahman made sure to cover all possible angels while filming. And of course, he also made sure that nobody forgot to have fun, including himself

“Directing a musical comedy was something fascinating that I never thought I’d ever get to do. Helming a project like that was not only challenging but also serendipitous, because a lot of things we got lucky with. I like to push the envelope with every new project, because that’s the only way you evolve as an artist and you have to always keep an open mind and defy the limitations that you face every time,” Bin Abdulrahman concluded.

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