Interview with Chris Zuhdi

What were your major inspirations in becoming a filmmaker?
Classic filmmakers in the American Noir genre like Fritz Lang, John Huston, and Orson Welles. More contemporary filmmakers are the Coen brothers. Also, the crime fiction writings of Jim Thompson and Tony Hillerman. On a     personal note, both those authors are from my home state of Oklahoma and Jim Thompson first encountered the seedy underbelly that would provide much of the basis for his characters in my current hometown of Fort Worth,   Texas as a bellhop at the Old Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth. 

What let you know that the idea for Goodnight, Charlene was something special that you wanted to turn into a film?
The feedback from what became the cast, crew, and my casting director, Kina Bale-Reed, was overwhelmingly positive. And, I’d lived with the story for many years and had a “gut feeling” it would be something special       someday.

What advice would you give to a filmmaker thinking of making their first film?
Make a feature length film as soon as you’re able. Making a short or two is fine for practice and to hone your craft, but people often seem to get lost in making one short after another and never make an actual movie.

 How do you secure funding for an independent film?
Private investors. Soft money is obviously great when you can find it. Hard money when necessary (meaning it must be paid back with interest) but, as sparingly as possible.

How do you find people to fill all the necessary jobs to make a film when you have a small budget and don’t live in an area that’s a major film hub?

This was very difficult. The closest film hub was Dallas but I still had a lot of difficulty crewing the film, even with my reasonably close proximity to Dallas.  The main solution was I had to gain at least a passing competence with each crew position, from camera to audio to art direction. From there I had only the basic help I could scrape together. It was definitely a challenge, but also a chance for growth in areas I initially hadn’t considered.

Tell us about your process for writing a film?
I start with a general concept, or more specifically a conflict and usually an idea of a main character I find particularly interesting. Then I gradually flesh the concept out in my mind until I feel there is enough there to start sketching out the basic concept in outline or synopsis form. The script eventually emerges from there, followed by rewrites and polishing. 
What role do you feel the most comfortable inhabiting when making a film?
Acting and camera work seem to come pretty naturally for me.

Tell us about any ideas you intend to take to film form in the future.
I’d love to continue making crime fiction pictures set in West Texas.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while making your film? Never giving up, even with lack of crew, funding, technical problems in post. It’s the easiest thing to wring your hands and say, “I learned a lot. I’ll let this project sink to the ocean floor and make it up on the next one.” It’s easy to       to do that and be seduced by your next project. The challenge is to not do that!

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