Mitra Shahidi is a San Francisco Bay Area based filmmaker and art director. Born in Istanbul with an Iranian descent, she moved to the USA to pursue her dream of making animated movies. She got her BFA from Academy of Art University San Francisco, where she made her first short film Prelude, and realized that making short films with a powerful social message is her calling. She went on to interning in 3D Animation at Mixamo, Inc to start her career in the world of animation. Currently she is the Art Director at Pear Therapeutics, a Silicon Valley startup company focusing on mobile therapeutic games and apps. When she is not painting and designing at work, Mitra works on short films with deep meaning and message. Alongside her life’s work, she loves reading, painting and composing. She was trained in classical piano and enjoys playing and composing music using some other instruments such as flute and guitar - a skill she utilizes in shaping the the soundtrack of her films.
Interview with Napa Valley Film Festival
● What was the motivation behind making your film?
Making films with a strong meaning and ability to move people is my calling, and this movie is the heart and soul of what I believe creativity is. Jumping out of boxes, breaking rules, flow and love inspired me to create this film. The actual event that lead to this film was that I had made a piece of music that sounded mystical, whimsical and mysterious – and I kept imagining a little girl character painting things all by herself when I made the music. That lead to a fully fleshed out animated film that carried a message that I think is important for the world - keep your mind, your soul and energy fresh, open and very young.
● What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film?
Collaboration, letting go and trusting others to carry the ball if you drop it was one of the most important lessons for me. The movie’s production kept going for years, and there would be times I just couldn’t do multiple things at once. I learned to not be so strictly married to my ideas and ways, as I can be wrong, and let others take care and pour their love and energy into creating this film, completely collaboratively.
● What’s harder: getting started or being able to keep going?
Definitely to keep going is harder. When you get started the sky is the limit. You can do anything, you have this grandiose idea, this limitless energy and reckless optimism. However, when you start resolving story problems, getting down to details of flow, character and expression, each line you draw on paper requires a great deal of decision making, spread over a long period of time. And all the while you make those decisions you have to stay focused on the big picture, make sure that every color choice, every music note is helping tell the story. You need to constantly search for the best possible way to tell your story and then believe with all of your heart that the decisions you make are the best possible decisions and that they keep you on the right path. You may lose faith about prior decisions that has lead to new ones. You may need to go back and look at them objectively, and when you find out they do not work any longer, ruthlessly change them. Spread over years of production and a big group of people, this is a very intense and taxing process but at the same time it is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. There is however something even harder than to keep going: to know that you could have kept going, and didn’t.
● What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
What makes a film great for me is its story and how much heart and faith went into telling it. I couldn’t care less about the production value, the fame of the actors or budget. A film can be shot on super 8, done in a day and be completely silent but if it tells a great story, moves me, captures my attention and makes me care, then that is a great film.
● What is one mistake filmmakers tend to make, regardless of experience?
They focus on the wrong things. They focus on the “taste of the target audience”, on the “crazy camera angle” on the “technical awesomeness of the particle effects” or if it is animated, “the cool character design” or “the insanely complex background”. What they actually need to be thinking about is “What is my story? What am I trying to say? Who is my character? What does he/she feel?” I am not advocating everybody to burn their suitcases of movie budget money and make a film with their phone camera. I am only saying that in order to make a great film, it is crucial to ask these questions first and find the best answers, then use your skills/money/resources to make it visually and audibly appealing in order to tell the story better. At every step of the way you should stop and ask, “does this help my story?” If the answer is yes, then you can make a great film that looks fantastic and people will remember while listening to the soundtrack on a loop at work.
You can read another interview of the director with another festival in San Francisco here.