Mooz-Lum director Qasim Basir steps from behind the camera and into the spotlight (Press)
A lot goes into making an independent movie. Beyond securing budgets (or the lack thereof), talent and equipment, it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to actually see a screenplay go from just words on a page to a finished reel. Still, the best most indie filmmakers can hope for are a few screenings on the film fest circuit and critical acclaim, but that wasn’t enough for writer/director Qasim “Q” Basir.
Not only did Basir get to complete his first feature film, Mooz-Lum, but the 30-year-old Michigan native secured an all-star cast—including Nia Long, Danny Glover, Evan Ross, Roger Guenveur Smith and Dorian Missick—and a direct distribution deal with AMC Theatres for his independent picture. Promoted primarily through social media and word of mouth, Mooz-Lum, which took home Best Narrative Feature honors at last year’s Urbanworld Film Festival, garnered so much public support that Eventful reached out to Basir about distributing the film along with AMC, which is virtually unheard of for a non-mainstream project and a first-time feature director.
“Eventful has worked with films that have been part of a studio and AMC has too,” Basir explains. “But there hasn’t been an independent film that’s had Eventful.com as a primary marketing partner and literally we open in the top 10 cities that demand the film.”
Thanks to this groundbreaking distribution deal, Mooz-Lum, which tells the coming of age story of a young Muslim American man trying to find a balance between his faith and the secular world, opens today (February 11) in limited release. In the midst of drumming up moviegoer turnout for opening weekend, Basir sat down with BLACKENTERPRISE.COM to share tips for aspiring filmmakers looking to get their film on the silver screen. —Anslem Samuel
Basir with actress Nia Long at the 2010 Urbanworld Film Festival (Press)
PUT THE FILM BEFORE FAME: Being in the movie business comes with many accolades and perks, but, as an artist, Basir doesn’t concern himself with that. He warns young filmmakers that the process of making a movie is not easy but getting caught up in Hollywood’s flashing lights is. “There are so many people that I run into in my journey who are fascinated by the idea of fame, recognition, red carpets, the paparazzi and all that, which to me is not important at all,” he says. “So along the way they get discouraged like, ‘Aw, man, I want to be famous…’ There’s no real substance behind that so being that [this business] is as difficult as it is, I believe that you have to have something going in this thing with substance.”
Basir with actor Evan Ross and producer Dana Offenbach between takes (Press)
DON’T BE AFRAID TO START FROM SCRATCH: Basir was actually working on another project before Mooz-Lum that never got off the ground. Rather than get discouraged by the experience, he switched gears and started work on a new script. “There was another movie before this that never got made,” he reveals. “It was a heartbreaking experience and I didn’t raise anything for it but I accepted that it just wasn’t that movie’s time.”
Basir gives actress Nia Long some last minute direction (Press)
GET USED TO THE WORD NO AND MOVE ON: Along with talent, the best filmmakers also have to have a thick skin. No matter how good your script is it takes money to make a film. Basir pitched Mooz-Lum to various people but continually got turned down for financial backing, despite having his cast already lined up. On the brink of shutting down his Michigan production office, the determined director placed a final call to a private investor that had previously declined but later had a change of heart and put up the capitol for the film to be completed. “You have to consciously shorten your time of disappointment,” says Basir. “So when someone tells you no you can’t be hurt for too long. I remember when I first started getting my no’s it would take me out for a little while, but now if somebody tells me no I’m discouraged for 10 seconds and then I move on.”
Basir goes over a scene with actors Danny Glover (seated) and Dorian Missick (Press)
KEEP HATERS ON HAND: While family and friends make for a strong support system, they tend to falter when it comes to criticism. Basir advises anyone that wants to be better at their craft to have people who will keep it real with them and not just give you a pass. He got constant counsel from Dana Offenbach and Samad Davis, who both served as producers for the film. “Your family and friends; they’re going to tell you you’re great—that doesn’t count,” he says. “It’s the person that pulls you to the side and says, ‘Listen, man, I believe if you would have cut this out or done this you could have been stronger here…’ You need that. It’s hard to take constructive criticism at first, but you will not be successful without it.”
The cast of Mooz-Lum attending another sold out screening (Press)
DON’T BE AFRAID TO GO AGAINST THE SYSTEM: The problem with making an original film like Mooz-Lum is that the big studio system has no idea how to market and promote it. Hollywood is used to churning out action flicks, comedies and superhero-based franchises, so when faced with a dramatic story from the perspective of a Muslim American family, mainstream moviemakers are at a loss. Knowing he had a compelling story, Basir circumvented the major distributors and used social media to build a grassroots movement he jokingly refers to as a “movie-ment.” “This movie would have been made no matter what but I doubt we would have been able to distribute it [through AMC] without us relying heavily on social media and word of mouth to make this film successful,” he says. “If not, what do you have? Traditional marketing, posters on trains, commercials on TV…? That costs way too much money, stuff we don’t have and Facebook is free.”