Talent Watch: Saman Keshavarz

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Saman Keshavarz
Saman Keshavarz

"I've had the F-word in my vocabulary since I was six," says director Saman Keshavarz. No potty mouths here: Keshavarz was just obsessed with films since childhood, to the point where his parents would let him watch R-rated movies instead of cartoons.

That obsession seems to have worked out well for Keshavarz, now 25. The video he directed for Cinnamon Chasers, "Luv Deluxe," a first-person, disjointed narrative of a quickie relationship gone really, really wrong, was featured at the Saatchi & Saatchi New Director's Showcase at Cannes this year. The same video also took home the Best Music Video award at SxSW 2010.

Getting recognized at the festivals did wonders for Keshavarz. "Luv Deluxe went viral but I didn't really know what to do about it, I didn't really know how to get into the industry," he says. "But once the [SxSW] award was announced, eight months later, I got approached much more constantly. Suddenly I had a film agent who contacted me because he really believed in my work. There are so many barriers out there for directors. It's like there's a door but 200 yards before it there are a million obstacles."

Keshavarz, who's repped out of Paydirt Pictures for spots, also got to go to Cannes, where he struck up relationships with agencies and the ad world. Among the director's other projects is a three-part video for the Russ Chimes' Midnight Club EP. In it, a man loses his memory and must piece it back together to figure out who kidnapped his girlfriend. That work too, has a similar quality as "Luv Deluxe"--a non-linear narrative that works, as Keshavarz describes, in the same way his brain does. "I don't like telling stories A, B, C because our brain doesn't work like that," he says. "I don't think linearly--it might be because I have ADHD--and thematically, I've had people telling me both spots were similar."

In both projects, the women are doing all the leading--with the men following--a theme that Keshavarz says is emblematic of his generation. "Macho is over, this generation embraces the emo mentality of men," he says. "I find that women are always leading."

But for Keshavarz, the film he's directed so far, well-received though it has been, is just the beginning. Most of the projects he has garnered attention for he created as a student at the Art Center in Pasadena, Calif., where he transferred to in 2007. Before that, the Tehran-born talent was working toward a business degree in a community college in Northern California. "That was the Persian Dream, doctor, lawyer, businessman," he says. "It was fine until I had a nervous breakdown in class one day and walked out."

Keshavarz finished at the Art Center this past December. Since then, he's moved on to brand work with the short film called subject.0017, another first-person dystopian narrative that turned out to be a promo for energy drink Coke Burn.

Yet Keshavarz's directorial dreams stretch beyond commercial and feature videos. He actually describes himself as a gamer first, director second, and he's been looking to break into the gaming content world. "Gaming and [I] are in love," he says. "We're getting married next Tuesday." He recently partnered with video game entertainment network Machinima for a short that will premier online soon.

But his aspirations extend even further. Because gaming has matured from being the core interest of a small, niche demographic into the mainstream, Keshavarz says he is waiting for the day that game houses recognize that they need filmmakers to create the in-game narrative. And for that, they will need someone like himself, he says. "I'm geeky enough that the transition will be easy. You have to be able to think like them." But like with most things, the dream is racing ahead of the technology and the mindset. Surprisingly, gaming houses are still conventional, unwilling to make the leap and sign on professional filmmakers. "Most games are still macho-macho epics that don't believe in the graceful art of storytelling," he says. "I'm waiting for [the latter] to happen."

Until then, Keshavarz will continue his storytelling, in whatever form--although he's hoping to steer clear of being pigeonholed. Even the mere suggestion that "Luv Deluxe" and the Midnight EP trilogy might have been similar, that they are now "trademark Saman," worries him. "I enjoy straight cut video as much as the next person," he says. The key, he says, is to keep his audience guessing--and watching. "As someone once told me, the worst thing you can do to anyone is bore them."

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