Crescent City Breakout

By (TK) Published on .

In 1997, New Orleans-based director/DP Souzan Alavi had a brush with greatness. She shared the Silver plaque for Special Achievement in Direction with Tony Kaye at the Chicago International Television Festival. Kaye won for spots for Reebok and Guinness; Alavi for a spec spot titled "Life Without Cotton." And quite a spot it is too, with a gorgeously skewed Tarsem-ly quality (she names him as an influence), as we see people living in a world without the fabric of our lives, wearing things like Christmas light suits and raw meat. "Every scene was executed as if it was an art installation that could stand on its own," she says proudly. In `98, she won Gold at the same festival for an impressive MADD spec spot that features a lush explaining how driving drunk is actually beneficial, because it forces him to focus on the road.

The following year she won Silver again in Chicago for a stylish spec spot for Strength shoes, starring an athlete who trains harder than his competition. But Alavi has yet to break into the national commercials scene beyond little-seen spots for HGTV and Marquis spas. "I basically just kept working at a very small local production company and didn't really take the time to promote myself," she admits. "I was too busy doing everything on my local jobs" - including sometimes paying for her own craft service.

The Iranian-born but American-bred Alavi didn't go to film school; she was a finance major at the University of New Orleans and later worked as a runway model. In 1989, more or less by chance, she was hired as a PA on a local indie film and found herself elevated to assistant director in two weeks - she'd found her calling. She went on to direct local rap videos before becoming mired in the comparative obscurity of the Nawlins commercials scene. But last year she started her own production company, Manpower Films, with producer/rep Lisa Robinson. Is the name meant ironically? "Not necessarily," she says. "It's more a description of what happens when we get a job. We just descend upon it. It's manpower in the sense of working hard and taking care of business."

Speaking of which, Alavi, 33, is finally seeking to put her relative anonymity behind her. "I'd like to get with a boutique production company, where the directors have a strong sense of art direction and do beautiful work," she says. "Until then, I'll just keep forging ahead." Alavi does do a fair amount of local and regional work with New Orleans agency Trumpet, one of the more creative shops in town, with a comic bent, she says. But isn't being off the beaten production track itself a problem? She doesn't believe so. "New Orleans is a great location, with great resources and talent." But she's prepared to leave the Big Easy, if need be. "I feel like I can go anywhere."

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