Saturday, June 16, 2012

Chasing Dreams

Umar, Mom, Khalid, Dad and me
(Samirah stayed at home with her hubby)
Daytona Beach, FL
Pops & me at Lake Okeechobee (2nd largest fresh-water lake in the lower 48 states)
Mom and me in Melbourne, FL
<3
Hotel chillin'
driving forever... needed some photos with Umar
Miamiii rainbow the evening before I left to LA :)
"Rainbow!? That's a sign that wolves are getting married" - my dad
(right) Headed to Hollywood, CA! Luckily I was seated next to a really awesome guy named Marcelo from Uruguay
and we had PLENTY of things to talk about. I hadn't been on a plane since I was 10 and I had to ask him if every single small uncomfortable shake was normal or not. He liked me, I'm sure.
I was accepted into the MPAC's Young Leaders Summit and able to finally explore my secret dream of becoming a filmmaker.
CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS<3
Gilligan's Island was filmed right outside of this building!
We actually rode the elevator with the president of CBS on our way out! SO HAPPY :)
Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i (l), me, and her assistant in front of the Laker's court behind the CBS building
During sports entertainment broadcasts, athletes could come out here and have some fun while waiting for their interviews!
Tiffany is a hero. She's the VP of Diversity and Communications at CBS, and she makes sure that diverse groups of people are represented in the network's shows, and she speaks up when she feels that they're not. She was so supportive of our group, and I never even knew a job like hers existed. I already was feeling like there wasn't a lot of diversity in TV.. imagine if she wasn't there!
TRAFFIC IN LA.... TERRIBLE. I hated it.
If I ever move to LA (inshaAllah), then I really hope I'm outside of LA
or I have a bike and I'm fit enough to get to work and back 0=)
lunch at a delicious Mediterranean place with Abdallah Omeish, a award-winning documentary filmmaker (Libya: Through the Fire and Occupy 101). His job is exactly what I wanted to get into, if I ever got into filmmaking. I wanted to bring awareness to social injustices happening internationally. He gave such great advice about starting up. All he had was a camera and the passion. With that, he created something so meaningful, people actually paid attention and found his cause worthy, which means the world! Side note: his siblings and my sister & brother-in-law know each other!
(L) We met up with Ajmal Zaheer at the LA MPAC office, who is a writer, director, and co-founder of Exxodus Pictures (Check out the trailer for his new movie, Jinn, here). He really inspired me because he told us about how being a filmmaker was ALL he dreamed about since he was five years old, and I was scared as heckk because it's not something I was so certain about very early on, and I've never had as much passion as he has. I told him all of that after he spoke, he sat down with me and told me that it's not the end if I have some feelings of uncertainty. I've got to experience it before I decide. And he talked to me about many more things, and I felt really supported. Out of everyone, he seemed like he wanted us to succeed more than anything.
(R) Ahmos Hassan is actually the first person we met when we got to the hotel in Pasadena. He is President and Chief Executive Officer of Chariot Management, Inc., which is a diverse management company for the entertainment industry. He's been in the business for a very long time, and offered us some great advice about how to break in. The key is to network, and to be likeable. Out of everyone, Ahmos Hassan and Abdallah Omeish were the two people that talked about their faith in the business. Hassan told us about many opportunities he turned down because they weren't moral according to his values as a Muslim. I thought that it was so encouraging to hear this because it's obviously a very tempting business. He was also helpful in clarifying the roles of people behind the camera.
(L) We met with Asif Ali, a stand-up comedian and actor (Goatface Comedy). He's been on so many networks, and he has even traveled the world doing what he loves. The thing I loved most about him was how family-oriented he is (his brothers and friend were there with us), and how down-to-earth he is (he laughed at all my jokes, which I'm happy about!). He was so willing to help us out, stay in touch with us afterwards, and just spend time with us casually over dinner. I really respect his passion and drive for what he loves, because, as I've learned, you need an immense amount of both to make it in Hollywood. It was so cool to hear his perspective on the typical portrayal of the South-Asian in comedies; the nerdy foreigner who can't get any girls. He talked about how he'll never take a role that portrays them negatively because it will never reverse the public's ideas about the community as a whole.
(R) When I was applying for the summit, I kept thinking back to all the silly videos I made with friends throughout high school, and how I spent hours cutting clips and putting them together to keep and look back at my different experiences. So I wanted to be an editor. We got to have dinner with Ayser Salman, an editor who has worked on a number of big-name films' trailers and music videos. I was so thankful to have had the chance to talk to her and ask her ten thousand questions, which believe me, I did. She talked about how much love she has for what she does, even after having been in the profession for many years. She was such an amazing woman, and I really appreciate her advice! She was so willing to stay in touch with us as well, and she was so supportive of each of us.
We headed to Culver Studios to meet Ted Humphrey (center, left) and Leonard Dick (center, right) are award-winning TV writers and executive producers. They actually played us a few clips from the show that they write for now, The Good Wife, and I was surprised at how accurately they portrayed events like the Arab Spring, and how realistically they referenced Muslims. For this they were awarded at the MPAC's 21st Annual Media Awards Ceremony. We didn't have a lot of time to ask them questions at the end, but I made sure I asked at least four thousand questions when we were walking to the exit. It was cool to hear about the behind-the-scenes of a TV set in comparison to the film sets we heard about with some of the other speakers. These guys were awesomeee; loved them!
Early afternoon with Sameer Gardezi! He has written for the award-winning show Modern Family, Outsourced, Aliens in America, among others, as well as his own NBC award-winning comedy short, Equal Opportunity. He was really realistic with us and talked about how hard he had to work to be where he is, and gave us a really good idea of what a writing room is like. After talking to him, I really became interested in writing. He also talked about how being a minority has affected him, which as really cool because people will turn to him to get advice on how to depict a South-Asian character and he'll be able to throw something at them that they would have never even thought of without his perspective. I loved the idea of that and how important it is to have a diverse group of writers (age, gender, ethnicity, EVERYTHING). So awesome.
Our last visitor was David Brenner and his family. Brenner is a very well-known editor for films, and is currently working on Superman: Man of Steel. Heard of it? Thought so :) You can see the rest of the films he has worked on here (although that's not him in the picture.. that's the comedian who shares his name). Besides the fact that he's worked on so many epic movies, he was such an amazing person to hear from because of all the detail he gave us. He took us through his day-to-day schedule as an editor, and he told us specifics about software and programming tools that he started with, and where he went from there. Yeah, I went in there wanting to learn more about editing, but I didn't think I'd learn as much as I did. Both him and Ayser Salman gave me such good advice and notes to look back on when I start to create my own projects. I really respect these editors. And Brenner's family was really cute mA!
THE GIRRRRLS: Ghezal, me, Sulayha, and Sofie<3
We were at a mosque in Southern California, CLEARLY turning heads because of my need to take the picture.
This was after hearing from Maher Hathout inside the masjid. His official website can be viewed here. THIS MAN. He was so amazing mashaAllah. He didn't talk a lot about film-making specifically, but more about our role as American Muslims and what that actually means. He talked about achieving our dreams and being confident in who we are as people, with our faith as well. He talked about the route of art and a little of how public opinion is shaped by media. My notes from his talk are scribbled on a bank envelope, and I wrote down so much of what he said because he was so clear and sure of himself. For example, when he spoke about forming our own opinions and making our own decisions, he put it this way, "When people tell you how to think, you are surrendering your greatest gift from God." I thought that was just perfect. I wish I could just write down everything he said because I think everyone could benefit from hearing him speak. Go to his website. Check out how he's committed so much of his time to the Muslim community and the community as a whole.
I'm so thankful we got to visit the masjid. It was so diverse and beautiful. This might be my community one day :)
(L) We also got to meet Lena Khan, an independent filmmaker, at the MPAC office. I love her! She was the first hijabi in the industry that we got to meet (and the only one that I know of... although I don't know too many people in Hollywood), so I really valued her advice about "breaking into" the business. She was a winner of a film contest, which she talks about here (seriously, watch it), and she has worked on a number of music videos (Maher Zain & Kareem Salama, YESS), as well as a project that she is working on now, The Tiger Hunter. I thought it was interesting to hear her story because some of her work is actually guided around faith and the portrayal of Muslims in the media. She also made the famous "Land Called Paradise" video, which I actually didn't realize up until this very moment. All Muslims know the video, and I'm pretty sure we're all thankful for it. Anyway, she was awesome. I really hope to meet with her again in the future :)
(R) I GRADUATED FROM THE SUMMIT! Graduation night was amazing. We had good food catered by the hotel and served by Arturo, our new friend who we loved! I accepted my certificate from the MPAC president, Salam Al-Marayati, and got to have dinner with Yasmin Hussein, Deana Nassar, and other key leaders in the Youth Summits at MPAC. 
Feeling on top of the world with Yasmin Hussein, the MPAC Young Leaders Summit coordinator :) We got to see the Hollywood Hills and all of LA from above. I could definitely call this place home one day iA.
I'm so, so thankful for having attended the summit, and I've decided that I want to be in the business of film-making. I love everything about it, and I feel like this has just given me the confidence to at least get out there and try by creating projects of my own and writing short scripts to begin with. I think film is such a creative way of changing public opinion, and I feel as though by being successful in the industry, all of these amazing & accepting individuals have really played a key role in doing so. Each of them has especially motivated me to chase after the dream that I once saw too unrealistic to pursue.

xx
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