Amir Mosallaie, A14, had always loved watching movies. So when a family friend told him he’d found his father’s old camcorder in a closet and had made a movie, the 9-year-old was intrigued. “I couldn’t believe I’d never thought that I could make a movie before,” he said.
The revelation inspired a search of his own father’s closet, where he found a forgotten Sony Handycam. “It was, like, 10 pounds,” said Mosallaie, who releases his work under the name Amiro Mo. “It’s not even a mini-DV. They’re big tapes,” he said of the 20th-century relic.
That Thanksgiving—2001—he made his first movie, Clubhouse Tournament. Starring all his cousins, the movie told the story of two warring factions of kids, fighting for control of an abandoned shack. It ended with the kids deciding to share the clubhouse.
“I remember the moment of seeing it on the screen—the things that had been in my head were suddenly on TV,” he recalled. “My whole family was watching it over pumpkin pie. I was able to command the attention of all the adults. That was really special.”
Today he does online commercial work and other freelance film gigs, and focuses on his own films after hours. The slim laptop on his desk comprises his entire editing suite, and he can palm the video recorder he uses to film his movies in his hand. But he continues to chase those same feelings of connection and communication through his art.
“The philosophy of film I’m coming to is that the best movies capture and convey something that you can’t articulate with words,” he said. “Film contains images, sound, music, dialogue, performance—so many elements that can’t possibly be communicated through any other medium.”
Mosallaie wasn’t exactly encouraged to pursue filmmaking as a career. The son of immigrants who left Iran just before the 1979 revolution, he had always been urged to consider medicine, law or engineering. But his large, close-knit family—grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins—all settled in southern California. Perhaps it was inevitable that Mosallaie, who pointed out his favorite comedy clubs and movie houses to a visitor as he wove through Hollywood’s perpetual gridlock, would find his calling in the movie business.
“It was never something I could ignore. That’s such a valuable thing in this world, to find something that you know is going to make you happy,” he said.
Learning the Language of Film
A film minor at Tufts, Mosallaie participated in three winternships—one-week intensive internships sponsored by the Film and Media Studies Program and the Tufts Career Center—at two film production companies and one talent agency. An English major, focusing on the art of storytelling, he also sampled subjects like philosophy and music.
“I think if you decide you want to be an artist and you only spend your time studying your specific discipline, you’re limiting yourself,” he said. “I think there’s no experience you can have or education you can have that won’t make you a better artist. Tufts was awesome for that.”
His commercial work pays the bills, but he’s got bigger plans. In his free time, Mosallaie is thoughtfully honing his craft by writing, producing, directing, acting, even scoring his own projects.
“The work that I’m making right now, I’m still doing it all,” he said. “I’m learning the language and the possibilities of each of these disciplines.” He doesn’t want to be an actor, but took acting classes at Tufts. “If you want to be a director, you have to know how an actor works,” he noted. His next step begins this fall, when he starts the M.F.A. film program in writing and directing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Lights, Camera, Action
Tonight, Mosallaie has planned a shoot in a desolate, industrial section of L.A. After their day jobs, a small, dedicated troop of 20-somethings arrives at a former warehouse now subdivided into artists’ studios.
Mosallaie tapes marks for his co-stars, actors Taylor Eden and JT Vancollie, A12, on the floor, then asks JT to stand on hers as he arranges the camera and lighting around her. He confers with Ben Ross, A13, to see how everything is reading on film. It’s a painstaking process, and Taylor and JT run through their lines while they wait.
The scene begins and the actors settle into their roles. Mosallaie reminds them that their characters are in a museum; they are likely speaking in hushed tones. They start from the top. They punch up the humor in some lines, tone it down in others.
With the white-walled studio standing in for an art museum, Taylor and JT gaze into the camera as though contemplating a painting. In a scene, the two women, long-time friends, clash on the artwork’s merit. Their disagreement brings up questions about how best to present art as well as what role the audience plays in interpreting its meaning. “I get art,” says one. “I just don’t get museums.” In less than two and half minutes, Mosallaie’s script serves as a succinct thesis statement for the questions currently on the young artist’s mind.
“I’m still very much figuring out how to think about the audience when I’m making my stuff,” Mosallaie said. “I’m using film as a language to communicate something that I don’t know how to communicate in any other way. I’m still figuring out how to do that, but that’s the power of it.”