Adam VillaSeñor and Reza Ghassemi on their film ‘In Full Bloom’
Adam VillaSeñor and Reza Ghassemi spent their lives working in music videos and commercial work, but knew they wanted to move on to more complicated storytelling. But they had no clue what was to come during the production of In Full Bloom.
Using boxing as a metaphor for following your dreams no matter what, VillaSeñor and Ghassemi painted a story of a man looking to make it to the top. But similar to their protagonist, our filmmakers had to shoot through snowstorms galore, a micro-crew, and native Japanese actors.
But it all paid off, as In Full Bloom continues to be well received during its film festival run. We sat down with both VillaSeñor and Ghassemi to discuss the film and their time working together over the years.
Tell us about your filmmaking journey. What did you do before becoming a filmmaker?
Adam: The journey is always such a multifaceted experience and it’s really hard to sum up your life in a single paragraph – but before stepping into film, I was actually a graphic designer and owned a clothing line.
The seed for my love of film was really planted by my dad who exposed my brothers and I to all kinds of different cinema; foreign films, anime, arthouse, Ralph Bakshi! Then, when my older brother Reymond started making short films in college, I realized independent film was possible.
About 8 years ago, I had a brain injury and it made me realize time is short and life’s so fragile. That experience completely shifted my perspective and pushed me to pursue something that made me happy.
Once I recovered from the accident, I took on a self isolated period of study to learn how to make films on a technical level by experimenting and shooting anything I could. Then within that period, I had some painful life events happen which drove me to want to find a way to express those feelings.
Reza: Before going into film, I was actually a political science major going into law. It’s something I had a lot of passion for, but deep down, I always knew I wanted something else. It was the support of my family that gave me the confidence to go into film. From a young age I was obsessed.
I remember my mom used to pick me up early from school so I could go to Blockbuster and be the first to get the new releases. Blockbuster was a sacred place for me. I remember watching films with my dad and he would endlessly criticize every little aspect of every film, even the greats!
It didn’t end there either. Both my uncles were huge cinephiles and would spend so much time discussing film with me. I guess it was only natural I’m here.
You both got your start with music videos and commercials. What made you want to switch to film?
Adam: To be honest, film was always the goal for us, the only reason we did music videos and commercials was because we wanted to use them to cut our teeth and be able to learn the process.
What movie inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Adam: When I was about 10 years old, I watched Fight Club. Now, look “I shouldn’t really be talking about it,” but it’s a coming of age story about this boy becoming a man and having to reconcile the difference between two selves and find his identity in a world of consumerism.
I found it quite fascinating to be able to explore this kind of film in a deep, profound, entertaining and stylish way.
Reza: I remember this moment very vividly. I was home sick from school. I was maybe twelve years old. My mom was home too. I was flipping through the channels and a movie was about to start, Goodfellas. My mom said she had always heard how great it was but knew nothing about it and wanted to watch. When that opening scene played with Pesci and the trunk.
Ha! My mom freaked out! I did too. We were in utter shock. She kept trying to turn it off but I begged her to let me finish. And we watched the whole thing. My mind was blown. Not because of how violent it was. But because of how real and powerful it felt. I was hooked. That’s actually when my trips to Blockbuster started. Almost everyday I was going to Blockbuster to rent every and any movie I could.
How did you two meet? What made you decide to collaborate together?
Adam: Oh wow! I believe Reza and I met in the 6th or 7th grade because I was going to fight a crew of kids and then Reza came in like the Lone Ranger to fend these guys off with me.
Reza: It was like the last stand in Butch Cassidy!
Adam: We decided to collaborate because we wanted In Full Bloom to be a platform for us to eventually go our own ways and make our solo films.
We’ve had amazing partners making this film, our very best friend and producer Jacob Stein was there from the very start supporting us, our other best friend and producer Kyle Stroud joined us along the way, and Nick and Ehud at Bleiberg Entertainment believed in this vision after seeing some of the scenes we shot in the winter wilderness.
We’re very grateful to have made this film among great friends and partners.
What inspired you both to write In Full Bloom?
Reza: In Full Bloom really mirrors our journey as filmmakers, fighting for our dream.
Adam: It was really about trying to keep the spirit of integrity throughout the entire process. We were both pushing to make different movies, and we had a tough time doing it. We had this big budget script we were trying to get made and people were like, “well if you change this or that then we can make it.”
So one day we just decided, fuck it, let’s save up some money and make a movie that embodies the mental, physical, and spiritual struggle one goes through trying to achieve their dream. The cherry blossom metaphor is the appreciation of all the fleeting moments within that journey.
This was the first time in the director’s chair for a feature film for both of you. What was that experience like?
Reza: It was amazing and a memory I will cherish forever. I remember when Adam and I lived together, every night we would walk down Hollywood Blvd, past the Walk of Fame and look to the iconic people who came before us.
We’d dream big and wonder if we’d ever be able to make our dreams come true. We always said, if we got the opportunity, we’d be grateful and enjoy every moment. And we did.
Anytime things got stressful, we’d always take a moment and remind each other of the time before this – when we were wishing we could make a movie and be on set. Then our problems didn’t seem too big to handle. Plus our producer Jacob was like our spiritual guide on set everyday, so that helped!
Adam: After years of hard work and being an insomniac, it was incredible to finally be on your own movie set everyday and witness people willing to spend their time, passion, and energy to help you transform those ideas on the page into life. I loved hearing different peoples’ perspectives based on their own life experiences. When you’re in those special moments on set, there’s so much energy around, it’s like a lightning storm!
What made you choose boxing as your metaphor for the story of In Full Bloom?
Adam: We chose boxing as a metaphor to reflect our own spiritual, mental, and physical struggle. If you look at Clint as a character, he’s on his last legs and wants to bring the fight to Masahiro’s doorstep fair and square and no one will let him. He’s submerged in politics among other things, and he’s really just trying to keep his integrity.
Then you have Masahiro, the Japanese champion, who is better than him in every way. It’s these two fighters in their own wilderness culminating in this electrifying event at the end. It’s like that Owl Jolson cartoon from the ’30s, that little owl is just trying to sing, you know?
While making In Full Bloom, you both wore all the hats. What was that like?
Reza: I think that decision made the process a lot of fun. We always knew that later on in life we might not always be wearing so many hats, so we wanted to take the opportunity to do so here.
It was a lot of responsibility taking on everything from writing, directing, cinematography, production design, gaffing, editing, and Adam also doing the color grading and VFX, but really we just wanted to have the freedom to make the film we wanted to make.
There were a lot of roadblocks during production of In Full Bloom. Tell us about how that affected the film.
Adam: Our philosophy was to try to embrace the roadblocks because they are blessings in a lot of ways. For example, when we shot the snow scenes in the Idaho/Wyoming area, our location was snowed in, and then the rangers were like, “Hey go check this cabin out,” so Reza and I crawled on top of 5 feet of snow for about a mile or so to look at this cabin then had to crawl back as well.
Then we were posted up resting by a tree and the rangers called us and said,” The cabin is unavailable.” Just when we thought we were down on our luck, this awesome ranger, John Sullivan, let us shoot in a famous historic cabin in Harriman State Park, Idaho. You never know how things will shake out, but they do if you believe.
Our producer and spiritual guide, Jacob, really helped us find our peace with those things too. And honestly everyone on set had this attitude of, let’s just figure it out together.
How has the festival circuit for In Full Bloom been for the two of you?
Adam: Man, it has been a journey. We are so humbled and honored to have our film be so well received around the world. Winning the two biggest awards at Oldenburg Film Festival in Germany and then the Grand Jury Prize at Mammoth Film Festival was surreal.
There is an amazing indie spirit culture that the festival director Torsten Neumann from Oldenburg and Tanner Beard & Tomik Mansoori at Mammoth have both created on opposite sides of the world and it’s that connection and support that allows independent films to keep being made.
Reza: Torsten was the first to say “We love your film” and now we love Oldenburg! The entire team there was like a family. The way they take care of every single filmmaker is unbelievable! Huge thank you to Torsten and Deborah!
Where do you see yourselves in five years?
Adam: The original idea was for Reza and I to make In Full Bloom, and the loose sequel we just finished writing called Cherry Blossom Bloom, then branch off and make our own films. We also wrote a snow western called Sacred Hollow we’ll be directing together as well.
You’ve directed commercials, music videos, and now a feature film. Is there a medium you prefer to another?
Adam: I can speak for us both in saying “Feature Film 1000000%. Hands down. Next question!”
What has been your greatest success and biggest failure to date?
Reza: Making In Full Bloom has been my greatest success. I’m so thankful that I got to make this film, and make it with my best friends, the way we wanted to.
We failed numerous times in getting the project made early on, but we kept pushing forward. And now I’m so appreciative of the success, because of those early failures. Failure is a really sweet aspect of life. It’s so necessary. It’s how we grow and change and learn.
Adam: My greatest success to date was to be able to show my father In Full Bloom shortly before he passed away. To see the look on his face and hold his hand made all the hardships worth it. My dad always taught me to view one’s failures as a great learning experience.
Do you have any indie filmmakers that should be on our radar?
Adam: I really loved Bi Gan’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. I watched it, I didn’t know how to feel about it, but I appreciated it very much for it’s slow surreal dream-like state.
Reza: I feel like not enough people enjoy foreign cinema. It’s something that recently changed in a huge way with Parasite. So I’m really happy about that.
Could we see any episodic TV from you two soon?
Adam: I just wrote a pilot and a feature film version of that pilot, so there are definitely options in the pipeline when it comes to television.
Reza: One project I’m working on, I’ve found that the long format arc really allows me to explore characters in a new and interesting way – so I’m excited about that!
What’s next on the docket for both of you?
Adam: More immediately, I’m solo directing a movie shot entirely on an iPhone with Q’orianka Kilcher (The New World, Hostiles) called Yesteryear, it’s about someone going through a period of introspection during Covid-19. I’ve already shot about half of it, so it should be done fairly soon.
Then Reza and I will be teaming up again to tackle a true one take snow western called Sacred Hollow. I’ve also been developing this incredible screenplay Terrence Malick wrote called The English Speaker that I’ll be directing, that one is very close to my heart.
Reza: Sacred Hollow, Cherry Blossom Bloom, and a futuristic sci-fi called Gun Metal Grey – which features a really expansive world. Very excited about that.
If any director could direct the story of your lives, who would you choose and why?
Adam: Fincher or Malick. Or maybe Christopher Nolan because there would be a massive studio spend and it would be a huge tentpole and still be genius…
Reza: Have to go with Fincher or Park Chan-Wook, because it would be perfect and meticulous! Or Soderbergh because it would all be one guy. Maybe Tarantino so it could be all crazy! Or damn, Malick would give you the feels and be so emotional! Can we do it Cloud Atlas style and have them all do it together!?