‘Wake’ up and take notice of Cyrus Mirakhor
Gather ‘round, everybody. Let us introduce Cyrus Mirakhor. With the debut of his first feature film, Wake, we had the opportunity to interview him. Wake, produced by Mirror Core, is Cyrus’s first feature-length film following previous shorts including Gratitude, Resonance of Love, and The Beating. Mirakhor’s previous films have been accepted to a variety of film festivals around the world and he’s taking the world by storm.
Cyrus achieved his Master’s Certification in Documentary Film from George Washington University in 2002 and completed the UCLA Extension Directing Program in 2012.
Cyrus’s career has gone from strength to strength, shown in several prize nominations as well as winning Best Comedy at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival (PIFF) in 2012 and Best Short Film at RIFF (Ridgefield Independent Film Festival) in 2016.
If you want to find out more about Cyrus Mirakhor, find him on Twitter @mirakhor. You can also keep up to date with all things Wake on Twitter @wakeflick and Instagram. Mirror Core is on Facebook and Instagram as well, so check them out.
Wake having been released recently, we managed to sit down and interview Cyrus Mirakhor. We talked about everything from his early influences to tips for up-and-coming filmmakers everywhere. Without further ado, here is Cyrus Mirakhor.
Tell us about your history as a filmmaker. How did you start your journey?
My high school in McLean, VA had a film studies class taught by Bill Blackwell, one of the best teachers I’ve had to this day. We studied films in that high school class that others normally wouldn’t start learning about until perhaps their second year of film school.
Mr. Blackwell’s curriculum included films and filmmakers such as Black Narcissus, Keaton, The Last Wave, Billy Wilder, Petulia, Sergei Eisenstein, Breathless, and of course Hitchcock and Welles. Thanks to that class, I became well versed on a breadth of cinematic history and its filmmakers, and was imbued with the concept of how to “read” a film at a very early age.
From then, I took every film studies class offered in college (GMU), and then followed that up with a Master’s Certification in Documentary Film at GWU. It wasn’t until much later in life after moving to LA that I started the Directing Program at UCLA-X where I really got into the physical production process and learned the hands-on aspect of being a filmmaker.
Who were your early influences?
Like a lot of filmmakers, I come from a family that didn’t stop me from seeing films that I might have been too young to see at the time. I saw Aliens, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Shining, Excalibur, The Godfather, and most of the other popular movies of the late 70s and 80s in the theater. There also was a huge penchant for classic movies (including westerns) on our family TV.
How was working on Wake? What did you learn from the experience?
Making Wake was an amazing experience that reaffirmed my belief that I’m happiest on set. It’s been said before, but you’re never truly prepared for your first feature but you really have to work hard to be.
The biggest thing I did learn is that your first feature is really a masterclass in what to do and what not to do on your next one. Even though Wake is in distribution now, it’s still teaching me lessons on marketing, and E&O insurance!
We’ve never heard the term traumedy before. Did you coin it? Regardless, can you explain how your movie embodies that idea?
I wish I could take credit for the term, but it’s been floating out in the ethersphere for sometime now. I think the producers of Dead to Me recently have made it more prominent. Wake embodies a traumedy where we follow our main character Molly in a heartfelt and comedic way as she finally starts to deal with her grief and how it’s affected the ones she loves.
Tell us about your career before film.
Up until recently, there was not really a career before film but more closely the idea of filmmaking as a “side gig” to my career. I spent a large part of my life in the technical sector tangential to film, in digital photography, medical imaging, and moving images over networks.
I’ve been involved in streaming media from its earliest days (think RealMedia), web collaboration, and medical imaging in and around government and Silicon Valley tech startups for most of my professional life. I helped to set up these types of systems for large government facilities and fortune 500 companies up until recently.
Where did the concept come from for Wake?
From the brain of our incredibly talented writer (and extremely successful playwright) Carey Crim, Wake is based on a play that originally premiered at Jeff Daniels’s Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, Michigan. I know the concept of an agoraphobic mortician hit Carey as she was driving cross country from LA to NY.
You deal with some dark themes in this movie. How did you manage to weave comedy through Wake’s narrative?
Comedy and grief are good partners. It was important to us to punctuate Molly’s journey in facing her grief with the everyday comedy we all tend to find in our own lives even when dealing with the largest of tragedies.
Doing that successfully starts with great writing, and then requires the right talent to bring it to life. As the director of Wake I was lucky to have benefited from both. Carey wrote a beautiful script and the actors (Myndy, Paige, Jo, James, Caroline and Paul) did a phenomenal job bringing their characters to life.
Tell us about your creative process.
As a director, I need to be the biggest fan of the script. I need to see a way into the story and I have to believe that my viewpoint on how to tell the story is so unique that it really deserves to be brought to the screen.
Usually this means a particular scene has to come to life for me first – I need to see how it plays out, how it should be captured, and then from there the characters start to take life. If I can see that first scene and it feels right, then I know the journey over the next few years will be worth it.
What tips do you have for new filmmakers?
If you truly think you are a filmmaker, get over the fear. Do your first feature ASAP. Do it for as little money as possible, and do it your way. Do one short film if you think you have to, but then jump to a feature instead of making a second short. Surround yourself with people that are more talented than you are and form your tribe.
You’re very hands-on with your projects. How hard is it wearing all the hats?
The budgets of my previous projects required me to be hands-on and wear multiple hats. On Wake I was fortunate enough to have had a number of people who were way better than me at their parts of the job than me jump in to help with the film!
What’s your next project?
Archana Shinde, the EP and editor of Wake (she also happens to be my wife) and I are developing a horror film that we are planning to shoot in India next year. I’m also working on a film about the Iranian-Amercian experience set here in LA to be filmed early next year.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
My mentors have tended to be my teachers, my friends, and other filmmakers that I look up to but do not personally know. You can find mentors anywhere and you don’t even need to necessarily have personal contact with them. Just watch everything they’ve done, read everything they’ve written, try to find out what their process is – and steal from them what you can!
What’s your filmmaking mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
“Hope” is probably the key word on most of the shorts I’ve done prior to Wake.
I believe there are two types of movies: the one that takes from you – meaning when the film’s over, you aren’t really left with much besides perhaps an adrenaline rush.
The other type of film leaves you with something not immediately expressible – meaning you take away the seeds of a thought on a new way to look at life, or even a new understanding of your own life events. I’m a big fan of the second type, and I really hope we’ve succeeded in making Wake fit that mold.
Can we expect to see any episodic television from you anytime soon?
I have an idea that’s just starting to emerge. We will see where that takes us.
What’s your five-year plan?
Archana and I hope to have finished up to three movies in both the US and India within the next five years. We are very keen on working in the international markets as well as the US and look forward to easily moving back and forth for different projects.
What filmmakers should be on our radar?
Without a doubt, Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes was much better than it ever got credit for). I can’t wait for whatever Sean Baker does next. (I’ve been a huge fan of his for years now.) Ali Abassi’s Border was amazing, and I’m dying to see Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse. Also, Chloe Zhao needs a mention, even though she’s on everyone’s radar and now doing a Marvel movie.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
Jaws. Composition. Composition. Composition. Jaws. Spielberg at his peak in blocking and staging a scene.
What other movies would you compare Wake to?
Since Wake takes place predominantly within one location, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people see some similarities in classic studio films from Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch in the way it was blocked.
I did study a number of these films to help us keep Wake feeling visually lively and not boring to the eye. Oddly enough, I’d have to say that the recent episodic projects that came out after we finished Wake seem to have a lot of similarities with our film as well. The aforementioned Dead to Me and also Fleabag have a number of striking similarities – not too surprising I guess as they too are labeled as “traumedies”.
Where can our readers watch Wake?
Available for pre-order on iTunes now and all major VOD platforms for purchase and rental on 10/8!