French filmmaker Keyvan Sheikhalishahi on his ‘Divertimento’
At only 21 years old, French filmmaker Keyvan Sheikhalishahi is already making a name for himself. His newest film, the indie thriller, Divertimento, is also written, produced and directed by Keyvan Sheikhalishahi. Featuring an all-star cast and a twisty plotline, Keyvan’s newest endeavor promises to be the biggest one yet.
The intriguing Divertimento
Starring Twilight and Expendables actor, Kellan Lutz, the short film Divertimento follows Jonas Olsen (Lutz), a chess player haunted by a tragic past who is given an opportunity to participate in a mysterious game, Divertimento.
Torrey DeVitto from TV’s Vampire Diaries and Chicago Med also stars in Divertimento as well as Ola Rapace (Skyfall), Götz Otto (Cloud Atlas), Christian Hillborg (The Last Kingdom), and Ellie Heydon (Harlots). Divertimento also features the acting debut of Kellan Lutz’s wife, Brittany Gonzales.
Keyvan Sheikhalishahi’s even younger start
Age has never set Keyvan Sheikhalishahi back. He made his first short film, the eerie Hitchcockian thriller, Vesper, when he was only 18. For this short, he worked with German actor Götz Otto, whose film credits also include Tomorrow Never Dies, and Schindler’s List. Otto played Walter, a sinister ghost alongside French actress Agnes Godey.
The play of light and shadow by French American DP Jean-Claude Aumont and the dark, twisted music by Greco Casadesus build the atmosphere of Vesper, which was released in 2017. The ghost tale won 44 awards in festivals including Moondance’s Dolphin Award for the Best Movie by a director aged 18 or younger.
Bolstered by his first success, Keyvan Sheikhalishahi’s quickly began working on his second short Nox, his first English language film. Nox follows two burglars on the east coast, played by Matt Passmore (The Glades, Satisfaction, Jigsaw) and the emerging Brigitte Millar, known for her roles in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and James Bond’s Spectre.
Keyvan Sheikhalishahi’s work has Hollywood buzzing
The actors who have had the opportunity to work with Keyvan Sheikhalishahi have been excitedly spreading the word about the young talent, after his appearance in Nox, Matt Passmore felt it “was a gift to work with one of the next film voices”. While both Kellan Lutz and Götz Otto couldn’t help but compare Keyvan to one of the greatest directors of our time, Steven Spielberg, with Otto speaking from personal experience, “it’s very rare you find directors who love films that much. I love to watch Keyvan watching the monitor, it’s a bit like Spielberg, 30 years ago when I was doing ‘Schindler’s List'”.
We had the opportunity to learn everything there is to know about Keyvan’s love of film and where he feels his path is taking him. We’re sure he’s going to be one of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood.
Tell us about your history as a filmmaker. You’ve done a lot in a short time, how did you start your journey?
I began making amateur movies when I was a young teen, and then I rapidly wanted to make a professional short film, Vesper. I wrote the story when I was 16 and I first contacted the actress Agnès Godey and the music composer Gréco Casadesus.
I knew Gréco’s work two or three years before. Having Gréco in the team was unbelievable. It encouraged the idea I had to contact a big international actor, someone who had to speak French — the movie was shot in French.
As a Bond fan, Götz Otto was the perfect candidate. I contacted him one year before the shooting and he was immediately interested.
Who are your current influences?
When I make a movie, ideas come naturally. But when you’re a cinema lover and filmmaker, you’re always inspired by movies you appreciate. Alfred Hitchcock, Christopher Nolan and the James Bond movies are great influences, to name a few.
Music is also a great source for inspiration, listening to various types of music gives me lots of visual ideas, I love working in this way.
What five TV shows do you think everyone should watch this year?
I’m far from being an expert in TV shows. The last one I watched was Fleabag. My DP Jean-Claude Aumont loves Ozark and Chernobyl, I need to watch them, they seem really great. My favorite TV show is an old one, 24.
Cat or dog?
100% dog, I have one.
What was the one movie you saw that made you want to go into film?
Actually, there was more than one movie. Two of the first movies I saw when I was 3 or 4 years old were the James Bond The World is not Enough and Eastwood’s Perfect World. They made me love cinema.
Then I watched Batman Begins and for the first time a James Bond in a theater, Casino Royale, when I was 8. When I came out of the cinema, I said to myself that I wanted to make in the future what I’d just watched.
How was working on Divertimento? What did you learn from the experience?
It was a huge project. It was awesome to work with all these actors in such a short period of time. About 150 people worked in the whole project, the set was huge, we shot in a French castle, we had 100 lightings and it was the first time I worked with special and visual effects. Once again, I realized that everything is possible. When I shot the movie, I knew that the next project can only be bigger.
Tell us about your career before you found film.
Before making movies, I was of course in high school but I had a movie blog which worked well. It was nominated among the 10 best French cinema blogs and I was invited to a French famous TV Talk-Show to speak about the James Bond Spectre.
Where did the concept come from for Divertimento?
I had already the idea before my second short film Nox. I wanted to make a kind of a remake of my first short Vesper but a hundred times bigger like would be an indie blockbuster and with a completely different story.
As a big fan of Fincher’s The Game, I wanted to create in this movie a game with different participants. I loved also the idea that each character needed to represent a chess piece. That was something very exciting to me.
The big challenges were to not make the same thing than my previous shorts and to write multiple strong characters in only twenty pages.
What music inspires you to create?
The first source of inspiration for me is certainly music and I love various types of music. I mostly listen to film score while creating. I love Hans Zimmer, David Arnold, Alan Silvestri, John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Gustavo Santaolalla, Angelo Badalamenti, Lorne Balfe, Sean Callery, and Maurice Jarre. They are all awesome creative film composers.
Gréco Casadesus often inspires me, he works with Gregory Cotti. They recently made an album about a space project which is awesome. Several tracks are true gems, like “At the End of the Universe”.
Talk us through your creative process.
Ideas come naturally in a completely messy way and when I feel I have all the ideas that the movie needs, I try to make a script and to create a story. What’s most important is to make an experience.
I mean, now that cinema, TV, and phones are competitors, it’s important to tell stories which are literally cinematographic. This requires to work on the atmosphere of the movie, it’s why I work a lot with my DP and composers because the cinematography and the music are essential to build that unique cinematographic experience that each movie needs. In this way, the audience wants to watch the movie in a theater because they want to feel the movie.
I work a lot also on the decors and the costumes which contribute to the style. Hollywood tradition is that men wear suits and women wear dresses in sumptuous decors. I want to keep this legacy. I like the cinema which sells dreams.
What tips do you have for your fellow filmmakers?
I think what’s essential is to tell a story that you want to tell and also to know how to tell it. Today, more and more people take their phone and make movies, which can only be a good thing, but they almost never know how to tell their stories.
What part of filmmaking do you geek out about the most?
The most exciting part is when I contact the actors to offer them the role. I was lucky enough that all the actors of Divertimento gave me an answer in less than 48 hours.
You’re very hands-on with your projects. How hard is it wearing all the hats?
A short can be a great opportunity to do more than you would be able to in a standard feature film. It’s more difficult because you need to manage all the production stuff, the wardrobe, the decors, the props, etc. At the same time, it’s fascinating to learn to work things you would maybe not have the opportunity to work on in the future.
If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That’s a difficult question! Let’s say a James Bond movie because each movie always gives hope. The character is always in danger and succeeds to find a solution to escape, that’s a dream world and you know that I love cinema which sells dreams.
What’s your next project?
I like to keep it secret, but it could only be bigger than the previous one.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
I don’t have an official mentor. I feel very close to Götz Otto who can be a family member for me and my family and I think it’s reciprocal. He was the first actor I worked with, he was very busy, passed a big project to make mine and he trusted me while I didn’t have any previous movie or project to show him. And we shot the movie in my own house in the French countryside. I’m not looking for mentors, but I think everything is about trust, right?
What has been your biggest failure?
That could be odd, but just after my first short, we won lots of awards, 44, and I didn’t know what would be the next step. During several months, I was like wandering and I didn’t know what I should do next.
Fortunately, everything was clarified rapidly and my next projects were Nox and Divertimento, their scripts were ready. And even better, Matt Passmore, an actor I knew before and liked a lot, well-established in the American industry, wanted to work with me and definitely broke the small period I was feeling lost.
What’s your filmmaking mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
If viewers forget their everyday life for two hours and immerse themselves in the experience, that would be pretty good!
What has been your biggest success?
Definitely, working with stars and established actors such as Kellan Lutz, Torrey DeVitto, Ola Rapace, Götz Otto, Christian Hillborg and Ellie Heydon when you’re 20, I can only consider this as a big success.
Can we expect to see any episodic television from you anytime soon?
I didn’t plan that, sorry! But who knows?
What’s your five-year plan?
I like to keep it secret. But more and more James Bond fans are asking me if I want to make a James Bond one day. It’s certainly because I worked with three actors of Bond, Götz Otto, Ola Rapace, and Brigitte Millar, but also for the style of my movies.
Matt Passmore was directly inspired by James Bond and Jason Bourne for his role in Nox. They consider me a potential future Bond director in a certain way. Now, I need to convince the producers, haha. More seriously, that would be an awesome opportunity.
What indie filmmakers should be on our radar?
I love Shana Feste, what she did in The Greatest is a full achievement for an indie movie. I like also Susanne Bier, her Love is all you need is very well made and subtle.
Remember me was also a great indie movie, but the director didn’t make movies for cinema after this one. It’s funny that Pierce Brosnan stars in these three movies. He’s one of my favorite actors and idols and I would love to work with him in the future.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
Dances with Wolves is my favorite movie. It’s a great cinematographic experience as there are almost no dialogs between the two protagonists, Kevin Costner’s character and the wolf. He succeeded to give big emotions and to tell a big story without the dialog and that’s a more and more rare thing. Moreover: John Barry.
Who would compose the soundtrack of your life?
Without a doubt, Gréco Casadesus. He’s a genius. He doesn’t know it, because he’s very humble. It’s very nice to work with humble experienced people. I work with DP Jean-Claude Aumont, AD Stéphane Talagrand, the re-recording mixer Hervé Buirette, sound artist Vincent Goujon, makeup artists Mariló Osuna, María José Andrés, editor Walter Mauriot and color grader Aline Conan who are examples of very humble, nice and experienced people.
To keep up on Keyvan Sheikhalishahi’s newest projects, you can follow him on Instagram or Twitter. We can’t wait for what’s next with the young filmmaker!