Photo: Ziad Hamzeh with Biz X’s Sherrilynn Colley-Vegh at his home in 2018.
TAKE THE LEAD – Ziad Hamzeh Leading In The Theatre & Movie Industry
I was honoured to attend a private party at Director, Producer and Writer, Ziad Hamzeh’s home in Boston last year. My son, Christian Vegh was asked to work with him on the music and scoring of one of his films, when he graduates from Berklee College of Music in May, an incredible honour for a young musician/songwriter.
Hamzeh has earned over 40 awards and honours for his work in the film industry and is a true leader in his field. I thought I would take this opportunity to interview him and get some advice for our local emerging film artists.
How did Hamzeh move from an actual Roman Palace in Syria to Los Angeles, CA and then relocate to Boston, Massachusetts? Hamzeh immigrated to the United States and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts Directing and Acting in Boston, then a Master of Arts in Writing and Criticism and finally a Master of Fine Arts in Directing, both from California State University.
He started out as an actor and went on to create two theatre companies in Los Angeles, The Open Fist Theatre Company and The Egyptian Arena. He has directed and or produced over 60 stage productions; is a member of the Producers Guild of America and currently teaches directing at Emerson College and Lesley University.
You may be familiar with some of Hamzeh’s work, as an acting coach for “True Lies” and as an actor and producer in “Always Brando” (premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival and “Best Picture Award” Alexandria Film Festival). He was producer of “The Flower of Aleppo” 2017 in Tunisia, which was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award.
He was Director and Producer of “Irrefutable Proof,” which swept the awards, winning the “Golden Palm Award,” “Best Actress” and “Best Cinematography” at the Beverly Hills Film Festival. This film is about an Astrophysicist who had a severe car crash on her way to deliver a lecture to disprove the existence of God.
His most recent work, just released in 2018, is as director of “Sushi Tushi” (a football comedy) and as Executive Producer for “Dreams I Never Had” starring Malcolm McDowell.
When I asked Hamzeh what was next, he told me about three projects he is working on.
He explains, “It’s important to have multiple projects in case something comes up with location, funding, actors, delays, or you are waiting for the green light on movies. Multiple projects keep you moving forward.”
Currently, he is working on films in Tunisia, Syria and New York.
When I enquired if he had any mentors in the industry and why he still teaches, Hamzeh replies, “Although I never really had the privilege of having a mentor in my career, I have been able to mentor hundreds, if not thousands, of students and up and coming professionals, through teaching.”
He continues by stating, “Teaching feeds me, I become a part of their success. I feel like I have children all over the world doing projects and I feel like a proud parent.”
Hamzeh notes that one of his students just received an “Academy Award” and he felt like he has contributed to their success and celebrated all their achievements.
When you ask Hamzeh what has contributed to his success in winning over 40 awards, he humbly replies, “We don’t work to get awards, we work to touch the spirit of human beings, to share stories and to contribute to a better world.”He does say that his success can be attributed to preparation and the treatment of people involved in his work.
As the saying goes the “devil is in the details” and Hamzeh feels that those who skip or rush through the pre-production stage are doomed to fail. He spends six to eight weeks for production and at least four to six months for pre-production, which involves breaking down the script, filming locations and preparing the crew. By going over every detail in preparation he ensures the success of the film.
Hamzeh believes, “It’s important to treat every single member of my team with the utmost respect and love, especially someone new to the industry. There should be no yelling on the set. By empowering and nurturing others, you will ensure that people want to work with you.”
He shares some insight on how the film industry has changed and evolved since he has been working in it.
“The biggest change is that with the use of technology, you no longer have to live in California to work in this industry,” he comments. “I can send samples for revisions, and use Skype for meetings, video auditions or location previews. Now, I only have to travel for actual directing, awards ceremonies and film festivals.”
Hamzeh adds, “This is so much better for your family life. I don’t miss the crazy pace of being in LA, only the people. I am fortunate because of my work to have friends all over the world.”
He informs us that all films are about relationships and there are only three basic elements of all movies: love, hate, and revenge.
“Filmmaking is story-telling to its core,” Hamzeh reveals. “I use real life experiences and events to try and penetrate the human spirit. The audiences watch the characters and lose themselves in the process, making me the invisible conductor holding the emotional strings of the story.”
Hamzeh is considered a “filmmaker activist as reflected in his powerful documentaries.” He chooses stories with subject matter that he finds deeply moving.
An example of this is the documentary, “The Letter: An American Town And The Somali Invasion,” which is not only relevant and courageous, but also gives a voice to issues that impact our world. Hamzeh’s philosophy transcends to all arts as he divulges, “A work of art is the result of someone physically making passion visible. It is a physical manifestation of the artist’s inner creative being shared with the world.”
Find out even more about Ziad Hamzeh online.
Sherrilynn Colley-Vegh is the Director of Leadership Windsor/Essex at United Way. She is a former Principal, Chief Communications Officer and business owner with over 30 years of experience in education, administration, mentoring, consulting and community leadership. If you know a leader in the community to profile here in this column for this column please email: [email protected]