It’s 1991, “Stolen Freedom: Occupied Palestine” became a well known film especially in the Arab-American community. The film and I were written up in newspapers, and I would get invited to show the film and speak at conventions and conferences. I was presented with awards and, to my surprise, libraries, universities and schools around the world started requesting DVDs of the film. In a way I became a celebrity. I am not telling you this to boost my ego, but I have a reason behind it. “Stolen Freedom: Occupied Palestine” cost me around $35K. That includes the production, travel and living costs for a year, money I borrowed against my house ꟷ but the film did change my life.
One day I was asked to be interviewed by an Arab-American TV station that can be seen everywhere in the states. There I met a young lady who now is my wife of 27 years.
In the beginning of 1992, a friend introduced me to a producer named Joseph Merhi. He owned PM Entertainment an independent movie studio. At that time they were producing 8-10 movies a year.
I went to meet Joseph at his company. He took me on a tour of his studio, and a few minutes later he offered me a job. And since I thought he was a friend of a friend I will get a good position and special treatment. I was wrong. He offered me a production assistant position.
Here I am, I had 2 years of film school, I worked with one of the top commercials directors in Hollywood and learned everything about production, spent a year and a half making and releasing my documentary film, and let’s not forget the celebrity part I mentioned earlier. And on top of that the pay was $60 a day, which means financially I am going backwards instead of forward.
But, again I am not one who turns opportunity down, so I started right away. It was perfect timing. They were just starting a movie entitled “Ring of Fire 2
I was assigned to work with an assistant director ꟷ I do not want to mention his name. For some reason this guy did not like me. He gave me all the jobs that no one else wanted to do. I had to sweep human feces under a bridge where we needed to film. I cleaned the cast and crew restrooms in all the trailers. I did everything he asked. Also I was working 16-18 hours on the set each day. But whatever job I did, I did it the best way I could and never complained.
One day the crew brought an espresso machine to the set so I started making espresso for everyone including the film’s director who also was a partner in the company, and we became friends. He wouldn’t let anyone make his espresso but me, and he started asking me to hang around on the set with him. Slowly I started getting better jobs. I was friendly, always having the best attitude, always grateful to be there, and everyone on the set accepted me as part of the family, since a lot of them have been working there for a while.
After the film was done shooting, Joseph called me in his office and said, “you know why I gave you the production assistant job?” I said “no.” He said, “I wanted to see how you interact with others and how committed you are to working here.” Then he told me that he was promoting me to a Production Manager position, meaning that I will run the whole set and the crew on the next production.
Wow, I was just a PA on the first film taking orders from everyone and now I became everyone’s boss!
You see if I had let my ego ꟷ being a “celebrity” or, as others would say, “I went to film school I am not doing this kind of job.” ꟷ get in the way, I wouldn’t have this tremendous opportunity.
Joseph assigned me to work with Charla Driver, a line producer, who would be my boss on the set. Charla was tough, she would scream in my face, literally 2 inches away. I could feel her saliva hitting my face, but I learned so much from her, and with her help, my first assignment as a production manger was a success. I went on to do 3 more films for Joseph as a production manager. So in 8 months I worked on 5 films ꟷ 4 of those as a production manager.
“Now,” I felt, “I am ready to make my first movie.” So 1993 I left PM Entertainment and I started working on my first action film “L.A. Wars.” The experience and relationships I built at PM helped me tremendously. I co-wrote a script with a screenwriter in 9 days, I raised $116K from investors for the production, I hired the cast and the crew and we shot the film in 12 days. The whole process from beginning to end took me 7 months.
And that’s how I got into movies.
Click the link below to watch the full L.A. Wars film free on FlixHouse our streaming platform.
If new filmmakers would ask me for advice, based on what worked for me I will tell them the following:
- Keep you dream alive, make sure its cemented in your mind, heart and soul, that will put you over every hurdle you will face
- When a higher-up treats you bad on the set or the job, do not let it get to you, just think of it as a great example of what you do not want to become
- Immerse yourself in whatever job you have, make it your world, if you do not succeed at it you will not be presented with better opportunities
- Have an open mind and eagerness to learn, when others see that, they will let you step in and start teaching you their craft
- Be humble and nice, nice guys do not finish last