Georgetown student and filmmaker Mesbah Uddin (SFS ’15) discusses his new film “11:59.” Uddin dissects his process and the ways in which his style has changed since his first production titled “Freshman Again.” He is excited to share his thoughts on his work and the future.
If you didn’t have any formal background, how did you get started on the first film?
I came to Georgetown thinking I was going to be a government major and I was going to go into community organizing and run for office at some point. A year into my Georgetown life, I figured out politics was not for me. Last semester sophomore year one of my best friends was doing a documentary on Islamophobia in the U.S. He was going to give the footage to an acquaintance of his to edit and direct because he had no experience with film editing at all. That acquaintance bailed last minute and my friend was absolutely devastated. He came to me really upset and so I said “I’ll help you out, let’s put something together.” I had no experience at all.
That semester, we spent over 200 hours both learning how to use the editing software and learning how to put together a documentary. At the end of the semester, we had a 45-minute documentary. What started as me having an advising role eventually saw me becoming the project’s co-director. I changed my major to culture and politics, allowing myself to take more film-related classes. I wanted to learn more about filmmaking and the process. My favorite filmmaker [is] Quentin Tarantino. He says, “If you want to make a film just go out there and make a film, don’t ask anyone’s permission just go out there and by the end of the film you will know how to make a film.” I just followed that advice, I just went out there with my DLSR and recruited a bunch of my friends and made “Freshman Again.”
What do you hope for with your new film, “11:59”? Where do you hope it goes? How do you see its future?
For “Freshman Again,” it was myself and three of my friends just running around and doing everything for the film. We were all sort of doing whatever we needed to do and we didn’t know what to do. I just gave everyone producer credits; I didn’t even know what a producer did. For “11:59,” I was really careful to pick people with certain expertise that fit into the process of filmmaking. My short-term goal is to keep harmony going within the team — make sure everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, picking up the right skills, communicating with the sponsors and all the collaborators outside and making sure we get the resources we need.
Long term, obviously, is that come April 11, premiere time, I want people to have an enjoyable experience of the film. “11:59” is about the life of a chronic procrastinator, so there will be fun elements that everyone can relate to. Under that, it’s also an exploration of mental health issues. That’s something that people don’t talk a lot about at Georgetown. Hopefully through the film people will really engage with those issues a little bit more.
Pretend I’m Jimmy Kimmel and you’re promoting your movie on my show, what would you say about “11:59?”
I think it will be a very honest exploration of what it means to be a college student and not have your life figured out. My protagonist has his problems because of certain things that happened to him in his personal life and things which affected his mental health. Anyone who sees what he’s going through will recognize that you don’t have to go through the same process to feel the way he is. You can relate to a struggle because everyone has those struggle but for different reasons. So while the reason may not be applicable for everyone, the feeling of being lonely, the feeling of not knowing where your life is headed — I think those are things everyone can relate to.
What about the future for you? Where do you see yourself going and what are your hopes for filmmaking?
If all goes right, I’m going to be studying film at the University College London. I want to spend the entire year [there] just soaking in everything I can about film. After I come back, I don’t know where life will take me. I am pragmatic enough to know that the director’s line is the longest in the filmmaking industry. It’s one of the industries where meritocracy doesn’t work — it’s about whom you know, it’s about connections. That’s why you see filmmakers who keep bombing, but keep getting gigs. I have no illusions as to the practicality of the industry; I had to give it a lot of thought, trust me. I mean, imagine that conversation with your parents. I’m a first-generation kid, my parents are from the working class. They were expecting me to graduate from Georgetown, a prestigious institution, get a good job. All those things were going well to a point and then I was just like, “Ah, I’m not really enjoying this.”
You constantly have to think of what works [and] what doesn’t so that you can sustain the artist in you too, because if you can’t put food on the table, then the artist in you is going to die.
Out of that struggle come some of the most creative films ever. Lack of resources and necessity are really the father and mother of innovation. If you don’t have expensive equipment, maybe you find a way to rig your camera and do this cool shot and you’re like “Woah, I never knew this could be done.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself or the filmmaking process?
One of the goals of making the film is to inspire independent student artists at Georgetown. When I first came to Georgetown, I never really thought of this place as being conducive to student art, or any kind of art. Contrary to that popular belief, there are actually a lot of cool, artsy people at Georgetown. The only problem is that they are all sort of in their own underground bubbles; there’s no platform for everyone to come together and collaborate. There are so many great people with artistic skills, somebody should really find a way to bring everyone together. With these student film projects, I try to do that.