A woman endures frequent nightmares of her own death.

Director’s Vision

It was a dream to make Zarina, and yes every bit of that pun was intended. The character name and initial idea of the project has been with me for nearly ten years now, so at this point, I’m just happy to share it and allow it to be seen and discussed. It’s out of my hands now. But, when it was, it started as an unproduced 10 page script following a male protagonist with a bit more of an arc to a director’s treatment for a 4 minute montage piece that was pitched in May 2019 to the EMERGE! Filmmaking Lab, a short film initiative through Ghetto Film School, Little Ugly, Vimeo and Dolby. In the treatment, my reference for a short about a woman dying from dream to dream was Kid Cudi’s Pursuit of Happiness (Megaforce) video meets The Duplass Brothers’ HBO anthology series, Room 104. Pursuit of Happiness captures a dazed and confused Cudi who keeps finding himself back on his couch using the aesthetic of match cuts and camera moves, which heavily influenced our dream to dream transitions. Room 104’s red and blue color scheme from most of their episodes, taking place in the exact same motel room, heavily influenced our scheme, taking place in one single house. Once I found out that I became one of 3 finalists out of 150+ applicants to go into production with a grant, the visual aesthetic of Zarina came to life through my DP, Sam Mosco and production designer, Haana Noel and I plus the first two episodes of Euphoria that aired on HBO as our shoot date approached.

Making Zarina was less about the fear factor of the nightmares and more about the psychological conflict between our lead character and her dream state. Thus, we captured it as such, focusing less on the gore of getting strangled, hung, and stabbed and more on Zarina’s perspective of such causes and the effect they have on her. The hope was to give our viewers an immersive experience as if they are stuck in a dream state themselves. We strived to do this by framing close ups of our lead, Arlondriah Lenyéa glancing towards the camera’s eye line and reverse shots from her perspective of various characters portrayed by an eclectic cast of folks. All of this was laced with 3 tracks by Di’Or, a local LA artist and frequent collaborator of mine, whose music naturally sets the tone for the psychological experience we were going for.

After shooting, we had a very tight turn around, barely getting out 3 cuts under 5 days for picture lock. Nonetheless, we made it work, having something to turn in to the EPs of the program by the deadline. Zarina ended up becoming the Grand Prize Winner of the lab with help from a superb producing team that consisted of Cornell Mitchell, Julia Balayan and Josef Maxwell who kept me and my creative collaborators sane and free to flow with ideas. This unforgettable experience was carried by a village that I am grateful to have been a part of.

Ultimately, Zarina taught me more on how to “trust the process” one dream at a time. Again, pun intended.