In Conversation with Husein Alicajic

Husein Alicajic is the Director at Photoplay Films.

With a unique cinematic sensibility and a passion for strong visual imagery, Husein’s work continues to evolve around his passion for storytelling. His work has received recent Best Direction honors at New York Festivals, Golden Trailer Awards, World Promax Awards, as well as recognition at the VIVID Festival with screenings at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. His short film Beginnings was recognized for outstanding achievement at numerous Festivals, including Rotterdam and Sydney where it won best short, as well as being nominated for an AFI and an IF award, and winning at SPAA. Born in Sydney to Bosnian and Scottish parents, Husein attained degrees in Economics, Philosophy and Communications before deciding to follow his undeniable talents as a filmmaker. He has collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke award winning writer Jeff Noon on his own IF award winning feature film script Divine Shadows which is now in pre-production, as well as being attached to direct the thriller Snowbound. Husein was most recently attached as screenwriter to the official biopic of legendary Country & Western singer Waylon Jennings.

What inspired you to become a director?

I guess my inspiration for becoming a director was because stories and films touched my life in such a big way when I was younger and I wanted to share that gift with likeminded people. When I was young I would record these elaborate adventure stories to tape and do all the voices and sound effects for them to keep myself amused. Then growing up it was books, music and movies that changed my life. Without them I’d be a goner, so I think I owe it to the magic I got from all of the stories I came into contact with. They gave me hope, and still do.

How did you get your first break?

I’d finished one of my degrees at University and wrote letters to a bunch of TV and film companies saying I wanted to be a director. Somehow, some guy who was quite high up at one of the TV networks read my letter and called me in to meet. I sit down in his office and he says, “That was a really good letter — did you write it?” “Of course I wrote it”, I say. “Are you sure you wrote it? It’s a really well written letter, don’t lie to me now”, he says. We go back and forth like this for a bit then he says “Ok you want to be a director? I’ll give you a job a trained gorilla could do. Lets see how you go with that”. Next day I turn up and find out my job is to knock down a brick bungalow with a sledgehammer. A week later, the bungalow is leveled and I’m still alive but kind of confused since this didn’t seem too much like being a director to me, and I’m told I now get to be a stagehand and work in the studio on live TV. The rest, as they say, is history.

What paths have you taken to get to where you are today?

Every roundabout path imaginable, and each has been a blessing, though sometimes in disguise. I flirted quite seriously with the idea of academia for a while before deciding making up new stories was more fun than retelling old ones. I’ve made trailers for films, exhibited as a contemporary artist and photographer, worked as a creative, as a screenwriter, screwed sets together at an awards show and being electrocuted while working as a lighting assistant.

What advice about the do's and don'ts would you give to an aspiring director?

I’m loathed to give advice because I think what works for one person will be completely wrong for another. I think the main challenge, especially in commercials, is to be able to hang on to the thing that makes your take on things unique and not have it become so watered down it’s lost. It’s almost a catch 22 scenario whereby the reason someone will hire you is because of what only you can bring to the project, but at the same time, the reason they won’t hire you and will choose someone else is because of what only you brought to the project. Either way you live or die by what you bring so you might as well just be yourself. As far as dos and don’ts I think everyone just works out what works for them — that’s part of the fun.

Tell us about the campaigns you're currently working on and what sets you apart from other directors?

I’ve had a really busy last two months and have just wrapped up a bunch of great jobs. One for Taubmans involved a big set build and a kind of stylized approach, which was a lot of fun. We shot in studio and had the luxury of building a large and detailed set of a home that is cut in cross section almost like a doll’s house. This spot was super clean and precise, and I think it turned out great. I love the colors and the almost magical staging of it all. One of the other jobs was for Australian Unity where we shot different athletes in Melbourne doing different sports and tied the piece together via match cutting. With this spot I was conscious of wanting to be much more organic and fluid in how we staged things, but at the same time still wanted that sense of magic to mix in with the realism of the various sports. There’s a nice rawness to how it’s come together, but it still has that formalism that comes from the preconceived moments where we match the movement or action of two sports to tie them together in an inventive visual way. It’s this mixing the everyday with something that’s kind of magical that really excites me. I love when I read a script and it gives you that sense of wonder and shows you the real world in a slightly different way, and in a way, you can see it playing out almost tike a modern day fairytale. Seeing magic in the everyday, that’s what I’m good at.

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