32 Under 32: Mohammad Gorjestani

By Egotist / /

Another Monday, another fabulous 32 Under 32 interview. This one is with Mohammad Gorjestani director and partner at Even/Odd (formerly Molecule SF). Give it a read and then check back tomorrow. We’re getting close to the end, but still have more rising stars to go.
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How do you think you approach your job differently than other people?

My entry point into the advertising and brand world has been as a filmmaker. I’ve kind of had to figure it out from there and layer on knowledge to the point now where I’m a director but also able to creative direct and EP projects as well. But at my core I think like a filmmaker, I’m always considering characters, their arc, building a believable and authentic world, whatever it is that gets you to the essence of the idea you’re trying to put on screen. I also think having the experience of making films under crazy circumstances, solving problems without money, and doing a lot with few resources has allowed me, and Even/Odd as a unit, to be very resourceful and resilient.

What kind of accounts/projects are you working on these days?

We just finished creating another film for Pride for Airbnb. Last year, we made a film focused on challenges the LGBTQ community faces when they travel that ended up winning a Webby this year, which was a first for us. And this year, Airbnb gave us a lot of freedom and put a lot of trust in us to go make something focused around communities embracing individuals on the front lines of acceptance.

Aside from that, and because of the nature of this town, we’re working on a few projects I can’t totally talk about. But I can say there’s some really exciting stuff we have lined up for the rest of 2016.

On the independent side, Malcolm and I are developing a feature film I’m writing and directing with the support of the San Francisco Film Society, which is an expansion of my short “Refuge” that was in festivals a few years back. We’re also working on a few short series projects including a series on the “working class” of Hip Hop titled The Boombox Collection. We’ll be releasing two of those films before the fall. I’m also very excited about our “Happy Birthday ________” series which is focused on the would-have-been birthdays of individuals who have been shot by police. We completed the first film on Oscar Grant and we’re currently in pre-production on a few more.

What is it about where you currently work that really pushes you to be better?

There’s just three of us. My partner at Even/Odd, Malcolm Pullinger, and I built the ship from the ground up, and with our newest addition in the mega talented Ashley Rodholm, we’re really hungry to get after it and make our best work yet. Between the three of us, we do it all and wear lots of hats. That’s by design to allow us to be very agile and flexible and build out projects and our crews around needs. We all have very high standards and hold each other accountable. And while we are extremely different people, we come together around the values of creating work that is authentic and crafted at the highest quality. We know that we live in a world where what we make can impact people. That in itself is very motivating.

In thinking over your career so far, what work had made you the proudest?

I think our work with Airbnb for Pride these last two years has been really meaningful and timely. To me, the core element of creativity is around making something of value and the two films we’ve made the past couple of years I think are pieces that need to be in the world. We also made a film on a female advertising art director-turned-vigilante street artist for Brit + Co. with Tool of North America that I’m proud of because again, it’s a film that should get made.

I also have to go back to some early work, and specifically our anthem film for Pinterest Guided Search. We cut our teeth a bit on that project and made a lot of seemingly impossible things happen that most people would advise against. I’m proud of the early work because we really jumped off a cliff on a lot of decisions, that somehow mostly paid off.

Lastly, “Refuge” is for me personally the project. To me the themes of immigration, cyberwar, and proxy politics of Refuge are critical to our landscape as a global society and especially as an Iranian from a Muslim background I stare right into the eyes of the fear mongering going on. Refuge, in many ways, is my response to that.

We hear you’re active with Black Out for Human Rights. Tell us a bit about that.

Black Out for Human Rights was started by Ryan Coogler as a way to organize creatives and deploy ideas and content around the issues involving the treatment of Black people and other minorities, specifically in regards to police brutality. I met Ryan a few years back and was introduced to Ephraim Walker who also worked on Fruitvale. With Ephraim, we game planned making the “Happy Birthday” series with the support of Black Out for Human Rights. Part of our vision at Even/Odd is to create time to give back and contribute to movements or projects we stand in solidarity with and Black Out fits that bill to a T.

Here’s a ridiculously clichéd interview question for you: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I think right now my foresight is more project focused, but that’s the nature of working on a feature and having a slate of brand work that you got coming up too! But thinking 10 years ahead, I’d like to look back and be proud of where I put my energy, and at the same time be working on making even better work. I also hope to able to give back and help, mentor, and create opportunities for some people, especially minorities. I also hope to be part of the voice in creating a shift in the arts where work is valued and artists are able to earn a living. We’re living in a time where creators and their projects are undervalued, because we live in a free content society. I think that’s an unsustainable path and I am excited for the role brands can play in being part of the solution.

This might be tough, but here’s your chance to give a shout out to one person who has helped you get to where you are today. Go.

I’m gonna cheat and list a few more out the gate. Without my parents I wouldn’t be who I am. We grew up without a lot of money, but my parents taught me that as long as you have art in your life, that you are rich. My wrestling coaches growing up all had a hand in keeping me out of trouble and tuning my moral compass. Without my incredible wife, Rachael, I wouldn’t be grounded and inspired each day. She is literally my dream come true. I also have to mention cinematographer and my dear friend Mike Gioulakis who believed in my projects before I had anything to show for myself other than my words and has been behind the camera on pretty much everything meaningful I’ve done.

But back to that one person within the context of this question, without a doubt it would be my partner Malcolm Pullinger. I’m so fortunate to have someone so gifted at so many things going to work with me day to day. We’ve worked on so many projects together and I look at each project and imagine not having his contribution and simply put the projects would not be close to what they are. He’s also a great friend with incredible character who goes above and beyond in every interaction. When you think of your life, you kind of look at the people who’ve helped you grow, and he’s at the top of that list.

Comments

  1. Danny August 26, 2016

    Moooooo! Good stuff man.
    Moooooo! Good stuff man.

    -Gastown Dan