Bookmark and Share

Lessons from the Keeper: Interview with Kayvan Mashayekh & Crew on DVD Release of Khayyam movie




Winner of WAALM® award for Best Independent
Film Director
©Kayvan Mashayekh


It’s been a long and thrilling journey of six years for its director Kayvan Mashayekh and his young crew of actors, producers, technicians and all who contributed to the making of his first independent epic film The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam. Awarded at several film Festivals like Moscow and most recently at the 2nd Annual Persian Golden Lioness Awards 2006 in Budapest, Hungary along with actors Shohreh Aghdashloo and Omid Djalili, Producer Shabnam Rezaie and director Dustin Ellis, Mashayekh’s film is now available on DVD through Walmart, Hollywood Video and Netflix along with a host of other small US retailers since September 5th. This has been quite an accomplishment on many levels for the young Iranian Diaspora film industry and Art form.

Crew on location shooting The Keeper in Uzbekistan  ©Guide Company Films


First it has proven that a movie about Persian historical characters is marketable and can seduce an international audience. Second It has also been a milestone for the Diaspora Cinema for casting  Hollywood Legends (Vanessa Redgrave, Diane Baker, Rade Serbedzija)  in a Persian-American movie. And thirdly Masheyekh’s film experience is one that should inspire other aspiring Iranian Diaspora directors that the key to success in a cinematographic project is stamina, passion and most importantly faith. If financial considerations and strategic marketing and distribution policies are all essential parameters that need to be considered in the long run for every movie that makes it to the theaters, what counts most is the emotional and human investment that makes the experience worthwhile for all involved in its making. The story behind the making of The Keeper, from the artwork on the sets and costumes and the challenges faced by the crew in directing it are now available on the DVD release. This has been an opportunity for me to interview the director and two of his crew members Sep Riahi ( actor/ co-producer) and Michelle Milosh (Production Designer) whose support and contribution were essential in this film project.


L.A. Premiere of The Keeper in Hollywood June 2005
(Left-Right) writer Rezwan Razani, author, Michelle Milosh
and Sep Riahi
©Sylvie Kadivar


Darius KADIVAR ( DK): It took six years to get to this final stage, the DVD release of The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam, which is superbly and very professionally designed. It should be a relief to see it completed?


Kayvan Mashayekh (KM):  Yes, it was a true labor of love that took seven grueling years of my life to complete, but I am very grateful to the hundreds of individuals who toiled and sacrificed towards its eventual completion.


DK: What was the greatest challenge in the making this movie?


KM:  The greatest challenge I faced was the initial negativity towards glorifying a Middle Eastern character on film in the post 9/11 era.  However, I believed all along in its long term prospects of educating the masses about the importance of cultural preservation and bringing positive imagery to an area of the world that desperately needs to have its intellectual heroes championed.


DK: How many people have seen the movie to date?


KM:  I really don’t know but estimating from our theatrical run and DVD launch so far, it is well over 100,000 people.


DK: What has been the reaction of non Iranians to your film?


KM:  Non-Iranians were very enthusiastic about the film because it was perceived by a majority of them as a wonderful antidote to the daily images they receive in the media portraying Iran and the rest of the region as evil and full of hate.


DK: Michelle tell us a little about your work as Production Designer on this film, What does that consist of on a movie of this scale? 


Michelle Milosh  (MM):  Early in pre-production I worked out color palettes for each

Character, and palettes for the sets. Preplanning , designing sets, creating models

was so important because we had limited time. The sets really act as another

Layer revealing  a character’s persona. Even in our present day sets little things

Go into the sets to help tell the story. The Art Director ,Giovanni Natalucci and Set

Decorator , Lou Trabbie  were a very important part of the Art Department team

In putting the total look of the film together.



DK: What were your inspirations and research based upon in creating the sets and costumes?


MM:  Research on 11thC Persian arts from both books and museums. Museums especially  because you are actually looking at real pieces of history from that

Time period. The collections at LACMA, The Met in NY, The British Museum ,

The V & A in London , and The Louvre…every time I would see a fragment of

Fabric, or a piece of pottery with painted figures & horses , I would think , oh here is

A tiny piece of the puzzle, this is what life looked like at that time. A particular

Fabric  fragment from the V & A , became the inspiration for Malikshah’s Lion

Symbol, I had fabric embroidered in Uzbekistan for flags, the interior tent and banquet scenes…the fabric they made was so beautiful I couldn’t resist designing

a gown around it for the Persian Golden Lioness Awards®!

Jane Robinson was our talented costume designer who also researched the time

Period and won the award for costumes.


Costume Epic © Guide Company Films


DK: Sep you were both co-producer and actor in Kayvan’s film. This must have given you a unique perspective. Is it difficult to combine both?


Sep Riahi (SP): Acting and producing in a film definitely provides the
producer with unique, "on-the ground" perspective by gaining insights to the actors' challenges and tasks.  I'm personally not an experienced actor but fortunately in this case, I could rely on Kayvan's fantastic directing skills.


DK: You all worked in difficult conditions for a first movie, amongst others that your subject was not that welcomed by investors in a post September 11Th Hollywood. What gave you the stamina to continue?


(KM), (MM),(SR):  Simply stated, it was love.  Our stamina came from our collective belief in the project along with a “never say die” attitude in the face of unimaginable obstacles, namely shooting the film in two stages with a war going on 200 miles south of Uzbekistan (in Afghanistan) where we were filming.  Fortunately, my core team of colleagues stuck with me through the darkest moments of the production and I am very fortunate to be sitting here today reflecting on it.  We all believed in its message so much.  Thankfully our audience has been most appreciative of our efforts. (KM)


Author and Kayvan Mashayekh at Hollywood Premiere of

The Keeper (June 2005) ©Sylvie Kadivar


DK: You have done a great work in post-production on this film and particularly the use of sound that greatly enhances some key scenes. An aspect often neglected by first time directors. What are the different phases in post-production once the film is wrapped up?


KM:  Naturally, the first stage is editing.  Once that is completed and you have a rough first cut, you employ a music supervisor (if you haven’t already done so) and/or composer to start looking for the mood you want to create with the picture you have just cut.  After that is done, you hire first rate music editors and supervising sound editors to do the final mix before putting the picture all together.  In between all the technical aspects of post production, it is wise to hire a post production supervisor or producer to handle the technical delivery requirements necessary for the picture’s eventual sale to domestic and international distributors.


Furthermore, an often overlooked aspect of post-production is test screening the film throughout the editing process to unbiased and random moviegoers to see what parts are working and what parts are not connecting.  This critical piece of data is the difference between life and death theatrically.  Utilizing the information properly to serve your audience is the key to a successful marketing campaign when the film is released in movie theaters.


DK: Kayvan what did you learn through this film experience, both personally and technically?  What would you do or not do if you were to shoot this film again?


 KM:   The most important lesson was to surround yourself with people that not only care about the project, but care about you.  I always tell my friends that God gave me two ears and one mouth…there is a reason for that.  Technically, it is very important that you think of the film as a product that needs to find its audience and how much will it cost to get that audience depends on how well you have done your homework in advance through marketing and advertising.  In a perfect world, if I was to shoot this film again, I would like to have been blessed to have a “Hollywood” budget for marketing and advertising.  An additional $20Million would have made me very competitive against studio produced films.


DK: What will your next film be about? 


KM:  Cyrus (The Great)  is one of five projects I am kicking around, but as in everything in life, it’s all about the money.  Whichever one of my scripts is funded first, that is the one I will be doing next.


DK: You intend to shoot it in Turkey, why not Iran?


KM:  When the time comes, I do intend to shoot the film in Turkey due to its favorable locations and non-governmental intervention.


DK: The Keeper won two Persian Golden Lioness Awards®, that held it’s 2nd Annual this year in Budapest, for best direction and best costume design. It was also an occasion for Iranian Diaspora Artists to get together and share their professional experiences. What is your opinion on this cultural initiative?


KM: I am very proud of the Awards and hope to contribute to its success by recognizing future recipients with their outstanding talents.


DK: What should be done to help bridge the Diaspora Cinema and Iranian Cinema today?


KM:  Capital.  The more money we spend promoting the Diaspora Cinema, the greater the nexus will become in uniting people of different cultures with our own.  I’m very proud to be in the forefront of these efforts and hope to encourage capable entities and individuals to promote our culture through capital investment.  I am reminded by President Kennedy’s inaugural speech, and if I may borrow from its message for our people today it would say,

“Ask not what your culture can do for you, ask what YOU can do for your culture.!”


DK: Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on the occasion of your DVD release. Look forward to your next movie.


DVD package of the Keeper ©Guide Company Films



Author’s notes:

Recommended Reading: My first  interview with director Kayvan Mashayekh for payvand in 2005.

Recommended Reading: Khayyam Mania!!!: Hollywood's depiction of the great Persian Poet's life by Darius KADIVAR (2003).



About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian and Media Consultant. He lives and works in France.


© Copyright 2006 (All Rights Reserved)