Filmmaker Tannaz Hazemi gets a little help from her friends to find Kickstarter's sweet spot

Filmmaker Tannaz Hazemi doesn’t care if her short film defies any particular genre. “I’ll never make a period piece, or a sci-fi. I’m a human emotion explorer,” says the 34-year-old Iranian-born former model and VJ, who also maintains that she will always value empathy over cinematography. Now Hazemi needs the kind of empathy that opens wallets—$50,000 worth, to be exact—by October 16th, so that she can complete her latest short, Before the Bomb. The budget for this film is more than double the cost of her last two combined. Enter: Kickstarter.

Although the crowdsourcing platform initially seemed to democratize the funding of passion projects, once high profile indie and mainstream celebrities (most notably Zach Braff early on, and more recently Spike Lee) got hip to the minimal red tape, win-win way of raising money for the non-studio films that they wanted to make, all hell broke loose and naturally, a backlash ensued. Nevertheless, Hazemi admits that people are more likely to invest in an unknown person’s project if a known person endorses it, which is why she has enlisted the help from a few of her famous friends to promote her Kickstarter campaign.

In what Hazemi likens to book blurbs, video testimonials on the campaign page for Before the Bomb feature actress Lily Cole, director Henry Alex Rubin and guerrilla filmmaker Casey Neistat talking about Hazemi’s film and why it’s important that it gets made. But even with the support from her high profile friends, Hazemi has secured only 10 percent of the money she needs to finish the film. Still, on a recent afternoon in the lobby of the Bowery Hotel with her Chihuahua, Loup, draped in her lap, Hazemi remains optimistic.

"I’m fascinated by people who have limitations and overcome them. Not just physical, but moral."

Hazemi grew up in post-revolution Iran, and then later Sweden, with her sister (the actress Mercedes Masohn) and parents. In 1993, the family immigrated to the Chicago suburbs where Hazemi attended high school and struggled with her English. “It was a massive cultural change,” she recalls. A few years in, however, she was discovered by a modeling agency while hanging out at a shopping mall. In rather quick succession, she graduated from high school, moved briefly to New York, then Milan, where she landed an on-air gig covering entertainment for Italian television, and then got a job as a VJ on VH1, which brought her back to New York. “These things happened to me,” she recalls. “It didn’t utilize a lot of me. Some of me.” What she really wanted to do was write.

Hazemi has since written and directed three short films that focus primarily on the link between destructive behaviors, catharsis and love. For her, it feels freeing to tell stories about unconventional people. In Odd Streets Run West, a volunteer with Downs Syndrome ably pilots a plane filled with children; a handsome couple flail and hurt one another in their pursuit of compatible sex in Erection; for the lead character in Prometheus, a blind man who abandons dialysis for a solo drinking game, Hazemi hired a blind non-actor through the Blind Academy. “I’m fascinated by people who have limitations and overcome them,” she says. “Not just physical, but moral.”

Tannaz Hazemi

Tannaz Hazemi relaxing in the backyard of filmmaker Henry Alex Rubin’s LES apartment. Rubin is among Hazemi’s friends who gave video testimonials for her Kickstarter campaign.

Before the Bomb, which Hazemi hopes to expand into a feature-length film, is about 10-year-old Elsa, who searches for food and steals clothes in the absence of her alcoholic mother so that she and her brother will appear happy when Child Services arrives. “When you have a child in a film it allows you to be a child,” says Hazemi of her choice to make children the film’s subject. “You don’t question them. You allow them to be, and that opens everything up.”

The short, which is a finalist for the Slamdance 2013 Screenwriting Competition, is further meaningful for Hazemi, as it is the first script she’s written as a sober person “in ages,” she says. Hazemi quit drinking in May, and attributes her sobriety for giving her the necessary clarity to really delve deep with this script. Whereas with previous work, “I was mentally masturbating concepts that I liked,” she says. “But this, this is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Scroll down to see the video testimonials from Lily Cole, Henry Alex Rubin, Mercedes Masohn and Casey Neistat.