An Interview with Filmmaker Shan Shaikh
The mastermind behind Balloon Girl shares an exclusive look at the making of the film.
Asymmetric Magazine: Tell us about your recently released feature film Balloon Girl.
Shan Shaikh: The original idea was a one-liner that popped into my head one day: “Girl buys birthday balloons to make herself feel better.” What evolved from that idea was something I would have never imagined then.
AM: What is the story?
SS: The story follows the naïve, fresh outta high school, Red, as he adjusts to his new life. His assumption that the bonds he created—and the ones that were burnt—during his four years would remain the same is what sends him spiraling down a deep hole full of confusion and teenage angst. Although there appears to be no resolve, it is the mysterious “Balloon Girl”, who serves as the catalyst to his reinvention, that helps him answer the questions that restrict him from becoming the new person he is meant to be.
AM: What challenges did you face?
SS: Credibility was a huge factor in the making of this film. I was 17 when I wrote this thing and turned 18 during the filming process, so it’s not like I could really say I had been doing this for a long time. That’s most likely a huge reason I didn’t get a lot of people to audition—I ended up hunting down people and trying to convince them to join me. But, I would have to say the independent films I had done, my acting accolades, and the fact that I had my own production company backing me up sold me enough to those who had bits of doubt—the business cards helped, too.
I had to smooth talk a lot, and I mean a lot, during the making of this film. Whether that was with parents to get them to let me film just a bit longer or with owners of restaurants and good friends to let me use their space to film. But sometimes, owners of certain places just won’t budge, so you’ve got to figure out an alternate right there on the spot.
AM: What role does Los Angeles play in the making of your films?
SS: I was born in DTLA and raised in K-Town. I owe it to the city for teaching me so much—much more than school has. LA makes a beautiful foundation for any piece. Including it in my films is just another way to pay homage. But, as a giant city, it’s ever-changing. If I’m lucky, the city is changing with the film, and that’s beautiful to watch on screen.
AM: How does this feature film compare to your other work?
SS: Balloon Girl is the compilation of everything I’ve learned about making a film. Other than my two independent films, when I first started my production company, we made three short films. Five films later, we’ve learned plenty from our mistakes and what it takes to make a quality script, prepare a quality schedule, and shoot a quality film. You can think of Balloon Girl as a final project at the end of a two year film course—bullshit included.
AM: What inspires you most?
SS: The simple things. Small conversations with the people in the street, time with friends and family, heartbreaks and heart-throbs alike. Much like Herman Hesse, I like to think everything that happens in this word has some significance.
AM: What else can we expect to see from you?
SS: This is just the beginning for Retrospective Cinema. We’ll let Balloon Girl act as the sneak peak into the kinds films we’ll be producing. We’re already writing our next script.
Shan Shaikh is a writer and director. He is best known for his personal film work and his work with Retrospective Cinema. You can find more of his work at shanthebikewriter.tumblr.com/films.