Keon Hedayati, 25, is a young rising star in the independent film community. Growing up in Irvine, California, the popular and athletic Keon found his passion for film and writing in high school. Upon graduating USC film school, Keon wrote, directed, and acted in his first short film Strongboy, which was nominated for over a dozen awards from various film festivals, winning Best Editing at the London Filmmaker’s Festival. He then turned his focus to produce another short film of magnanimous scale “Tyrant” which he hopes will win the 2018 Oscars award for Best Short Film. Currently, Keon is living in mountainous Northern Idaho to concentrate on making his first feature film: ERECTUS. In this interview, Keon discusses his secrets to success.
I sat down with Keon for a phone interview. The following is paraphrased.
Let’s talk about your very first independent project Strongboy. At the time, you were 23 years old and fresh out of USC, you wrote, directed, organized and acted in a film that utilized 38 actors and extras, in this film you recreated a historical 19th century bare-knuckled boxing drama set in an arena witnessed by a corrupt old English secret society, you were nominated for 5 awards in the London Filmmaker’s Festival, and won Best-Editing. Where did that come from?
I was writing a screenplay in college. I wrote a feature about the character and I wanted to direct the feature. I knew I didn’t have the resources to direct a feature so Strongboy was just a taste of the essense of what my feature film would have entailed. That’s where that came from.
How did you pull it off?
Just by wanting it very bad. Directing is not hard. It’s hard but you do all this preparation by yourself. Lots of it. Then you get to go on a stage and you essentially get to be God.
Because if you are prepared, you know exactly where every archetype needs to be and you know exactly how everything intertwines and interlocks and if you know your stuff, then your crew and your cast will give you that privilege of being a director. If you have done your job right, you get to be God for a little while.
That’s why I think I pulled it off because it is huge responsibility like I have been saying because I have been given an opportunity to follow my dreams. It’s fun, that’s how it’s done. If it is not fun, you really aren’t dying to have it. Then nobody in the field is going to trust you. An actor or a crewmember is putting their vulnerabilities into your hands and telling you that you could do anything with it. So you better have something absolutely phenomenon and transcendental.
Tyrant –a drug-crazed assassin, Dante, stumbles upon an omniscient hobo, Paxo, and finds that his purpose is to protect him from the elitists trying to control him. This film is heavily philosophical and has a very powerful message for humanity. Can you lead us through the significance of –not Dante’s story- and what it tells us about the nature of man?
That story I was writing it right around the time Trump was becoming a prolific candidate. You know there were trends when I was in college. We as a society were kind of pointing towards this very vain direction, kind of like a Romanesque kind of direction where materialism is at an all-time high and image is even more important compared to the Romans who would erect statues of people.
Image is 10-100 times more important today. So I wanted to cover exactly what it is that is the germ inside the human species that makes us tyrannical. The way that Plato put it, “the woman asks, when the man loves the beautiful what does he desire and Socrates responds: that the beautiful may be his”.
The way and reason why humans can comprehend beauty is why we are human and that is a gift but at the same time, what makes us tyrannical and the most dangerous thing in the known universe is that we want to own that beauty. We want the beauty for ourselves but that’s not the way it should be, you know. Nature is beauty and it doesn’t belong to us. Anything that is beautiful is just an extension to our mystery.
The antagonists of your both Strongboy and Tyrant were both a congregation of elitists. I am starting to see a trend here. What exactly do you have against the 0.1%?
I don’t have anything against the 0.1%. It is just that I think villains are more interesting when they are apex. If you are a villain and you are the apex predator, then you are there for a reason. So when someone is that extreme but at the same time prevalent, that makes them the most interesting of villains because they are justified in their malice and they are the most self-righteous type of villains.
Mouth of God. Explain.
We were creating Tyrant and A) we didn’t have the money for special effects and B) we didn’t need it because we have a lot great artists and painters on our side. So what happened with that is we had to create a psychedelic illusion for our film.
I had this painter Bita Pandkho, my cousin, who was willing to create and she was willing to listen to my vision. So we created a new kind of side effect where we painted one of the world’s largest canvases, 12 feet tall, 100 feet long. We painted it in multiple coats so that there will be one layer of starry night and the other will only be visible through black light. And then we wrapped that canvas through a cylinder and then we spin that cylinder and we can walk a camera into that cylinder and then it will create an illusion based off of the motion.
That’s what the mouth of God painting was. It was implemented so that we can show that you do not need crazy amounts of money. The cameras and equipment today, they are so good that you can overcompensate in other fields because you do not necessarily need perfect lighting and perfect this or perfect that.
Can I have it?
If you can move it out of that storage place and you can convince Bita, sure you can.
Let’s talk about your organization abilities as an artist. Stereotypically, artists, especially young artists, aren’t the most organized or levelheaded. You directed, organized, and acted in two very stressful projects that utilized over 50 people each. Tyrant had over 20 scenes in nearly 10 different locations including the Mouth of God. You were self-funded and you had to raise over 15000 dollars for Tyrant. The hardest part of it all: you had to do it on OUR time. Majority of your actors and extras had day jobs. They could only give you one weekend, if something went wrong, a key actor didn’t show up or a key piece of equipment broke, then that was it. Your project done. I never saw you lose your patience once. You were barely standing but you never once took it out on a crewmember or teammate. What is the secret to your patience, organization skills, and leadership ability?
Thank you. You were part of my crew and you yourself have that same quality. Like I said earlier, you really have to love every single moment and see it as sacred. You don’t just get that opportunity to play god everyday so better treat it as sacred. You better see yourself as representing something higher than yourself and I think that people dig that. If you sacrifice yourself and your body for that purpose, other people will do it to and that’s what has been going down.
What can Hollywood executives learn from you on how to treat people?
Tough bastard of a question. There has to be a lot of rewiring for that to happen. I just have to say, you are going to die and then you are going to be gone. How much different are you when you are dead compared to everybody who is also dead? You’re dead. To live this whole existence self-righteously, it doesn’t make much sense. It is cancerous. It is not creative. Even the sun, what we talked about earlier, is not malicious.
What gives some Hollywood executive the right to be malicious or self-righteous when the sun is not? I guess I would say look into the universe a little bit more and see how connected it all is and realize that it is not about conquering. It really isn’t about conquering. The animals that are conquering and the animals that are underwhelmed are the ones that perish. It is the ones that are in the middle that are able to continue.
The ones that conquer too much will die because they will deplete the deer that they eat and when all those deers die another whole thing will be sparked. So we obviously are on a more intricate level as human beings. So that is happening exponentially. So to be self-righteous, to recap is going against the universe.
So excess is not good?
Excess could be good if you are giving. The sun is excess but it is giving. It is giving life.
So you are against materialism?
To an extent. I do like to have nice things. It’s nice to have good headphones. It’s nice to have a good car. Good camera. Good clothes. But I think it’s the flaunting that is the danger. It’s inevitable that we are into materialistic things because materialism is an extension of innovation. It is a sister or a cousin to innovation. It is inside of us to be into things that are sleek and that look and feel efficient. But for it to be everything, it is obviously wrong.
Future projects. What do you have in store for the world?
I moved to Northern Idaho, I am currently in the mountains where you cannot stay connected to anybody or anything other than the cosmos and nature. I am out here and I am writing a screenplay about Neanderthals and that is basically all I can say right now but that’s the project I am working on and I plan to show the beauties and the darkness that lie behind human nature.
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