In our Member Lens series, we’re spotlighting a cross-section of current Film Independent Members to see how they got where they are now, what they hope to do next and what being a part of Film Independent means to them.
As we enter November, aka Food Month, it’s appropriate to invoke the old cliché: “You eat first with your eyes.” And if that’s true, then with cinema it might be equally fair to say, “You watch first with your ears.” After all, sound is literally half of the modern moviegoing experience. Yet too often, filmmakers—and particularly filmmakers of the cash-and-time-strapped indie sort—relegate sound to an afterthought, something to figure out months later in the mixing booth, often agonizingly. But, with a little forethought, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Why? Because! There are folks out there like Film Independent Member Hamed Hokamzadeh working hard to turn your postproduction sound journey into a pleasant, fruitful walk in the park. The co-founder of six-year-old post sound studio MelodyGun, based in Hollywood, Hakomzadeh turned this early interest in composing and the crafting of atmospheric soundscapes into a full-service business aimed at serving the needs of the independent creative community.
We talked to Hokamzadeh about his entrepreneurial background; his Iranian-American heritage and how filmmakers can best set themselves up for success in the planning, mixing and recording of their film’s sound.
To start, tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from? Where did you go to school?
Hokamzadeh: I’m Iranian-American. I come from an entrepreneurial family of business owners, and saw firsthand how you can earn the trust of a client and build a long-lasting fulfilling work relationship based on genuine connection, interest and respect for each other. My dad owned one of the most successful photography studios in his town. I graduated from Cal State Los Angeles as a first-generation college student in film scoring while simultaneously working with students at Chapman Film School on their movies—that’s where I met my eventual business partner, Thomas Ouziel.
When did you first develop an interest in cinema?
Hokamzadeh: I learned the keyboard when I was young and was always more curious with creating moods and tones with music rather than lyrics and songs. It wasn’t until I put my music to pictures that I really caught the bug. I got these heartbreaking photos of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti; I recorded my dad reciting a poem and put music to it—and the result was bigger than my dad or me. It was something I could share and others would feel emotion in ways that just audio can’t do. Gladiator, Edward Scissorhands, Lord of the Rings and Big Fish are all huge inspirations in terms of films that really maximize the use of sound to transport you. There are some great Iranian films I should mention too, like 1977’s Cry Under Water (Faryaad Zire Ab), Turtles Can Fly (2004), Rokhsareh (2002) and many others.
When did sound come into the picture? Why did you decide to pursue that aspect of the business?
Hokamzadeh: Most people dream of directing or acting. But me? I’ve always wanted my own studio. I love having a busy studio, serving clients, understanding their needs and hearing their stories. Every day is a different one and it never gets dull. I’ve worked in tech and the music industry, but I feel the most at home in cinema post-production. There’s just a relaxed atmosphere, and having a big team of trusted editors is so fun and satisfying and comfortable to me. I even like the more monotonous parts of the workflow, because it allows us to just focus on story.
When did you first learn about Film Independent?
Hokamzadeh: It must have been around 2012? I didn’t really get involved until 2015-ish when I wanted to go to some of the events and mixers. I love when I see other people I know at an event! I also selfishly love being able to watch the Film Independent Spirit Award screeners—I don’t get to go to many festivals anymore, and studios generally don’t sent indie films at MPSE or CAS. I also think Project Involve is one of the best programs out there for filmmakers, because it doesn’t just give you a grant, it opens doors to vendors like Formosa who may otherwise not have the time for a short film with no budget.
What were some of your earliest gigs doing what you do now?
Hokamzadeh: One of the first features we [MelodyGun] did as a studio was Lazy Eye. I was working at a music supervision company for my day job and trying to start the business in my off hours. I learned that each filmmaker at that point is making their best damn film and needs every single bead of my energy to bring it home, because it’s hard—filmmaking—and it’s even harder doing it independently. You owe it to your cast and crew and producers to give it 100%. So we busted our ass and killed the mix. I quit my day job after that and never looked back.
When did MelodyGun start?
Hokamzadeh: We’ve been in business since 2015. Our facility is next to the Paramount lot and the Formosa Group. We’re best known for our audio postproduction editorial and sound mix work. We also offer on-set sound mixing, music composition and supervision.
What’s one piece of advice for independent filmmakers to do to help make the postproduction sound process easier.
Hokamzadeh: Book or get estimates from post vendors before you shoot. Also: get wild lines on set if—and when—your sound mixer asks. It will save you a ton of money.
Why is it important to support an organization like Film Independent and be involved in that sort of independent filmmaker community?
Hokamzadeh: Our mission is to work on meaningful and thought-provoking content, and you find that that means working on independent films and with independent filmmakers. By working with organizations like Film Independent—their Fellows and Members—we’re able to fulfill that mission. You can read more about our social impact commitment online.
To learn more about Hamed Hokamzadeh and the rest of the team at MelodyGun Sound Studios, please visit their website.
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(Header: Hamed Hokamzadeh, right, with business partner Thomas Ouziel)