Director Tim Schauder grew up in Gottengen, a small town in Germany with plenty of local art house theatres. At the ripe age of 16, he saw Harold and Maude and was forever indebted to the art of filmmaking. While in film school, he directed two award-winning films (City Bomber, Strong Shit) that earned him a government grant allowing him to spend a full year in NYC on full scholarship. In New York, Schauder met his wife Sara, who is the mother of his two kids, and also the producer of his new film “The Iron Job”, which is screening in the documentary competition at this year’s LAFF.
What’s it about: “The Iran Job” follows American basketball player Kevin Sheppard as he accepts a job to play in Iran.
Director Schauder says: “I wanted to make a documentary that plays like a movie. No “experts,” no talking heads, no political statements. Instead I wanted action, humor and romance. I did want a film that touches on the issues around Iran (political, religious, etc), but purely through the characters and the real-life drama in front of me, as opposed to high-brow intellectualism. For this approach I needed an exceptional protagonist – someone whose personality would create conflict, allow humor and attract other exceptional characters. It was important that “Iran”– which conjures up all kinds of associations – was the backdrop to the film, not the main character. And I needed a platform that’s not about politics or religion. Sports seemed the perfect medium.”
On the challenges: “1) Fundraising: As a first-time doc filmmaker I had zero credit with the gatekeepers. Though many networks expressed interest in the pitch, they all wanted to see footage – a catch-22 in doc filmmaking. We learned who the gatekeepers are in the grant world – and got rejected by all of them. Finally NYSCA bit; then the Paley Center selected us for a pitch competition, which we won. With more footage we were able to get more support – though still none from traditional grant sources. Luckily we made it to a rough cut, which Sara placed into the hands of Abigail Disney. She saw merit in the film and became our executive producer. We wouldn’t be here without her. We also ran a Kickstarter campaign, raising 100K.
2) Logistics in Iran: Journalist visas were denied so we had to shoot under the radar. We decided it was safer for me to go on my own, entering as a German tourist. I packed an HDV camera – small enough for an unassuming backpack. If I got into trouble I could say I’m just a tourist filming the sites. I used that line a few times until (before the presidential election) I was detained. Shooting like this was challenging. I didn’t have the best equipment, nor a crew. But it was a blessing in disguise, and crucial for building trust and intimacy with the film’s subjects.”
What would you like the LAFF audiences to come away with after seeing your film? “People are people, anywhere in the world. If we can focus on that we’ll get past our differences. It’s important to make a distinction between the people of Iran and the government. Iran is not a monolithic society by any stretch of the imagination. There are plenty of different opinions out there, political, religious, and otherwise – much like in the U.S. – and so one should take with a grain of salt what certain extreme leaders may say – on both sides. Most importantly, this film focuses on Iran’s people, rather than its government. I hope it can challenge perceptions and remind us of what’s at stake when we muse about going to war with people we often know too little about.”
On the film’s inspirations: “Harold and Maude”… An American basketball player in Iran seems just as unlikely as a romance between a 20-year-old and an 80-year-old..”
Future Projects: “It took four years to complete my first doc. Even so, and as weird as it may seem, I’m going for seconds! There are two docs I’m mulling over – including one about another unlikely bridge-building athlete. Also a feature film in the pipeline”
Indiewire invited LAFF competition directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival. Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.