Meet the Makers: Ijaaz Noohu

BY Kio Shijiki, October 26, 2017

Headshot of Ijaaz NoohuMeet the Makers is an ongoing interview series highlighting current Columbia University School of the Arts Film Program students and faculty.


Ijaaz Noohu is a 3rd year student in the directing concentration. He is currently working on his thesis film Start Breaking My Heart in Los Angeles.


Did you know which concentration you were going to end up between screenwriting and directing coming to Columbia?


Yes. I came here knowing that I was going to be in a directing concentration. I’ve never had any conflict about that.


Columbia is good about giving us space to figure out what we want. Especially in your 1st year, you get the taste of everything.



What's the place you come up with first when you hear the word, "home"?


Home is where I am now: LA. It’s where I grew up. I always knew I wanted to come back to LA eventually.



Why did you decide to move to NY?


I had just graduated with my undergrad and I was an economics major. I wasn’t a film major, but I worked in the film and TV industry for a while; working part time while I was in school. It felt like I had a lot of experience, but I was young. So I wanted to step out and find something to help me sprint to where I wanted to be in the film industry.



Could you tell me a little bit about the difference of filmmaking in LA and NY?


I think the big difference is LA is more structured and rigid to a certain extent. NY is more of a run and gun, much looser approach to the craft, I think. So it’s nice to have both; I’m somewhere in the middle.



I watched one of your films, Emigrate. I thought there were some interesting camera movements, especially in the transition of each scene. TV-like cinematography and now that you mention you worked in TV for a while, it occurs to me that you know how to entertain people with the camera movement, visually. Would you mind to talk about that creative decision?


I made that short in September, 2014 to apply to Columbia. I really appreciate controlled camera movement. I’m not a big fan of improv on set. I tried that, and failed miserably. It’s not something I necessarily enjoy. I like having my scene very precise, very blocked-out. I want to know exactly where the camera is going to be, what’s in a frame, how much it’s moving, how fast it’s moving... As I’m growing as a filmmaker, I’m trying to get more and more precise.  



What’s your specific creative approach in your pre-production?


What I like to do is every now and then, my cinematographer and I will walk through the scene and and we will do still photographs of different points of the scene. I got into film through photography. I started photography when I was 14 or 15, so that is my first language.



I’m curious if you had turning-point or light bulb moment at Columbia?


Yes! I think Columbia really clicked on me in the beginning of my 2nd year. The film club, the directing teachers, etc. Knowing that I was going to do my thesis in my 3rd year, I really tried to suck everything in as much as I could from the school. The screenwriting classes also challenged me. Even as a director, the writing classes really helped me to understand how film functions as a result.

Another thing that Columbia taught me is discipline; working in isolation to a certain extent. I came straight from undergrad and undergrad for me was a social experience. Then I moved to NY, and I was suddenly alone, and I was one of the youngest in my year; I got into this habit of being able to do sustained work on my own. You can’t wait to be inspired. Especially in writing. You have to keep writing every day no matter what. I think it’s a really valuable skill, and I’m much more creative as a result.



Since you’re working on your thesis film, would you mind talking about your process for the thesis? What is your story about?


It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s based on the feature film that my best friend and I have been writing for almost 4 years. My goal to shoot this thesis; a short film based on the feature is that to make this short film a vehicle to reach out to the industry and to make it to the feature film, eventually.

The story is about a Viola player who skips his dad’s funeral to go to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding to try to win her back. I like dramedy. I like to think of this as a drama that has a very strong comedic part, because that’s the field that I’m emotionally most connected to. People are vulnerable when they laugh.



I definitely saw that from Emigrate too. The dialogue is funny but the context is very heart breaking.


I like that kind of tension and duality.



My last question for you is; what kind of a filmmaker you want to be?


I want to be a kind of filmmaker who can provide an experience for someone else, both familiar and new. I recently saw a film called The Spectacular Now (directed by James Ponsoldt ‘05), and the kid’s circumstance was totally alien to me. He’s in Georgia and his father is an alcoholic, but his emotional experience felt familiar. It affected me—it rocked me. I’ve always felt the purpose of a story is to provide solace and recognition. I want to make films that do that.