Thursday, September 4, 2008

Picking Up the Missing Pieces with Samah Tokmachi

I’ve written before about how fortunate I am to be surrounded by such talented friends and to be able to use this forum to share their gifts and creations. Samah Tokmachi, director of the NOW Film Festival winning short, Missing Pieces is one of those friends that I feel the need to shout about. I decided to talk to Samah a little more about the process and experience of making this quirky little film about having " lose some to win some."

It seems that Missing Pieces was a culmination of Samah’s own talents and the best of those that surround him as well. From the majority of the cast (including Jordan Belfi and Rainn Wilson) to the writer of the story (Jonathan Goorvich,) Samah brought the best of his friends and resources together resulting in a touching, funny, sad and sweet piece of film that has already begun to see it’s own success.

As I think you can sense from the film, Samah is a sincere and soulful person, with a fantastic sense of humor. I feel this visual piece of storytelling does a wonderful job of illuminating these parts of his personality and overall creative vision.

How did this script come to you? Were you looking for a project?

The script was originally a short story by my friend Jonathan Goorvich (Jono). We had written together in college, and since that time we’ve shared our work with each other regularly. He had started writing short stories, all of them funny and with a lot of potential. This one in particular, the one that became MISSING PIECES, I liked a lot. I liked the short story’s combination of comedy and tragedy, so it was stuck in my head. At the time he was torn between naming it Castrated or Testicular. I told him later on that I couldn’t make a film with either of those titles. They sounded like David Cronenburg films, not a comedy. So I suggested MISSING PIECES, which we liked as a double entendre.

A few months later, I decided it was time for me to make another film I thought of Missing Pieces. Jono wrote the screenplay and co-produced the film, while allowing me to offer liberal input on the script and freedom of execution.

I know you write too - did you make any changes/contributions to the script before shooting?

I think in this kind of a situation it’s inevitable that the director will play a strong role in the shaping of the material prior to shooting. One thing I did not do was try to impose myself onto the material. I tried to work with what was there and just draw out its essence, I had already found myself in the story - if I hadn’t it wouldn’t’ve resonated with me. So I worked with Jono to find the structure that was appropriate for a film, consolidating and altering locations to make shooting easier, while not sacrificing the story. Other than that the main changes I worked on were directorial; ways to tell the story visually, streamlining lines of dialogue, adding lines, beats and transitions. In the montages also, there weren’t a lot of scenarios in the short story, so coming up with more of those was a lot of fun and felt like real cinema.

I would call the film a dark comedy - is this a genre you're interested in exploring?

I guess my answer is that I would love to continue working in this genre, but there are many other genres I’d like to work in as well. Knowing that Rainn was available, I wanted to make sure I had something that would really capitalize on his talents, so that’s part of the reason I chose this story and collaborated with Jono. That being said I don’t want it to sound like I just did it to make a vehicle for Rainn Wilson. The recent reemergence of serious comedies makes me very happy - films like Lars and the Real Girl, Junebug, all of Wes Anderson’s stuff, even the work Judd Apatow is creating. We haven’t seen a lot of films like this since the days of Hal Ashby, so I’m glad to see it catching on. This film is the intersection of my tastes and aesthetic with the resources available. (l to r, Jordan Belfi, Rainn Wilson)

Obviously Rainn Wilson is huge and I have to ask about working with him. Did he add anything special to the character he was portraying? Any details you want to share about collaborating with him?

Rainn is a wonderful person, and if you don’t know him, you’ll be surprised to learn that he’s a deeply spiritual person and very committed to his family and faith. He’s a mensch, and that’s always a pleasure to be around. Rainn added a lot to the character, and he did a bit of improv that really enriched the role. There’s one part where he’s going on this whole self-deprecating monologue about how crappy his life is, and then he says something like “and my home is littered with broken potato chips” and then he stops and eats one. And that moment is so hilarious… Almost everyone laughs hard when they see that moment. He’s just a very focused person who is quite intense but also very funny. Working with him, you can see why he is where he is.

The pacing is really important in this film, how much of that came in direction and how much came in post? Also, I feel like directing comedic moments must have a lot to do with timing as well...anything you can say about that talent as a director?

Well thanks for saying that, because pacing is one of the things I stress out on the most… I’d say good pacing is one of the most important and difficult elements to accomplish in a film- especially comedy. Finding it I think comes from listening- both with your ears and your heart. When you are not getting the timing you want on set, you ask yourself if this is something you can manipulate in post, or if you can get the actors to arrive at the pacing you need in the time you have allotted for shooting this part of the film. It’s always better to accomplish it in frame. But sometimes it’s necessary to do it in post, which means you damn well better have more than one shot to work with- unless you want to do speed ramps- which I’ve done as well. So I think the answer to your question is that I do both, I try to achieve it on set and in post. Sometimes by design, and sometimes out of necessity. (l to r, Jordan Belfi, Mimi Karsh, Samah Tokmachi)

How did you become involved in the NOW Film festival?

We just submitted it and won. We figured the game is changing, and we have to be more open to showing our film on-line…And if we didn’t, you probably woudn’t’ve seen it Kristy! So I’m glad we did.

How do you feel about the exposure the film has gotten? How has the film been received at the other festivals you are participating in?

We had a great reception at the LA Shorts Film Festival. It was a wonderful experience to see it on the big screen. Palm Springs also was great. People get the film it seems, so that’s gratifying. We'll see how the rest of the festival run goes. (l to r, Samah Tokmachi, Rainn Wilson, Jordan Belfi)

Has this exposure opened you to any new opportunities? Has this experience impacted you as a filmmaker in any way - whether it be confidence or merely good practice in your craft?

There have been some new opportunities, I’ve been interviewed for a few directing spots and recommended to do stuff I wouldn’t’ve otherwise been considered for. But it’s still in flux and I haven’t seen a real pay off yet. But that’s OK, I’m very aware of the internal gains, I have a lot more confidence now and many skills have grown from this project. I also think people have more confidence and trust in you when they see you’ve really worked to fully realize something in a well rounded way. It’s an important part of being taken seriously as a professional.

What's next? I know you are working on a feature script, is that your focus?

Yes. My script Happy Funeral is my main focus. But I also want to take on a few small-scale projects as well.

For more info about Samah Tokmachi and to watch Missing Pieces please visit the official website, (, or the Missing Pieces MySpace Page (