Behind the scenes with Miguel Soliman: Alum talks about his award-winning short film

Miguel Soliman
Above: Desde el Principio, a film by FDU alumnus Miguel Soliman got the nod for “Best Short Film” at HBO’s New York Latino Film Festival in October. Soliman stands between the stars of his film, actors Eric Robledo and Andrea Velasco at the film fest. (Photos courtesy of Miguel Soliman)

By Sarah Cole
FDUFilm alumnus Miguel Soliman, BA’15 (Flor), recently took home the “Best Short Film” award for Desde el Principio at the New York Latino Film Festival, presented by HBO. A collaboration with Academy Award-winning screenwriters Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Nicolas Giacobone brought Soliman’s film to fruition.

“I did not realize that one of my heroes was going to be my mentor for the next year,” says Soliman, who studied filmmaking as a graduate student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City under Dinelaris.

“The first day of class, he pulled out his Oscar from a backpack. He slammed it down in front of me and said, ‘Go ahead, hold it.’ Then he asked, ‘Where do you see yourself in seven years?’ I said, ‘One of these would be nice.’” Dinelaris and Giacobone won their Academy Awards for writing 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Dinelaris, who sent Soliman’s preliminary script to Giacobone, put the two in touch.  

Soliman and Giacobone started working on the next draft of the script via Skype. “He asked me to write a couple pages of background on each character,” says Soliman, “so that when he started to work on the film, they were still in essence the characters I wanted to put on the screen.”

Desde el Principio translates to ‘From the Top,’” Soliman says. “I decided to go with the Spanish version because I wanted a title that let the audience know the film they are going to watch is Latino.”

Director Miguel Soliman works with actress Andrea Velasco
Above: Director Miguel Soliman works with actress Andrea Velasco on the set of Desde el Principio.

The two main characters in the film are married voice actors, struggling with a tragedy that has left the husband paralyzed. The film takes place during a studio session as the characters dub an English movie into Spanish.

“The characters are confined to a dark room and suddenly this script they’re reading, which isn’t magical at all, starts mirroring emotions that the wife has been hiding,” says Soliman. “She is in a whirlwind of emotional peril but decides to be honest with her husband.”

The characters are left to find if they can start again. “These are two professionals who utilize language as their trade, but struggle to have a real conversation with each other,” says Soliman.

Desde el Principio premiered at the School of Visual Arts 2017 Master of Professional Studies Film Festival. “We ended up winning ‘Best of the Festival.’ When Andrea [the lead actress] heard that we won, she rushed to the stage to hug me with tears in her eyes. Once that happened, I knew I had to enter it in other festivals.” Since then, Soliman has shown his film at several area festivals and venues, including the National Association of Latino Independent Producers Festival, the Rahway International Film Festival, where the film was awarded “Best Actress in a Short Film,” and the Yonkers Film Festival, where the film won “Best Student Work.”

Discussing the challenges of achieving his vision for the short film, Soliman says, “At FDU, they definitely let you be your own filmmaker. I got to test ideas that probably would have been turned down in a studio setting. I ran with my wildest characters and was able to make mistakes. Every film was an example for how to make a better one next time.”

He used his experience at FDU studying film directing to keep this project running smoothly. “I picked up on those lessons and held onto them,” he says. “I was able to go into a new project with all that experience and knowledge and I am very proud of the resulting film.”

It took a lot to cast the film; he auditioned nearly 60 actresses before selecting Andrea Velasco. As for crew, Soliman says that he paid their expenses out-of- pocket. “No one on crew was just doing this as a job. Everyone was there because they wanted to help me tell this story and they connected with me. A handful of people even worked for free.”

Up next, Soliman is working on a comedy. “It’s about mariachis who aren’t Mexican. They have nothing to do with Mexican culture; they just love the music. They’re trying to make it in New York, but they keep getting the worst jobs ever.”

As an up-and-coming filmmaker finding success in short films, Soliman offers some advice to film majors: “Know your script as intimately as your actors would, and always remember that the story is king. Give everyone the space they need to create your vision and above all, always be kind to everyone, including yourself. Relax! Movies are supposed to be fun to make, even the serious ones.”