Omid Iranikhah was recently named the 2021 recipient of the Michael Collyer Fellowship in Screenwriting

What is your earliest memory of writing? In fourth grade, we were assigned an essay in which we had to describe a moment that taught us an important life lesson. Having lived a pretty sheltered and unremarkable life up to that point, I couldn’t recall any such memory. So, I wrote a completely fictitious story about how, when I was seven-years-old, I saved my dad from drowning during a trip to the beach, and how this experience made me realize my own mortality. The essay was written with such specificity that my teacher asked me to stay in after class and tearfully told me about how her own father’s death when she was eight also made her more aware of life’s fragility. Of course, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the story she read had been entirely fabricated (if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, Mrs. R). It was this ability to move – as well as to relate to – people through complete fiction that made me realize I could be a writer. 

What inspires you?
More than anything, curiosity inspires me. I’m often inspired by human behaviors that confuse me to the point where I literally lose sleep thinking about them. For example, the burning question that inspired the horror-drama script I’m currently working on was, “Why would someone stay in, or be drawn back into, an abusive relationship despite being intelligent enough to understand that it’s abusive?”

When did you know that screenwriting was something you wanted to seriously pursue? 
I’ve known for as long as I can remember that I wanted to be involved in film in some way. I started out as an actor from a young age, and then kind of stumbled into screenwriting at eleven only to fall in love with it. Although I still would very much like to pursue acting, I see screenwriting as the best way for me to break in for now – given that the ongoing pandemic hasn’t exactly been the ideal scenario for building an acting career. The end goal for me, however, is producing and directing my own screenplays. Call it biting off more than I can chew, but what can I say? I’m ambitious.

What are some of your favorite movies, and why?
Ah, man! I’m always uncomfortable answering this question because they’re constantly changing but here are my favorite films right now:

Paris, Texas (dir. Wim Wenders): An entire film of little grace notes. I’ve seen it countless times, and it still baffles me how something this gentle could end on such a gut punch.

Love Streams (dir. John Cassavetes): I’ve been kind of obsessed with Cassavetes lately, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. I’m gonna have to go with his final collaboration with Gena Rowlands since it’s the grand culmination of everything I love about his films. 

A Moment of Innocence (dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf): Every time I watch this 78-minute-long film, I come away with something completely different. It also has one of my favorite endings to any film. 

Freddy Got Fingered (dir. Tom Green): A neo-surrealist masterpiece. A thoroughly unpleasant, chaotic work of pure madness that I never get tired of. 

The Souvenir (dir. Joanna Hogg): This one has lingered with me constantly since I saw it when it came out. I see so many films that claim to be “personal” but are obviously stripped of any real specificity in order to avoid alienating their audience. In contrast, Hogg’s autobiographical film is unflinching in its strict adherence to her own hazy memories of the events, even when it comes at the expense of traditional structure.

Twin Peaks: The Return (dir. David Lynch): Yes, I’m counting this as a film. It’s a vital work of art, not just because of its aesthetic merits, but also because of what it has to say about the world we live in. Despite not having made a single feature film in the 2010s, David Lynch perfectly captures the nostalgia-obsessed state of current mainstream entertainment, concluding his long-awaited return to Twin Peaks with a wake-up call for the ages.

What do you think makes a good story and why?
 I find myself drawn to the kinds of stories that reveal uncomfortable truths about the human condition, whether they be dysfunctional relationship dynamics or broken social and/or political institutions. A good story should reach deep into our souls; make us realize something about either ourselves or the world around us that we’d always felt but could not put into words. 

What is (both) the easiest and most difficult part of screenwriting for you?
 Once I get a grasp on who my characters are, dialogue is pretty easy for me. The most difficult part of screenwriting for me is just having to constantly reassure myself that I’m capable of it. 

What is your writing process like?  
I write every day, even if it’s a single action line or an idea for a scene. I’ve gone back and forth on outlining over the years. Nowadays, if I’m writing a more plot-driven script, I work off a rigid outline. If it’s a more free-flowing character piece, I write a very vague outline consisting of a few bullet points and story ideas. My first drafts usually turn out incredibly long and are filled with extended flashbacks that I never intend to include in the final script. These help me get a better understanding of the characters’ inner lives in order to make them feel like real people. 

What do you like to accomplish during the course of the fellowship?
-On top of completing this new screenplay under the mentorship of a professional writer and further honing my craft as a storyteller, I hope to use this fellowship as a stepping stone to jumpstart my filmmaking career.

What types of scripts do you hope to write in your career? 
I’ve experimented enough in my 12 or so years of screenwriting to feel comfortable writing in a variety of genres. However, I’d say my two primary genres are dark family dramas and horror/thrillers (most of the time, I blend the two). As far as the scripts that I hope to direct go, I would like to stick with stories that feature Iranian and/or Iranian-American characters front and center. 

What do you like to do for fun? 
In order to battle the loneliness brought on by the pandemic, I got back into video games after giving them up in my early teens. Grand Theft Auto Online has now become my only social life. I’ve also been playing through the recent trilogy of Hitman games to prepare for becoming an international assassin in case the film thing doesn’t pan out. 

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