After seeing Jurassic Park at the age of seven, Ibrahim suddenly knew what he wanted to do in life. Not to get eaten by a dinosaur, obviously, but to be the one who creates worlds like the one he just saw.
Pursuing his dream of becoming a film maker, he has already worked for some media and digital companies, including Disney. To make his dream really come true, he’s now writing scripts for his own two films.
But it wasn’t easy to get to this point and it didn’t happen overnight. That’s what this interview is all about.
It’s about pursuing your own 'Jurassic' dream and working hard towards fulfilling it. Because even your most daring dreams can become reality if you stick to them. Ibrahim will give you some tips that might help you achieve them.
Ibrahim will tell you:
- What it’s like to work for Disney;
- Why it’s good to have an online resume or portfolio;
- What are the key things for advancing your career;
- That it’s completely okay if your ideas get shot down sometimes;
- How to handle stress at work;
- That it’s not stupid to ask for advice;
- Why networking is super important;
- How to practice creativity;
- And then some.
Your CV says that you decided to be part of digital industry after seeing Jurassic Park. It’s a true movie milestone, but can you tell why did it impress you that much?
First of all, dinosaurs were a huge thing! :D For me as a kid, this film was just fascinating. Back then, it was one of the biggest movies with CGI and special effects.
I was curious about who created it, how do people make something like that, what is real and what isn’t. This was so confusing and fascinating to me at the same time.
Later, I watched a behind-the-scenes where they showed how they made the movie. They showed all the people working on the robots and how the set came to life. And I was like “Wow! These are people that created this world. It doesn’t just happen. Behind it, there is a huge team of people who work together to tell a story.” It was just fascinating to do that.
You’re already working in the film and digital industry. Would you say you accomplished your “Jurassic dream”?
I feel that I'm working towards that, but I'm not there yet. I want to do bigger things like working on blockbusters and bigger films. I am still working towards that but the fact that I'm a part of the industry does help me achieve that dream.
But you did get a really cool job at Disney. What was it like to work for one of the world's leading entertainment companies?
Very interesting! I worked for Disney Streaming Services as a production assistant in their video department. It was fantastic to be at the front lines of the content production.
My role was to receive videos of sports and live events, tag them and fill in any necessary information: what happened in the video, who was there and a description of it.
Then I would send it to the other platforms. It was fascinating because I got to see that it's such a large ecosystem of media content creation and to be a part of that was just absolutely incredible.
Were you working there externally while also working at AMC Networks?
Yes. A part of my journey was to get as much experience as possible, as quickly as possible. In order to be able to work at AMC and Disney, I had to take on a contractor role and work there at nights after my full time job.
It was a bit of a challenge but nothing good ever comes easy. It takes a lot of work. As long as you're determined and motivated to do it, your spirit and energy will help you get there. You always have to keep that goal in the back of your head.
What did the hiring process look like at Disney?
Very straightforward. It only consisted of one phone call and a one-day interview. It was a standard interview about my experience, what I can offer, and so on. In the end, I got the offer within a week.
Nice! Did they also take a look at your online portfolio? I have seen that you have it attached in your CV.
Yes, absolutely. I think it’s very important to have an online portfolio and at least online persona. That definitely helped. At the very least you have something to show.
It doesn't have to be exactly only about what you do. If you are creating content and it’s good, it can help too. It’s great to have an online or video resume, especially if you're in the media industry.
What is the company culture at Disney like?
Very busy :D But also very respectful, comforting, welcoming and very encouraging to your growth and development.
I have learned new things there. It showed me how important it is to have a web experience. It's super important to be a part of the web conversations. The media industry is always changing. Online presence and streaming is now a norm.
I would say that for anyone who is trying to get into the media industry it is crucial to write properly, to understand the metadata and to have some web experience. That’s the piece of advice I'd like to offer.
Can you even watch a film now, a series or other audiovisual material without thinking about what you would do differently?
No, it’s impossible. :D Now I can tell what is bad and see common mistakes. Sometimes, when I’m watching films with my friends or my girlfriend, I’m telling them what's going to happen.
Usually when you write a movie script, after the fifteen minutes you have the first turning point and in thirty minutes, there’s a rising action. And I'm like “In about two minutes, this person will say or do this or that.” And it happens. :D
It sort of ruins movies for me but also helps me to understand them better. I even more appreciate when I see a movie that really strikes me visually or with the story.
But you originally started as an intern editing videos and images. What advice would you give to other people who are starting their career and have similarly big aspirations?
I would tell anyone starting a career in the media to always brush up on what's happening in the streets and keep that information in mind. Always be in the know of what platforms are out there and who are the big players.
And more specifically — know what you want to do. That’s one of the most important things because the media industry is so huge. You can do photography, video, social media, podcasts. It's just a matter of knowing what you want to do. Do you want to be a film maker? Stick to it.
Also, try to create as many things as possible, even if you don’t get paid for it. If you want to be a journalist, just start interviewing people and posting. Or start creating podcasts. Interview your friends, teachers or anyone you find interesting.
There is no limit to the possibilities. It's just a matter of staying focused, patient and becoming knowledgeable. I also become very impatient if things don't happen quickly enough. I can get frustrated but then I tell myself that these things take time.
Another advice would be to meet other people. It’s a people business and it’s very important to have a good reputation. Just try to be likable. It’s important to talk to others and not get stuck in your shell.
Go to conferences, talks or panels. If there’s going to be someone whose writing you admire, just go! You might not get to speak to that person but you can find a valuable contact in the audience. You often find a potential collaborator in the most random places.
Did you experience something like that?
Yes, I can give you a perfect example. I met one of my future bosses at a the Kids Day event that AMC organizes every year. During that day, I met a creative director who was looking for a producer.
I told him that I’m really interested in producing and he kept me in mind and, after few months, I got the role. It’s really important to put yourself out there and to meet as many people as possible.
What would you say are the most important milestones that shaped your career?
School, for sure. Education matters a lot and one shouldn’t underestimate the value of being smart. A lot of people tend to look down on school right now saying “Oh no, school is so expensive” or that “I don’t need a degree to be a content creator”. The second opinion can work out for some people, but it’s very difficult if you don’t have at least some education behind you.
Another personal milestone, was being able to create shorts and putting them online. One of my shorts actually made it to public television. That felt very good even though I didn’t get any money for it.
Also, getting my internship and then getting hired full time after graduation. But in the end, everything that led me there was also sort of a milestone. Every move that you make in your career and the connections that you make can open up new opportunities. I think that's important and you shouldn’t underestimate how far you can go just by shifting your perspective and, at times, shifting where you work. :D
Eventually, it takes some time to develop a good career.
Yes. And there's another bit of advice I'd like to offer. Most people who are looking for a job immediately think of big players like Disney, AMC or HBO. But there are hundreds of smaller companies out there that need production professionals, even retailers or clothing manufacturers.
They need media people to make campaigns, ads, and so on. It tends to get overlooked by students and young media professionals. Even though it’s not a big name media company, it can still teach you a lot of media skills and give you opportunities. Many people don’t see that.
They just say “Oh, I don’t want to work at Walmart”. But Walmart has a huge production department. It’s important to realize that media companies are not the only ones that make media. Everyone wants to work for the big guys but you can start smaller and still grow.
Your CV says you have three jobs now. How can you manage that? Are you again working during nights?
It’s really about time management. Besides my main job, I perform and write for a theatre. We meet from 7 to 10 in the evening, so it doesn't interfere with my full time job at all. It can be a little tiring as you have to work till late at night and still be creative and perform at a certain level. It’s important to get enough sleep and structure your day.
Sometimes, I work on weekends too at my third job as an AV specialist at the Liberty Science Centre where I set up equipment. It’s a non-profit as it’s a museum, but I feel good about it. Even though it’s during weekends, it’s my pleasure to do it.
If you're willing to sacrifice your weekends for work, that can also present a bunch of opportunities. Many people don't like to work during weekends and but weekend jobs can also grant you new experience.
But working that much and especially in a high pressure media position can be quite stressful. What are your tips for handling stress in the workplace?
If you're having a tough day, go for a walk, take a break, talk to a colleague. Don’t be so quick to respond to an email. If you're in a bad mood, it can backfire. Take a minute to step back and understand the situation.
Get enough sleep! Sleep is important! :D Everyone has a bad day or gets little tired of work sometimes. It's important to recognize that before it catches up to you. Just take a step back and relieve your stress so that you can come back to work and do great things when once you feel a little better.
Also, ask the right questions if you find yourself in a difficult situation and you're confused or struggling to finish a task. This is something I saw often when I worked with interns. Even when they are confused, they don’t ask questions because they don't want to seem like they don't know what they’re doing.
But then it gets worse. If you don’t get the answers you need, you’re going to fail at your task and end up creating even more work for yourself. It’s important to ask the right questions early, so you avoid stress.
Also, if you find yourself in a stressful situation, express that too. Reach out to a supervisor or a colleague and say “Hey, I’m in this situation, how did you solve this problem in the past?”. It’s not stupid to ask for help.
Apart from successful projects, sketches, trailers, etc., did you work on any projects that weren’t very successful? What did you learn from them?
Yes, definitely. Working in the creative industry, you will always have ideas that get shot down. That happens every week. :D I come up with a concept for a script and it gets shot down. Or I write a script and we perform it but in the end we have to say “Ok, this wasn’t the best”.
That just happens naturally. If doesn’t happen to you, then you aren’t doing something right. You can only develop your work if you learn a lot about things that don’t work. There’s always the second or third draft. Even the best creators have to struggle with that.
You just need to deal with it. Don't get offended. Don't take criticism personally. It’s not an attack, it’s a feedback to help you get better. Listen to what people have to say and then try it again. Do the second, third or the fourth version. It comes down to being open-minded. That’s how I deal with it. Trust me, it happens a lot to anyone.
What do you do when you feel like you lack creativity? Do you think it’s possible to practice it?
In my case, practicing creativity happens through performing and writing sketches. I think creativity is in everyone, but some people show it more than others. If you want more creativity in your life, then you should surround yourself with more creative people.
Surround yourself with more writers, performers, photographers and other creative people. Be open-minded and then it just happens naturally. The worst thing you can do is just copy someone else and be unoriginal. I’m not saying not to watch other stuff because it’s important to know what other people are doing. Inspiration from others is important, but don’t copy them.
And where are you getting all the inspiration from? Which film producer inspires you the most?
When I was a kid, the work of Steven Spielberg definitely inspired me the most. Currently, what influences me is sketch comedy. It inspires me because it's very short, quick and impactful form.
Working in comedy and with other performers and writers keeps me inspired too. If you want some big names, my favorite directors are Quentin Tarantino and, well, I also can’t forget to mention Stanley Kubrick. He’s also one of the greatest.
Did you ever think about writing a script for your own movie and producing it?
Yes, that’s my main goal and a huge dream of mine. Right now, I’m working on two scripts. One is a sci-fi comedy and the second is a horror.
Horror is one of the straightforward genres. Your audience is going to watch your film to be taken out of their comfort zone and get scared. You need a very scary idea but don’t need any big name actors, director or a screenwriter. All you need is a good story. If you can scare people, it will work. Horror fans are very invested in their genre and if they find something really good, they won’t stop talking about it.
The same thing goes for sci-fi. It helps to have a big name star, but if you have a good concept, you can get away without it. You just need that fresh idea. Of course, another great challenge is budgeting and filming it.
How does your script-writing process look like?
Well, it's a long process. Writing is very lonely. :D And writing involves a lot of rewriting. I believe the first draft is never the best. Maybe there are some very gifted writers who get it right on the first try. That’s a blessing.
For me, it takes at least three or five rewrites until I have expressed what I really want to say. The first draft for me is just spilling all the ideas onto the paper. I just want to see it and have everything written in front of me.
The second draft is usually like “Oh, where does it fit? Where does it go? How does it start? Where does the action happen?”. And then, the third or fourth is just finessing like “What would we take out? What doesn't work? What works?
And at some point, you want another pair of eyes to look at it and get a feedback. Depending on how that goes and depending on the feedback, you might have to edit it a couple of times more.
Writing and rewriting is a long process if you want to do it right. You can spend a week on the script, but it might not be the best version of it. If you want to do it right, it will take some time. Unless you're incredibly gifted and can get it done right at the first time.
If you want to do something quick and improvise, that's also very valid. It’s very important to be able to put content out quickly, especially in the media industry.
So, what would you say makes a good writing? Mainly rewriting?
Rewriting and also discovering your own unique, original voice. Usually the best stories come from a single unique voice that has never been heard before.
A lot of times when big Hollywood movies fail, it’s because they had too many cooks in the kitchen. You have too many notes from executives, too many rewrites from other writers and it sort of ruins the original message.
So, I think having a singular unique point of view and voice is the most important.