An Interview With Mazin Zien

Pocketknife deals with the effects of a marriage falling apart while Donovan Heit contemplates taking his own life. It was our pleasure to interview Mazin Zien regarding Pocketknife.

What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language? When it comes to art, especially filmmaking, what I love about it is how I can turn my imagination into a reality. You know how as a kid, you use your imagination to pretend you’re a superhero, in a zombie apocalypse, wave a stick as if it’s a sword, and so on? As a kid, you know it’s just your imagination and that you’re using your imagination to have fun.

Filmmaking gives me the ability to take these imaginations and bring them to life. There’s no limit to what I can do with the stories that I write. If I want to make a film about a superhero, I can. If I want to make a film about a zombie apocalypse, I can. If I want to make a film about a warrior with a sword (a real sword this time, not a stick), I can. I’m in total control of my imagination just like when I was a kid, but the only difference now is that I have the ability to make it real with the power of filmmaking. Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than film school? I’m an actor and filmmaker, but I’m also a voice actor. Throughout my years as a voice actor, one thing that I learned is that everyone is different, and everyone learns differently. There are multiple ways that a person can move towards becoming anything, including filmmakers. There are people who have gone to film schools and are very successful filmmakers, but there are also people who have not gone to film schools and are very successful filmmakers. Just because two people have the same career goal, it doesn’t mean it has to be the same path.

I have been voice acting since 2015 with the most recent animation that I was cast in receiving 300,000+ video views and 4,500+ video likes on YouTube. From classes to workshops to articles that I have gone through to educate myself about becoming a voice actor, everyone had something different to say.

What I remember the most was how I took two different workshop with two different successful voice actors who had the complete opposite answer when I asked them “if I want to be a voice actor, do I need to do on-camera acting?” One said yes because voice acting is acting, while the other said no and that he himself was too shy to act on-camera.

I know that for me personally, I learn by doing and most of what I learned didn’t come from school, but again, everyone learns differently. What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you? Let’s compare it with animation as an example. With animation, of course, it still gives me the ability to bring something to life, but when I think about my fun imaginations as a child when I pretended to be a superhero and so on, I want it to look as realistic as possible. I want to be able to look at my film and see an actor moving on camera, talking on camera, interacting with others on camera, and so on. I want to be able to take my imagination and work with a group of actors who will help me bring it to life on the screen.

Did you choose a certain directing style for making this film based on the script? Yes, I absolutely did. I was in high school when I wrote Pocketknife and I wrote it as a short story. It was very bad at the time because I was around 16 years-old. Years later, during my Fall 2019 semester in college, I took a Fiction Workshop course. The professor had us write our own short stories as part of our final, so I used it as an opportunity to revisit Pocketknife and update it with my current knowledge about writing.

I wrote the story in a way that doesn’t spell anything out to the reader, although that was tough to do through a short story. Even after the course ended, I continued to work on the story more before ultimately coming to the realization that it would make a very good short film. I wrote the script and directed the film in a way where viewers will have to really pay attention to make sense of what’s happening. Let’s just say that just because the film doesn’t place focus on certain things, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film? When I wrote the script for the film, it took me months to move forward with it because I couldn’t think of what to do to cast someone who is a perfect fit for Donovan, the main character. I have a friend named Gabriel Shafi (who I ultimately cast as Donovan) and he is a very close friend of mine. During the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he sent me a TikTok he had made and in the TikTok, his hair was long, he had a mustache, and he was wearing a denim jacket. It was because of the lockdown that he didn’t get a haircut recently. To put it simply, the way he looked in the TikTok was perfect for the role of Donovan and after having him send over some pictures of facial expressions, I decided to officially cast him for the role.

When it came to the other roles, I decided to aim for voice actors since they were only going to be voices, such as Baily speaking over the phone, the two TV show hosts, and the news reporter.

Throughout my years as a voice actor, I learned that even though voice acting is acting, it still requires its own set of skills as well. I was able to get in contact with some voice actors I got to know over the years and I ultimately cast Laurel Toupal as Baily, Jalen Pia as the Male TV Show Host, and Candice Faith as the Female TV Show Host. How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film? I funded the film 100% out of my own pocket. I took a big risk for the sake of creating this short film because I didn’t want to be in a situation where I was just saying I was going to do something. I don’t like doing that at all. If I want to do something, I have to do it now, but at the same time, I have to make sure I’m not rushing things to the point of ending up with a terrible final product.

Also, that was actually part of the challenges I faced making this film. Since I was paying out of my own pocket, I had to rely entirely on what I had and what I could afford to make the film. It was also my very first time creating a film, so it was still a learning opportunity for me.

Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?

Yes, I definitely consider myself an indie filmmaker. When I created this short film, it was 100% out of my own passion to make a short film. Also, like I said earlier, I funded the short film entirely out of pocket with no financial help whatsoever. Being an indie filmmaker means that I have to rely on myself and what I have to pull myself up and that is the most difficult thing about being an independent artist.

What is the distribution plan for your film?

I was originally planning on publishing the film on YouTube, but I ended up deciding to do research on my platforms that I potentially have no heard of. I’ve also thought about publishing it on Vimeo and it seemed like a very good platform from what I’ve read. At that point, I didn’t settle on Vimeo in the sense that there could be something better. Ultimately, I found and settled on publishing the film on Amazon’s Prime Video Direct.


The reason why this platform stood out to me was because I loved how it allows me to give my audience options, rather than having to be the one to decide what the audience need to do in order to watch the film. Prime Video Direct allows me to let the audience decide if they want to rent the film, buy the film, or watch it for free with the exception that there will be ads on it. I felt that it was the perfect way to not make my audience feel limited when wanting to support me as a filmmaker.

What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?

With the films that I create, I want them to send a message. I know that sounds like a very basic and broad answer, but the reason I say this is because there are films out there that aren’t necessarily for the purpose of sending a message. Plenty of films have been created as a way to make people laugh and they don’t have an actual deep meaning to them. Same goes for horror movies, where the goal is mainly to be scary and there is no message to send. My cinematic goal in life and what I want to achieve as a filmmaker is have a message to send to the audience watching, regardless of the genre of my films.

What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?

The impact that my film would have in the world is finding it relatable and my audience are people who would find it relatable. The film could be about something that someone in the audience can relate to and feel like it’s about their own life. It could help them feel that they aren’t the only ones who are going through what they might be going through, so they won’t feel alone.

© CHICAGO MOVIE MAGAZINE

2020