Note: The following is by a freelance writer you've read in our Music section.
By Rishabh Bhavnani
Cyrus Kowsari, a Chapman University alum, has been living the aspiring filmmaker dream. The Color of Christmas, which he wrote, directed and edited, began as a short student film project during his junior year in 2012, went on to win three top prizes on the festival circuit and is now generating Oscar buzz as an early underdog candidate.
The Color of Christmas is the story of Walter (Nathan Lucas), a young, humble and caring widower who is determined to surprise his 5-year-old daughter with the present of her dreams on Christmas. In the urgency to fulfill his request, Walter almost overlooks a very concerning matter: His daughter is a racist.
Friday, Kowsari made his Hollywood debut at the 17th LA Shorts Fest at the Laemmle North Hollywood 7 Theaters, where The Color of Christmas faced stiff competition from short films featuring A-list actors such as Sir Ian Mckellen, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett and Gérard Depardieu. But a win there would solidify Kowsari's chances at a nomination at next year's Academy Awards. Over the past 16 years, 13 Oscar winners and 44 nominees have screened at the LA festival.
Funny, captivating and unconventional, The Color of Christmas first won the top audience prize for best short film at the Palm Beach Film Festival. Next, the Boston native received the Golden Remi Award at the 46th annual WorldFest in Houston, where Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Ang Lee won the same award as young filmmakers. Kowsari next traveled to Las Vegas for the inaugural Vegas Indie Film Fest, where he collected a trophy in the form of a silver bulb pulled from the original “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.
What impresses more than the festival winning streak The Color of Christmas is on is the sheer effort Kowsari and his collegiate crew put in to create what appears to be a much higher budget cinematic production. The short features countless extras, snowy streets and lavish sets that evoke an imitate New York winter world.
But as Kowsari reveals, "We shot in the middle of the spring in California, so I knew creating the proper setting for the film was going to be a huge logistical challenge-especially with our limited funding. Fortunately, I had incredible people like my producers, Brian Bell and Pasqual Gutierrez, as well as cinematographer Kyle Dykes working with me.”
The schedule was grueling.
"Every day, for a month straight, we would start our mornings around 7 a.m. with breakfast at Norms, work relentlessly all day and end our nights around 2 in the morning for a late night snack at Norms,” Kowsari relates. "What you see on the screen was the result of pure hard work done by our awesome team.
"We're also very grateful to the cities across the state that donated Christmas decorations to our cause. CBS was amazingly generous too and allowed for us to shoot on their back lot.”
Programmers have obviously been impressed by the micro-budget film, which has been selected by a total of nine festivals (so far). It screens at the South Dakota Film Festival this month and the Orlando Film Festival in October.
Attendance is getting more difficult for Kowsari. He was recently hired by one of the nation's top publishing companies to create video content and is fielding many offers for commercials and films . Meanwhile, he plans to have his next short film out in early 2014 and a feature done later that year.
Even if the filmmaking prodigy does not make it to the next Oscars, the Academy would be wise to save him a seat for the future.