November 18, 2016

SCA Alumni Stories: Fawaz Al-Matrouk

By Sabrina Malekzadah

Tell us little bit about your background. Where are you from?

I was born in Kuwait. During the Gulf War, my family moved to London as refugees. I was very young but I remember it vividly. We watched the news non-stop, worrying about everyone back home. After the war, we moved to Toronto. I grew up there and then did my bachelors in history at University of Toronto. After, I came to SCA for a masters and haven’t left California since.

How was your overall experience at SCA and USC? What was the biggest thing you got out of your film school education?

SCA was transformative. I met some incredible people there: friends, colleagues, and mentors. Even people I only said hello to in passing are now friends many years later. Most of the work I got after graduation came from bonds I made at SCA. I think film school accelerated my learning in a lot of ways. It exposed me to new ideas, and gave me the framework to create, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. All the trial and error that leads to growth happens much faster in that environment. There were some obstacles too. I had mistaken belief that most of what I needed to learn would come from film school. So I learned some harsh lesson afterwards, but I wouldn’t do it any other way.

What inspired you to work in the film industry? What is your favorite part about it and why?

I’ve always been a storyteller. I used to sit in the back of class and draw cartoon strips. I had my own characters, a bit like Calvin and Hobbes in a King Arthur world. But when I dreamed of my future, it would always be something science related. I saw Batman and wanted to be a chiropterologist, studying bats. Then I saw Jurassic Park and wanted to be a paleontologist and studying dinosaurs, even went on a dig in Alberta. But in eighth grade I made my first video for a class assignment and realized: I don’t want to study these things, I want to tell stories about them! So I spent most of high school making short films and working on sets whenever I could. It was a straight shot from there. My undergrad was in history, but always with an eye on directing. I had a mentor, David Stein, who convinced me to study something in humanities first. Which was great, now I have a stack of stories to tell.

Favorite part? I write and direct, so I love every part of it. I love marshaling a large group of people towards a common vision, inspired by them, going through the struggles and the triumphs, even the failures. And then sitting in darkened theater, feeling an audience gasp, laugh, or cry because of what we created together.

What are you working on right now? 

I’m focused on a transition into features. I spent a lot of time editing after film school. My thesis film, “To Rest in Peace,” went around the festival circuit and won some awards, which was great but I was focused on making a living. At some point I had to stop editing and commit to directing. That was scary at first, but I picked up work directing fashion videos, then started doing commercials. Now I feel ready to get back into narrative. Found that I loved stories about people trying to do a little bit of right in a world of wrong. Every story I write is some variation of that theme. So when I came across an article about someone like that, someone who risked his life to save a refugee kid, I immediately reached out to him. We spend some time together in London and he took me to the refugee camps in Calais, which were bulldozed recently. Now I’m writing a script about him.

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

A bit of roundabout advice. There’s an old poem about a dancing centipede. A beetle got jealous and wanted to stop the centipede from dancing. Instead of doing anything violent, he played with the centipede’s head. “Oh centipede, I love the way you dance but tell me, do you start with leg 53 or 55? I can’t tell exactly. And then do you go to leg 38 or 47?” The centipede didn’t know, so she started thinking it through and began to over think it, until she couldn’t dance anymore. My advice would be: there’s a time to learn the steps, and a time to just let go and dance.