Regardless of whether he’s working on a film, music video or television series, leading art director Badr Farha let’s the director’s vision for a project guide his work. The versatile nature of his creative vision compounded by his intuitive approach has allowed him to nail the mark every time.
As an art director Farha has achieved unparalleled success in the international entertainment industry garnering attention in recent years for his work on the films “A, B, C or D?,” “The Last Conversation,” “More Than Words,” “Deliver Us,” “When Negatives Collide” and many more.
It is no coincidence that practically every project that Farha has art directed to date has received coveted accolades. The film “A, B, C or D?” earned the awards for Best Short Film and Best Cinematographer at the Golden Pomegranate International Film Festival in China, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of the prestigious NYC Independent Film Festival and the California Independent Film Festival; and the films “More Than Words,” “Negatives Collide” and “The Last Conversation” were all shortlisted for the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
Back in 2014 Farha leant his inimitable skill as an art director to the film “Deliver Us” directed by Laura Elisa Pérez Rebullén. The film, which followed a young activist who unites his people in a peaceful protest against their government, was included in The Cable Show’s Imagine Film Challenge hosted by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which was juried by industry heavy weights such as Oscar Award winning producer Nick Reed and Golden Globe Award winning actor Rutger Hauer.
Farha helped create the bleak and somber tone of the film with his use of barbed wire spun across the tops of fences, sadly forgotten stuffed animals nailed to wooden posts and an abandoned baby carriage surrounded by trash on the street leading to the protestors’ meeting location; and, in the face of tough competition, “Deliver Us” proved victorious at the Imagine Film Challenge taking home the Best Film Award and a $10,000 Grand Prize.
Farha’s far reaching talent has also helped him gain traction as both an art director and production designer for music videos with some of his past work including the music video for famed EDM DJ Rusko’s hit song ‘Lytah,’ as well as the music video for Tisha Campbell Martin’s new single ‘Steel Here,’ which was released in September and already has over one million views on YouTube.
He also recently finished art directing several episodes of the new television series “Seven Years Switch,” which was purchase by the FYI network earlier this year, as well as the upcoming feature film “Goetia,” which is currently in postproduction.
To find out more about how art director Badr Farha got to where he is today, and what drives him to create the powerful work he does, make sure to check out our interview below!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
BF: I’m a Dubai based filmmaker currently residing in Los Angeles. After graduating from the American University of Beirut with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, I worked in advertising at Leo Burnett as a communications executive for 2 years handling GM communications in the Middle East.
In 2006 I decided to pursue my adolescent passion of filmmaking, a world completely unknown to me at that point. While studying, I managed to direct several independent music videos while in New York City under the Irreverence Group, LLC.
My insatiable yearning to truly understand narrative storytelling led me to pursue my masters in Los Angeles and soon after I directed “The Last conversation,” a film that was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Right now my passions lays in other below the line areas of production, and the films “More than words,“ which I art directed, and “When Negatives collide,” which I production designed, were also shortlisted as part of the Cannes Film Festival this year.
So how did you first get into art directing and what led you to this path?
BF: During my time spent pursuing my MFA in filmmaking and in April of 2014, I was brought on board to art direct a film titled “Deliver Us,” which was created as a part of the Imagine Film Challenge, a 48 hour Film Festival that took place during The Cable Show. We won the competition and received 10,000 dollars. It was a great milestone and looking back it served me as the universe’s tiny vibration or whisper to continue on this trajectory.
Can you tell us about how you approach your project from the time you’re hired on to art direct through the time of filming?
BF: Depending on the scale and scope of the project, I am either hired as an art director and/or production designer. My process has been the same throughout my career thus far. My first question about any project I consider attaching myself to is always the same and that is to ask for a script (shooting or otherwise).
Earlier in my career and for experience sake I was never too concerned over the content that would be generated during my employment onto a project. As the years have taught me, I have a gravitational pull towards stories that come from a place of truth and those that speak to the human condition. I realize my efforts are best served if I am passionate about the story being told, more importantly, if I can find a way to relate or identify to certain characters within the story, then I am able to serve justice to the film at hand or in discussion.
After having read the script and if I find that I am able to serve the film, further discussions are typically had with the director during preproduction that would entail the director’s vision in terms of color palette, stylistic choices and references of what the movie visually communicates in terms of aesthetics. During this time I make SketchUp presentations to communicate my ideas of what construction of the sets would entail in terms of design plans, budgets and turnaround time, granted that these are pre-visualizations and are not in fact practical locations. Once approved and in parallel, set dressing and conversation with costume designers will have been spearheaded to make sure all involved stay within the scope, palette and framework of the vision of the film.
Congratulations on the films “When Negatives Collide,” “More Than Words” and “The Last Conversation” being chosen as official selections of the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, that is a huge accomplishment!! Can you tell us about your work on these films?
BF: The film “When Negatives Collide” centers on a lower class teenager whose world is turned upside down when the hidden secrets of her past suddenly resurface, and force her and her mother into a painful examination of their lives, their relationship with one another, and their mutual faith, which might heal the damages from the past.
I am extremely happy with the work I’ve done on “When Negatives Collide,” the story takes places in 3 spaces so knowing that ahead of time allowed me to fully explore and flesh out ideas I had to create the complexities of the characters and their environment. With such an emotionally loaded script, I knew the prop selection choices would be fundamental as we shot in practical locations. Moreover, discussions on color palette were extremely important and were discussed very early on for this film as it would have to remain consistent from wardrobe to props etc.
The fact that it was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival is a great milestone for the director, and I was extremely happy to be a part of the film and family of cast and crew.
The film “More Than Words” examines family, drug addiction, and the limits of love and self worth, all seen through the lens of a couples’ relationship as they face what seems to be an inevitable fate. In the story, Rachel and Nick return to their hometown in rural Colorado to greet friends and family while seeking a solution to Nick’s recent diagnosis with a rare brain disorder
As the threat of possibly dying from surgery or the condition itself loom on the horizon, Nick separates from Rachel and his mom Alli, and he begins recklessly acting out. When Alli suggests Rachel repair the past with her own family as Alli tries to work on Nick, Rachel returns to her home to discover a drug addled mother and her younger sister Bryce enabling the situation. Rachel finds her whole world crumbling around her as she tries to find the words to convince Nick to tempt fate and chance surgery to correct his life threatening disorder.
The director wrote the script so I knew it came from a personal space and time in his life. I was extremely excited to work on this film primarily because we got to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico for three weeks to create the worlds in which these characters lived. The characters were fully fleshed out in the script, so I had a real sense of who they were when moving into the project. I came in with a clear sense of tone palette and set design elements, which brought the story to life.
It was fully immersive and completely isolated in terms of where we actually shot the film and the fact that there was no reception or connection to the outer world. This forced everybody to stay present during production times.
A funny story from the production was when we had to create a trailer park scene in a grimy part of town, so one of the days we went all around town scooping up garbage and waste from the local dumpsters to set the scene and bring the story full heartedly to life. The waste also comprised of food, which drew in all sorts of bugs, termites, and ants to the surface of the ground, which ended up trickling into the DP’s shorts! That was definitely not my proudest moment and a lesson well learned. Having been accepted into the Cannes Film festival is wonderful, and I’m extremely happy I got to work on such a wonderful film.
I directed and art directed the film “The Last Conversation,” which also garnered attention during this year’s Cannes Film Festival and definitely, it was a great accomplishment textually, but when I caught wind of this news I don’t remember fully enjoying the moment. I had been art directing a feature film in Northern California called “Goetia.”
It was at that point that I learned that in our field a sense of accomplishment or pride over your own accomplishments isn’t ever fully realized, because moving on from the work you’ve done is paramount. The quote “You’re only as good as your last film” rings very true, and I find a deep sense of satisfaction when I learn of a new script and when I get to work on it, once it’s done it’s done. I have to let it go, regardless of where it goes and who sees it, that bares no relevance to the present.
I remain humbled by the response to the film and the fact that it was well received.
Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve art directed so far?
I worked on DJ Rusko’s music video ‘Lyta,’ which I thoroughly enjoyed. Just by having read through the treatment the director’s vision was clear and I knew the execution. Even though it wasn’t story boarded or even shot listed I knew a lot would have to be thought in scene and on the day of (improv), therein lies a major risk of it being a blessing or a curse. Luckily it proved to be a blessing.
I’ve art directed 3 of Julian De La Chica’s music videos in New York City, which have gathered over 100,000 views to date. At the time of production budgets are usually next to none, so a lot of the world that I along with my team have to create end up having to be extremely resourceful and limited. With this limitation I find comes the greatest challenge and if you’re able to serve absolute justice to the projects completion, that’s the greatest satisfaction you can hope for.
I got the opportunity to art direct Tisha Campbell Martin’s music video titled “Steel Here,” which was a great experience and I am really happy with the end result. I hadn’t seen her since her days on “Martin” and this was her breakthrough moment into music. I appreciate both the music video and film worlds, but in terms of fulfillment I find total comfort and enjoyment in the process of working in film as it’s far less forgiving, which is justified simply by the fact that you have time to fully create these characters’ worlds.
Why are you passionate about working as an art director?
BF: Being entrusted to decide on what goes into a frame is a grave responsibility that not too many people understand, at least the audience at large, when they watch a great film. Art direction always suggests consistency in themeless color tones, a “natural sense of placement,” being meticulous and attention to detail. These are some of the things I’ve always noticed in myself, and I have questioned the natural timidity and yearning I had in my earlier years, but they’ve proven to be useful in creating sets and deciding on the overall creative approach.
Can you tell us about any of the challenges you’ve faced on your way to the top of the industry—or any memorable “aha” moments where you felt like “hey this is the key to success”?
BF: Sometimes in this field when I have a minute to re-charge my batteries, I often think of something someone said to me– “Your own intellect can very much work against you”– at the time I never really understood it, but I now live by that very notion, which is simple really and with time I have learned to accept it. I tend to over analyze situations and dwell in certain moments far after the moment has passed. Milan Kundera’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” speaks to this very notion and answers it beautifully and provided a great breakthrough moment that has gravely helped me navigate in this industry.
What have been a few of your favorite projects so far and why?
BF: Every project I work on is always my favorite because the process is always the same for me. The projects that are less volatile are the ones I tend to worry about , which typically begs further questioning.
What would you say your strongest qualities as an art director are?
BF: I’d say I am highly adaptable, meticulous and detailed. It helps that I possess excellent communication skills, both personally and professionally.
What projects do you have coming up?
BF: I will be working on the feature film “1982” and the documentary film “Free America.”
What are your plans for the future?
BF: I’d like to return to my first love of directing, but thoroughly enjoy art directing in the present and plan to continue down that path for the next 5 years.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
BF: An Oscar. No more, no less.
What kind of training have you done, and how has it helped you in your field of work?
BF: Being on set is the best training in this field. I have seen my work grow over the past few years, or rather my eye has become sharper creatively.