Daniel Dalah, filmmaker: extended interview


Interview conducted by Julia Waldow, print editor-in-chief
Highlights: Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve lived in L.A. my whole life. My mom’s American and Italian, and my dad is Israeli.
How long have you been into filmmaking, and how did you get into it?
Since about sixth or seventh grade. It’s a really fun way to tell stories. Back in middle school, I would do stop-motions. I did one of these dolls from Chinatown who escaped my room. Around freshman year of high school, I became friends with people who free run. They would run and jump off stuff like crazy and do flips, so I just started walking around with a camera and following them. I took the footage and made it into a montage video. Then I got into more live stuff, and once I did a couple of those, I decided to make short five-minute films.

What was the first short film that you ever made?
It was called “Three’s a Couple.” It is about this guy, who likes this girl, who likes another guy, who’s not interested in her. No one’s happy. It’s a silent film.

Whom do you normally cast?
I used to cast my friends a lot. Recently, I wrote a new film that’s longer (it’s 35 pages), and I’m filming that over the summer, so I went into the drama dept. and I’m working with people from there.
Can you tell us a bit about your screenplay?
If I were to summarize the whole thing in one line, it’s that Andrew has three days to kiss Amber, or he dies. Andrew lives a life where he’s put down by his half-brother named Vic, and he works in the same bakery as Vic, and his boss treats him very badly. Everything is against Andrew. Vic is dating Amber, and Vic’s not the nicest guy. Andrew goes home one day, and this guy shows up in his room. The guy says, “I’m Death.” But Death is not how you would picture him. He’s French, he drinks wine, he smokes cigars and he’s a womanizer. Death tells Andrew he has three days to live, but finally Death makes him a deal. He says, “If you prove your life has some kind of value by kissing Amber, you can live.” The working title is “Death as a Frenchman.”
How did you come up with this idea?
When I was writing, I had this idea that life is short and you have to make a lot of it while you can. You have to do things while you have the time to live. Andrew is not doing anything, and he’s just letting life control him. Life happens to him. He doesn’t do anything to life. Finally, when there’s a time limit set, then he starts moving in that direction.
Do you have a crew that assists you while making that movie?
I’m the director/writer/producer. [Junior] Max Grad is the assistant director. [Senior] Yaron Ginsberg is the associate producer. [Freshman] Joe Murayama is our cinematographer and CGI specialist. The shooting will be in the summer, and the whole thing will probably be done edited by August.
Do you have plans to do anything with the film?
I plan to enter it into film festivals and try to get it noticed.
Speaking of, you’ve had a lot of success so far at film festivals.
You don’t expect [success]. You just enter a film, and you hope something will come up. I’m really happy when they choose to select [my film]. That’s always a surprise, and it’s really exciting. They send you an email saying they’ve selected your film for screening. If they’re going to award you, they’re not going to tell you then, but they’ll award it there.
What was the first film you received this honor for?
It was called “One More Brother.” It was the second short I made. It’s about the Israeli army. That was two to three years ago. I was surprised. I didn’t expect it. It was really cool to see it on the big screen.
And now you’re going to USC for film.
I got in for critical studies, which has a 6 percent acceptance rate. It’s ridiculous. It’s like a blessing or winning the lottery. When I found out I got in, I was in English class and my mom was texting me like crazy, like “Look at this envelope! I want to open it!” She was driving me insane, calling me like crazy, and I was trying to pay attention to Dr. Rubenstein but I couldn’t. And then she opened it without me! That was the longest ten minutes of my life, sitting there in class. Finally I got out and I called her and she said I got in!
What are you going to be doing as a critical studies major?
I’m going to be taking a lot of classes that analyze film and things like lighting and ideas behind the movie. I’m also going to be taking some production classes, which is what I’m more oriented towards, so I’m going to take electives in directing, production, whatever I can.
Is there one thing you’re looking forward to the most about USC?
Just being in an environment where there are so many people who are interested in the same thing as you. I met some people who are going, and there was an instant click with them. It’s like I’ve known them my whole life.
What are your plans for after USC?
Right now, I’m going for directing, which I know a lot of people do but then end up switching. But I love doing it.
If you could pick anybody to be in one of your movies, who would you pick?
Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s amazing. He’s such a good actor.
Is there a filmmaker who really inspires you?
I love Christopher Nolan. I’m also a fan of Baz Luhrmann. He’s quite radical.
How has being at Beverly helped you pursue your passion?
It’s allowed me to take a lot of classes and meet people who are involved with the film industry, or whose parents are involved in the film industry. I’ve taken classes that have taught me about film and writing scripts. There are lots of nice people who will offer to read my scripts or offer suggestions. The faculty at Beverly is really good. Mr. Hall and Mr. Carey are very helpful. I’ve been in KBEV for three years, so I also know my way around the equipment side of things.  I was also the directing intern for “The Secret Garden.” I took Mr. Hall’s film class last year, and this year, I’m in Drama Lab. I wanted to take an acting class because I’ve never taken anything in acting and I want to be able to give actors better direction as a director.