After being awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during a firefight against ISIS, U.S. Marine Captain Brad Paxton (Gary Dourdan) is suffering from the long-term effects of being in a war zone. In the care of his loving wife, Kate (Serinda Swan), Brad is trying to adjust to civilian life. When Kate, a renowned archeologist, is given a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity in Morocco. Brad urges her to follow it. When Kate arrives though, she is captured by a terrorist group who demands $10 million for her ransom. Brad rushes to Morocco where the U.S. ambassador (Andy Garcia) has ceased negotiating Kate’s release after the deal jeopardize United Nation’s talks for future oil rights in the region. As the usual circumstances of Kate’s abduction are revealed. Brad is forced to use his military skills in a daring and deadly operation to find the men responsible and save the woman he loves.
Hicham Hajji is not only a very passionate filmmaker, but he’s also the first-ever Moroccan/Arab to write, produce and direct a Hollywood feature film. In 2008, after working on a number of high-profile projects, Hicham created his Production Company H FiLMS with the aim to bridge the gap between Hollywood and Morocco and help develop major productions in the region along with the company’s own slate of high-profile projects. Today, Hicham has offices in Los Angeles and Morocco and oversees a multimillion-dollar Film Fund and credit facility for films and television series. He specializes in international productions with a mandate to make high-quality and commercially viable features worldwide and want to tell great, unique stories in a variety of genres that resonate with audiences everywhere. Hicham was recently recognized in the best thriller category of the Montreal Indepedent Film Festival and Andy Garcia was selected as the best support actor of MIFF. We had the pleasure of speaking to him further about the making of his latest project.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
I actually did a film school in Montreal back in 2003 and when I graduated, I sent my resume to all the production companies in Montreal, on of them, called me back asking me to PA for a Celine Dion music video. I was very excited about it and learned a lot from Stephane Gerin-Lajoie, the line producer who hired at that time.
After almost a year working for him, I had to go back to Morocco where I had a huge experience as a 1st Assistant Director, then Line Producer and then as a producer where I started to develop, direct and produce my own short films and helping international producers to produce their movies in Morocco. But after working for many of them, I was even more motivated and then decided to do the big step and move to Los Angeles to develop and produce my own movies.
What genre of filmmaking are you looking to work on and why?
My first movie, Redemption Day, was a war / political movie that opened a lots of doors for me. But my real passion projects are comedies, or I would say satyric comedies, the kind of Adam McKey genra
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Definitely the financing. And also the distribution
To get a proper distribution you’ll need famous actors and to get the famous actors you’ll need a distribution deal in place…
As an independent filmmaker / producer, it’s very very challenging to raise enough money for the production. I feel like it’s never enough and have to find the right balance to keep the high quality for the production
How challenging is it to fund indie films?
Even if I managed to financed every movie I produced so far, I really believe it’s the hardest and not the funniest part of all the aspects of a movie production. I wish one day I can have partners such as AppleTV, Netflix or Amazon Prime Video that will take care of that and so I can focus on what’s important: the creation.
This way I know I have a distribution and it’s hassle free financially
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
Francis Ford Coppola : I learned from him, on apocalypse now, that no matter what problems I may have, I should never give up. I feel that I had the same problems to finance Redemption Day (at a lower scale) and I felt either I had to suicide and end it or keep going because I had no other choice. Of course suicide is out of question
Chris Nolan : Because I believe he’s a genius in his kind and writing such a stories and making such big movies is an inspiration
Adam McKey : I love the way he tells the story, taking a very serious subject and treat it like a comedy. I’ve been developing a script the same way, and this is totally me… I see myself in him and I really want to be doing this kind of movies that I believe can have a bigger impact on the society when you talk about something very serious in a funny way.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
My next movie is a satyrique comedy called God is a DJ, where an unexpected collaboration between a Jew and a Muslim will skyrocket them as the next electronic music superstars, but not without costs.
What was the inspiration behind your latest film project?
Early 2016, one of my high school friend was sitting on a hotel lobby, and all of the sudden a group of terorists came in and shot everyone. She had 6 billets in her and managed to survive for 3 days and then died by a heart attack. Coming from Morocco where the majorities are Muslims, I wanted to tell a story where I show our point of view of the situation and where we explain that those people have nothing to do with the Islam, and in a very commercial way. So making a hollywood movie was the best way to reach the biggest audience
How did you find the cast and the crew of the film?
Crew wise, I’m good. I’ve been working as a producer for years now, so I have a solid team with me in Morocco.
The cast was one of the most challenging aspects. I have to prove myself and win the trust of Nancy Foy, one of the biggest casting director in Los Angeles (means the world), who really helped me get all those great actors.
What is the distribution plan of the film and did the film receive any screenings or was it featured in festivals? I partnered up with Voltage Pictures, an Oscar winning international sales company as well with Saban Films our distributor. We were planning to release the movie on the spring 2020 but Covid happened, which destroyed all the theatrical chances. But we went on VOD mainly in over 120 countries and the movie was dubbed on over 20 languages. Beside the Montreal indépendant film festival, we also won best movie at the Mangattenhenge Film Festival early this year. Why do you make films and what kind of impact would your work have on the world? I make films because it’s my passion and I’m lucky to live off it. But I also make movies because it’s a wonderful plateforme to be telling my stories and put the cinema of my country on a map so the world can discover our culture. And beside, movies are entertaining, and we saw during this pandemic, during the lockdown that when we’re home, the only and most important activity was watching movies… A movie creates all kind of emotions in us and it is an absolute necessity to keep feeling them. A movie also tells captivating stories that bring perspectives and create a human connections.