Late last fall, Shahrzad Davani was looking for a good movie to see when she decided to throw on “The Last Detail,” Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Daryl Ponsican’s novel about a pair of Naval officers who escort a fellow sailor to prison, but not before an evening out on the town in New York City.
“I hadn’t seen it in a long time,” Davani recalled recently. “And I always loved the premise of movies [about] the last days or hours before a life-changing event happens that you know you’re going to come out a different person.”
As it happened, the rewatch had come at a fortuitous time in Davani’s professional life. After years of serving easing one first-time filmmaker after another into their feature debut as an assistant director on such films as “Welcome to Me” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” Davani had started thinking the time had come to take the director’s chair herself.
“It was a different kind of collaboration than a traditional AD/director relationship where I had to be a co-pilot in helping them create solutions for things. I thought that’s what you do and I really loved it, but then I realized as I was getting bigger projects and TV, that was actually not always the role of the AD,” says Davani. “My producer Lindsay [Lanzillotta] was the first to [say], ‘You should direct and we should consider what project that is.’ I was scared because I thought, I do want this, but I never wanted to say it out loud because I never thought I’d have a shot at it.”
That shot has come with “F1,” which is currently raising funds on Seed & Spark until April 27th, and it should be anticipated as much by audiences as it has by Davani. The director didn’t only take inspiration from “The Last Detail” in the professional nudge it gave her to helm a production of her own, but as an example of a compelling narrative that could be done for a price. Keeping the tension of a ticking clock, Davani saw a different way in for a timely comedy about a young Iranian woman named Mitra (Mitra Jouhari), living in the U.S. until her student visa is revoked after a misunderstanding, leaving her with 48 hours to collect her things and leave for Tehran. Through a family friend, she’s put in touch with someone local who can help her out in Nazanin (Nazanin Nour), yet Mitra finds that a drive to the airport will come with a whole lot of baggage as the aspiring actress just went through a breakup and isn’t getting much work.
“Being Iranian myself, I was like, ‘If I had a cousin here in town on a student visa and it got revoked for some really stupid reason and had to go back, that is the equivalent of going to prison [now],” says Davani. “It’s not as extreme, but it’s still very limiting as far as your options and your future, so I reached out to Naz [Nour] about this and said, ‘Here’s this idea I have, I think you’d be great as the older cousin or family friend, do you want to write this together?’ She was down and we wrote it pretty fast.”
Just as Naz and Mitra put their problems in perspective by becoming acquainted with one another, “F1” aims to introduce audiences to a viewpoint on immigration rarely seen in American films, yet according to Davani will be first and foremost the kind of raucous relationship comedy that now seems equally unusual nowadays.
“It’s really about a relationship between two women and friends and how that dynamic plays out,” says Davani. “I don’t think there’s a lot of films that do that and to get to showcase my sensibility as a director, which leans towards character-driven comedies like I always loved growing up, but I don’t always see people of color or females in those roles.”
Although the director is referencing the cast onscreen for “F1,” she could just as easily be describing the crew behind the scenes. Besides Nour and Jouhari, the two talented multihyphenates who will get their first starring roles in the film after showcasing their comedy skills in viral videos on YouTube and writing for Comedy Central’s “The President Show,” respectively, Davani has assembled a diverse production team boasting unique skillsets. Producer Lindsay Lanzillotta is an industry veteran, having helped realize Lee Toland Krieger’s “The Vicious Kind” and Karyn Kusama’s “The Invitation,” and she’s joined by Elizabeth Meza, who will be producing her first feature in “F1,” but brings a wealth of experience from her work with Panavision and numerous shorts on which she served in various capacities. Davani will also be working with cinematographer Jeanne Tyson for the first time, using the opportunity to direct to give opportunities to others to do something different.
“As a producer who’s produced a few films at this budget range, what I’ve learned is you want everybody onboard who has just enough to gain doing this project as you do,” says Davani. “It’s not just financial gain because there’s just not enough money for that to be real, so I wanted to make sure that everybody onboard [thinks], ‘This is going to help your career as much as it’s going to help my career, and we’ll all be invested together because we all can walk away with something great that will help all of us.”
By launching a crowdsourcing campaign on Seed & Spark, Davani is offering the same opportunity to film fans to invest in something special. Should the campaign be successful, “F1” is expected to go into production later this year and although you certainly won’t want to see Mitra leave the country, you definitely will want to see this film take flight.