A conversation with Ramin Niami, Iranian/American filmmaker about his latest film SHIRIN IN LOVE


Love has no borders and therein lays the premise of the hilarious, new Iranian-American romantic comedy “Shirin in Love.”  Nazanin Boniadi plays Shirin, an absent-minded, young Iranian-American living in “Tehrangeles” (the large Iranian community in Los Angeles) with her overbearing mother and empathetic father.   Despite being engaged for years to a successful Iranian plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Shirin finds herself breaking loyalty and tradition when true to herself she falls in love with a mysterious young man who lives in a lighthouse in northern California.  As her secret unravels and cultures clash, Shirin discovers what it ultimately means to be.

Ramin Niami, director of SHIRIN IN LOVE was born in Tehran, Iran, and has worked as a director and producer on over twenty television documentaries, dramatic shorts and television commercials – many of them broadcast by the UK’s BBC and Channel 4 as well as major American networks.  A New York resident for 14 years, Niami was a faculty member for filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in New York.  He relocated to Los Angeles in 2002 where he taught directing and editing of digital video at the University of Southern California at the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts.  Ramin Niami’s first feature film as a director was the 1997 feature film, “Somewhere in the City”, starring Sandra Bernhard, Bai Ling, Ornella Muti and Peter Stormare; the film screened at over 25 international film festivals and was released theatrically in the U.S. and on HBO in the U.S. and was sold in countries around the world.  His second feature film, “Paris” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2003, starring Chad Allen, Bai Ling, James Russo, and Karen Black.  “Paris” screened at the opening night of Bangkok Film Festival and played at a number of other international film festivals including HOF in Germany and Raindance in London. “Paris” was released in the US by DEJ/Blockbuster and 20th Century Fox Home Video and has been broadcast extensively in prime time on Showtime. Ramin’s prior film was a feature music documentary “Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn”(2013) about the legendary South Central Los Angeles blues club of the same name and its owner Laura Mae Gross featuring more than thirty different blues music artists. “Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn” was the winner of the Programmers’ Award at the 21st Pan African Film Festival and was initially released in the US at Laemmle 4-Plex in Santa Monica and in cinemas around the U.S. and on VOD and other digital formats by Cinedigm. A special screening and reception at the American Cinemateque at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood honored the film. Ramin has also written an epic feature film script about a British Intelligence officer in Iran during the mid-20th century. The script entitled, “We Called It Persia” was co-written with Academy Award winning British screenwriter Frederic Rafael (“Two For The Road”, “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Darling “) and is currently in development for Ramin to direct. Ramin is also developing a motion picture that he will direct based on the renowned novel “Random Acts of Senseless Violence” by Jack Womack.

Bijan Tehrani:  How did you come up with the idea of SHIRIN IN LOVE SHIRIN IN LOVE SHIRIN IN LOVE?
Ramin Niami: I wrote this script some years ago. It was an American Romantic comedy and the executive producer of Home Alone was going to make it into an American Studio romantic comedy. But when I came to Los Angeles, (I live in Westwood, Tehrangeles), I got the rights back and thought that it would be interesting to make this into an Iranian American film. So, I did a re-write. I thought that it was really important to show Iranians in a good light because the American media’s portrayal of Iranians is not very accurate and most Iranians I know are highly educated and family is very important. I tried to bring Americans another side of Iranians that they have not seen. So, I made the main family Iranian and that is how it went.

BT: It’s interesting because when we see the success of movies that no one thought would be successful, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it shows that there is always a market for films that will address and help us learn about different cultures.
RN:  Yes. The thing is when you are dealing with Americans, there are a lot of different groups. There are Greek Americans, Chinese Americans, Irish Americans, Indians, and Vietnamese etc… and we don’t really know what is going on in their home because what we see on TV and the media is a particular part of America that is always shown. So, I think it is fascinating for the audience to see another culture. They are American but they also have their own qualities. I think that was one of the reasons that My Big Fat Greek Wedding was successful because they wanted to see a film about Greeks and I hope that people will also come and see this film. Also, Iranians love to party and Americans who know them always say that the best parties are Persian parties and the best food is Persian food. So, I thought that I would be able to show the positive side of the culture. When we did the test screening people were saying that they had never seen a Persian party or Iranian wedding. So, I hope, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, this film will reach a much bigger audience.

BT: You have famous Iranian stand-up comedian Maz Jobrani playing a part in SHIRIN IN LOVE. How did you get him to be in the film?
RN: I have some of the best Iranian actors in the film. I always had Maz. I am a big fan and also Max Amini is also in the film. They are two great stand-up comics. When I started looking for actors for the roles, I thought that Maz would be great because it is a very positive character. He is not a bad guy. He just falls in love with someone else. I sent him the script, he liked it and he joined and it was the same with Max. The biggest challenge was finding someone to play Shirin and then a friend of mine suggested Nazanin Boniadi. She is in Homeland. She liked the part and we got her and then Marshall Manesh who is very experienced. So, there are a lot of wonderful Iranian actors in the film.

BT:  How did you go about working with the actors?
RN:     When you are making a small independent film there are a lot of time restrictions, a lot of problems with scheduling especially with these guys who all have their own very busy schedules so I knew that I did not have a lot of time to rehearse with my actors. So, it was more like explaining as much as I could before the shoot so they would get the character right. The way that I work is that I see the character on the page and then I see the actor and, with the time I have, I improvised. I allow the actors to bring in different things so it was an interesting process. The actors knew all of the problems and they were really prepared. I like my actors to know the characters and allow them to do their own thing and then I make adjustments and I think it shows on screen.

BT:  Please tell us how you chose to release and distribute SHIRIN IN LOVE.
RN: This is a very particular film because it is Iranian-American. Some American studios have released Iranian films but they were art house films. Sony Classic, for example, has released a number of Iranian art house films. But this film is different because I wanted to, not only play with art house, but also to show a normal film that the general public could go see and enjoy themselves. I feel like a lot of the studios do not know how to market Iranian films but AMC loved the movie and we basically became partners with AMC Independent. They also allowed me to add other theaters. Right now we are 15 cities and several theaters which is a big deal for an Iranian film.

BT:  Please tell us about when the film will open and where will people be able to see that?
RN: Right now we are confirmed in Los Angeles at AMC Burbank 8, Laemmle Theater Music Hall and Laemmle Town Center. In Orange County we are at AMC Block Orange. In New York we are opening at AMC Empire in Times Square. These are all on March 14th. A week later, on March 21st, we are adding AMC Bay Street 16 in Berkeley, AMC Town Square 18 in Las Vegas, AMC Studio 30 and AMC Gulf Pointe 30 in Houston, AMC Loews Oak Tree 6 in Seattle, AMC Loews Rio Cinemas 18 in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and AMC North Dekalb in Atlanta. March 28th we are adding AMC Desert Ridge in Phoenix, AMC Cherry Creek 8 in Denver and theatres in Chicago as well. In Chicago we are playing at three theatres: AMC South Barrington 30, AMC Streets of Woodfield and AMC Woodridge. There are five or six other cities that we will hopefully have dates for soon. We also have a premiere party on March 11th at the Avalon Club in Hollywood. We will screen the film and then have a performance by the Black Cats, Andy, The Life of Riley, Shani and then we will have DJ Mohsen. So, we will have a big party and you can get the tickets from ticketbloom.com.

BT:  Can you also tell us about the American actors in the film?
RN: The lead is played by Riley Smith, who has been in a lot of Disney films and features. He also has a rock band called The Life of Riley and has four songs in the film. Then we have George Wallace who was terrific to have. He is the king of Las Vegas and he has been at the Flamingo for the past 9 years. He loves Iranian cinema so he came here. And Amy Madigan is playing Riley Smith’s character’s mother. So, we had some terrific American actors and all of the actors were interested in love and friendship and that is why they took the part.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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