david j. moore chats with Shahin Sean Solimon, writer, director and star of Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage…
Every once in a blue moon a film will come out of nowhere, and Shahin Sean Solimon’s independently financed adventure film Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage was released to theaters in North America for a single week. Those who were lucky enough to catch it theatrically were treated to a long-gone style of filmmaking. Filled with stop motion animated monsters, real sets, an orchestral score, and a tirelessly intrepid ambition to remind viewers of a bygone era, the film hearkened back to the glory days of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, who had contributed indelible, hand-crafted special effects wizardry in films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). Inspired by Harryhausen’s groundbreaking work, Solimon took it upon himself to write, direct, produce, and star in Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage, which (with Harryhausen’s blessing) would carry on the tradition of grand, organically created tales of adventure caught on celluloid. Solimon, a Persian American, had only done one other feature – a metaphysical fantasy adventure called Djinn – before taking the mantle as the beloved character Sinbad, but his slate is already full with more fantastic cinematic adventures to be produced in the near future.
david j. moore: Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage kind of came out of nowhere. At a time when I least expected a new Sinbad movie – and one that was genuinely trying to capture the Ray Harryhausen era – your film was given a theatrical release here in the U.S. I remember seeing huge billboards for it right before it was released. I thought that was fantastic. I’m a huge fan of the Sinbad films that have come out over the years.
Shahin Sean Solimon: So am I!
djm: Talk a little bit about your inspiration for this film and how you were able to get it released theatrically. I saw it in a theater when all the Christmas blockbusters were playing in the auditoriums next door.
SSS: Sinbad was a labor of love for us. I had done a movie called Djinn, which was more of a … I had gone through a filmmaking workshop, and I studied a lot of Robert Rodriguez’s techniques. I’d read Rebel Without a Crew. It’s great for any filmmaker who wants to create their own content, and not just try to be attached to others. Basically, after Djinn had wrapped, everything went good. We had a small premier for that, and it went to VOD, and it was fine for what we did. It was a micro budget. You could probably get more from your piggy bank than what we made that movie for. I was sitting at home one night, watching T.V. and it just hit me that I wanted to write a Sinbad movie. I thought I could do it, so I started writing one. I researched it and spent a lot of time on it and writing it. I fell in love with the project more and more. As time went on, it just felt like a calling. We went through the whole process of making it, and it was very educational.
djm: How were you able to get this theatrically released? I saw it down the street from my house at a multiplex. You must have released it on several hundred screens.
SSS: In today’s entertainment world, it’s not like it used to be. If you had a movie that was shot on film, you’d spend millions just on the prints. Just scanning the film would have been $100,000. Nowadays, with technology and the way marketing works, it’s easier. If the content is right, why not release it theatrically? With a distribution company like this, they liked it and were gracious enough to give it a theatrical release. Because of that, we were able to get another film going. Our company Giant Flicks is aiming for the old style, retro style monster movies.
djm: Have you always been into the Ray Harryhausen, stop motion-styled films?
SSS: Yes, always. That style has been lost. All these big studios are trying to outdo each other with the CGI special effects and action that it’s come to a point where audiences – and this is just my opinion – are overwhelmed by it all. I went to see the new Transformers and I thought it was pretty cool, but the action has become so fast that your eyes can’t keep up with it anymore. You can’t see it. We wanted to do something more old school, like the good old days. Stop motion animation that you can see. You can actually see the monster.
djm: Right, absolutely. When I saw this movie on a big screen, I was so taken aback that you guys actually did that, and it was completely sincere. I think Clash of the Titans was one of the last ones they did in that style. So it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen anything like this that’s new.
SSS: Yes, and Ray Harryhausen knew about this project, but unfortunately he didn’t get to see it before he passed on. He knew about it, and his people, his representation had called me. We had talked. He wanted to know if we were interested in using any of his concept art from back in the day. Before we got a chance to go further with that, his health declined. But he knew about it and was excited. He gave us his blessing, and his people gave us their blessing. We met some of his heirs at Comic Con and we also met with some of Charles Schneer’s heirs. Schneer was his producer on those movies. I had the opportunity to meet with some of their family members. We’re hoping to bring that style back, but much bigger and much better with the next project. A much higher budget if we can.
djm: Sinbad is a long beloved character, played by lots of different actors over the years since the silent era. What was it like for you to play this iconic character?
SSS: It was like a natural calling. I don’t think a Persian actor has ever played Sinbad before. I didn’t have any qualms about it. Even John Wayne’s son, Patrick, played Sinbad in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. The character has been through a very large spectrum of looks and talents throughout the years. I thought I definitely looked like Sinbad. I’m Persian American. I was very dedicated to it, and it was a lot of work, there’re a lot of things behind the scenes. Those Scimitar swords were pretty big and heavy. It took a long time for me to make it seem like they were light. I had to work on that for six months, to get myself into shape. I worked very hard on that. I wanted to give Sinbad a real life look. I tried my best. It was a wonderful experience. I’m actually in talks to do the role again. As you know, he had many voyages. I’d like to do some more of these. To do a franchise on an independent level would be great. Hopefully. With some luck and some feedback, we can grow with this.
djm: It’s taken quite a while for your Sinbad film to make it to home video. I saw the film theatrically almost a year ago. What took so long for the video release?
SSS: Oh, without going too much into detail of the business side of things, because we are a new production and distribution company, we did not want to hand the movie over to … in today’s world, it’s so much easier to distribute a movie than people think. We did not want to hand the film over because we didn’t want the movie to get lost. Nobody loves their own baby more than themselves. We decided to take the time to do it properly. We wanted to get set up and handle the distribution of it to some degree. It’s not being distributed by us, but it is to some degree. It took us awhile to get that in order. We needed to handle the business affairs. If we’d handed the film over, the distributor could have slept on it for years. We don’t want that. Audiences deserve to see this movie, especially since we released it theatrically. That’s what took so long.
djm: This movie will definitely find its audience if the word gets out to the right people. Fans of Ray Harryhausen’s work will see this film as a tribute to his legacy, I guarantee it.
SSS: We are very excited to announce that it will be available everywhere December 2. Everywhere. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you won’t be able to miss it. Also, the UK. The Blu-ray and DVD do not come out until February 3, 2015. It will be available on digital download starting December 2. We will be publishing a special edition DVD and Blu-ray with special features. I, as the director, wanted to add more content.
djm: You’ve stuck within the fantasy / sword and sorcery genre. Your first movie Djinn was very metaphysical, very spiritual, very mental. There was a lot of stuff going on in that movie. It wasn’t an action movie at all.
SSS: Right, thank you for saying that. People are so used to seeing action movies, however, Djinn was written as a very spiritual movie, but it was really just about a man willed to regain what he lost. There’s no other message to it. We tried to show that with the little budget that we had.
djm: Is there anything else you would like to say about Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage?
SSS: I would just like to say thank you so much for any of the attention that we’ve received. You can find us on Facebook.
djm: What’s your next project?
SSS: We are working on a time travel movie called Time Machine. I’m also working on Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. In my humble opinion, the original is so old that it’s not suspenseful. It’s very bland. I’m hoping to dive into those and make them more exciting and edgy.
djm: So your Time Machine – is it a remake of the George Pal version?
SSS: It’s our own mix. I won’t give away the story, but it will be reminiscent of the versions from the past. There won’t be a CGI world. It will be very gritty and will have what I call “mental special effects.”
djm: Where do you shoot your films?
SSS: We’ll shoot anywhere. California has an endless amount of possibilities. I don’t know where we’ll shoot Time Machine. We might even go overseas. I don’t know yet.
djm: The Thief of Bagdad from 1940 is one of my all-time favorite movies. You should try doing a remake of that some day.
SSS: With Douglas Fairbanks?
djm: No, Fairbanks was in the silent version. Sabu was in the 1940 version.
SSS: Oh, wow – yeah, I just saw that one, actually. If you watch the silent one, Douglas Fairbanks did exactly what I did with Sinbad. He wrote, directed it, produced it, and was involved very deeply with that movie. He even worked on the sets. That film is very good and had great special effects. We’re talking the 1920’s. That was almost a hundred years ago. Such beautiful work. Where there’s a will, there’s definitely a way. Even if you’re trapped in time. He was trapped in time. If he was working now, he would be doing wonders.
Thank you to Shahin Sean Solimon for taking the time to do this interview.
david j. moore is a contributing writer to Fangoria, FilmFax, Lunchmeat and VideoScope Magazines. His book WORLD GONE WILD: A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIES was published this year.