Hi Hicham, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
HH: Doing better and better now that my movie is almost completed.
How were you drawn into the world of filmmaking?
HH: When I was 4, my mom’s youngest brother was watching me, I was so excited and he put a VHS on of The Shining. I remember this movie as the first one I ever watched (or at least I remembered watching). I loved it so much I kept asking for it and for other serious movies of the same genre. I always knew I wanted to be in the movie business, but coming from Morocco, it was very unlikely. It was almost impossible, the dream was so big!
When I grew up, I did everything to convince my parents that movie making was a viable job, so I went to a film school in Montreal. After I graduated, I was called as a Production Assistant for a production company that does music videos. After a year of experience, I had to go back to Morocco where I was hired as a Second Assistant Director and very quickly as a First AD.
Though I’m guessing Morocco has a film industry of its own, I’m guessing it’s not that big – how does it feel to somehow start building a bridge between the two nations?
HH: It’s true that the film industry in Morocco is very small, but beside the Moroccan movies, international productions spend hundreds of millions USD yearly. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the big names
When I got back to Morocco in 2005, Ridley Scott and Paul Greengrass were shooting many movies (Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Body of Lies, Greenzone, The Bourne Ultimatum, etc). I was dreaming to be part of it, or even try to make similar movies. But again, the dream was so big and unrealistic for a little Moroccan with no financial resources or contacts.
But I kept working hard and dreaming, until I got enough resources and contacts to come to LA in 2015 to develop my own projects.
Was this something you were looking into or it rather just happen?
HH : I always wanted it. It has been years of hard work and sacrifice.
How did you come up with the idea for Redemption Day?
HH: A young photographer my age went to Burkina Faso on an assignment for women’s rights. She was at her hotel lobby and a group of terrorists came out of nowhere and started shooting. She was hit with about six bullets, was taken to the hospital, and died three days later of a heart attack.
I wanted to make a movie that has a different point of view than the usual Hollywood movies. My point of view of how I see things so people start to see the difference between religion and terrorism.
This being your directorial debut – how careful were you to committing the least, first directional ‘mistakes’ or is this something that will happen no matter what?
HH: I’ve been 1st AD for almost a decade, same as a line producer/producer. I always felt the need to tell stories my own way, so making Redemption Day is a dream come true. It was very challenging since we had a very low budget, but I ended up doing the movie I liked. I’m sure there are some mistakes but I’m happy with the overall result.
What was the casting process like?
HH: I had the chance to have Nancy Foy by my side, she’s one of the best casting directors in Hollywood. She has the best advice and helped me go through the “Hollywood” process to get the actors I wanted.
What was it like to direct a cast filled with a few big names like Ernie Hudson, Martin Donovan and Andy Garcia?
HH: When you have the chance and the honor to work with such big talent, everything becomes very easy. I was afraid that those big names will treat me as a first time director, but they never did. They respected my vision, and shooting with them was great and fluid.
Having produced, written and directed a few shorts on my own I know it’s hard to balance them all and stay focus – how did you go on facing this particular issue?
HH: Hard is a small word haha. It was very complicated, but failing was not an option. I had to work hard and convince everyone around me that I was aiming big. I thank everyone for trusting me and my vision.
Speaking of which, what was the most challenging aspect of shooting the film?
HH: I would say financing it. That was very challenging since it was the first time I financed a project that big and that ambitious.
When and where can people catch the final product?
HH: I have the honor to have an Oscar-winning company, Voltage Pictures, as an international sales company trusting my vision, so the movie should be released all over the world sometime in 2020.
What else is happening next in Hicham Hajji’s world?
HH: I’m about to finish my next script. It’s a musical comedy in the electronic music world. I’m very excited about it since it’s something that has never been done before.