Local Filmmaker Micah Khan segues from one film reference to another. He’s on John McTiernan, then James Cameron, Ridley Scott, his appreciation of “The Dark Knight” but his apathy for “Heat,” the Michael Mann film that greatly influenced Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman film. He gets bored easily, and you can tell.
It isn’t surprising when Khan says that he was raised by TV–action movies especially. He recalls watching the canon of early ‘90s action films on repeat with his mother as a child. “If my mom isn’t watching action movie she falls asleep. So we always watched action films together.”
One night Khan, who has a large catalog of small films, was screening them with his current girlfriend–she was blasé about most of them until they got to a film featuring a sword fight on a cliff called “The Summit.” She told him it was really good. That’s when Khan realized he should stop denying his impulses. He stopped listening to experts who said action films couldn’t be made on a big budget and decided to tap into his roots.
Taking that leap paid off for Khan, as he will have his latest short film “Safe House” shown on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network, Sunday at 7:30 PM. There will be a watch party at The Bradley in Troy where the flick was filmed.
Khan grew up in a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, his parents slept on the floor and he and his brother slept in the bed. He recalls there being a great movie theatre nearby and seeing all the biggest action movies. “My parents worked all the time, from when they dropped us off at school until after we came home,” he says noting how much time he spent with TV and film.
After a brief move to Long Island, the family relocated to East Greenbush. Khan was in eighth grade. In highschool, Khan started making YouTube videos with a primitive web camera. When that obsession waned he got into stand-up comedy. He had a plan–he’d be a comedian, become an actor and eventually be promoted to director. “I thought it was like a job track. I’d eventually get that promotion.”
He realizes now how naive he was.
He finally quit comedy and gravitated toward directing at 22. A class at the New School Center for Media in Albany gave him the tools and technique to start getting to work on effects, editing and sound design.
From there he continued exploring his voice through dramas and comedies. “I know how corny this sounds, but I watched Game of Thrones “Battle of the Bastards” episode and realized how much I loved good action.”
It sparked a revolution in his approach to filmmaking.
He watched Robert Rodriguez’s “10-Minute Film School” and got together with friends to film a short sword fight on top of a mountain. Friends tried to dissuade him, saying the kind of production an action film would require was untenable. But Khan forged ahead.
The crew decided to shoot on a mountain that Khan had once hiked. He was quickly struck by how difficult the trek was compared to when he first hiked it. “It was like the hardest hike. Well, at least for me,” he laughs.
His costume designers stitched as they trekked upward. When they reached the top Khan realized he had to rewrite the fight choreography because the terrain wasn’t exactly flat, or safe.
Khan took the “The Summit” to festivals and got a mixed reaction. He went on to make a few other films and sort of forgot about it. It wasn’t until his girlfriend screened the film that he realized it was something that best spoke to his real influences.
That’s how “Safe House” started taking shape.
What started as something that harkened to “North By Northwest” metamorphosed into something resembling Rodriguez’s “Desperado.”
The crew managed working around full-time jobs. They choreographed the film’s fight scene for a week.
Vic Christopher, owner of The Bradley, allowed Khan and his crew to use the Troy hipster dive bar space for free. They rewrote the film to take place entirely in the bar.
Khan recalls that a wall in The Bradley was smashed during a particularly visceral fight scene. “I was so worried and so apologetic,” recalls Khan. He says Christopher’s only concern was, “Did you get the shot?”
Khan keeps his circle of cast and crew fairly tight. He doesn’t do casting calls and works with people he knows to be reliable as he tends to finance his films. “I’m always broke,” he jokes.
Khan decided to submit “Safe House” to El Rey’s “The People’s Network Showcase” last year. He didn’t hear back for almost a year and then letters started arriving him informing him he was a semi-finalist, a finalist and then a winner. It wasn’t until this week that he received an air date.
Khan hopes that the exposure will get him some investment in his films, but one way or another he’s already moving ahead on his next project he’s dubbed–”a giant robot western.” Think mechs and cowboys. He plans to do it with practical effects and a limited budget.
Khan is not shy about wearing his influences on his sleeve. “Terminator 2” is his holy grail. “Did we really even need action movies after ‘Terminator 2’?” Khan asks laughing. “Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger Sylvester Stallone–If my mom had a Mount Rushmore those three faces would be on it,” he says.
Khan has a theory that 1999 was one of the peak years for American film. These are admissions a lot of film buffs, let alone filmmakers, would not make.
Khan isn’t interested in scoring points. “I’m not going to say my biggest influence is Kurosawa or something,” says Khan. It’s not that Khan didn’t try to assimilate influences that would be more acceptable. “I did some romantic comedies. I tried sounding like Edgar Wright. I tried sounding like Kevin Smith.”
The success of “Safe House” has sent him further on his trail of action nostalgia. He’s finding that he sees more of his work in the past than he expected. “I recently sort of went on a trip down memory lane with my mom and we were watching “The Predator” films and I realized, ‘I took that shot, I took that shot. I do that all the time!’ It wasn’t until I went back that I realized where all of this was coming from.”