In an age where information is readily available through everyday technology, former New York Film Academy student Atif Ali Khan’s documentary “ED Vs IT: SOS” explores the role of education in an information driven age — how we have to dissect and deploy the online IT tools to create a giant technological leap forward to educate our next generation. The documentary investigates how, if we don’t make the amends, our lives will be controlled by robots.
Khan’s thought-provoking documentary, which is now available on Amazon Prime, has peaked our curiosity, leading us to an interview with the director to find out more about him and his film.
Congrats on your recent documentary, “ED Vs IT”! Let’s begin by telling us where you’re from, and what brought you to NYFA?
Originally from Pakistan, NYFA was my ticket to Hollywood. It is where you get firsthand exposure with industry professionals, who have not only “been there and done that,” but are also actively involved in various projects too. They also recommend you, if you have outstanding skills.
In fact, for me it became a mode of networking with the top notch professionals in Hollywood. NYFA surpassed my expectations of what I had envisioned. The faculty not only gives you the hands-on skills, but they teach you the creative process of storytelling. A giant leap in confidence. Shooting at Universal Studios backlot was a dream. From the Golden Age of Cinema to the Silversceen VOD age of today, I saw it all from the Kodak Theater, where the Oscars are held, to the actual locations where top-grossing movies are made. We embraced it all during our thesis film project.
They were shooting “Modern Family” and Sofia Vergara was right behind our shooting location on the European set. I recovered all the money I had invested at NYFA within two months of my graduation with a bunch of projects. It is that good. It is like an interneship at Paramount. The NYFA jacket is an easy pass to enter anywhere — be it press coverage or a movie set.
New York is the TV hub of the world and doing it at the LA Campus I got exposed to film fraternity of the highest cadre in the world. Needless to say, I received a host of discounts against my NYFA student ID from B&H to Amazon and from Best Buy to Apple. I got many projects just by “name-dropping” NYFA. It is the most respected name be it Tokyo, China, Italy, Abu Dhabi and from the East to the West Coast. Ten years from now, every film project in the world will have a NYFA alumni in one form or another.
Additionally, I became friends with Craig Fox, in New York, who is a leading stand up comedian and whom I later found is a teacher of Acting for Film at NYFA in New York. He introduced me to a range of actors, who are either studying at NYFA or are graduates. All are very active on Broadway (theater) and the improv scene in New York.
How did this documentary “ED Vs IT” come about? What drew you to this subject?
I saw online platforms emerging at a dynamic pace, from entertainment to mobile and from Amazon to banks.
The production design tips, given by my teacher Jack Daniels at NYFA, really came in handy. I did all of the production from shoot to special FX and editing. Finally, the film was made on a shoe string budget with no production compromises at all. You really don’t need a studio to back your project — if you learn the NYFA guerrilla filmmaking.
What do you hope to achieve with this documentary? What is your overall message?
It is a wake up call. Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence is steering forward at an alarming pace. Automation is taking over human capital way faster than ever anticipated. We need to overhaul the outdated education modules with a sense of urgency. We can’t stay complacent as self-driving cars and automated businesses are quickly replacing human resources. If we don’t take active measures there will be a resource apocalypse, which might lead to a ‘Terminator sort of situation’ where robots will be used as bodyguards and there will be no checks and measures in place for their legal litigation. People will fight amongst themselves, with machines to win their livelihood.
Do you think NYFA’s training was useful in terms of being able to create this documentary?
Absolutely, it is like assisting a movie with Stanley Kubrick. If you follow how they instruct and “walk you through” various technical nuances, you will develop a huge conceptual framework overnight. It is like a firsthand experience because they run you through all the litmus tests of past, present and future of filmmaking. I learned from NYFA how to stage a scene, how to convert my vision into telling my story with words and visuals. Like I said earlier, NYFA is a lifestyle; it is a fraternity where recommendations are made, where your teachers and former students all interact and integrate to create a future for you in media industry. With future of video so bright with Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube and MSM (Mainstream Media), I think I did myself the best favor of my life to enroll at NYFA. Every penny that I invested has given my 1000% returns and I am just in the second year of since graduating.
My teacher Brendan Davis at the LA campus taught me that ‘film is a collaborative art’ and it really helped me to liaise with people whom I interviewed for the documentary. I was cultured about the artist protocols in terms of getting work done on time and drawing the best talent out of voice-over talents who narrated my project. Without NYFA I wouldn’t have been able to bring it all together.
I also now provide stock footage to famous Video Blocks that outsource for more than 15 leading TV channels including Discovery, MTV and History.
How did your relationship with Amazon Prime come about?
Documentary is the next big thing. After winning several Oscars, Oliver Stone recently made a documentary about Putin for Showtime. Every evening I see at least one documentary on Amazon or Netflix. While Netflix distribution is rather lengthy, I sent my demo to Amazon Studios and got an instant approval. Amazon Studios is an amazing platform where you can DIY everything from script to approval and release.
Studying at NYFA I got the membership for Without a Box. Not only did I learn how the film industry in VOD age works, but I also learned how to submit my film to festivals across the globe in a tapeless format. My student film (that I wrote, directed & produced at NYFA) went on and got selected in the pro categories across the globe and got top spots in London Intl. Film Festival and various others. Building on that experience and response, I have now submitted this documentary in many Oscar qualifying film festivals. So I am keeping my fingers crossed for the next level.
Are you currently working on any other projects?
Yes, I am working on a psychological horror feature film, based in NY. I am using improv actors and special FX like Neon Demon to create a new wave feature project. The project named “Disowned” is starring Michael S. Benjamin and Heather Cole as the lead.
I am also covering IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) Awards on July 16, 2017 at MetLife Stadium, New Jersey. IIFA is the equivalent to Oscar for Bollywood film industry. I also provided press coverage to their conference at Sheraton Times Square on June 1, 2017 — live streaming from Mumbai.
Lastly, as a follow up to the script I wrote for the documentary, I have been offered a writing deal to the book covering the same theme but a step forward in terms of its criticality. “Automation vs. Autocracy.”