Sharoz Makarechi is Coming to a Theater Near You

1) on set of BIG FAN with Director, DP and Editor

Currently, ADC Member Sharoz Makarechi is directing a documentary called Improvised, the story of America’s first comedy club, The Improv, and also co-producing a parallel TV project, their 50th anniversary special. We get sneak preview, find out more about her cinematic experience, and learn how she got here.
ADC: How long have you been working on this project?

Sharoz Makarechi: More than a year on the documentary and about 6 months on the Special.

ADC: What else have you directed?

Sharoz: I directed short episodic pieces, a few commercials, a lot of brand narratives and anthems over the years, part of running Think Tank 3. Sometimes clients didn’t have the budgets to hire a traditional production company for spots, and I was always interested in directing or telling stories on film in general—just not in a position to go to film school or otherwise sure how to pursue it. My first feature film was Big Fan, which I art directed. I had read the script years before and loved it, got it, felt it. The writer, Robert Siegel was a first time director, coming off a big hit, having written The Wrestler—we kept the momentum going. My official title was production designer on Big Fan.

2) SHAROZ wrapping BIG FAN with Robert Siegel and Patton Oswalt

ADC: What does a production designer do on a feature film like Big Fan?

Sharoz: Basically, everything because it’s an indie and you’re looking to make the most of found locations and despite budget limitations want to tell a great story. Technically, as a production designer you’re the head of the art department but on an indie there are days that you ARE the art department so what I did was production design AND art direction AND set decoration AND props AND whatever else was necessary on any given day. But I worked closely with the director, and other crew as necessary, at least one who I hired specifically for her overall competence and stoic demeanor… Other than the actors, everything that is in a frame involves the art director, so you work closely with the director, and the DP and producers and talent between takes to figure out the best way to bring a scene to life, based on understanding a character, essentially the visual systems and overall look for the film.

3) SHAROZ Sundance with Jean Kouremetis

ADC: Are there any skills from advertising that are applicable to film making, especially now that you are directing a documentary?

Sharoz: Yes, thinking about how people behave, what their motivations are, what the subtext of what they’re saying is, understanding people or trying to, in general, have always been a part of advertising. The better advertising always has layers of story, whether it’s a print ad or a series of commercials, or a series of webisodes. A good piece of communication is telling layers and layers of story. How it looks, what the words are and what the shape of it is, where it’s placed, its timing—all of those skills are adaptable to film, albeit more so to narrative feature film which allows for more consistent deliberate decision making than documentary.

You learn to be reductive in advertising. That’s good in film, and TV too, because a lot of audiences appreciate stories that move fast, with quick dialogue or lots of twists. At first, I was excited to have more time to play with than 30 seconds, but soon I was going back to my roots of getting to the point for impact.

Then there are things from advertising I had to un-learn, things that are totally NOT adaptable to film as well. I thought I was thinking more deeply about people than I actually was when crafting a commercial or series of some sort for advertising. The truth is there was never time or a need to go that deep. Now, when getting to know a character, I have to be a lot more patient, not jump to conclusions or categorize them or their POV too quickly or at all. Specifically with documentary, I don’t know what I’m going to get from one visit or interview to the next; I know what I want to capture but the storyline can shift unpredictably, which can be fun, or discomfiting, just depends on the day.

4) SHAROZ receiving award for BIG FAN from Rutger Hauer

ADC: How did you get involved with Improvised?

Sharoz: My partner on the project is Zoe Friedman, who is the daughter of The Improv founders, so we have direct access to the origin story from a very personal perspective. Essentially, Zoe followed in the family business. Stand-up and comedy is really her life. She calls herself, a second generation comedy nerd. I refer to her as comedy royalty as well a trusted partner. For years, she would drop stories about famous funny people she met growing up in the club, some of whom she later worked with professionally. I found that intersection totally unique.

For example, she grew up with Jay Leno coming to her house for dinner or spending nights when he was traveling from Boston to perform at the NY club in the early days. Her parents would say things like, “If you don’t eat your vegetables, your chin’s going to grow like Jay Leno’s.” Or she went bunny-hopping through Times Square with Andy Kaufman as a kid, or she watched Larry David walk off stage mid-set.

She knew her life was different and interesting, but I don’t think she knew how unique her perspective and the club’s role in so many entertainers lives were until we really started developing the film outline. Now, we’re half way done with our interviews for the project with people whose careers took off after being part of The Improv family, and it’s even more clear what an impact the place had on stand-up comedy and beyond that to comedy in popular culture. Jerry Seinfeld asked Larry David to work with him on a show idea at the NY club; Judd Apatow met Adam Sandler at LA club; Chris Albrecht was a manager in NY before becoming head of HBO, and; Les Moonves was a bar tender in the LA club before moving on and up at CBS. I’m pretty obsessed with the story of the family and their club’s impact on pop culture at this point and generally drawn to stories where personal lives intersect with societal shifts.

5) Sharoz, Zoe and Jerry Seinfeld after interview

6) Sharoz and Russell BRAND onset post IMPROV interview

ADC: Do you have anything else you want to share with ADC Community?

Sharoz: This is a little personal but when I was at the School of Visual Arts, Art Directors Club was one of the first places where I showed my portfolio and got a scholarship too; I was a design major, then an advertising major. This place, not this physical location, but ADC itself was supportive of me as someone just hungry to tell stories in different formats: design, advertising, movies… Now after years of being away from the club, I’m curating some of BUTTER film nights, have my own docs and narrative projects lined up to share as well, plus taking on brand development work with new eyes, all of which seems connected and right; feels like home.

Are you as excited for Improvised as we are? Follow Sharoz’s progress this summer via Twitter an catch some behind-the-scene pics on her instagram!