Rare is the individual whose ambition penetrates the threat of straying from the safe route to success.
Usually, the persuasive voice of reason is enough to convince a young Cleveland boy that he cannot make it in Hollywood. With age, most people would laugh in the face of their childhood dream of living in a private, science-fiction world amongst the stars and extraterrestrials.
But filmmaker Conrad Faraj is that rare individual.
Although, to be sure, the private, science-fiction world may be an exaggeration. Faraj tells Scene, “Most days, I send emails, make phone calls, wait on phone calls, write, re-write, create schedules, network. But on the good days, I make films for a living.”
So he's not the shiny, pre-packaged version of the American Dream—does that even exist anymore? No, he is what’s left of it. He stands on the brink of making it big with the dark circles under his eyes and an expanse of battered projects as proof of the hard work it takes to pull oneself over the barricades of false meritocracy.
In the debris of the broken American Dream, Faraj embodies the truncated version of every twentysomething’s aspirations: to be self-made and independent.
Born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Faraj moved to Avon in 2008 on the eve of his 18th birthday. In 2014, Faraj took the plunge of moving to Los Angeles, where he could earn proper funding and be around similarly passionate people, knowing that he would never be taken seriously in the Midwest.
“I’m just like every other person trying to make it into the big leagues, all it takes is that one project," he says. "The key to getting these projects made is constant networking and Los Angeles is the current key-holder.”
The pursuit to make it may not have been smooth, but it has been constant. Faraj first fell in love when he picked up a camera at age 12; he's barely put it down since.
“Throughout the last 10 years I’ve made over 100 projects ranging from shorts to features to documentaries and even music videos,” he says. “If anyone digs deep into the depths of the Internet, they may even find my first few films—which may also be the worst films of all time.”
Omitted from his modest statement is the slew of awards such films have won.
Most recently, Faraj’s Little Thieves was named Best Sci-Fi Short at the 2015 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and was named an Official Selection at the 2015 Los Angeles CineFest. Other productions have been accepted into countless competitive film festivals, including Scarefest, Indie Gathering International Film Festival and UnCut Film Festival.
Not bad for a 24-year-old self-taught filmmaker who abandoned college after attending the University of Toledo for one year, deciding it was not the path for him.
“I am a very hands on person, and I felt that the University wasn't operating at my same pace. We weren't even allowed to use cameras until the end of our second year,” he says. “I learned everything thanks to DVD bonus materials, books and of course, the Internet. In many ways, all of these things were collectively my own private film school.”
This month, Faraj will return to Cleveland for his next project, Fighting the Sky, a sci-fi feature film that follows UFO fanatics.
“I’m finally going to be tackling one of my absolute favorite genres. Its the kind of film I would pay $10.50 to go see in the theater, so in essence, I’m making something my 12-year-old self would hopefully be inspired by,” Faraj says
Being back in Cleveland, of course, is a plus.
“What I miss most about Cleveland is the people. Everyone is playing the rat race in LA, whereas in Cleveland, you get a strong sense of community. It gives you a certain amount of perspective leaving your town for a while,” he says.
And Cleveland has given Faraj a fair amount of love in return. In August 2014 The Wind is Watching premiered in front of a sold-out audience of 350 people at Tower City Cinemas.
“[It was] probably the most exhilarating moment of my life; I had dedicated two years of my life to The Wind is Watching,” he says.
Faraj hopes Clevelanders can see Fighting the Sky in theaters by the end of 2016.
In the meantime, viewers can look out for his grindhouse film, The Brave Souls Who Fought Against the Slave Vampire Women, to become available on all major streaming platforms—including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime—by fall 2015.