FTS (17) (Large)

When I met Ian Ebright, filmmaker of From The Sky, a new short narrative drama currently doing the festival circuit, I underestimated what to expect from his film, which he simply described as “a film about drones.¨ Indeed it is, but the film represents so much more, and after seeing it for the first time at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, I knew I had to tap into the mind of the person who created this compelling piece. I was anxious to see what made this filmmaker tick. How did such a well crafted, well directed, acted, shot, produced, and edited film with a beautiful story set in the Middle East (the dialogue is all in Arabic), come from the imagination of an unassuming young man who does not speak a word of Arabic and had never previously left the West Coast of the United States (prior to his premiere at the Rhode Island International Film Festival)?

What I learned was, Ian had studied filmmaking at the Seattle Film Institute but waited thirteen years to make his first film, From The Sky, which he wrote and directed after raising $20,000 (2/3’s of the film’s budget) on Kickstarter.com.  He has since quit his job at a Real Estate Advisory firm to become a full time filmmaker (he currently has a feature script in development).  In conversation, Ian told me he wants to be a filmmaker who makes films that matter.  I respect and admire this.  He mentioned that a few years back, after the war on terror was full blown, he began reading everything, and realized, the world is not as black and white as we sometimes are led to believe.  It sparked something that fuels him to this day – a hunger for knowledge, a thirst to tell stories that benefit humanity while entertaining on a high quality level.  His film, From The Sky does this. image 1

For one, it inspired me to go out and research the very thing that embarked Ian on this particular filmmaking journey – the U.S. Drone presence in Pakistan (among other countries in the region). Research led to an NYU/Standford published study entitled, “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan“, which states, “From June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicates that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.” (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism).

What Ian’s film does is show the human relations aspect and every day repercussions of these statistics. His film centers around a father and son who are making their way to the nearest town to sell some goats. The 17 year old son is fixated on counting the drones up above. What follows are a series of decisions father and son must make after encountering recruiters from a nearby terrorist cell.

‘From the Sky’ is the award-winning debut from writer/director Ian Ebright. The narrative short is the story about a humble father and his troubled son struggling to cope with the effect of drones in the Middle East. Called “gripping, contrarian, poignant,” and drawing inspiration from the films of Werner Herzog and Peter Weir, ‘From the Sky’ is a film about rites of passage, the cycle of retaliation, and the cost of peace.


I interviewed Ian about the inspiration and creative process behind making this film. Here are some excerpts:

Stephanie Gardner: What inspired you to make From The Sky

Ian Ebright: It began by reading the reporting and research on drone strikes and was continued by the fact that I had a son on the way. I couldn’t shake that there were ordinary people, regular families over in the Middle East and Asia including fathers and sons, trying to craft a life but caught in this traumatic environment that we would never accept if it were happening to us.

Stephanie Gardner: Talk about your creative process.

Ian Ebright: One of the things that was a clear right away was that I not only desired but needed collaborators in the truest sense of the word, filmmakers and other creatives who were not just top-notch talents, but thoughtful and kind. My creative process is surrounding myself with these kinds of men and women and pushing the material and each other to better places. Before they arrive, my personal process looks like trial and error, and a lot of work. I anticipate writing and rewriting, interviews, research, and feedback. ‘From the Sky’ was a few drafts to get to where it was ready to share, and about 20 drafts between that and the shooting script. The temptation is that we writers keep what we have in conversation mode and on the feedback loop, and end up stalling out. So there’s a tension between a craftsman-like approach to refining and improving the material, being about the work, and on the other end a mindfulness that you have to risk and push to the next stage. The tension between perfection or control, and rushing to finish and having the film suffer as a result. These next steps are only possible if the resources are available, and this project was blessed to see things come together quickly for which I can’t take credit. ‘From the Sky,’ with its language and cultural barriers, had the added challenge of credibility in an environment that wasn’t my home. We greatly benefited from Middle Eastern advisers, interpreters, and fluent Arabic-speaking actors who were not only at the top of their game but also believed in the project and brought that thoughtful, passionate quality. The family vibe that we had was not only a thrill to be a part of, but in the case of this film, it was essential.

Stephanie Gardner: What do you hope to inspire in others?

Ian Ebright: I define success as a film that stays with people, that causes them to think, and brings about an emotional response. I’m not particularly concerned about what that emotional response looks like, because people are in different places. Some might find hope and courage and others anger or despair, and in either case, I’ve done my job. But I also don’t want to imply that the film is a Rorschach test designed to confirm what people want to find. It’s an ambiguous and complicated film if we’ve achieved what we set out to do, but it’s also pointed, and challenges the way each side feels justified in acts of violence, and how that will never end unless someone lays down the sword and says “enough.” Drones and war are the backdrop, but I hope this film speaks more broadly, because we’re in a time in the West when simplistic views and division rule the day, and we employ sophisticated methods for marginalizing those who aren’t like us in terms of faith, or politics, or race, or gender, and so on. We’re learning to close our ears and to be proud of our moral supremacy, and that’s a climate which doesn’t require violence to do lasting harm.


Ian Ebright Bio:

Ian Ebright (Writer/Director/Producer) spent his late teens and early 20s as a film critic and journalist for websites in New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle before moving on to study directing, cinematography, and editing at Seattle Film Institute. During his time there, Ian co-directed a 16MM student short film. He then focused on completing multiple screenplays over several years.

Ian’s debut is the narrative short film ‘From the Sky’ (2014), which he wrote and directed. The film won the Grand Prize International Humanitarian Award at the 2014 Rhode Island International Film Festival, where it was an Official Selection. ‘From the Sky’ was also chosen as an Official Selection at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, 2014 Newport Beach Film Festival, and other film festivals across the U.S. ‘From the Sky’ stars Maz Siam (Argo, Scandal, The Mindy Project) and Mohamad Tamimi.


 Through The Frame… is a weekly column by filmmaker Stephanie Gardner, which focuses on the art of inspiration and introduces readers to independent talents, who meaningfully engage with society through their creative work.  Each week we bring you highlights from independent artists in a variety of mediums, who’s work we feel inspired by, and aim to further explore their sources of inspiration.

0461 Stephanie Low resStephanie Gardner is a New York City based writer and director for theater and film.  Stephanie has written, directed and produced over fourteen short films, including And If I Stay, a dark romantic drama shot in Montreal. Stephanie is a graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied in Singapore and received an MFA in Screenwriting.  She has a B.A. from The George Washington University in Dramatic Literature, Music, & Creative Writing.  View her work at thestephaniegardner.com.



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