I’d suggest to all filmmakers to make films that help to increase diversity while working to bring people together; Films that showcase the strength of the American Dream. Often many people here in the states take too many things for granted, however, others that are looking in from the outside are able to see the potential the U.S. has. Let’s continue to share that dream with the world.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make Film and TV more representative of the US population, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ali Afshar. Ali is a Hollywood producer, actor, and race car driver. He was born in Iran and then raised in the Sonoma Mountains of Petaluma in Northern California after moving with his family at a young age. After graduating high school, Ali relocated to Los Angeles to focus his attention on his dream of acting while putting himself through college. During his acting career he landed roles in “Saved By The Bell,” “Three Kings”, “Godzilla”, HBO’s “Guardian,” “The Siege,” and “Saving Grace” Later on he earned recurring roles in “The King Of Queens,” “Power Rangers,” and “JAG,” and leading and supporting roles in CBS movies “The Presidents Man: A Line in the Sand,” “Homeland Security,” and “He’s Just Not That Into You.” While pursuing his acting career, he also founded Easy Street Motorsports (also known as ESX), an automotive performance facility and race team. Eventually, this leads him to earn a spot racing for Subaru of America for over 7 years as a factory-backed team. ESX became a 2 Time NHRA National & World Champion Team, 18 Time NHRA event champion, 2005 Rally America Champion (with Rocket Rally) and a world record holder for the quickest and fastest Subaru in the world. Ali also created the exclusive and highly anticipated “Ali Afshar Signature Series” line of Aston Martin and Subaru vehicles that are sold directly through Subaru and Aston Martin dealerships across the nation. His combined love of acting and racing came together in 2010 when Ali produced his first full-length feature titled “Born To Race”, releasing internationally in 2011 and domestically in 2012, exceeding expected sales around the world. Ali expanded his producing endeavors as “ESX Productions” with another auto-based film titled “Born to Race FAST TRACK” and then commercials for Subaru and Aston Martin vehicles and promotional events, BFGoodrich, Mitsubishi, and a music video for “American Idol” finalist “Katelyn Epperly”. In 2014, Ali’s ESX Entertainment partnered with Forrest Lucas of the Lucas Oil empire. Their goal was to create a slate of dramatic feature films including “American Wrestler: The Wizard”, a true story based on his heritage. Iranian immigrants who lived in the USA during the hostage crisis who faced prejudice and discrimination but found their way towards success in the face of the adversity. It is an inspirational, uplifting tale of how American hopes and dreams can be achieved. In 2018 Ali and Forrest Lucas launched the new “Forrest Films” film producing and distributing company with a slate seven films under the new brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Ali! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
You could say it was long road. I was born in Iran, moved to London then ended up here in the US. My mother was diagnosed with cancer and Iran went thru a revolution at the same time, so we had to leave Iran. My mother was a prominent Iranian (Persian) poet and lyricist, so I grew up in recording studios surrounded by creativity, musicians and artists. After my mother passed away in 1989, I was in high school so I turned my focus into cars and street racing as well as wrestling. Both of which we later made movies about! Those years were tough, but with booking acting jobs here and there, street racing and fixing up old hot rods and reselling them, I put myself thru college at Cal State Northridge. After college, I raced professionally, and occasionally still do, for Subaru of America. I had to take time off acting to tour and race with approximately 60 events a year, but I missed acting and decided to come back. However, I was now in a position and had made film financing friends, that then allowed me to combine my two worlds. Our first film, “Born to Race,” was produced soon after! That led ESX Motorsports to branch out into ESX Entertainment which ultimately folded into FORREST FILMS. And now we’re on our 15th film.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
You know I found it very interesting when I ran into Forrest Lucas, our now Executive Producer and financier, and saw how he, as an American born guy, and myself, an Iranian born American, share the same values and ethics seeing so perfectly eye to eye. You would think since we’re from literally opposite sides of the world, that we’d have different points of view. However we are totally in sync and our inspirational, American dream movies showcase those mutual values.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Auditioning! I used to be so nervous and worried about auditions. Auditions are tough, but now being on the other side for a while, it’s clear that neither side really knows exactly what to expect but everyone on both sides of the camera is really on the same team. I once had the opportunity to fly out to NYC for the first time on a call back with legendary director Sydney Lumet. I honestly hadn’t fully comprehended how legendary he really was prior to that moment, and I literally bombed the callback. I was so overwhelmed with the whole experience, I literally forgot everything at the moment and simply couldn’t get his direction thru my scared little head! Afterwards, I reflected on the experience and promised myself that something like that wouldn’t ever happen again!
Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
I would say our Forrest Films movies have very diverse and positive messages since the very beginning. We have over 5 films with female leads, two with African American leads and two with Middle Eastern leads. Our company is almost half women, in a wide array of positions from top to bottom, and our diverse sensibility had us creating family content with true to life characters, with respect to gender and race, well before it was fashionable to do so. I feel proud that we’ve cast our films with diversity in mind for years.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
Other than myself, I feel a lot of Iranian and/or Iranian Americans see our success as a beacon of hope. The Iranian culture traditionally doesn’t think of acting or film making as a valid career option for their children. Most often it’s usually expected that you pursue a career as a doctor or a lawyer (heck even I have a degree in Biology/Pre Med). I have seen a tremendous amount of Iranian Americans finding the courage and hope to enter this field, or not give up if they’re already working in the field when they find out I’m Iranian too.
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in film and television and its potential effects on our culture?
It’s important because America is a melting pot and what we see in the media and on our film/television needs to reflect the diversity in our society. I was born an Iranian-American but was given the opportunity to succeed and I want to give others the same opportunity to pursue the American Dream!
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
Make movies that resonate with certain communities and diverse groups of people in the country that are underrepresented in our industry.
Make movies with minority leads.
Make movies with stories that bring people together, like all of our FORREST FILMS.
These are three reasons you MUST have diversity in front of, and behind the camera.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Similar to our parent company Lucas Oil, I like to make everything feel like a family. I am the leader but give everyone a level of responsibility and freedom. We all listen to each other, every department has it’s say and we all work together, like a family. Some of us have been working together in some capacity or another for over 25 years.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Take chances, don’t’ be afraid. The producers and decision-makers are not necessarily any smarter then you are as an actor.
Write your own stories and produce your own content.
Don’t rely solely on the kindness of strangers.
Put yourselves in the shoes of other industry professional’s and see how your efforts in front of or behind the camera can help them achieve their goals.
Be honest, yes even in this industry.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d suggest all film makers to make some films that help to increase diversity while working to bring people together. Films that showcase the strength of the American Dream. Often many people here in the states take too many things for granted, however, others that are looking in from the outside are able to see the potential the U.S. has. Let’s continue to share that dream with the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
If you know me, you’ve heard this before. “Relationships over Results.” One of the top executives at Subaru of America who I race for taught me this years ago. ALWAYS build the relationship, don’t just go for the result.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Besides having breakfast with my boss, Forrest Lucas (who I get to eat with all the time), I’d like to meet the other Lucas — George Lucas. Needless to say, George Lucas is a tremendous inspiration and success story. Plus, he makes his films in Northern California, as we do!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are all @aliafsharesx.