Desert Dancer: Interview with Producer Parisa Dunn

Desert Dancer
Parisa Dunn is the producer of "Desert Dancer."

Parisa Dunn started her working on various docs for television before producing “Desert Dancer,” an award-winning film about brave dancer Afshin Ghaffarian.

The Londoner, who admits she gravitates largely towards projects that have a “compelling human story” in tow, is currently working on “The Green Dream,” a hot-button documentary about racial inequity in the cannabis industry.

In the following interview, Dunn speaks about the joys of being able to imitate a film, her past projects, and working with NBA All-star Caron Butler on her latest.

Meagan Meehan (MM): You’re from the UK, originally?

Parisa Dunn (PD): Yes, I’m a Londoner by origin, but the US is now home.

MM: And is there that you started your career as a producer?

PD: I cut my teeth running the productions of various documentary shows for Channel 4, Sky One and the Discovery Channel. Soon after I was accepted onto the Producer’s Programme at the London Film School and then worked as a producer on the movie Desert Dancer, which opened the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 2015 and was nominated for the Audience Award at the Edinburgh Film Festival amongst others. It sounds like a quick road but that was many years in a snap shot!

MM: How does one actually get into producing though? Like filmmaking, I imagine there’s training involved?

PD: It’s best to get hands on experience working on productions and work your way up to running the show. That way you know what to watch out for and the attention to detail that’s required. I did train specifically in Film Producing but after I’d gained plenty of experience working and being around both the film industry and TV. The training helped me to consolidate my skills and focus them, as well as meet some great industry comrades like my film school co-producer Raphaelle Delauche, who was just nominated for a Cesar Award in France.

MM: What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?

PD: I tend to be interested in both fiction and non-fiction, but both will often have an issue or a compelling human story at the heart of it. I’m currently in production on a documentary feature about the cannabis industry and I have other narrative projects in the pipeline. So, my projects are diverse and dynamic, but always have a keen audience or cover a hot topic.

MM: And like filmmakers and actors, have you had to juggle your producing career with another job?

PD: I’d say it’s different as a producer. You have more scope to initiate projects or take on work for hire on shows and other people’s projects, so I’ve always worked in production and producing jobs, even whilst developing my own projects.

MM: How have most of your projects come about – have you been hired to work on them or are you usually the one that initiates them?

PD: It’s been a mix across TV and Film projects I’ve worked on. You never know which project is going to fly so you’re often juggling a few at time. No matter what’s in production, I am always developing projects outside of that in both fiction and non-fiction. There are stories I’m really passionate about telling and it takes time getting them into shape, ready to go to market.

MM: Seems you don’t shy away from controversial topics either. Can you tell us about your work on Border Invasion?

PD: The series was at least a year of filming in several locations along the border with Mexico mostly and we had several directors out in the field continuously. There were some risks involved on that production due to working with undercover detectives and SWAT teams, who were going on drug busts and catching human traffickers. It wasn’t your ordinary shoot. I was running the show from the UK whilst dealing with our directors out in the field on the front line. It required a lot of planning, logistics and negotiating as well as continuous creative feedback from the edit to the teams on the ground. We were simultaneously editing whilst shooting so it was a constant process back and forth to get the best stories and compelling characters on camera.

MM: It was produced in 2011. There’d probably be even more to say about border security now, I imagine!?

PD: The border is a hot topic right now, yes. I’d be curious to know what the effect is on drug smuggling into the US now that Mexico is moving to legalize cannabis, and how that’s impacting law enforcement’s work in Texas, New Mexico and California?

MM: Do you try and choose dissimilar topics to tackle with every film or series?

PD: It’s really about how compelling the story is and sometimes it’s easier to work on a familiar topic and at other times it’s more interesting to work on something new. I’m a big fan of true stories in fiction and of compelling timely non-fiction. But I also love a story that’s pure imagination or includes magical realism. It just needs to have a strong central story and compelling characters.

MM: What are you currently working on?

PD: Right now I have several movies and a TV series, based on a true story, that are in the works. I’m also currently in production on a documentary feature, The Green Dream, which I’m producing with Caron Butler, former NBA All-Star and L.A. Lakers player. The film looks at the racial inequity in the billion $ cannabis industry and stark juxtaposition of people still incarcerated in illegal states for simple possession, whilst others are making millions. It’s becoming a hot topic as legalization galvanizes support across more US states.

MM: Where do you hope to be in ten years?

PD: Within that time, I aim to be in a strong position to help young producers and filmmakers rise up the ranks. I believe that supporting new talent in the industry is vital to the health and success of this business. I recall in one of the early years I attended the Cannes Film Festival a keynote seminar for women discussed the fact that only 7% of directors and 20% of producers were women. Not much changed with that statistic until perhaps this year. I hope that in the next decade we finally turn a corner when it comes to female filmmakers and career opportunity and find ourselves in a more balanced industry.

MM: Do you have any advice for others wishing to pursue a career in producing?

PD: My advice would be to find your best team mates first and then find great projects. The team is the most important. Work on other people’s shows and films and learn your craft from the inside. It’s tempting to leapfrog straight into producing but at some point you need to learn from those who came before you so you can avoid ‘rookie’ mistakes, especially when you’re responsible for everything including the budget. Even a training course is never the same as the real job. The best approach is to surround yourself with great talent and people you work well with. Then, you can make anything!

* * * * *

To learn more about Parisa, visit IMDB.