“Timmy II” | Interview with Imran J. Khan

| February 18, 2015

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Timmy II is your average guy. He likes music, wishes he could change certain aspects of his appearance and is generally trying to find his place in the world. Oh, and he’s a robot. Timmy II is the comedic, relatable story of someone who just wants to, well, be normal. Made at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia, Imran J. Khan’s tale of a lost robot investigates race, family and the difficulties of the American experience.

Timmy II will screen as part of Cinequest’s Shorts Program 8: College Film Competition. We reached out to Imran via email to chat about robots and identity crises.

Imran J. Khan as Timmy II playing music at a coffee shop in Timmy II.

Imran J. Khan as Timmy II playing music at a coffee shop in Timmy II.

Tell us about yourself. How did you get into filmmaking?

I found my voice as a filmmaker in college where I began making comedic video skits about the Muslim American experience. At the time I was studying engineering, and filmmaking was just a hobby. YouTube was brand new and some of my videos went viral. After building a following online, I became increasingly serious about film as a career. I applied to film schools and, after I received my acceptance to NYU Tisch Asia, I made the decision to quit my engineering job.

Imran Khan as Timmy II awakens for the first time.

Imran Khan as Timmy II awakens for the first time.

Who is Timmy II? Tell us about the film.

Timmy II is a robot with an identity crisis. In a lot of ways he represents the multi-hyphenated American experience. Without giving too much of the plot away, he faces an absurd amount of adversity while simply trying to fit in.

Timmy II is deadpan, but you incorporate some real-life events in a poignant, funny and heartbreaking way. Can you tell us about incorporating reality into a fantastic, quasi-science fiction setting?

I love clashing the absurd/fantastical with real-world harshness. I think the more successful comedic moments in the film come out of slamming those two aspects together head-on.

One scene got to me:  a note is received that reads, “I’m human now, but the wrong kind I guess.” Tell us what this means to you.

Growing up Pakistani and Muslim in America, I’ve had quite a few moments where I’ve felt like an “other.” For me, that’s what that moment illustrates.

L to R: Kim S. Falck-Jørgensen as Adrian Cottle and Imran J. Khan as Timmy II.

L to R: Kim S. Falck-Jørgensen as Adrian Cottle and Imran J. Khan as Timmy II.

Tell us about working with your DP, Chris Vennemeyer. What was that relationship like?

Because Chris Vennemeyer also co-wrote the short with me, we had a very close collaboration throughout the production of Timmy II. While developing the script together, we talked a lot about the tone and style of [the film]. I also knew that he would be the best choice as a DP because he could monitor my performance when I was in front of the camera, which was almost every shot. As much as I would have liked to watch every take on playback, you rarely have the time on set to do it. As far as visuals, I think he did a fantastic job capturing the tone of the script and bringing it to life. We work really well together.

I love the crudity of the robot’s design. What went into it? Was it hard for you to get into costume?

Thank you. The credit for the costume goes to my Tisch Asia colleague, Enrique Unzueta-Miranda, and his assistants. They were able to whip it up from scratch in less than three days. It was almost a miracle. In fact, the first time I saw the costume in its entirety was the morning of the first day of production.

And yes, it was very difficult to put the costume on and to take it off. There was a point where my wife had to feed me lunch because there wasn’t enough time to take the robot hands off.

The Timmy II poster

The Timmy II poster

What was it like acting in your own film? What are some challenges of directing yourself?

It was honestly a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. It’s extremely difficult to direct from within a scene. You’re simultaneously keeping track of the film as a whole while trying to clear your mind and just think about the character you’re supposed to be playing. If we hadn’t meticulously drawn out storyboards for each shot of the film, I would have been utterly lost on set. I put a lot of trust in my DP to make sure I wasn’t totally off the mark. All that being said, I have a newfound respect for directors who star in their own films.

And oh yeah, it was really hard to breath through the robot head.

What do you think was the hardest part of your production? What came easy?

Because we only had four days to shoot the entire thing, the hardest part of the production was just getting all the shots we needed. Deciding what shots were crucial and what shots we could cut was a challenge.

As far as what came easy, it was mine and my DP’s first time working with green screen which we assumed would be really complicated but ended up being the smoothest part of the production. It was also something we could set up a day prior to shooting and without impinging on the shooting schedule. So in that sense, it wasn’t very stressful.

Phil Gruber as Roger Stern and his son’s beating heart in Timmy II.

Phil Gruber as Roger Stern and his son’s beating heart in Timmy II.

You wrote and performed ‘How I Feel’? What’s your musical background? What do you like to listen to?

Yeah, we shot the scene before I had a chance to come up with anything so after we were done with the production, I sat down with my guitar and, in one sitting, wrote and recorded the lyrics and music. In my mind it was a temp track that I was going to revise later, but people seemed to really like the song, so I just left it.

I went through a phase in college where I wanted to be in a band and spent way too much time playing guitar. That’s pretty much my entire musical background.

To be honest, I mostly just listen to public radio, haha.

Who influenced you as a filmmaker?

Growing up, I was heavily influenced by Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg and Michel Gondry. I consider myself a late bloomer in the sense that I didn’t have an interest in classical films until deep into adulthood. Film school exposed me to the work of a lot of brilliant directors that I would have likely never stumbled upon by myself, like Bresson and Antonioni.

Timmy II was partially influenced by a short film called Death to the Tinman by Ray Tintori, which was a Sundance favorite back in 2007. Another influence is the work of Wes Anderson.

Tell us about the NYU Tisch Asia experience.

It’s been really great being in such a tight knit film community out here in Singapore. I feel like studying film away from the U.S. has allowed me to focus on the craft of filmmaking while also broadening my worldview. There’s a specific kind of ambition at NYU Tisch Asia that’s infectious. Last year, I shot a film in Pakistan, which I doubt I would have ever done had I not been a student here.

Imran Khan, director of "Timmy II."

Imran Khan, director of Timmy II.

Advice for student filmmakers?

If you can’t make something look real in your movie, [then] incorporate the “fakeness” into the aesthetic and style of your film. I think there’s a tendency for student filmmakers to obsess over things looking “real” which can stifle their potential to develop a unique style.

And be ambitious. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone with every short film you make.

Imran J. Khan is a San Francisco Bay Area native and former biomedical engineer, comedian and YouTube personality. He is currently a graduate student at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Singapore completing his final year of coursework and post-production on his next short film The Drone and the Kid, which was filmed in Lahore, Pakistan. He is also developing an animated television show as well as two feature length scripts.

Like Timmy II on Facebook.

Follow Imran on Twitter

Timmy II screens as part of Cinequest’s Shorts Program 8: College Film Competition showcase on Thursday, March 5 @ 10:00 pm and Friday, March 6 @ 9:15 pm.

All screenings at Camera 12 Cinemas in San Jose, CA.

Click to read more Cinequest interviews.

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