After graduating from University of British Columbia with a BFA in Film Production, Wahid Ibn Reza applied to 84 different film studios in search of a job. All of them turned him down. He used to work at a call centre on campus to make his ends meet. He got his first break working as a production assistant for the animation studio Bardel.
"My friends in Canada suggested that the Animation/VFX studios were hiring a lot of people. So, I put in my hat for the position of an unpaid intern which soon got upgraded to production assistant. As a production assistant, I would have to clear out the garbage, load and unload the dishwasher, make coffee and do other menial tasks," Wahid said.
But these days would soon be over.
Today Wahid is one of the veteran VFX production managers working in Hollywood movies, currently working on 'Spiderman: No Way Home' along with blockbusters like 'Game of Thrones', 'Batman v Superman', 'Captain America: Civil War', 'Guardians of the Galaxy 2' and many others in his resume.
Wahid is the director of a short film titled, 'Surviving 71' (filming). He is also working on another short film as a writer for the 12-times Oscar winner the National Film Board of Canada.
Wahid completed his BSc in Mechanical Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and then went on to pursue BFA in Film Production at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
Interestingly, becoming a film-maker was not Wahid's childhood dream. He wanted to become an engineer.
"My uncle was an engineer and he used to send me toy cars as gifts. As a four-year-old toddler, it was a big deal for me. So, I was told that I could get these cars if I became an engineer," Wahid reminisced.
Ironically, his love for filmmaking flourished during his time at BUET.
"I was a student of Mechanical Engineering at BUET. In my second year, we made a short film for the cultural programme. I was a writer for the film. Back then, we didn't have digital cameras. We only used handycams. Much to my surprise, everyone loved the film. People practically sat on the floor to get a glance at the show. It was an absolute scene. That's when I decided I want to pursue film-making." Wahid shared gleefully.
"When I first joined as a production assistant, I was looking for an opportunity to showcase my talent. But my manager told me that it would take me up to noon to complete all the tedious tasks he assigned me and I would not have time to do anything else. But I finished all the tasks within 10 AM and kept asking for more. That's when he decided to give me a chance to work with the production crew of 'Rick and Morty.'"
"Initially, I was taught to format the backgrounds that were required for the animation of the show. They suggested I should be able to do at least 10 to 12 graphics per hour. I started doing 25 to 30! They were reasonably impressed and thought it was not wise to waste my talents on making coffees."
Later on, he got an offer to work as a production coordinator for the Dreamworks movie 'Puss in Boots, but he wanted to work on the second season of 'Rick and Morty'.
Unfortunately, that didn't work out. Eventually, Wahid joined the Moving Picture Company as a Visual Effects Coordinator for "Game of Thrones." After that, he never looked back.
He went on to work as the Visual Effects coordinator for several blockbusters like 'Furious 7', 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice', 'Captain America: Civil War', 'Doctor Strange' and so on.
Wahid claimed himself to be a comic-book nerd. Understandably, he sought out to work on Comic-book movies.
"Since my mother was a lawyer, she used to leave me at my granny's place when she went to work. My uncle had a large collection of comic books. So, at a very early age, I fell in love with comic books."
"Even before I knew what America was, I grew to love Captain America. I used to run around with the bucket lid, pretending it was my shield. So, when I got the opportunity to work for 'Captain America: Civil War', it was an iconic feeling for me."
Working for 'Doctor Strange' and 'Guardian of the Galaxy: Volume 02' was a whole different ball game for Wahid. The visuals in Doctor Strange heavily prioritised the out-of-body surreal experiences of the Wizard.
On the other hand, bringing CGI characters like Rocket and Groot to the big screen and making it appear realistic was a difficult challenge.
He said, "I used to come to the office at 9 AM and would work till 2 Am. It became so difficult that I had to rent a place opposite the studio just to get some sleep. But it was all worth it when we got two back-to-back Oscar nominations in the VFX category."
Wahid claimed that the creative environment in Hollywood was much different than that of Bangladesh.
"Over here, everything is very structured and you have to be part of the system to get somewhere in your career. The studio I work for is huge and they operate on a whole other level. So, you cannot compare. It's relatively easier to pursue independent projects in Bangladesh compared to Hollywood. Although some do undertake independent projects, the ratio is quite low."
Another major difference to Wahid was the sheer volume of the projects he worked on. As he said, "The budget for the VFX team in our studio for 'Batman v Superman' was $42 million. All the movies made in Bangladesh combined in a year may not have such a huge budget. It's insane."
Wahid also felt that Hollywood was more rewarding of hard work and perseverance in comparison to Bangladesh where many roadblocks hinder personal development.
"When I was in Bangladesh, I was fortunate to work with a lot of prominent film-makers. Most people do not get such opportunities. But there is a caveat. I wouldn't call it racism. But I had to work ten times harder than my native counterparts to prove my worth, to break the so-called 'glass ceilings.'"
Wahid also had some recommendations for the Bangladeshi film industry, especially in light of the introduction of multiple OTT platforms. He felt that these were encouraging signs given the deplorable condition of content distribution in the country.
"I believe one of the major problems with Bangladeshi contents has to do with distribution. For instance, I don't know if people would be willing to or able to watch Saad's (Abdullah Mohammad Saad) film (Rehana Maryam Noor) that went to Cannes this year.
I saw how Towkir Ahmed had to release his film on YouTube after it 'failed' in the cinema halls. Even commercial films are suffering because of poor distribution. So, investors are losing confidence and theatres are being shut down," said Wahid.
Wahid didn't claim to have a solution, but he had certain expectations. As he said, "The process of distribution should be made easier. The rise of OTT platforms is encouraging. At the same time, a lot of multiplexes are being built as well. But all of these platforms should prioritise Bangla contents so our creators -independent or commercial- at least get an opportunity to show their films to the audience."
Wahid also recommended the development of film studios with well-defined, structured roles that would ameliorate the chaotic condition in the Bangladeshi film industry.
Wahid applauded the commendable efforts of the brave and young directors, writers and producers like Mabrur Rashid Bannah, Ashfaque Nipun, Adnan Al Rajeev among others, who are trying to put up quality content on the OTT platforms.
Finally, he shared his recommendations for the upcoming writers and directors of Bangladesh. He argued that we no longer had any excuses to not pursue our dreams of film-making, especially with the remarkable development and accessibility of technology.
"Mobile phone cameras are so good nowadays you can shoot a film with them. You can easily make an animation with your personal computer. There are unlimited resources online. You can at least get the basic rights. Even if you don't have a connection, just upload your stuff on YouTube. Also, remember that it's important to keep watching quality content. It goes a long way."