Film Producer Nebal Shafi Speaks of his Creative Aspirations and Pursuing a Career in the Industry

by Farah Baig

Thu, 25 April 2024

Nebal Shafi is a visionary film producer based in Los Angeles (LA) whose recent short films garnered attention at film festivals. In a recent conversation with Farah Baig, he shares his journey towards filmmaking, and sheds light on his award-winning short films and career aspirations.

Having been born in south India and raised in the Middle East, Nebal Shafi’s passion for filmmaking is one that transcends borders. Eighteen years of his formative years were spent in Saudi Arabia where he grew up watching movies and visiting the Kingdom of Bahrain with his family every weekend for some quality time at the theatre. “We would watch a lot of movies but I never thought that I would actually get into the industry; I was just a mesmerised member of the audience,” says Nebal.

When pursuing his higher education, he initially veered towards Engineering but soon realised it wasn’t quite for him. “I soon opted for an undergraduate degree in Communication and Journalism, but the real turning point that piqued my interest in film making was through the elective subject Film Studies. One of my professors had mentioned that every single thing that you see on screen has been put there intentionally and that just changed my mind,” he reminisces.

Passion Projects
After exploring acting and dance, Nebal was ultimately enticed by the movement of cameras which led him to produce his first short film – Joann – which explored schizophrenia. This film was shortlisted in the top 20 list among 150 teams at the Frame of Mind film festival, organised by the Schizophrenia Research Foundation Chennai (SCARF).

“It was the shortlisting of Joann which drove me to pursue my career in the industry further. I felt like I have something in me that needed to be explored,” he says. “So, for the next two years, and until I graduated, I created short form content including short films, music videos and commercials.”

Big screen aspirations require big moves, so driven further by his passion and his thirst for inspiration, Nebal applied to film academies across the UK, the USA and Canada. “I was accepted by four of them, and with the encouragement of my family pursued my MFA of Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy in LA,” he says.

“This was an extensive and hands-on programme so it is here that I understood the full scope of the industry and was given the opportunity to explore various roles that culminate to projects to the big screen. The teachers were incredible, especially Nick Sivakumaran who was a wonderful teacher who taught me a lot. It was a pivotal part of my journey,” he explains.

While Nebal is now quite well versed at scriptwriting, acting, directing and other aspects of filmmaking, he has found his true calling in production. “I have an interest in telling stories that inspire me. I want the world to see them, be inspired and moved by them. For me, the power of having that effect lies behind the camera as opposed to in front of it,” he believes.

Of the projects that he has worked on, he is proudest of Flower which he finished shooting in January and is currently in post-production. “It has come closest to my vision as a director and producer,” he says.

According to Nebal, Flower is a psychological thrilled film which most viewers will be able to relate to, especially those who live in LA. It explores the move of an introverted person in his early 20s who is seeking independence, but not everything goes according to plan as he is left to deal with his deranged upstairs neighbour whose actions are quite unsettling.

“There are two other films which were quite significant to me: Cross and Inspired. Cross was directed by a long-term friend of mine, was heavily reviewed and won a lot of film festivals aside from being screened at small theatres here. The second one, Inspired, which I directed, produced and wrote was a long project which I shot in 2021 for which post production was completed just a couple of months back.  Inspired is still going through its festival run, but it has already won awards across India, Sweden and Italy,” he elaborates.

Here are some of the awards and nominations that Nebal has received in 2024 alone:

Cross - 2024 Nominee for Best Short Film at Riverside International Film Festival

Cross – 2024 Nominee Best Drama Short Film Award at Top Shorts Film Festival

Cross- 2024 Nominee Monthly Edition Award at Crown Wood International Film Festival

Cross – 2024 Winner Best Drama Film at Monza Film Fest

Cross – 2024 Winner Best Short Film at Mokkho International Film Festival

Inspired – Best Thriller at Crown Wood International Film Festival (India)

Inspired – Best Thriller at Swedish International Film Festival (Sweden)

Inspired – 2024 Winner Best Thriller Short Film at Tamizhagam International Film Festival

Inspired – 2024 Winner Best Action/Thriller at Reale Film Festival (Italy)

Inspired - 2024 Nominee Psychological Distress Award at Film Basement Horror Film Awards

Inspired – 2024 Nominee Best Horror at Virginia Emerging Filmmakers Festival

Inspired – 2024 Nominee Best Thriller Short Film at Birsamunda International Film Awards

Greed – 2024 Winner Short Film Award at Film Basement Horror Film Awards

The Move Forward
Nebal intends to explore his creativity in the horror and psychological genre, but is currently working on a script for a drama feature film called The Back Benchers, the screenplay for which was completed under the supervision of award-winning screenwriter and director Kevin Dinovis. As for festival runs, some of his films have been submitted for consideration and he intends to aim for Tier 1 and Tier 2 festivals in the near future. 

“In terms of producing I always assumed that producers are largely related to investing funds into movies but they are the spine of the project – they find the director, the project, the cast, the crew and everything aside form creating the budget and schedule. My path now is to keep producing more movies so I can get better at my craft,” he says.

“I would primarily like to find a story that I'm really passionate about since there are so many writers here in LA and around the world. I also have a lot of friends with great stories so I’d love to help them find an investor and make sure it actually happens. Finding that project, the investor and somehow getting that movie out to the world is a very cathartic feeling. I think that’s what I really want to do at the moment,” he concludes.

A selection of Nebal’s films can be found on IMDb while the rest will soon be available on his website which is currently going through a revamp.