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New American Film School graduate finds hope in the classroom

Student encouraged after sharing experiences with mental illness

December 07, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates. 

Accomplished students are frequently asked about their “aha moments,” when they discovered their path in life. But few of those students experience “aha moments” as life-altering as the one that Michael Hasan faced.

Hasan, who is graduating this month from the New American Film School at Arizona State University, faced a crisis in his freshman year and found meaning in a class that helped to change his life.

“My freshman year, in my first semester, I was suicidal,” he said.

He was taking a course called “The Filmmaker’s Voice,” and about a month after the crisis, he talked about it during class.

“I was surprised to find out that people were a lot more responsive than I expected. They said, ‘You should tell your story and you should be open about it because a lot of people are ashamed or afraid to talk about it,’” he said.

“Having that support made it easier to go through the mental health issues I was going through and that I still have,” said Hasan, who was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.

“That class changed everything for me.”

Hasan, an outstanding graduate in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, is graduating with a degree in film and media production with a focus on directing. Originally, he thought he would be a screenwriter.

“I didn’t want to be somebody well known. I thought I would just have my name appear in the credits,” he said.

“But now, I want you to know that ‘I did this.’ That class changed the trajectory of my life more than I expected it to,” he said.

Hasan, who's worked as a community assistant in the dorms, answered some questions from ASU Now.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: Like most people, pricing was a factor for me. I started looking at film schools, and the others were really expensive. Plus, I saw this as a rising film school, and it’s really grown since I’ve been here.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My freshman year I wrote a script for a director who wanted to direct a movie about somebody with schizophrenia. I’ve had struggles with mental health so I used my own experience and put a lot of work into it. The director cut half the script and completely changed the direction of the film. I was upset about it and thought, "How do I prevent this from happening in the future?" And that’s when I decided I wanted to direct.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: All of my professors made a huge difference. I’ve had some professors tell me, "This idea wouldn’t work in a professional setting because it’s not commercial." I hated hearing that at first but now I understand where they’re coming from. The entire film industry is a business.

The professor who made the biggest difference would be the one who taught “The Filmmaker’s Voice,” Tiffany Lopez. Because of that class, I took another one that she taught, “What Hamilton Means To Me,” about bridging the gap between musical theater and other arts. I got to learn a lot more about music. And she’s always been very encouraging about all of my projects.

Q: What kind of movies do you want to make?

A: I want to make dramas. Although I don’t feel like I can write or direct them, I do like romantic dramas. My capstone film, "Friendless," is about friendship. I like to analyze relationships and how friendships are affected by things people do and say. I like family movies where the bond is strengthened, like “The Incredibles.” My favorite movie is “Last Flag Flying,” which is about (the characters) rebuilding their friendship on the way to burying one of their sons. It sounds really sad but it’s heartwarming and I like that.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: For film students, it would be, "Make sure what you’re studying is really what you want to do." They should try all the positions because they won’t know what they want until they try it. I wanted to be a screenwriter, but once I tried directing, I never looked back.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: It’s the James Turrell work, “Skyspace: Air Apparent.” I go all the time at night. I found it my freshman year. The lights change color like the lights at the Memorial Union, and even with the lights you can still see the stars and the moon. It’s really cool.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Although I’m done with the film degree, I’m going to study theater for the next semester, and after that I’m going to try to move to California to work on some film sets. I’m looking at a position for a set production assistant. I still need to learn a lot more about how a feature film set works.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve a problem, what would you tackle?

A: I really admire what (actor) Jaden Smith is doing in regard to water infrastructure, helping people in places like Flint, Michugan, who don’t have access to clean water. I would find ways to purify water more efficiently, campaigning to get cities and towns to repair their water facilities. It’s a serious issue.

Top photo courtesy Michael Hasan

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