The late, great singer-songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone once said that “an artist’s duty is to reflect the times”, and Iranian filmmaker Farbod Ardebili is really doing his duty.
In our time together, Farbod came across as direct but soft-spoken, striking a charming balance between candor and earnestness.
An accomplished and acclaimed director, writer for the screen and of songs, Farbod is called to tell stories inspired by his early life. Born and raised in Iran, he emigrated to the United States in 2014 after being blacklisted by a conservative government that saw his artistic exploits as a threat to society’s status quo.
Western culture, (music, art, etc.) is not simply discouraged; it is illegal in Iran. Even still, its influence radiates through its populace, which consumes it as much as possible without drawing the attention of the authorities.
Upon first glance, one would never guess that Farbod, a chill, unassuming guy is deep down, a straight up metalhead. He’s super-into bands like Metallica and even played in his own band. It’s this experience that he draws on for his latest short film, Forbidden to See Us Scream in Tehran. It is the action-packed, 17-minute tale of a young woman, Shima, who is lead singer of a death metal band in Tehran.
Shima is the primary caretaker for her little sister Sherin and is intent on giving them both a better life. One of her bandmates suggests the incendiary idea to organize a clandestine show but tip off the police, hoping the ensuing publicity of their inevitable incarceration would result in their ability to claim asylum in any country they want, beyond the grasp of Iran’s oppressive grip.
When asked whether he considered the work to be political, Farbod answered, “Basically, I believe most works of art are political, whether you want [them to be] or not.”
Interestingly enough, in the next breath he expresses that he tries to steer clear of politics and does not consider himself to be a political person.
And yet metal – the sonic backbone of this piece – is political. There is nothing about this short that is apolitical or apathetic.
This sensory film is told from two perspectives: that of the hearing-impaired Sherin, a strong young girl who admires and depends on her visionary older sister, Shima, a woman determined to have the life she wants, despite considerable risk. It is a story portrayed with profound empathy and a universality. It is representative of a whole host of folks under similar circumstances.
Farbod took on the task of telling the story with great seriousness, going to great lengths to make his vision come to life, even remotely directing the Tehran-based production team via WhatsApp from LA. During the conversation he talked of how he pulled not only from his own past but also his observations of his mother and how she moved through their patriarchal society.
The short does not beat you over the head with its ideals or social commentary. Instead it immerses you in its setting so completely that you understand a lot without explanation. It forces you to ponder the same decisions that Shima and Sherin are faced with; it lovingly demands that you consider what you would do and your role in the world. That is the function of all great art. To hold a mirror up while simultaneously filling holes in the zeitgeist.
To conclude our discussion, I asked the filmmaker whether he believed art can save the world, to which he said, “I have to say this, art can change the world but unfortunately not always for the best…so it’s important that artists who have good intentions to not be afraid and tell their stories. The world needs as many artists with good intentions as humanly possible.”
Farbod Ardebili has fully understood the assignment and we are lucky we get to bear witness to his masterful process.
Forbidden to See Us Scream in Tehran will be streaming on Omeleto starting this November.
You can watch our full conversation below and on the Erupt app available for download now.
Where Were You On This Day? The 12th of November, 2021 AD
We should remember 11/12/21 all too well.
On November 12, 2021, the sun rose in Los Angeles at 6:23 AM. There were 127,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported that day in the United States. An Olympic gold medalist came forward saying she was the target of a racist attack. The trial of white teenage gunman Kyle Rittenhouse moved to closing statements. Multiple memorials were erected in Houston at the site of the fatal Travis Scott Astroworld festival that, at that point, had claimed nine lives. Across the Atlantic, a Sudanese military coup leader was sworn into office while protests raged in the streets of the country. The US stock market closed up nearly half a percent. The moon was in waxing gibbous. November 12, 2021 was a Friday.
At the stroke of midnight, Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) was released. The album was the second release in her mid-career attempt to regain control of her back catalog through re-recordings and was one of Q4’s most anticipated releases. Containing 30 tracks, including nine new songs, Red (Taylor’s Version) served as a much larger statement than its predecessor, Fearless (Taylor’s Version). The original version of Red, released in 2012, was the introduction of Taylor Swift to pop and catapulted the singer from country darling to inescapable global phenom. It was the album that made her the star that she is and quickly became a fan favorite. It also changed the scarf industry forever.
Since 2019, the circumstances surrounding Red and the rest of Taylor’s back catalog have changed. The masters of these records, the versions that continue to rake in money from streaming and syncs, were purchased by men who Taylor says acted maliciously in an attempt to bully her into releasing more records under her previous record deal. When it was announced she would be re-recording her first six studio albums, the message was clear: Taylor Swift would not be owned by anyone.
Unlike the release of Fearless (TV), Red (TV) received the sort of roll out one would expect for a comeback era from a major popstar. Taylor would play SNL, give interviews on multiple late-night shows, announce surprises on Good Morning America, release a short film, create endless amounts of merch, and more. Red (TV) was always more than simply a re-release of Taylor’s best album, it was a statement of artistic integrity and power.
And how could it not be? If the original Red was Taylor Swift 2.0, then Red (TV) was an absolute cultural reset. For Taylor to be able to revisit the album’s original content and to update it with her much improved vocals is the sort of revisionist history artists dream of. Add on top of that the “From The Vault” tracks and suddenly Red (TV) wasn’t really a re-release at all, it was a brand new statement piece about the present. It had always been an album about finding one’s self amongst all of life’s tribulations. Now, in the light of the masters controversy and following folklore winning Album of the Year at the Grammys, Red (TV) reemerges as an album about uninhibited self-love and ownership. At over two hours long, it is a staggering accomplishment.
Like the original Red, the re-recording’s greatest accomplishment is “All Too Well.” On Red (TV), Taylor gives fans the 10 minute version of her most celebrated song, something that had only lived in Taylor Swift fan-lore. Taylor had mentioned the elongated version in an interview years after the release of the original track and it quickly became something fans speculated and obsessed over. She had said the label was not interested in releasing such a long track on what was being deemed a pop reinvention. When Red (TV) was announced, the inclusion of “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” was acted as the ultimate proof of Taylor’s power.
To celebrate the release of Red (TV), Taylor hosted a premiere of the “All Too Well” short film, written and directed by Swift herself, on November 12. The event marked the first time the musician would share physical space with her fans since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020. As the superstar walked into the New York City AMC for the premiere she waved and smiled to screaming fans. Taylor appeared victorious, her smile wide as she disappeared into the dark theater lobby.
Across the country at the very same time, LA Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny ruled to terminate the conservatorship of Britney Spears. After nearly 14 years, musical icon and megastar Britney Spears was finally set to be released from the grasp of her father Jamie Spears and allowed to live life however she wanted. The judge ruled Britney to be fit to maintain her own life and, in the process of terminating the conservatorship, ended one of the music industry’s longest running acts of abuse and violence.
Although the journey to an actually free Britney Spears has been arduous and highly politicized, it was not until Britney testified in June during a publicly shared court hearing that things began to change. It took Britney nearly half an hour of testimony to go through her qualms with the conservatorship, during which she unapologetically called out her father for abuse and bullying. She spoke urgently about her desire to be free from his grasp, to be able to live her life the way she wanted. Britney highlighted her father’s control over her body and the placement of an IUD inside of her against her will. Britney shared how she was being forced to take the stage in Las Vegas and the fear she felt while on stage during the nearly 250 shows. Britney was forthright in her belief that those in charge of her conservatorship should be imprisoned. The testimony, which was spliced and aired on practically every major news outlet, quickly became regarded as equally heartbreaking and undeniable. The public quickly became aligned: Britney Spears needed to be set free.
@eruptnow Britney Spears is a free woman. @dramafriend_ can barely contain his excitement @Britney Spears #britney #britneyspears #freebritney #free #freedom #music #news #fyp #fy #greenscreen ♬ original sound – Erupt
Following the watershed testimony, Britney was slowly offered certain “luxuries” not afforded to her during the majority of her conservatorship, such as driving a car. Soon, Jamie Spears would petition to be removed as conservator before filing to terminate the conservatorship himself. Many speculated Jamie was worried about legal action from his daughter, a desire she had spoken to during her testimony. The speed with which the conservatorship deteriorated in mere months was astonishing, particularly for those engulfed in the #FreeBritney movement.
On November 12, hundreds of #FreeBritney activists took to the street outside the Los Angeles Superior Court. The crowd was comprised of Britney fans, human rights activists, and journalists who had discovered terrifying realities inflicted on Spears by her father for outlets like The New York Times. Many spoke to news outlets about how glad they were to see so much advancement for the movement since Britney’s June testimony whilst never ceding how the abuse of the pop singer had gone undocumented or reported on for the majority of the conservatorship. There was a clear belief held by most #FreeBritney activists that the media had actually played a vital part in Jamie Spears’ game.
The abuse of Britney Spears by the media and, in turn, the public is one of most egregious acts in world of entertainment in the 21st century. A once inescapable pop phenom, Britney quickly became the world’s punching bag, which then in turn allowed her father to create false claims of dementia and assert power over her. Jamie had constructed a narrative that painted Britney, his own daughter, as clinically insane and unstable. He then utilized that narrative to take an artist who shapeshifted the expectations of what it meant to be a global sensation and locked her up, like a caged animal.
But that wasn’t all. Once the conservatorship was put in place in 2008, Britney was put to work. Over the 13 years of the conservatorship, Britney released four studio albums, garnered eight top ten hits, embarked on multiple world tours, headlined an industry defining Las Vegas residency, and hosted multiple television shows. Britney Spears, quite literally, had to work, bitch. Through it all, Britney’s finances were kept from her, large portions of which were funneled into her father’s bank account.
As pink confetti flew outside of the LA Superior Court, the media began to roll out the freedom wagon for Britney. Her lawyer, Matthew Rosengart, spoke to press and, when asked about the future of Britney’s career, stated that Britney could now, finally, do whatever she wanted. With his statements, Rosengart reasserted the new reality that Britney Spears was the only person who would decide what she did next.
The entertainment industry, particularly the music sector, has historically been male-driven and the men in the stories of Taylor Swift and Britney Spears are all regarded as villains. And so, the termination of Britney’s conservatorship and the release of Red (TV) are benchmark moments for feminism and female power. These are stories of female triumph in an industry known for debasing powerful women (see: Madonna’s 1992 SEX book) and diminishing their influence (see: Janet Jackson’s entire career post Super Bowl scandal). And they are not small triumphs, they are cultural and industry landmarks. Red (TV) shattered the all-time one-day Spotify streaming numbers for a female album (which was previously held by Taylor herself). Britney’s Instagram post celebrating the termination was liked by nearly three million people.
As the dust settles on November 12, 2021, it is impossible to ignore how incredibly important this day was. We witnessed a toppling of systemic power, not only in the music industry, but in the entire world of entertainment.
We should remember 11/12/21 all too well.
The Tea: Will, You Good?
Excerpts from Will Smith’s upcoming memoir, Will
On this episode of “The Tea” Ashley, Blake and Brie delve into the latest celebrity and entertainment news of the week.
Will Smith’s Memoir: Too Much Information?
Excerpts from Will Smith’s upcoming memoir, Will, share his early life desire to kill his father for abusing his mother and how his commitment to method acting destroyed his first marriage.
The memoir also details his relationship ups and downs with current wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
“The Tea” hosts discuss if this is too much information for public consumption or if it’s a positive that Will is sharing his life so openly?
Cancel Culture: Is It a Downer?
Cancel Culture is alive and well in the world, but is it effective and how should those involved respond?
Actress Dakota Johnson calls cancel culture “such a downer” and believes that people can change.
Entertainers like Johnny Depp and Chris Brown have both felt the wrath of the cancel culture machine. Chris Brown released a public apology while Johnny Depp has remained fairly mum. Which method is better for the entertainer’s career long term?
The hosts share their hot takes.
Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson: Just friends?
Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce from Kanye West and Pete Davidson may be the new man in her life.
The reality tv star and comedian shared a kiss while shooting Saturday Night Live and were seen holding hands on an amusement park ride days later.
Are they just friends or is this another publicity stunt of the sort that we’ve all become accustomed to?
Also on The Tea:
Zayn Malik’s family drama and does Mariah Carey ring in the Christmas Season a bit too soon?
Watch the full episode of “The Tea” here:
The Man Behind the Music of HBO’s The White Lotus
Cristobal Tapia De Veer on inspiration, a changing Hollywood and the necessity of going all out.
For six weeks in the summer of 2021, everyone was headbanging to the score of The White Lotus.
Two months after the HBO show’s season finale, I found myself face to face with its composer, Cristobal Tapia De Veer. He is nowhere near the sandy beaches of The White Lotus. He is in his own little paradise: a barn 90 minutes north of Montreal in the woods.
He is quick to draw comparisons between his surroundings and the setting of The Shining. From my vantage point, it’s an apt comparison. The barn’s vaulted ceiling makes way for twinkle lights cascading across beams and furniture, large paintings lean against faded wood walls and oddball audio equipment looks as though it’s been thrown around in an arrangement only Cristobal can decipher. It makes sense that this is where the score for The White Lotus came to life.
“If I feel like I am on vacation, I don’t feel like working. I find it really hard if I am in a nice place, like with the sun and the beach, to get anything done.”
And so, Cristobal exists in his rural barn, often by himself, spending his downtime deep diving through YouTube videos. When asked what is sticking around the barrage of clips, Cristobal tells me about how often dances alone to 2000s EDM songs and Billie Eilish’s debut record.
As he describes his days to me, the image burns its way into my brain: A Chilean-born man with long brown hair in a top knot dancing in his dim, wooden barn to “Bury A Friend.”
“I suppose my approach is a bit trashy… I just listen to whatever is out there. I’m a pop fan, really. I’m not into soundtracks or anything like that. Pop gives me a drive. There’s no nostalgia, you know? I try to bring it to my work. For [The White Lotus] it made sense to have a theme that was more poppy. It’s almost something that could be on the radio.”
I can’t help but think of one of summer’s best memes: The viral video of Lindsay Lohan dancing in Mykonos reset to the theme song of The White Lotus.
Detailing his taste in music, Cristobal’s opinions appear to be formed as ideas of size and space. He describes jazz music as a tight tunnel back towards the past. Pop music is like a cage filled with animals on the verge of domestication. Native music, like many sounds in The White Lotus, is an open field defined by wildness.
While sharing his musical palette with me, he never refers to himself as a composer. In fact, he is steadfast in the belief that he is neither a composer nor a pop musician.
Cristobal Tapia De Veer is a musician uninterested in traditional structures and formulas. His work is wild and born out of his subconscious.
“I find more freedom in movies because I can change. I can be whoever I want for a certain project and then change for the next thing.”
In 2013, Cristobal broke through for his score for the BBC show Utopia. In his mind, the score he created for Utopia was akin to gambling. Thankfully, he struck gold.
“I went all out. It’s kind of like coming out of the closet, in a way. It made me really nervous when it was going to come out, actually. I thought people were going to blame me for destroying the show because it was too weird. But then, when it came out and it was a success and it worked. People accepted it. It was surreal because it was like being scared of a part of you for a long time and then having people tell you, ‘Yeah man, do that!’”
This “all out” energy means the creative process for Cristobal is never easy.
When asked about how the score for The White Lotus came to life, Cristobal leans back in his chair, his hand grazing through this thick beard. It is clear how his brain is time traveling back to those initial days of inspiration. Quickly, he throws his hands up in the air, recalling how he felt he had no option but to play tribal drums. The instinct was too strong to ignore. For three weeks, he was immersed in the chaos of tribal percussions, knowing there would never be correction or computer tricks applied to the score in post-production. What he was recording, his arms flying wildly through the air before crashing down on the drums, was it. That chaos was essential.
“Everything was very wild and natural. It was half because I’m just like that and half because it seemed to fit the characters. It was kind of accidental and I have to give credit to my subconscious. It didn’t really feel like I did it; it just happened.”
Once the drums were complete, Cristobal made his way toward flutes and other wind instruments. While playing, he found himself running out of oxygen and taking sharp inhales, which eventually made their way into the score. Listening back to the recordings, he suddenly craved more voices.
At this confession, I stop him mid-sentence and present the question I have been most anxiously awaiting to ask.
Who were the voices in the score?
As the show progressed, one particular voice kept emerging to the forefront of the music’s complex web of sounds. The voice was moaning, or at least that is how I heard it. It would swarm in and out of the score without rhyme or reason, like a character demanding to be set free.
I had a wide array of theories as to who the voice belonged to:
• It was the voice of Jennifer Coolidge.
• It was somehow the distorted sound of an instrument.
• It was actually Cristobal himself.
“Are you talking about the voice that goes, ‘ah-ah-aaahaaah?’”
Leaning forward in my chair, I nod my head violently, like a kid begging for a piece of candy.
“YES. Yes, that. What is that? Is it Jennifer Coolidge?”
Over the summer, the Coolidge theory was by far my favorite. With each passing episode, I was more and more certain it was her.
“Ah, yes, I have heard many people think it’s Jennifer Coolidge.”
“So, it’s not?”
Cristobal is shaking his head, playing with his mustache. A devious smile emerges from the side of his mouth. I know he’s about to rock my world.
“Uh, maybe it’s a bit creepy, now that I think of it? But I’ll explain it and it won’t be creepy when I am done. That is a twelve-year-old girl. Her voice is obviously not that low. I had her mother and her come to the studio and we recorded it. Her mother is the main voice and the sound you asked about is her daughter.”
My jaw is practically on the floor.
“I asked her if she could just do an ‘ooooh,’ you know, random stuff. Then I just picked one note and started jamming. And then it went low and I found that note. And it sounds like someone… you know… having… whatever you want to put in there as information is okay but it’s kind of sexy and weird and unsettling. It just works.”
He tells me the other voice, the more prominent vocal sequence that runs through the show’s theme song “Aloha!” belongs to the mother. Cristobal had her record one note on repeat so he could play around with it.
The creative process, as he describes it, is incredibly playful. To watch him relive the moment of recording is deeply entrancing. One second, he’s looking directly at me, his words impassioned and flowing, the next he’s mimicking the sounds themselves. Soon, it’s as though I am there with him, in the recording room, while he illustrates how he managed to manipulate the original sound into the now iconic melody. Even while he half-heartedly sings the sounds, his tenor is vibrant and filled with passion. It’s oddly breathtaking.
As his vocalizations calm down and the memory begins to slip back into his subconscious, Cristobal goes quiet. He’s thinking about whether or not he wants to tell me something. Smiling, I nod towards him. It’s a gentle nudge.
The next thing he tells me is filled with trepidation and nervousness. It is a first for our conversation and I can’t help but think maybe something has gone wrong, that somehow the mental time-traveling has upset him. Clasping his hands together, he nods, mentally deciding he’s going to take me on a more elaborate journey.
“Maybe you already know this… Why I did those voices originally… It wasn’t for The White Lotus. It was a thing I did for Kanye.”
If there was water in my mouth, I would have done a spit-take.
As he continues, I attempt to keep my face still, to not give away how deeply shook I am by this information.
“I went to LA to work with him on something a few months before he came out as a Trump supporter. I wasn’t aware of any of that at the time. Long story short, I was in the hotel for a week trying to find something to give him. It was very important to me because I had to be creative and really take things that were very far away in the subconscious and give them to someone of a certain standard and caliber. It had to surprise him. It’s Kanye West. He has done very futuristic stuff. He is always cutting edge. It’s not like I could serve him a nice pop tune, it has to be outrageous. It has to be. For me, that was important for me finding these voices. It feels like if you hear it once, it’s going to make an impression. It felt like gold. So, yeah, I’ve had it for years. And then [The White Lotus] came and it was just the thing. So, I can say, Kanye got that out of me, if that makes sense.”
Pondering on the way he’s told me this story, my brain fires on all cylinders. Of course, Kanye West ranks high on the list of modern music’s most influential figures. But now, nearly a decade into his career, isn’t Cristobal Tapia De Veer also on that list? Hasn’t he managed to create a niche entirely his own that is destined to be imitated? Haven’t we all stumbled on some meme or Internet joke based on his work in a way we never thought possible from a television score? Didn’t his work for The White Lotus challenge the very notion of what a television score is capable of?
It’s rare to have the opportunity to ask someone what they make of their influence. Cristobal is shy to respond but slowly his sentences start to take shape.
“There’s two sides to it… There’s the public side, which I was really happy out. People really connected, you know? Not just with the music, but with the show. The reaction to the show was great but then I realized everyone was just talking about the music… Of course, it felt awesome to touch so many people.”
Here, he pauses, once again fiddling with his mustache. He’s wisely choosing his words, making sure he won’t say something that could upset a man in a suit somewhere.
“The business side is…”
He barely makes it through one sentence before stopping again. Looking up at me, I can tell he’s considering how he wants to approach the subject. I shoot him a smirk. Another gentle nudge.
“You know, I met with everybody. The Marvel’s, the Walt Disney’s, you name it. And that is even more surprising [than the public reaction] because my music is kind of… How to call it? …it’s not conservative. In 2012, when I started, it was different. At that time, producers and all that stuff felt like a different world. Now, it’s a better place, I have to say. You see it in projects too. There are different people being leads, different subjects, more experimentation. You see this in the music too.”
I tilt my head to the side as a way of imploring him to continue without interrupting his train of thought.
“I think people are scared for no reason about the music. They’re particularly scared of the music. I don’t know why; it’s not a touchy subject. To me, it feels like people should trust the creatives to make the stuff that people are connecting with. And if it doesn’t sound like Hans Zimmer or Celine Dion, well, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to work and you’re going to lose millions of dollars. Music never does that. When a movie fails, it’s never about the music.”
For a moment, we sit in silence. The musician is not wrong. Anyone remotely in the orbit of Hollywood can attest to the gatekeeping happening at the top. The irony about those at the top, those who make the decisions, is how they tend to be the least creative people in any room. Historically, those people have viewed money as king, not creativity.
But Cristobal is optimistic
“It feels like something has switched. It’s very exciting. I try to move forward with the faith that once people hear my music, they’ll start thinking differently and change. People will still ask me, you know, ‘What you did for The White Lotus, can you do this for us?’ For me, at least, I know they’re open and they want to try things. This is really new.”
For Cristobal, the future is already happening. When prompted about whether or not he’ll return for the upcoming second season of The White Lotus, he exhales deeply. It is clearly a question he’s dreaded but one I can’t let him off the hook without asking.
“The only thing I can say is that I am working on a movie right now. I have been working since right after The White Lotus ended this summer. It’s a big project, it requires my entire attention. I can’t do two projects at once. So, I will say, at the moment, it’s not looking good.”
It’s unclear whether or not his potential inability to return to The White Lotus is upsetting to the musician. He is once again looking at me while his brain runs wild with thoughts. This time, however, I don’t feel like nudging him to tell me more.
Instead, I ask him what piece of advice he can share for creatives who, like him, feel wild in their work and potentially constrained by expectations. Even before my question finishes slipping from my tongue, Cristobal responds, his hands once again making sweeping gestures.
“Sometimes, it’s important to just let stuff happen by itself. For some reason, things just happen and you’ll find your way. To me, it feels like when I try to control everything and tweak things eternally until I have everything the way I want, it’s terrible. If you do that, you’ll make stuff that isn’t alive. You have to have trust in the future.”