Filmmaking Pharmacist Tackles Stereotypes


Iqbal Mohammed talks about his new short film ‘Against the Norm’

NOT many people have the time to combine a day job with a lifelong dream – but for Iqbal Mohammed, dispensing medicines as a Pharmacist one minute and yelling ‘Action’ the other all comes naturally.

The 27-year-old Huddersfield Pharmacist come filmmaker is all set to unleash his directorial debut later this month.

‘Against the Norm’ – a film which challenges racial stereotypes, marks Iqbal’s debut as a director – but not his first film project.

Last year he was in America to see the final touches being put together on ‘The Pharmacist’ – a short film he helped create as executive producer. The film was nominated for nine awards in last year’s Washington World Film and Music Awards.

With the filmmaking bug well and truly under his skin, Iqbal is looking ahead to the premiere of ‘Against the Norm’ at Huddersfield Odeon Cinema on 24 February.

The Asian Today caught up with Iqbal to talk films, pharmacy and lifelong dreams…


Tell us about ‘Against The Norm’? – How did it come about?

I first came up with up the idea whilst on the phone to one of my best friends complaining that everything I watched on television was the same and certain races and religions were being stereotyped far too often. I wanted to change this perception and open people’s eyes to the thought that no matter what a person’s race, religion, sexuality or social background is; they should all be judged on their individuality. Fifteen months, ten drafts and a very tough 3-day shooting schedule later, I now feel that I have done the script justice. This after all isn’t just for my personal interest, this film is a message to the youth of today and to tell them that even though they might be seen to be Against The Norm, I understand and you are not alone. 


Tell us about the film

Against the Norm is about three college students; Tanny, Eric and Nathan. They are accused of cheating in an exam after writing the same phrase; Against the Norm. After being told they have failed the exam they form an unlikely alliance to battle the college street dance crew; Weasel and the Heavyweights at the college party. The film is mainly about stereotyping certain people. The three students all come from different backgrounds and do not act stereotypical to their race. I wanted to send a message to the public that certain races and religions don’t fall into the category that television and film allow us to think. For example, not every Black man is a thug carrying a gun and not every Asian male is a drug dealer or a terrorist.


This is your first film as director – how has the experience been for you?

This was indeed my first film as a director. The process was really difficult but very rewarding. When you watch your words being spoken for the first time on screen you realise that the hard work was all worth it. I received some excellent feedback from the cast and crew of the film.

I will definitely direct another film now that I have a taste of it. I felt that I was able to pass on my vision very easily and that is always a good sign.


How long did filming take for ‘Against The Norm’?

It took three very long days to film Against the Norm. I stayed over in London for a few days in a Travelodge. I would wake up at 5am to get to set at 7am. We’d start filming at 8am and then finish at 6pm. We were perfectly on schedule each and every day and that credit must be given to the highly efficient crew we had. They were magnificent.


How different was this experience to that of ‘The Pharmacist’?

For The Pharmacist film, I joined the process half way through pre-production. I didn’t see much of the behind the scenes work that was done by Mike Cassidy and Paula Wood. I now understand how difficult it must have been. I started writing Against the Norm in May 2011. When I decided to make it I found that the workload exceeded my expectations. I needed help and that’s when I hired producer Louise Morton Murray who has produced many short films in London.

I felt that I had a lot more responsibility, but I had an excellent crew who were extremely professional. Everything was on schedule and ran perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better first film to direct.


How are you finding combining your day job as a pharmacist with that as a filmmaker?

In April last year I made the decision to work part time as a pharmacist. It is a decision that some people still find peculiar, however I felt that it was the right time for me to make this choice. I found it very difficult to juggle my work with my writing. I’d often sleep at 2am after wanting to write continuously and then I had to wake up at 6.30am to go to work. It wasn’t a feasible option anymore. I still love being a Pharmacist and I wouldn’t give it up, well not just yet anyway.


When do you hope to release the film?

I hope to premiere the film at the Huddersfield Odeon Cinema on Sunday February 24. I will be showing two other short films along with mine. All money from the ticket sales will be going to the charities; NSPCC and The Variety Children’s Charity. Tickets will be on general release on the Odeon website soon. After this screening I hope to showcase our film at film festivals around the world.


Are you looking forward to the premiere of the film?

I am looking forward to the premiere but I’m also extremely nervous. Watching a film on your own and then with an audience who are judging your work are two completely different things. I will be looking for the audience’s reaction and if the reaction isn’t good, then I’ll be a little disappointed, so you could say the pressure is on, but I have a quality product and I feel the audience is going to love it.


You took The Pharmacist to the states – how was that experience for you?

The film was more successful in the U.S than it was in the UK. Our film was nominated for nine awards in last year’s Washington World Film and Music Awards of which we won one for Best Supporting Actor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend any of the screenings in the U.S due to work commitments. I was told however by the attendees that the film was well received and the general public loved it.


Will you look to take ‘Against the Norm’ outside the UK?

I will definitely be submitting the film to festivals around the World. The majority of the festivals occur in the summer/autumn months so we are in good timing.


Do you have your next project lined up?

I am currently writing something for a very successful Writer/Director. I am sworn to secrecy as I have signed a Non Disclosure Agreement. The film is a very exciting project and I can’t wait to tell the public when the time is right.


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