Arthur Musah ’04, MNG ’05 may have a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, but his heart is in storytelling. After working for four years as an engineer, he switched careers and joined the graduate film and TV production program at USC’s School Of Cinematic Arts, where he has also been an Annenberg Fellow for two years. Born in Ukraine, raised in Ghana, and entering his 11th year in the U.S., Musah is interested in exploring characters defined by multiple worlds.
His six-minute film, Refuge, which he wrote and directed, will be screened at two upcoming film festivals. Refuge is about a West African soccer player who sneaks away during a game in Los Angeles in the hopes of establishing a new life in the U.S. with the help of an old friend.
Where to view Musah’s film:
Boston LGBT Film Festival
Tuesday, May 10, 8:30 p.m.
Brattle Theatre, Harvard Square, Cambridge
Fort Worth’s International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
Specific date and time TBD; the festival runs June 2-5
Fort Worth, Texas
What prompted Musah’s radical career change, and what projects are in store? Read on to find out.
What led you to finally pursue film?
Musah: I worked as an engineer at Texas Instruments and at some point was working in a group that made MPEG decoder ICs for HDTVs. Being in that world I geeked out over HD camcorders, which were just becoming available at consumer prices. But then I realized that technology was secondary to story. If you didn’t have a great script you couldn’t make a gripping movie with all the technology in the world. All the writing and theatre I’d done in secondary school and at MIT came back into focus, and I realized that’s where my passion was. So I went to film school to learn the craft of making movies.
Where did the inspiration for your film come from?
Musah: Refuge the short film is actually based on a short story I wrote at MIT. It was called “The Living” and was part of a collection of stories by the same title that won the Boit Manuscript Prize for Fiction in the 2004 Ilona Karmel Writing Competition at MIT. When I had to write a script for a six-minute film at USC, I took the two characters from the story and transplanted them into the U.S. Then I put them into a pressure cooker scenario that would force them to confront one aspect of their relationship that they had never spoken about—the fact that one friend desired the other.
What did you learn through making this film, both as a writer and director?
Musah: It took four drastically different failed rewrites to find the right setup for the six-minute film. Once I tapped into the right vein, though, I knew I had it. So as a writer, it was an experience in trusting that if I kept working on an idea, I’d eventually realize the story whose potential I had sensed in that first spark of inspiration. As a director, I learned that I loved working with actors and collaborating with other departments. Making this film strengthened my belief in small film crews. There was a maximum of two actors and four crew members on any given day, and we worked very efficiently.
What are your future aspirations?
Musah: I can’t wait to make longer and better films. I want to explore characters and worlds that are not adequately seen in cinema. I want to make movies in which people can recognize themselves.
How has your time at MIT influenced your life/career?
Musah: MIT honed my instincts for structure, to be able to plan how to tackle a problem and then execute it. It also taught me I couldn’t know everything and to not be afraid to rely on other people. Unexpected as it was, it was also the place I got to continue developing my drive to tell stories. I had fantastic mentors in poetry and fiction workshops like Anita Desai, Bill Corbett, Erica Funkhouser, Helen Elaine Lee, and Junot Diaz. My writing classes were my favorites! So in a way MIT put me on this path to making movies. I also made friends that have been steadfast pillars of support. I am very grateful for all of this.
What projects are you currently working on?
Musah: I am writing a feature that I’m really excited about. It’s a family drama set against the backdrop of a military-controlled Ghana in the early 80s and is about a man who deep in his heart wishes he could get a holiday from his responsibilities as husband and father and gets just that. I’m also working on making a 15-minute film from a beautiful and heartbreaking script written by a USC friend about a man trying to save his adult daughter from addiction.