Omri Dorani has a confession to make about his time at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.
“During Hebrew classes, I was writing screenplays or short films in my notebook,” said the 24-year-old Dorani, who’s trying to parlay that childhood interest into a career as a professional filmmaker. “I knew I wanted to make films since I was 12 years old.
“I just watched movies all the time and became obsessed with it. I was probably too young to watch it at the time, but Goodfellas was the most engaging and interesting movie I saw.”
Turn the clock ahead seven years, and Dorani is turning that passion into a reality. He’s directed minor productions, music videos and sketch comedies since attending the Art Institute of California-Los Angeles, where he received a bachelor’s degree in video production.
Next on the agenda is a feature film, for which he’s sought funding through the Hometown Heroes project. The top 10 finishers in the project get to pitch their idea to the Duplass Brothers, who’ve become independent film producer champions.
The idea he and his team came up with is filming a psycho-horror drama in Media called This is Our Home.
They chose Media, which bills itself as “Everybody’s Hometown,” because it seemed the perfect setting for an unsuspecting couple to encounter something truly frightful.
“When I was younger and would go to soccer games, it was one of those places where I felt there was just something thicker than air,” Dorani said. “The idea of it being everybody’s hometown seems warm and welcoming. But something is going on no one knows about beneath the surface.”
Having surpassed a fundraising goal of $7,500 by more than $1,500, the next step is trying to convince Jay and Mark Duplass to back the movie, which he hopes to begin shooting within the next few months. If it all works perfectly, it could be released by the end of 2018.
But there’s much to be done before then.
“There’s no time to celebrate,” Dorani said. “We have to come up with a creative way to express to the Duplass brothers why they should jump on board and do the project. The genre here is horror, but the content itself is about relationships — being fully open with another person. The fear of exposing your wounds to another person.
“I thought that would work really well in a horror film setting; the internalized fear can be more than a guy with a knife trying to kill you. I wanted to find a way to craft a story and put that on the screen to show the emotional journey you sometimes go through in relationships.”
While there’s no specific Jewish content in the film, one of the leads, 23-year-old Simone Policano, is Jewish. For Dorani, getting the motivation to pursue his dream comes from his roots.
“In any one of my works, the things I learned growing up in Jewish day school about relationships are always going to be blossoming in my films,” Dorani said. “Because it’s such a huge part of who I am. I have a lot of that Jewish and Israeli spirit — that pushing and fighting blood. If you really have a dream, Jewish people are too stubborn to take no for an answer.”
He said he had good role models to lead the way, particularly his grandparents. Connie and Joe Smukler spent much of their lives leading the cause for Soviet Jewry and were close enough friends of renowned Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky that he attended Dorani’s Bar Mitzvah in Israel.
“They kind of led that whole movement,” said Dorani, whose mom, Cindy Smukler Ben Hamo, is president of the Kaiserman JCC board of directors. “They were very important in our lives and would tell us the stories of what they did. They were huge philanthropists and kind of the coolest people ever.”