Twice the filmmaking power in one name? When you chat with the filmmaking Dasani twins, it’s not hard to see why. Rajeev Dassani is an award winning writer and director whose films have screened at many of the top festivals around the world. Elan Dassani works alongside his brother in their visual effects company, assisting with writing ,directing, and producing, as well as pursuing his own film industry career. The Dassani Brothers worked on well-known shows like JUSTIFIED, SCANDAL, and STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Recently, they debuted SEAM, a sci-fi short with outstanding visual effects and a deeply moving character dramaqa, showing now on RECURSOR.
Both brothers have been making films since their high school days, followed by a stint for Rajeev at USC, while Elan went straight into production work. Since then, their work — both as individuals and as a team — have been garnering attention and critical praise.
“We both worked in visual effects for a long time, and we started a visual effects company in 2008 to work on a show called Knight Rider (2008-2009),” says Elan. “And it was through that (experience) that we got into the sci-fi type of filmmaking.”
“We’ve always been into the sci-fi genre,” adds Rajeev. “We really dig it. But we got into how to pull it off at that point.” Since then, the brothers have worked on dozens of shows, producing visual effects, directing second units, or producing on international shoots for shows like COVERT AFFAIRS, HEROES REBORN, AGENTS OF SHIELD, and most recently STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.
Moving into the sci-fi field wasn’t necessarily easy at first, mainly because the Dassani brothers, Rajeev in particular, had started out with more mainstream genre success. His film, A DAY’S WORK, a dramatic short about day laborers, won awards. But when he pitched sci-fi ideas to Hollywood companies, his experience in mainstream work made it hard for others to imagine him doing genre films.
That’s when he started looking for an indie route to producing genre films — and out of that effort came SEAM. “We made SEAM partly as a way to signal that we are genre filmmakers,” says Elan.
Rajeev adds, “We were showing that we like this kind of work, that we know how to pull it off, as well as a grasp of how to pull off visual effects. On a larger level, I think we were saying, we’re looking to make a certain type of genre that’s different from other people’s work, with a unique voice. I think in order to succeed, you have to keep proving you have something unique to say.”
Though Elan and Rajeev pursue their own careers in filmmaking, they often collaborate on projects, enjoying the synergy of two minds that think mostly alike. “We definitely have similar tastes,” says Elan, “and it’s helpful to have someone who has a similar perspective and that you know can give you the correct notes. That’s why we work together more often than apart.”
“It can be hard to keep perspective on your own work,” says Rajeev, “and mare sure that it is original and interesting and telling something that’s unique.” That unique vision and voice matters greatly to both brothers, who don’t want to take the same approach to action and sci-fi that so many in Hollywood are taking right now. It boils down to their love for character-driven work, Rajeev explains.
“I like stories about real people that feel authentic and grounded,” says Rajeev. “As a kid, I loved films that had characters that I really loved, combined with visual ideas that were fascinating and new. I tended way more toward THE ABYSS or BLADE RUNNER than a big action movie. More recently, it’s films like DISTRICT 9 and LOOPER, movies that prioritize character over visuals, while also not skimping on the visuals.”
Elan agrees, saying, “We also like films that give you a different perspective, something you either didn’t know or something you know but viewing it from a different angle. I like thoughtful sci-fi, thoughtful, grounded genre that feels like it could be the real world if the parameters of the universe were tweaked slightly.”
That sensibility of character-driven stories, strengthened by interesting visual effects, drives their latest work, SEAM — a sci-fi short about what happens with cyborg bombs created for war begin to disintegrate as two opposing sides maintain an uneasy peace. Set in a futuristic Middle Eastern setting, the Dassani brothers have created a sci-fi story where the issues are complex, opposing sides are not necessarily good vs. evil, and characters have relatable, understandable drives that still bring them into regrettable conflict — all in the span of less than 20 minutes of screen time.
Having handled international shoots in the Middle East for HEROES REBORN and other series, the Dassani brothers were well acquainted with the area long before shooting SEAM. “We fell in love with the culture and were fascinated because the Middle East is unique in many ways,” says Rajeev. “It has an old world aesthetic — ancient societies, with the combination of extreme advanced technology and wealth in certain areas. It makes for a juxtaposition that’s unique. The visual is one of the more interesting sci-fi type visuals we’ve seen.”
As far as setting up action and effects, Rajeev and Elan are firmly in the camp of letting character drive their decisions, rather than just creating cool visuals. “The main thing with any sequence, even an action sequence or whatever it is, it still has to be based in character to one degree or another,” says Rajeev.
“In SEAM, even though you have these giant robots and there’s fighting, you have understand where the two sides are coming from, where the soldiers are coming from, and there’s this whole thing about revenge, and they think that they’re spies, and there’s a general feeling that not enough is being done. And on the machine side, even though it’s a giant robot, you can feel that it’s just being defensive of someone who’s defenseless. Those are character traits, emotional beats, not just action mechanics.”
Right now, the Dassani brothers have created a lengthier script for SEAM, and pursuing opportunities to create either a feature film or a TV or online series. “It’s been pretty amazing,” say Rajeev and Elan. “After all the work we’ve done, it was hard to know what would happen. But we basically released SEAM, and two days later, we had call from almost every major agency, and major players in terms of production companies and TV networks.”
Between the chance to talk about expanding SEAM and opportunities to pitch new concepts, the future is looking even brighter for the sci-fi vision of the Dassani brothers. And we can’t wait to see what they do next.
The Dassani brothers are known for directing second units and producing international shoots for various television shows including STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, MASTER OF NONE, BLINDSPOT, HANNIBAL, SUITS, COVERT AFFAIRS, and many others. You can see a reel of their television work at MASTERKEYFILMS.COM. We also own and operate the Visual Effects Company, Master Key VFX, and have worked on Visual Effects for dozens of TV shows from REVOLUTION to SCANDAL.
The Dassani Brothers believe in making films that are about something. Rajeev Dassani won a Student Academy Award for his USC Thesis Film, A DAY’S WORK, exploring the drama behind a violent encounter involving immigrants in Los Angeles. It’s that same level of realism and dramatic truth they want to apply to incredible visuals and world changing situations.