Cover Story - Filmmaker Eric Haviv conquers Cannes with serious shorts

Young film director Eric Haviv and his colleagues at Atlanta's FUGO Studios had a simple goal when they entered the 48 Hour Film Project for the first time in 2010: silence.

At FUGO's pristine office near Midtown Promenade, Haviv recalls the team's approach to the made-in-two-days short film. "We noticed that many people try making dramas for the contest, but they unintentionally turn into comedies. If we made a drama and no one laughs, then we'd know we're a success."

No one laughed at FUGO's entry "Pray," but the tense, 5-minute character study succeeded at more than simply the absence of ridicule. "Pray" won six awards at the 2010 competition, including Best Film and Best Cinematography, and it went on to be screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, along with "The Phantom Draw," FUGO's 48 Go Green entry, also directed by Haviv.

It's not surprising that Haviv's films would draw attention. With impressively high production values, FUGO takes on big, multi-culti issues. In "Pray," a Hasidic diamond merchant protects himself from robbery, while "Blinded," Haviv's 48 Hour Film from this year, touches on Islamist terrorism and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The films look less like Flip-video-camera home movies than show reels for a "24"-style action series.

As a young filmmaker, Haviv became very busy, very quickly. He began as a musician and studied drums at the Atlanta Institute of Music, until he burned out. Seeking a career in a different creative area, he thought, "Well, film looks kind of cool" and enrolled in digital filmmaking at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Since graduating, he's worked practically nonstop at video companies and as a freelance director, finally forming his own studio.

"I thought of a concept for a TV show and wanted to incorporate to protect myself and my assets," he says. "Plus, I was getting really busy working out of my house, so I'd literally have a 20-foot crane in my living room." Haviv partnered up with his frequent collaborators Richard Webb and Brandon Morris to form FUGO Studios, which makes music videos, short films, creative corporate projects and is currently working on feature films.

A compact, energetic and cheerful 27-year-old with short dark hair and sparse beard stubble, Haviv uses his 48 Hour films as examples of FUGO's creative efficiency. "A lot of the 48 Hour films come short on acting. Why not eliminate acting altogether? David, the lead actor in 'Pray,' is the lead singer in a rock band. A lot of 'Pray's' dialogue is in voice-over or in another language, so you can get away with a lot more." He also values lighting and composition as crucial parts of storytelling. "If you have a good story and shitty cinematography," he says, "your film will never see the light of day."

Haviv has ambitions for FUGO to develop its own feature film and hopes that his TV pilot, a reality-style project tentatively called "Joe Motto" featuring Martin Sheen's brother Joe Estevez, will soon see the light of day. When Haviv flew to Cannes with his father and brother, he found the film festival almost completely impressive. "The energy is unbelievable. There's beautiful people and beautiful cars — every other car is a Lamborghini or a Rolls-Royce," he says. "The only other thing I can say about France is that it has the shittiest food ever! Eating in France is such a chore. But I'm the pickiest eater in Atlanta."

Maybe the next time Haviv shows a movie at Cannes, he'll have better luck.

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