Danial Khan climbed onto the podium and held onto his pretend Oscar. He had a thank-you speech prepared — and he should; the Academy Award for “Best Director” came with its own set of responsibilities. Khan had waited all eleven years of his life and when the young boy climbed back down from his dream, he began following it in reality.
Seven years later, Khan stepped on to the Syracuse campus with a camera, phone and all the storytelling abilities he had accumulated in his years of filmmaking. He looked around the orange campus teeming with new students such as himself and he knew what to do.
“How could I really show people here I’m a filmmaker?” he recalls thinking. “Maybe I should make a video about campus. There weren’t too many cool videos of on-campus stuff. Why don’t I make something?”
Khan filled that void by pointing and shooting everywhere he went: games, tailgates, concerts, location after location that Syracuse students would gravitate to. The hype video that was born out of his wanderings did the trick: it currently has 10,600 views on YouTube.
Although the video roves through locations, Khan prefers spotlighting faces and people more, which add depth and a layer of emotion to the video. He currently has three hype videos on his YouTube channel and while those are the ones that rack up views by the thousands, Khan still has a place for short films and narratives. That boils down to what the eleven-year-old Danial started with: his parents decided that their son needed to stop borrowing their camera and got him his own starter. Their gift was a $80 camera with nowhere near the HD quality that Khan is used to today, but it was something and it was his very own. Khan kicked short films into high-gear and back then, it was just an after-school activity that had high ambitions. Khan and his neighbor would dig up skull masks, position the camera and execute the film — the two fifth graders were ghost investigators checking for any paranormal activity in the room. Khan and his neighbor were at once ghost and investigator and had to change costumes between shots.
Although Khan laughs about the bad acting in his paranormal films today, he recalled it being a more lax time.
“Most of the work I do now is professional. I’ve got to make it because I’m showing it to people, or for a project,” he said. “But there was a time I had in my childhood when I made videos because making videos was fun. I just did it, because a couple of friends were around and we wanted to make a cool action movie.”
Even before he got started with films, Khan was an artist. He loves dancing, he’s learnt to play guitar and he used to make comics as a kid. Like he put it, he loves expressing himself “through the artistic medium” and when it came to deciding what he wanted to do with his life, picking art was a straightforward choice. But considering his roots — Khan was born in Oman to Pakistani parents — he had to deal with some hesitation around his choice. The support for art as a career and profession isn’t as strong as it is for a career in the engineering field in the culture, he said, but luckily for him, his parents greenlighted his ambitions. He wants his journey to artistic storytelling to be a signal that things could change for the better — he saw it happen and felt his excitement when he saw Kumail Nanjiani, a nominee at the 2018 Academy Awards of Pakistani origin, on the Oscars carpet.
“You shouldn’t feel like if people are not supporting you, you are not good enough,” he says. “You don’t have to be from America or Europe to be a successful artist.”
In his application to Syracuse University, Khan referred back to what he called his dream-dream: winning an Oscar. He wanted to win it not just for the merit of the work, but to show people that where he comes from had potential to produce game-changing artists as well.
“I really want to win an Oscar to show where I’m from and say ‘you guys didn’t really have someone to look up to in this field, but here I am,’” he says. “Look where the hell I am now.”
Divya Murthy, a junior at Newhouse, is a tiny bespectacled blot on the orange landscape of Syracuse University. She is under the impression that she’s the fourth PowerPuff Girl, but when she’s not using her creativity thus, she enjoys drinking filter coffee, reading Wodehouse novels and imagining life without the pumpkin spice latte.