Playback’s 2017 5 2 Watch: Akash Sherman

At just 22, the writer/director and VFX whiz kid has caught the eye of Ari Lantos and others with his filmmaking vision and technical expertise.

By Sneh Duggal

Akash Sherman was just 16 when he made his first, award-winning short.

For Them, For You, about a boy who experiences the stages of grief through the loss of his toy soldier, was screened at the 2011 Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF) and the Future of Cinema Film Festival in Michigan (where it won best narrative and best of fest awards). The next year his second short, A Teaching Game, in which a man grapples with the decision to pursue his love or his career while playing the traditional Chinese board game Go, won the jury award at EIFF.

Afterwards, in 2013 the Edmontonian and two friends entered CineCoup Film Accelerator, a nationwide competition granting the winners $1 million and a Cineplex release. Their concept made it to the finals; and while they didn’t win, doors began to open for Sherman.

There, he met writer/director Lowell Dean, whose team won with WolfCop. When Dean started making WolfCop (and its sequel Another WolfCop), he sought Sherman’s VFX expertise for both, which Sherman taught himself while playing around with editing software.

“His talent in that realm was head and shoulders above most of his peers,” says Dean. “He has a different eye than a traditional VFX artist…his eye is that of a filmmaker.”

At the competition, Sherman also caught the attention of film producer Ari Lantos, then with Serendipity Point Films.

Now 22 and based in Toronto, Sherman is “at the forefront of the next generation filmmaker,” says Lantos, highlighting in particular his skills as a writer, director, editor and VFX artist.

Lantos was in the room when Sherman and other CineCoup Accelerator finalists presented their projects. He was so impressed with Sherman’s concept trailer and his ability to speak in front of a room full of industry bigwigs that he tracked Sherman down and told him to get in touch if he was ever in Toronto. And Sherman was quick to take him up on his offer.

While studying film at Ryerson in 2014, Sherman came up with the idea for the sci-fi feature Clara.

“He called me up and said, ‘I’ve got an idea for a movie and I want you to produce it with me,’” says Lantos. “He pitched the idea [and] I loved it.”

Currently in post-production, and with Sherman handling most of the VFX, Clara stars Suits actor Patrick J. Adams and Pretty Little Liars‘ alum Troian Bellisario and tells the story of an astronomer consumed with the search for life beyond Earth, while his personal life breaks down.

They are targeting a Sundance release, where Sherman hopes to attract an international distributor’s eye.

Already, D Films is handling Canadian theatrical distribution, The Movie Network snapped up the pay-TV rights and CBC has the TV broadcast rights.

Last fall, Sherman also secured Turn Key Films to handle distribution for his 2015 feature, The Rocket List, which screened at the EIFF and the Toronto Independent Film Festival.

The feature, which Sherman and three friends filmed on a “last hurrah” road trip before he left Edmonton, is about a group of friends crossing things off their bucket lists ahead of a world-ending natural disaster. It was released on streaming platform Flix Premiere in the United States, France and the United Kingdom in March 2017. Sherman is hopeful his film will see Canadian distribution soon.

Meanwhile, Sherman and co-writer James Ewasiuk have been penning RE-FORM, an original screenplay they are developing with Lantos. It will be heavier on the visual effects, says Lantos, adding he hopes this will be the duo’s next film together, likely under his new prodco Story Hawk Pictures. They plan to work on this sci-fi thriller once Clara is complete.

“His unique gift is bringing heavy emotional impact to entertaining storytelling,” Lantos says. “It’s so rare that you meet a writer/director who is also a computer wizard technician.”

To read more about this year’s Five to Watch, click here.