NORTH ANDOVER — Cyrus Kowsari, 24, has been making movies for as long as he can remember.
As a kid, he would use his parents’ Sony VHS to shoot “films” around his Coachman’s Lane neighborhood with friends and family as cast members.
When he was in sixth grade at Shore Country Day School in Beverly, he directed his first movie, using classmates as actors and actresses. He remembers it was a movie based on the popular public TV show “Voyage of the Mimi.” Since he couldn’t edit the movie, it had to be shot in the sequence of the script, which he had written himself.
As he got older, his father, Lawrence General Hospital cardiologist Mahmoud Kowsari, got him a real camera — a JVC mini-digital videocamera that could be attached to a computer so he could edit the footage.
Then, his filmmaking efforts kind of took off. For several years, he used that camera to make over a dozen movies of various styles and sizes, including short films at Brooks School, which he graduated from in 2008.
Leigh Perkins, an English teacher who was also Kowsari’s academic advisor, said she remembers Kowsari well.
“He always had an unbelievable number of stories and projects percolating in his mind,” she said. “He always had a knack for storyline and artistic vision.”
She said that in his sophomore year, he made a music video based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
“Cyrus got a vision for a Macbeth music video with a crazy ‘Lord of the Rings’ theme and a heavy metal song,” she said. “He wrote, edited, directed and scripted it for the class. It was hysterically funny. I couldn’t believe he put it together.”
For a sophomore, she said, and throughout his high school career, he had an incredible drive to create movies.
“From a very young age, he had a passion for this kind of storytelling,” she said. “You don’t see many kids that age with such a clear idea of what they want to do and what they want to be.”
Now a film school student in California, Kowsari’s passion for film hasn’t abated.
Last year, Kowsari completed a 20-minute movie that has been entered in a number of festivals across the country. It is already receiving accolades from audience members and people in the industry.
“The Color of Christmas” is about a man who waits until the last minute to buy an extremely hard-to-find gift — a doll of a certain ethnicity that reveals something about his daughter.
It appeared in the Sedona (Arizona) Film Festival, showing twice to packed theaters. It was the thrill of a lifetime to have his first film shown in a real movie theater in front of a live audience of complete strangers.
“Both times it was sold out,” he said. “I was shocked. It was in a real movie theater. I didn’t expect that. I thought, ‘Who’s going to pay to see a short film?’ But people there really love movies.”
He said the viewers were made up of mostly older people, but they all seemed to love the movie, laughing at the right jokes and responding in ways that he had hoped they would.
While he didn’t win anything at Sedona, he met a number of people in the film industry.
His film was also entered in this week’s Palm Beach Film Festival, where it had been nominated for a Grand Jury Prize, one of a select few in the competition to be so honored. On Thursday, he found his film won the top prize as Best Short Film, as voted on by 20,000 audience members who attended the festival.
Next, it’s on to Houston, where his film will be shown as part of the 46th Annual WorldFest-Houston. He said organizers of the film festival have already told him he’s going to win a prize. The movie has been entered in a host of categories, including best student film, best comedy, best original film track, best cinematography and best director.
“I’ll be winning at least one of those,” he said.
Kowsari is currently enrolled in Chapman University in Orange, Calif., but hasn’t had much time for studies, given a demanding filming schedule.
“Right now, I’m missing classes,” he said last week. “But I have to do this stuff. I hope to be done with school by summer or fall. They are understanding. I finished the film school part early, now it’s just math and Spanish classes. All the other stuff.”
During the fall, he worked as an intern on the film ‘The Cull,’ starring Halle Berry.
After watching the movie in the theater, he watched the credits roll and could see the names of people he knew.
“That was cool,” he said. “Coming out of it, I have people there, making big films, I can send my work to.”
Kowsari said he’s already working on another project, which will likely be a 40-minute film that can be adapted into a full-length feature if gets the kind of backing and funding needed for such an effort.
He said no matter what happens, he’ll keep making movies.
“I love writing stories and sharing them with people in the form of a movie,” he said. “There’s something really rewarding about being able to make other people laugh and providing some sort of temporary relief or entertainment.”
Plus, he said, he enjoys the collaborative nature of filmmaking, working with dozens of people at every level of a project.
“I just don’t see myself doing anything else,” he said in an email. “I don’t want to do anything else. I am not an athlete, I’m not a scholar, I’m not good with numbers, etc., but I can make movies. Any talents or skills I have all lend themselves to filmmaking. I honestly can’t do anything else.”
Matthew Grant, director of Audio Visual Services, Film and Art at Brooks, said he’s not at all shocked by Kowsari’s success so far.
“He was then (in high school) and is, in my opinion, in possession of all the tools to be a successful filmmaker,” Grant said in an email. “Equal parts passion, drive and confidence (man). So I’m not really suprised he’s making some waves in the industry.”