Anis Maknojia’s road to success didn’t start with glamour and glitz. It started in Texas, built on a lifetime of hard work, and overcoming personal hardship.
Anis grew up in oil-centric Houston, the son of Indian immigrants. Throughout his childhood, his parents worked hard to provide for their family through their retail business. Anis soon worked with them, taking the time to become an alum at the University of Houston. Eventually, he took over the business, allowing his parents to retire.
A flood of misfortunes came rushing into his life, including a pair of failed business ventures, a broken heart, and the sudden death of a close friend. Despite the support network of friends and family, Anis slid into a downward spiral, both physically and mentally. Then, something clicked. Specifically, the lens of a camera.
Anis has always been interested in photography. He began to take photographs, as a way to express his emotions, as a way to let the pain out. Framing an image became an escape from the hopelessness and depression. Like a bright flash lighting the shadows, the art form became the spark, igniting the path to his future.
He began with a mobile phone camera and moved on to a more professional camera, reveling in the freedom digital photography allowed. His interests started to expand, and he began to look for images, scenes, and moments that reminded him of himself – right there in the middle of everything but maybe perhaps not quite noticed for its full potential.
In 2017, he began posting images on Instagram. He also began to explore the idea of self-portraits. Within a year, financed by his success in the family business and buoyed by his rising status on Instagram, he moved to Los Angeles, where he found even more success. He continues to be a rising influence on the social media platform, with more than 85,000 Instagram followers (Anis Maknojia) and counting.
In late 2019 and early 2020, he completed numerous advertising projects, supporting Mercedes-Benz, Don Julio Tequila, and Armani Code.
With the mission statement ‘We are stronger together,’ Land Ahoy! Films was formed at the beginning of 2019. Land Ahoy! aims to showcase multicultural talent from around the world and to bring up-and-coming creators together to create inspiring and thought-provoking works of art. Anis calls the company an extension of his passion for photography, this time with moving pictures and the birth of his desire to become an actor and produce films.
Collaborating with Phoenix 4 Productions and Land Ahoy!, Anis starred as Tony in the short crime drama Artifice while also taking on the responsibilities of executive producer. He pursued the lead role because he saw an opportunity to bring an unexpected quality – his race – to what could have been a cookie-cutter presentation.
Anis is the executive producer for Breathe, which is currently in post-production. The short film connects several stories exploring the darker side of drugs, violence, and religion, again he takes the lead role in the film. Additionally, the two companies are currently in pre-production for With Intere$t, a short film following a mob debt collector into his rising interest in stand-up comedy. Anis will both act in and executive produce the project.
Besides being passionate about creating art, Anis is an advocate for animal rights, world poverty and climate change, LGBTQ rights, and more diversity in film. He holds mental health awareness and finding a cure for multiple sclerosis close to his heart because he has family and friends who suffer from these issues.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Anis to discuss his journey in the entertainment industry and here’s what went down:
Can you tell us more about yourself?
Simply put, I’m a businessman turned film-maker. That is really what it boils down to. I was lucky enough to have some success in working with my family business in Texas. That success provided opportunities. Some people would travel or collect cars or things like that. But with me, the arts have always been a hobby of mine, something I’ve worked at. More than a hobby, really. It got to the point where I wanted to explore the arts more. Participate more. Create more. So, we set up the business with a good management structure and I was able to follow my passion to California. I’ve been very lucky to get these opportunities and I want to keep offering new visions of art and new collaborations.
How did you get started in the entertainment industry?
Photography led me to film-making. No. That’s not right. I’ve approached photography as a means of telling a story. Or I’ve approached storytelling through photography. As a photographer, I wanted to capture a moment of a scene or a person, but before that image and after that image, things happen. When framing a photograph, I’m trying to tell a story about how the subject got to this point and where they are headed from here. Storytelling has always intrigued me and I believe the camera is the best way to express those ideas. Storytelling led me to photography which became film-making.
What do you like most about acting?
It’s a thrill of its own. Whether you are doing a dramatic scene or a comedic scene, there is this energy, an adrenaline rush, from the creation of something new. I’ve never gone skydiving. I don’t know if I could jump out of a plane. But I think the thrill is similar. I’m jumping into something new, a free, open space where I have to rely on the people around me to get to the ground safely, to bring the scene alive. Do you know what I mean? For me, they seem similar. I get the same sort of rush when a project is released, an anticipation of how it could affect someone I’ve never even met. I enjoy that thrill.
What are your strong points as an actor?
I’ve been on both sides of the camera. I’ve been a photographer and I’ve been in front of the camera. I’ve given direction as a photographer and I’ve taken direction as a subject. As a model. So, I understand the idea that the actor and director and photographer each bring a different perspective to the project. I may be ‘in the moment’ as an actor, but the director is considering the entire storyline and the photographer is considering the specific shot, the specific … the overall framing of the action.
What have you learned from the directors that you have worked with throughout your career?
You have to trust them. They see what you aren’t able to see. They are seeing the bigger picture rather than a single scene.
What do you like most about directing?
Creating something that the audience will remember. I think that is true for every creative person, creating something that will be remembered. Some people may be trying to influence people to take a certain action or change a behavior and some people might be trying to draw attention to a problem or a crisis, but it boils down to wanting to be remembered.
What makes you different from other directors?
Vision and inclusion. I try to look beyond the stereotype. I look at a person’s talent rather than their IMDb credits or past work. I believe there are many underrepresented types in the entertainment industry today. In my very first film, Artifice, my character is an Indian criminal, but we didn’t draw attention to it as part of the story. It is what it is. Not everything fits into neat little boxes. There are things that can challenge your understanding of the world around you without being in your face about it. I want to find those boundaries and push them out, move them around.
Can you tell us more about Land Ahoy Films?
Land Ahoy was started in the fall of 2019 just about the same time I was finishing up Artifice, which I was able to put together within months of moving to LA. I look at Land Ahoy! as a sort of partner, to help me, and others, really, to succeed. I created it as a foundation for what I want to do as an artist, to help me push my creativity. As it grows, I see it becoming a way to include others who may be underrepresented. I like to say that we are stronger together. I want to use Land Ahoy! to help give a voice to people who might not have been heard before.”
What are some of the difficulties of the acting business?
For me, it is repetition and adaptability. Actors need to be able to show the same emotion over and over, even when everything around you is changing until the director is satisfied. It’s tough. There’s a level of frustration that builds all around you and different people respond differently. I’ve tried to … I try to focus that repetition into a learning experience, to build on what I did before. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a goal.
What’s challenging about bringing a script to life?
Everything, but I think that’s the best part about it. Everyone has a vision about the script. Everyone has a viewpoint. The consolidation of all the characters involved is one of the biggest challenges, bringing the actors and the crew onto the same page, onto the same roadmap, driving to the same destination. Everything has to flow, scene after scene, all the way through and it takes everyone’s efforts to make it happen, I think. Everyone has something to contribute at some point and balancing all those ideas and suggestions and approaches can be a significant challenge.
What do you do when you’re not doing a film?
Typically, I’m writing and planning for the next project. And work on my acting.
What has been the most memorable experience of your career so far?
Without a doubt, it was the wrap up day on the shooting for my first film. It was a surreal feeling, knowing all the parts and pieces were there and we just had to put it together. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of work left to do, but we were happy with everything we had created to that point. It was a milestone. I could feel it, like the first time you rode a bike as a kid. There was a sense of accomplishment, of reaching a new high. It was amazing. I think that should have been the day someone could have convinced me to jump out of an airplane. There was a sense that there was nothing I couldn’t do.
If someone is going to make your life into a movie, what’s the name of the movie, and who would play you? And I can’t do it?
I’d like to think it would be someone you haven’t heard of yet, someone who hasn’t been discovered yet. I’m relatively new to this and Land Ahoy! is in the business of bringing new voices to light, so I think it would be someone new. Besides, Brad Pitt said he was busy that day and unable to sign on.
What are your future plans? Can you tell us more about your upcoming projects?
I’ve got another short film planned in my home state of Texas. This a real passion and all the more sentimental to me since it’s in my home state. I’ve got few other projects in LA as well along with a couple of music videos, and a modeling gig for a famous luxury brand.
The ‘LIGHTNING FAST’ Round:
1. Last good movie I’ve seen.
The Counselors. It’s a really underrated movie, I believe.
2. What do you consider beautiful and why?
The generosity of people. It’s an amazing feeling to give it and to receive it.
3. What haven’t you done yet that you wish you could?
Travel around the world.
4. Complete this sentence: “If I had no fear, I’d…”
Try Roofing. I’d try my hand at roofing. I think it goes back to the idea of jumping out of a plane. I’m not sure I have a fear of heights, but I think they’re related.
5. What is the one “flaw” you wouldn’t change about yourself?
I’ve very adamant about things that I believe in, things that drive me further. Some people have found that quite annoying and they’ve let me know. I don’t think they’re wrong, necessarily. I think there is a power, a fuel, in standing up for what you believe in. I try to do it, to hold my ground, in a positive way, but it can be seen by some as a negative. It’s tough.