Ali Afshar wears many titles. He’s the founder, CEO, and (although, is quite humble about it) a studio mogul, who heads up Forrest Films. Afshar began his career path as a record-setting professional race car driver, who turned actor and then turned movie producer. Today, he continues to dabble in each of his passions.
Born to Race
It was through racing that Afshar met his film financiers; people who were on board with the types of movies that he wanted to create. “I made the first movie,” Afshar tells The Burn-In. “I thought I was only going to do one or two. I just finished the 15th one. We naturally grew,” he continued. “A lot of our movies are action-based. Whether it’s like [the one we just shot] ‘Mickey Kelley,’ which is more like MMA kind of fighting, or motorsports, racing cars and motorcycles or stuff like that, it kind of blends the worlds into one. That’s where the three careers of acting, racing, and producing converged.”
Afshar’s first movie was called “Born to Race.” The independent film became an online cult favorite. The sequel led Afshar to meet his current financiers—Forrest and Charlotte Lucas. Since teaming up with billionaire Forrest Lucas (founder and owner of Lucas Oil, MAVTV, Lucas Oil Speedway, and the man who has the naming rights to the Indianapolis Colts’ Stadium, “Lucas Oil Stadium”), Forrest Films has gone on to make over a dozen movies.
Lights, Camera, Action!
The Burn-In recently spoke with Afshar on a call from Petaluma, California, where they had just wrapped their latest film, “Mickey Kelley.” They do about three or four movies a year up in Northern California. This project marks the 13th movie they’ve shot up there since 2015. The feel-good action movie, which Afshar compares to “Rocky,” stars Sean Patrick Flanery, Katrina Bowden, and Dennis Quaid.
The Burn-In (TBI): Can you tell me more about the types of films that you plan on supporting with this studio venture? What kind of stories do you want to tell?
Ali Afshar: They are stories about the “American Dream,” underdog stories; stories about doing the right thing. Five of our last 12 movies have been with women leads; two Middle Eastern leads; two African American leads. We were doing diversity before it was fashionable. A lot of people now are just doing it because it’s on-trend. We don’t care about the trend, that’s just the right thing to do. If you look back on “The Dog Lover” or “Running Wild” you’ll see our movies were diverse; males, females, different ethnicities.
We were already doing the kind of movies we want to do. It’s the “American Dream.” You know, it’ll make you shed a tear, but will leave you with a smile. They’re always pretty feel-good-ish. We’re not going to dabble into any other areas as of yet—we might expand to maybe do a horror movie or something, which would just be fun to do. But, for now, that’s our mission.
TBI: How do you become attached to a project? Where do most of your ideas come from?
AA: We started with writing our own stuff. We come up with our own ideas, write our own scripts, and then produce them. That’s traditionally how it happens. But, this one we just did, “Mickey Kelley,” was written by one of our directors. As part of our company, he directed nine of our movies. Alex Ranarivelo had written the script with Sean Patrick Flanery, who ended up playing the lead. Sean’s been in three of our movies. He’s a family friend, and he’s part of the company family. It really comes from different areas. There are other things, where I’ve just been like, you know what, I want to tell this story. We like doing these, stand up for the small guys, the underdog, do the right thing, movies; especially if they’re in the traditional American Western world. We gravitate towards that.
TBI: What do you see for the future of Forrest Films? What type of boundaries do you hope to break down?
AA: I think our films are not only meant for the coasts. I think there’s a lot of America that needs content. I think we’re “family alternative content.” Other than animation, there’s not too much that whole families can go see that’s still entertaining. We might have an R-rated movie as well, but they’re all going have a lot of heart—a lot of hope. They’re not faith-based at all, but they are faith adjacent.
People will like them because they’re still wholesome and ethically correct. As we expand, we’re going to be working with WarnerMedia and the new streaming service. So, I think we’re going to get into making a series. We’ll keep making bigger and better movies, but our goal is to build and also expand into series as well. That’s the wave of the future, so we’re going to ride it.
TBI: How do you think what you’re doing is positively impacting the film community?
AA: Our crew, our staff, I think we’re 50 percent female; with diversity from Middle Eastern to African Americans. We have different voices—young, old, male, female, and different nationalities. That helps make the right decisions for us, and what we want to do, so I think that does make an impact. Anybody that touches our films, anybody that we reach out to, anybody that we connect with, I think will benefit from that. I really don’t think too much of the industry in those terms directly; we’re just kind of an anomaly. We just do what we do and hope it works out.
TBI: What do you see for the big picture of Forrest Films?
AA: I’m hoping with the types of movies we’re doing, that we have enough production value, just enough star power, exciting stories, and heartfelt stories, that they will start resonating with people in their minds and hearts. Then you know that they will enjoy that experience; that’s my goal.
“Forrest Films is here to give quality entertainment but also to shed a tear and leave a smile,” Afshar added. “I think we want to escape into movies. I think it’s also morally and ethically cool to do stuff that leaves a positive legacy; movies that can have a long-lasting shelf life and the family as a whole can enjoy that. That’s what I’d love people to think of when they hear about Forrest Films.”
Forrest Films also has some incredible projects that are set to be released. “Bennett’s War” will be out on August 30. “Lady Driver” (which also features Sean Patrick Flanery) will be out in October. “Ride,” which stars Ludacris, will follow in December. “The Stand at Paxton County” (think “Erin Brockovich”), is on deck after that.
Next year will be “American Fighter,” the sequel to “American Wrestler,” which was the movie with Oscar winner, Jon Voight. And then there’s “Wheels of Fortune,” which is their first attempt at a slapstick-goofball-comedy. “Think ‘Talladega Nights’ meets ‘Zoolander’ meets ‘Anchorman,’ but set the world of car racing,” Afshar describes. “Roped” is another fun movie they’ve got in the pipeline. Imagine “Footloose” but set in the Rodeo world.
On a side note, the two stars of “Roped,” Josh Swickard and Lorynn York, met and reportedly fell in love on the set of Afshar’s film. The couple just got married last week. By the looks of things, Forrest Films might have a future in producing love stories as well.