Lilly recently sat down with our friend, HI acting alum and Wushu World Champion Hussain Sadiqi. Hussain has been working hard to inspire and educate the young men and women of Afghanistan through his Shaolin School for Kung Fu. Enjoy this inspiring interview from this remarkable man.
Hussain, I have known you now for many years. Whatever you turn your hand to you seem to achieve. You are a world champion in Kung Fu, you have opened a Shaolin School in Afghanistan for young men and women giving them so much joy and hope and you are also doing everything in your power to make sure the people of Afghanistan have a bright future. Where does this drive and determination come from?
My father was a blacksmith, and as a child and teenager I worked in his shop. Within his tiny small poor shop he taught me to make a sharp, steel knife. You have to put the piece of iron into a very high temperature fire and then hammer it many, many times to turn that iron into steel, and then shave it into a nice sharp knife. My father in his tiny small blacksmith shop, shaped my inner strength and my personality. In my life I went through many hardships since my childhood and I learned everything the hard way and that’s why I don’t take things for granted.
It’s no secret that you love Bruce Lee – how much has he inspired you to live the life you are living now?
Bruce Lee for sure was one of my great heroes and idols. As a child in the remote mountain area of Afghanistan, just by seeing his picture I entered into the world of Martial Arts. Martial Arts formed my goals and achievements in my life. However later on in my life, I learned that I have to be myself rather than somebody else like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. They are my role models and I admire them, but they are not me.
You joined us on HI right back when we first started in 2010. Tell us what that experience meant to you and what you gained from it?
As Martial Arts set the goals and dreams in my early life, HI opened a new gate of dreams on a greater stage of my life where I could use everything I learned in the past with all my dreams and turn them to reality. I wish I stayed in LA to pursue my acting dreams but there were bigger plans for me.
It’s so inspiring and huge what you are doing for the young men and of course the women of Afghanistan. I can imagine it’s also very risky for you. Can you explain how you feel about this and what it means to you?
This past few years here in Afghanistan were so challenging for me in so many different ways but I stayed and faced all those challenges. It was so hard to deal with many difficulties such as security as the main problem, in which 3 times I was 15 seconds to 1 minute away from the suicide explosion with over 50 people killed in each of them. Here people are very tight with their old culture and in many families girls are not even allowed to study at school. But with hard work and persistence I was successful to make those families send their girls to school to get education, and attend my academy to learn martial arts.
What is one piece of advice you would give to young people striving for their dreams today?
Set a goal and a big goal for their future, and work towards it with hard work and persistence and never listen to when people say NO, as NO for me was always Next Opportunity.
What has been the highlight of your life so far?
Firstly, when I was 6 years old one morning I saw other kids we used to play amongst each other and they were wearing their nice clothes with their nice bags and they were ready to go somewhere. I went with them too but with my pyjamas and an old shirt I had on. That day we all went to school and they were enrolling at school with their parents amongst them but I was alone – and when the person who enrolled the kids asked me why I was there I replied, “I want to be in school too.”
So he asked me what my family name was and I said, “I don’t know.” Until that time I didn’t know I had a family name. I told that person my name is just Hussain. That night I asked my father what our family name was. My father asked me why I am asking about my family name? I replied that I enrolled into a school.
My father just looked at me with silence. Many years later I found out what it meant, that look and silence meant I’ve done the first big, good and unexpected work in my life.
My father was very against my martial arts but he was very supportive of my education. I actually hid my martial arts training for 6 years from him until I got into the National Team and then he found out. That’s why in 2012 when I won the International Gold medal the first thing I did was call my father and told him that I have become the World Champion. To earn my father’s satisfaction was worth more than the gold medal I got.
Going to L.A with Hollywood Immersive was great for me every moment of it. From the time I was selected to the team, traveling, studying, living and learning and meeting the stars all was magnificent memories and experience in my life. HI opened a new gate of my dreams in the highest acting industry anybody could dream of.
What is your ultimate dream for the future?
I have a few dreams to fulfill:
First, I want to build a school – 2700 meters above the sea level village.
As a small boy from that village who recognize an international level I owe them. Especially when I returned to my village there many kids who came to see me with my posters in their hands and they study in ruins under the sun, I was ashamed.
Secondly, I would love to expand Shaolin School to the National institute of Martial Arts (NIMA) and gather sponsorship to help so all the boys and girls who have a dream in martial arts. Then NIMA could produce the top International martial artists from Afghanistan.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a 19 year old Hussain Sadiqi?
In this case I always remember what my father was telling me to do was to continue my studies and get my degree.
It’s always such a pleasure talking to our friend and alum Bessie Kay. Bessie is currently the host of Open Homes Australia on Channel 9, she’s a dancer and an entrepreneur with her own creative content company called Created Media. Bessie and I dive into all things dance media, creative endeavours, business and what’s coming up for 2019. Always such a pleasure!
Bessie you are one of the most energetic people I know. Full of constant creative ideas that just seem to fuel you. You have now opened Created Media in Australia. Tell us all about your new company, what you do, who you work with and what you hope the achieve going forward.
We are a creative agency with a special focus on creating opportunity, exposure and information for dancers. Millions of dollars are spent by brands every year on marketing. Our mission is to align those brands with the entertainment industry directly, opening up the doors for exposure to our talent. The reason our dancers have smaller online profiles in Australia is purely because of our population and a more reserved internet culture. If we can securely align dancers with brands that are big with an active online presence and are global, then the that’s a HUGE thing for our community and very exciting!!
The human brain processes video content 60,000 times faster than text AND video content that involves music or dance is actually 70% more effective to marketers. Our happy place is being able to merge the two worlds of media + dance to create artistic content that benefits all involved. We see it as a win win situation.
We work with exceptional talent within the industry and we have some great plans to be able to more effectively connect that talent to brands who actively invest in marketing.
You joined us on HI way back in 2012 as a host. How did this experience impact you going forward in your career?
It completely impacted my whole world actually. I came to the program unsure of what I wanted. I was working as a fashion designer and dancer and my job in fashion ended abruptly. I went to LA on a whim and did the HI program for some inspiration.
That 1 week in LA showed me the potential for more opportunity than any of the work I had previously done in Australia. I had always been interested in working in front of the camera and had a bit of experience, but it was actually the teaching on branding, self-marketing and the exposure to a very strong industry through industry professionals that lead to me instantly perusing a career in TV and media.
Mind you, looking back now, I’ve seen how ahead of the game HI was. What I was being taught with regard to branding and marketing, only started to take effect in Australia years later! I had no idea how behind the Australian creative industry was compared to the USA.
Hollywood Immersive instantly came across to me as an authentic company, genuinely passionate about helping and connecting creatives. Years later and through having a great relationship with you and the team now, I know more than ever for that to be true.
Thank you for igniting that fire in my belly 😉
Starting a new business is never a walk in the park. Some people tend to forget that and see someone’s creative baby and try to copy it. We’ve both seem examples of that for both of our respective businesses. What wonderful advice do you have for those people going forward?
These questions really hit home to me Lilly and I’d like to share with you a moment of truth that has shaped me and the decisions that I make in business and life.
Going back quite a few years when I worked as a young dancer in the corporate and commercial dance scenes in Melbourne, I had a brief from a client who wanted a specific looking costume. I enquired about hiring a costume that fitted the bill and in a quick and ‘over excited’ moment, I realized I could make that same costume (or a pretty close version to it). Not only would I save money, but I’d also be able to have the costume for many more jobs moving forward. So, I made the costume. I spent $50 all up, but it cost me a much more valuable lesson.
The unexpected repercussions of my actions and choices came pouring down on me almost instantly! I had copied someone’s costumes design! I was unaware it was a unique design and that was because of my own ignorance of the network I was entering. I was flying forward in an industry, getting some great momentum and then through no fault but my own, I crossed the wrong costume maker.
I saw a creative who was passionate about their product be affected by what I thought was an insignificant action on my behalf. It stopped me in my tracks and that small moment in time has stayed with me through every business decision I’ve made moving forward and has shaped my ‘moral business compass’. I’ve had the experience and I’ve learnt the lesson.
So, I wonder if others out there copying ideas or being ‘inspired by’ people in the same industry have a moral business compass??
Not everything in business needs to be ruthless and through my journey I’ve realized that keeping great and honest relationships in the industry is a much more powerful tool in the long run…. and when it comes to business, isn’t longevity something we all seek?
If I could sum it up I’d say the following:
1. Seek support and connections with businesses run by authentic people.
2. Learn to discern the difference between the real pioneers in the industry and the big businesses who would do anything to make a dollar and stay ahead.
3. For those people out there, who constantly find themselves being shadowed by big players in the industry or if you are subtly but definitely having your ideas copied. Know that you have something special that is standing out enough to have others pay attention to it. If companies, businesses, people or brands are copying you, remember they are only able to achieve a version of what you offer. You hold the REAL DEAL WITHIN YOU and that is your business SUPERPOWER.
You love to give back and make sure young dancers are getting incredible ground-breaking opportunities as we recently saw with our collaboration for Dance Immersive Down Under. What is it that fires inside you that enables you to do this and so many other things around giving back?
Our industry (the dance industry in particular) in Australia is really small compared to other parts of the world. If we don’t have leaders in the field stepping up to nurture the environment of the industry then where does it end up? Where does the work come from? How is the industry sustained within our country?
Sometimes it becomes our role to enable change and growth for the next generation of dancers and for some reason I do feel a strong responsibility to step up. I am very passionate and excited about the potential growth of dance in Australia.
There are actually a few leaders out there who are trying new things and creating new opportunities for dancers and that’s what we need more of. It will lead to more creative productions being made, more world standard dancers being produced, more entertainment within Australia and will spill over into more business and dance schools profiting as well.
I’d like to commend other influential people like Todd Patrick, director of PSA. He’s charging forward in the role of equipping young dancers with business skills. The incredible talent being churned out of his school are dancing exceptionally on a very strong foundation of business knowledge. That is so powerful in today’s climate and most definitely wasn’t taught to our generation of dancers.
Or, Dance Machine Studios for incorporating live internet powered dance classes for their students. These classes are taught by international teachers via internet straight into their classroom in Melbourne. I haven’t seen the class in action yet, but to even give the idea a shot and invest in new the technology is a really positive step.
There are many people doing good out there and it does go back to supporting these ideas instead of people turning their back and eventually copying them anyway. Our industry needs to be cared for and looked after like people would a precious rose garden.
Tell us all about Dance Immersive Down Under and what should we be looking out for come 2019?
I’m really excited about 2019! Through doing Dance Immersive Down Under and also the original program Dance Immersive LA, I realized the formula to be able to platform and connect a number of dancers annually to the source of the industry. Through the relationships and exposure gained in the program, dancers are more likely to succeed with great careers moving forward.
2019 brings even more connections for our dancers and more exposure. It’s a program that only exists through the support of the industry and has the potential truly put Australian dance on the map.
Thank you for your support with it!
As well as own your own content creative agency you are also the host for Channel 9’s Open Homes Australia. Tell us about what you do on this show and how it inspires you.
I LOVE MY JOB!
I’ve spent the past few years hosting various shows for Channel 9, Channel 9 Life, Channel 7 Two and Foxtel. Most of these shows have been within the home and design sector, which truthfully, I bluffed my way through in the beginning because I had no experience with interior design what so ever! I’m endlessly grateful to my first boss in the industry who took a major chance on me!
As it’s turned out, my experience in design and home knowledge (or lack thereof) is not what kept bringing me the roles. In fact, it was the world of experience I had gained through my years leading up to the job and most importantly my understanding that being AUTHENTIC is what makes someone good at their role.
My job is much more than a being host on a ‘home show’ to me!
It’s an ability to have a voice, It’s my expression, it’s being able to talk to and learn from interesting people. It’s being able to be ME. Flaws and all.
It makes me really happy.
Knowing you as I do… you have BIG plans soooo what’s is your ultimate hosting gig and is it something you are constantly working towards?
Dance and Media!
I’d be happy as Larry (which mind you is my father’s name and he’s pretty happy!) if I could share both my passions for TV and the dance industry in one project.
I have constantly created stepping stone after stepping stone to realize that goal and it’s very much a desire of my heart.
We caught up with our friend and alum Amin Esmaeilipour who joined us from Singapore. Amin is a gifted actor, writer, painter and photographer with a huge amount of potential. We wanted to see how life has changed since we last saw him on HI.
Who is Amin Esmaeilipour? Tell us about yourself.
I am 19 years old; I was born and raised in Singapore. I am of Iranian descent. I am an actor, writer, painter and Photographer.
What drove you from your hometown to come to Los Angeles? You’ve traveled a great distance. What did you expect to find?
Looking back at the beginning in 2015 when I visited Iran for the first time in my life I spent a year and a half studying there. Until that time, I never really thought I would be an actor or a writer let alone both. But one day during my time over there I realized, that I am getting older and by default have more independents and control of my life. I knew I needed to have a purpose, something that made me get up in the morning, see beyond what I thought was possible. So I began to study screenplay writing and went on to write my first screenplay and learning acting through various resources at the time. Naturally being a teenager very few around me really thought anything about what I was doing amounting to much. But deep down I knew there was more in me, that this ‘purpose’ could unlock doors to places I never knew existed. I thought “why not me?” When I came back to Singapore from my trip, I had a clear vision of where I wanted to be and worked around the clock getting there, which led me to an almost miraculous opportunity though the HI program to come to Los Angeles. I expected to learn more about myself as well as be pointed in the right direction on how I can prepare myself to be able to make it as an actor and writer.
What are some things that you took with you after the HI program and applied to your career?
The HI program was the beginning of the next stage of my life, it brought with it new habits, new ways at looking at situations, both in my art and in daily life. It also was in a way a celebration for me to make a concrete step to come to the HI program. Once there it validated the steps I had been taking in my life while adding different dimensions to it. It influenced my career in many ways such as the need to add more content (in my case writing more screenplays and a book), diversifying the acting techniques and the mindset to never stop working on oneself just to name a few. In general it was a game changer for me as I began to add more structure and discipline to the way I approached my career.
You came to LA as a newer actor, and you’re also a writer. Has the acting training helped you with your writing in terms of character development, story arcs…etc? Now that you can envision it from the actor’s point of view.
Acting training has immensely helped my writing, especially in understanding of the different logistical requirements that the writer has to take into consider from a production point of view. Obviously each writer has there own philosophy and own style which is why the same characters with the same journey could turn out into two different stories when you give it to two different writer. I traditionally put an emphasis on how I feel, If I don’t laugh, cry or feel the right emotion that audience is suppose to be feeling while writing the scene then I know I need to change it. I still follow this method but I supplement it with the advice I had received that helps me tactically strategies and logically find the best path for the story to follow which definitely helped with the flow of the story stabilizing it nicely to make better sense and easier to follow. So it becomes controlled chaos rather that getting out of hand.
Tell us about your writing process and what you like to write about? What stories do you want to tell?
I generally start with an inkling of an idea that can come out of anywhere. My idea for my first screenplay came up while waiting in the queue at the bank. Afterwards I simply ask myself the question “what if…” and that takes it to an entirely new level of creative freedom; removing all perceived restrictions with different scenarios, points of conflict, relationships…etc.
Writing is daunting and makes me nauseous sometimes. However, it is also magical, wonderful and makes me feel alive. After I have a clear defined outline of the moments I feel are critical to the structure and flow of the story. I begin work on building around them, sometimes there are ten moments other times twenty – it depends on the story, every screenplay comes out differently depending on what could happen.
While I write, I sometimes go days on end without taking a break. So much so after an intense couple of days of writing, dreams manifest themselves of me in the shoes of the character, in their world doing what they’re suppose to do or sometimes something the complete opposite and that makes me think of another way to tell the story. My favorite part of the process is when I get feedback on a story and have a chance to improve it further, since the input of another person can bring a whole new dimension to the story and an added depth in places I hadn’t even considered.
I don’t have a particular genre. I love writing classic concepts and themes from a new vantage point without losing the magic. I enjoy each story in its own way. I write stories based on what touches me. I want to tell stories that inspire people, while bringing them on a fulfilling journey.
Have you been able to find opportunities in Singapore? How are you tackling roadblocks?
Over the last year since the HI program, knowing where I am and realizing where I want to be has helped turn roadblocks into opportunities to grow. Preparation was key during the early stages. I knew I just had to keep moving forward and continue to improve myself, my acting and my screenplays, I had done that through various acting and writing master classes. I began to create more screenplays, expanding on the screenplays I had already written and branching out to different genres having also finished writing a 200+ page book.
Has your writing style changed as you’ve grown and matured?
I write based on how I feel and what’s happening in the world, the older I get the more I feel that I tend to juggle the different aspects of the story better. There is a clearer, concise and considered approach to the story. I spend more time reviewing my work as I gotten older. By the time I was 18 I was making sure I read my screenplays at least 15-20 times before I’d consider them finalized in anyway even then I left the door open on changing them if I need to. Now at 19 I make sure to write every day and try to keep the same concentration, attention to detail and intensity in how to story was told as I had when I began writing years ago.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time from now?
As I think of my goals and dreams, my personal goals and career goals. I see myself working with extraordinary people creating amazing pieces of art through the medium of film and television. Writing new stories and making those stories come to life.