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From NTU to Hollywood – how alumnus Uzair Merchant secured his dream career

Uzair is believed to be Hollywood’s first film production designer from India. He came to the UK and studied at Nottingham Trent International College before embarking on a BA (Hons) Design for Film and Television undergraduate degree at NTU. Today he looks back on his time at the university and explains how it helped him achieve his dream career ambitions.

Uzair Merchant

Q: What did you do at NTU and what is your occupation now?

A: I studied Design for Film and Television at NTU and am currently an artist working in the business in multiple capacities. Production designer, director, producer, and most recently even writing. To me it’s not work, I don’t see what I do as an occupation, but merely an expression of art via multiple mediums.

Q: What has been the high point of your career so far?

A: For me personally, many moments add and build to the capacity of where you are, so I’d say your high point is ever-evolving. However, sometimes what I hold close to me was standing on the sets of The Misfits (just released worldwide). We had a moment where Pierce Brosnan was chatting with Renny Harlin and myself, and Renny was kind enough to tell Pierce how he had hired me on the film and the events leading up to it. To have Mr Bond, and the filmmaker behind Die Hard 2 talk about my creative journey, was priceless.

Q: How did your course at NTU support you in achieving your dream job?

A: I think me working in this business itself is the dream job. I wished more people had the compassion to believe that. We’re lucky to do what we love every day, and my time at NTU has helped me constantly. I wouldn’t say it’s just one thing – but there’s a time and place for everything, and my time at NTU was what turned me into a film professional. I learned the most valuable skills at NTU – these being to commit 100 percent even though the results may not show.

The beauty to our business is making the most of what you have in the time given. That’s what I learned about myself at NTU – I learned to push and dig deeper, which for an artist is the most important thing I’d say. Know yourself, know how to push yourself – it’s key to constantly being inspired.

We’re lucky to do what we love every day, and my time at NTU has helped me constantly
Uziar and director and producer James Bamford
Uzair and director and producer James Bamford

Q: What are your favourite memories of being at university?

A: My entire time at NTU I hold very fondly! It’s probably the most pivotal shift in my personal journey to kick-off something, even I was not sure about it at that point. But the thing I looked forward to the most was industry professionals talking to us about our projects. I think for a person of colour personally, that was so important for me.

There are certain cultural boundaries, especially when you start out it’s hard to break into. Due to the nature of our business, it’s pretty harsh, so being able to learn to ‘speak the lingo’ and understand from someone in the business, just meant, when the time came to being on set, I had an idea of how to go about it. It helps build confidence, knowing someone currently working and respected in the industry is able to give you critical feedback. Reassurance for an artist is so important in evolution.

Q: What would you say to people who want to follow in your footsteps?

A: I’d say try to map out your own path with nothing but honesty for the ART! Only because we each come from our own journeys, with our own strengths to play with. It’s important to understand that about yourself. It’s important to know the intention of what and why we do what we do. It can’t be just for money, and it’s not meant to be for the glam, because it if is, it shows – and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s just a personal choice.

I can also say you need a certain level of resilience. It’s impossible to feel turned down, or feel the struggle through it, YOU MUST ENJOY THE JOURNEY. But lastly, I only do what I do because I know the difference I can bring through my art. This only comes when you know yourself deep enough. Spend time learning about your mind, body, and soul – this is what makes us tick. It’s what gives our art its soul.

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