When Constraints Breed Creativity

Photo of Labid Aziz
Sara H. Aziz
Labid Aziz ’99

Hollywood film and media executive Labid Aziz ’99 and his colleagues at Wayfarer Studios wanted to help aspiring filmmakers produce innovative, socially meaningful films during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, embracing the safety guidelines that prevent coronavirus transmission, Aziz and Wayfarer Studios co-founder Justin Baldoni (a filmmaker and actor best-known for portraying Rafael Solano on the series “Jane the Virgin”) launched The Six Feet Apart Experiment, a social distancing-themed filmmaking competition. Each of the five winners, who were announced in August, will receive $50,000 in production financing and will be paired with a seasoned filmmaker who will provide mentorship throughout the project, which must “celebrate and elevate the human spirit.”

The competition was inspired by Baldoni’s film “Five Feet Apart,” a romance about patients with cystic fibrosis, who, because of their illness, must remain a safe distance apart. Baldoni and Aziz also worked together on the movie “Clouds,” about the joyful spirit of a young musician who succumbs to a rare form of cancer. Aziz was a key player in the film’s acquisition by Disney+, which will release “Clouds” this year.

“We’re always looking for new, raw talent in places others might not look,” Aziz says of Wayfarer Studios, where he serves as chief operating officer and chief financial officer. “Our goal is to find mentors from the film industry who can help new creatives become the best versions of themselves as artists and as agents of social change.”

Aziz says he is forever grateful for the strong support he received from faculty mentors, peers and others at Brandeis. As one of the few Muslim students on campus, he was an active student-advocate, helping to arrange transportation so students could attend Friday prayers at a Boston mosque; establishing Islamic Awareness Week; and creating a documentary about Brandeis’ intercultural exchange program with Al-Quds University, in Jerusalem. He also co-launched Culture X, the university’s celebration of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism, which, more than 20 years later, is still going strong.

In his spare time, he taught himself videography as a means of addressing hot-button issues on campus, creating short-form videos that captured student dialogues about racial and religious intolerance, which were ultimately used in a Brandeis conflict-resolution course.

Recognizing Aziz’s talent, then President Jehuda Reinharz, PhD’72, H’11, and former dean of admissions David Gould offered him a full scholarship to complete a post-baccalaureate in entrepreneurship at Brandeis International Business School.

“I can’t say enough about my experience at Brandeis, because it’s really how I got to where I am today,” Aziz says. “Now it’s my responsibility to pay it forward.”

— Naomi Blumberg David