Archive for January, 2011

January 30th 2011; week 112 of post-production

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Filmwise: We are waiting on the ADR studio to come back to us regarding their availability.
Rather than being yet another element or box that needs to be ticked off in the post-production process, I am beginning to recognize the additional creative platform that re-recording dialogue is going to present me.

All is good.

I have also been revisiting a couple of film projects that have been instilling a sense of guilt in me whenever I come across their rushes and files on the editing system – they were shot before we went into production on Mesocafé, and I am yet to edit them.

The guilt notwithstanding, however, I feel time is a good friend and a great creative partner – the longer I stay away from a work-in-progress the more able I seem to be to see the light.

Freedom..
Over the past few days, I have been following reports from two African nations – South Africa and Egypt. In the former, Nelson Mandela is recovering from a bout of illness, while in the latter, young Egyptians are partaking in what is turning out to be a turning point for the Arab world. The anti-dictatorship protests by the youth of Egypt seem to be a reassuring message to Mr Mandela, a father of freedom fighters the world over, that his belief in equality, human rights and democracy will live on through the generations.

Peace and love,

Ja’far

January 23rd 2011; week 111 of post-production

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Filmwise: on Monday, had a four hour session at the home of our sound designer JD, listening and watching the marriage of the creativity of sound and the image.

JD has done a superb job.

Where to next? JD and I agreed a list of lines of dialogue that we will need to have re-recorded in a studio, the original location sound having been afflicted by one or more of the difficulties of recording clean audio on location – there is the rustling of clothes against the microphone, an unwelcome visit from an airplane passing overhead, sirens from an ambulance or police car etc.

One actor will need to have a a ten-second line of dialogue, and a single word, re-recorded because he was off microphone. As a result, he will need to carve out half a day from his usual routine, and other commitments, to travel to the studio, record the dialogue, which won’t take more than a few minutes, and travel back.

Our executive producer Paul has asked me for the dialogue list with a view to booking an ADR studio to re-record these lines of dialogue.

In view of the large number of actors on the ADR list, I need to find a couple of days that are convenient for all concerned to have the studio session.

So far, the response from the cast members needed for ADR has been most supportive and understanding. I am waiting to hear back from a couple more of the Mesocafé family members.

Popcorn and a bucket of noise..
This has been a week of meetings with filmmakers.
On Tuesday, Paul took me out for lunch in China Town. We met outside the Curzon Soho on a sunny Tuesday. He chose a restaurant that is across the street from the cinema. My first experience of Dim Sum. Delicious.

The highlight of the meeting was the story Paul related to me of how he got into filmmaking; heart-warming and touching.

Earlier today, I was invited to the first meeting of a filmmaking Co-Op in Notting Hill. I felt privileged to be part of this group of up-and-coming filmmakers and actors as they go about putting together a crew for future projects.

Finally, I joined Arij (our production manager) and Daniel (our production designer) for a screening of Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2010). As the audience was pouring past us into the street after the screening, we took turns struggling to find the words to express the magnetism of the lead, Natalie Portman, the subtlety of the sound and special visual effects… and how annoyed we’d been by the three people sitting next to us; they didn’t stop munching pop corn and slurping from fizzy buckets throughout this psychological drama.

I think I am heading back to the pictures for a second viewing :- )

Peace and love,

Ja’far

January 16th 2011; week 110 of post-production

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Filmwise: JD and I are holding a long session tomorrow morning to go through the entire five reels of the film.

Looking forward to it.

Surprise..

At 8:15 on the morning of Monday I arrive at the restaurant and conference rooms centre in Notting Hill where we filmed the office scenes for our film back in November 2008. We are here for the third day of the four day-shoot of my dear friend sayyid Kawa’s short film, Baby-Lon.

Kawa and Jose, our DoP, are already there and I help them move the filming kit from their respective cars into our alloted conference room.

While waiting for everyone to arrive, we settle in the alfresco tables outside a side cafe attached to the centre; we have the most hearty vegetarian English Breakfast I’ve had since a truly sumptuous fare in Hoxton back in January 1999 – I was on my first Super 16mm filmmaking course at the Lux Centre and I joined a group of students for a breakfast at a local pub.

A couple of the new arrivals at our alfresco table enquire as to the reason keeping Dhifaf standing outside – she plays one of the leads in Baby-Lon.

“Sabah il-khayr, Dhifaf; why aren’t joining us for a five-star breakfast?”

“Good morning, Ja’far. I’ve been trying to hide this cake from Kawa (the director). It’s his birthday today.”

The chef is most understanding and takes the birthday cake into his care for the duration of the shoot.

When we begin to set up for the first slate, we find it useful to unpack the kit in the adjoining conference room that opens into the space we’d been rented out. Kawa and I agree that I would approach the manager about the temporary use of this extra space, after Jose finishes lighting the scene.

Out of the blue, a twenty-something man in a suit turns up.

“Why are you using this room? You’re supposed to be next door!”

I try to explain how we needed the extra space to unpack the kit, but he comes across as quite belligerent and unhelpful; so much so, that I lose my calm.

He insists that this space is to be used by another party in the next few minutes.

Fortunately, for the shoot, the manager seems to become concerned by Kawa’s statement of fact that since we’d hired our conference room for filming purposes, he would be within his rights to complain in the event of sound emanating from this space interfering with our filming.

A member of the team appears to strike the appropriate level of formal understanding with the manager; consequently, we are allowed the use of a broom cupboard/toilets to store our kit for the remainder of the day.

Eight hours later, Kawa calls it a wrap.

While Jose and his camera department – Fady and Mustafa – are busy packing up the kit, Dhifaf brings up the cake from the kitchen. I help light the candles.

“What do you think; should we light these sparklers?”

I didn’t think they should be lit in interiors.

With the candles lit, I call everyone over.

“Dear friends, allow me to…”

Suddenly, the fire alarm goes off. This is not your average continuos high decibel sound; this comes with a warning message shouted out by an authoritative-the-ship-is-sinking voice.

“The fire alarm has been activated; please vacate the building immediately!”

“The fire alarm has been activated; please vacate the building immediately!”

“The fire alarm has been activated; please vacate the building immediately!”

Dhifaf had been assured by the staff that it would be fine to light these.

We had the cake at a restaurant on Westbourne Grove.

The great news – I got out of giving a speech :- )

Peace and love,

Ja’far

January 9th 2011; week 109 of post-production

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Filmwise: the international courier saga of last week turned out for the best; the film-related files that I’d had ready to send off turned out to be corrupt and in need of essential tweaking. All’s well that turns out well…

My meeting with JD is now set for next week. I am also meeting Paul at some point in the next fortnight.

“Could my friend try it too?”

As a relatively comfortable touch-typist, I have always found it an excruciating experience for one’s finger joints when typing for extended periods on “hot desking” keyboards. Aside from the archive of bread crumbs and all manner of debris that seem to find their way into the average office keyboard, their overuse by so many employees makes the act of touch-typing, in some instances, slower than hold-on-where-is-the-key-for-S-oh-here-it-is-so-let-me-take-a-hammer-to-it methodology. For the past few weeks, I have taken to bringing my own keyboard to work. On Friday night, I had a choice between leaving said personalised tool in one’s work kit in  my locker as per normal, and miss the last train, or simply take said keyboard home. It couldn’t fit into my rucksack. So I carried it under my arm.

As I wait for my connection at Holborn station, I am accosted by a couple of young ladies. “Can I type, please?”. “Thank you, could my friend try it too?”

Although unable to touch-type, they seem to have gentle key strokes.

I think to myself, well, that has passed away painlessly, until one of them pulls out a little digital camera and begins to snap away.

The photo shows a tired-looking Middle Eastern man in a simple mass produced overcoat, with a hood at the back, a scarf around his neck, holding the keyboard while a girl young enough to be his daughter is phantom-typing - old enough to be her father, if he’d married at a very very young age, I hasten to add . I can’t imagine the “comments” on facebook to be particularly flattering to the hapless man holding the keyboard.

Thought it best to offer my side of the story, in case the photo turns up on some far corner of the cyber ocean: -)

Baby-Lon

Saturday morning, and I am waiting at the same bus stop of New Year’s Eve, near Notting Hill. The bus takes me to North London. I have been granted permission to snap away while sayyid Kawa Rasul directs his debut short film.

I arrive at the bus stop closest to Kawa’s place. Being a creature of habit, I don’t have a map with me. The first passer-by I ask doesn’t know the address. I see a friendly looking face and I try once more.

“Hello, do you know where XYZ Gardens is, please?”.

“No, I am sorry, I don’t.”

“That’s alright; thank you.”

I walk a few more yards while dialing Kawa’s number on the mobile.

“Sorry, are you going to the filming?”

I look back, and it is the same young lady of ten seconds ago.

It turns out Zaynab is also helping out in the project. She knows the way.

As soon as I go into Kawa’s living room, I am greeted by the sight of Jose Ruiz, the experienced gaffer on Mesocafé. Jose is busy checking the sound kit. After we hug, I take a seat and watch as sit Ahlam, who plays the role of the cafe owner in our film, chats with other cast and crew members.

I take in the scene before me as Jose goes through the first set up with Kawa; I reflect at how this budding collaboration between the two is at some level a result of Do Elephants Pray, directed by our executive producer Paul Hills, and also of Dimuqratiyyah wa Nuss / A Democracy and a Half, the play directed by sit Ahlam. I met  Kawa through attending and filming the rehearsals of the play, while Jose was among the list professionals from the crew of Do Elephants Pray that Paul Hills kindly recommended to me.

Filming commences, and Jose and Kawa enquire whether I would mind taking on some of the duties of an assistant director. I am thrilled to be asked and throw myself into synchronising the sound, camera and clapper board team effort. It is only when I watch intently the performances of the cast under Kawa’s direction that I realize how much I have missed being on a film set for the past year and half – since we had our last pickups shoot.

The day progressed as well as an indie shoot would on the first day of filming; while everyone radiated good and supportive energy, we all needed a few hours before   synching our rhythm.

Sixteen hours later, Zaynab and I walked back to the same spot where we’d met in the morning to catch the bus back to Notting Hill. A couple of stops into the short journey, a familiar face came aboard. “Hello, Zain; how are you?”

Having just finished working with some of our collaborators and friends from the Mesocafé shoot, it almost felt like complimentary to this mini-reunion for me to bump into another dear member of the Mesocafé family.

I asked after Zain’s university, and his filmmaking work; he enquired after our film.

Sunday was a relatively short day of filming at the rooms above a pub overlooking Queensway and Westbourne Grove.

A great week.

Peace and love,

Ja’far

January 2nd 2011; week 108 of post-production

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Filmwise: 14:00 New Year’s Eve, I arrange a courier pick up from home; there is some film-related documentation that needs to be sent forthwith. “Sir, the courier will be there between two and four”. Having to be at work before four, I think it best to book the courier for collection from my place of work. “Yes, sir; I will make a note for the driver not to collect before four.”

I arrive at four to work. “Hello Ja’far, there was a courier driver asking for you at 2:30!”.

Hurrying through the almost deserted streets of the City, visiting a couple of the local depots for this courier company and finding them to have closed early, I remembered a conversation I’d had with Alessio, our director of photography, long before we filmed Mesocafé. I remember saying, as an Indie filmmaker, at this stage of one’s budding career, one has to be blessed with a sprinkling of madness; how else would one explain enduring in these empty streets these lashes of Siberian wind against the little part of the face that has escaped the scarf and the hood. Wealth! Most certainly not;  I wouldn’t know what to do with any amount of cash that I couldn’t fit into my trouser pocket, other than make another movie. Fame! I don’t envy those filmmakers their inability to go out for a coffee with their loved ones without being hounded by the paparazzi. Power! not sure what that means, nor how able I would be to make good use of it. Artistic satisfaction – you got me! Putting a smile on the faces and in the hearts of an audience.. that is certainly a worthy destination for this journey.

Back at work, I received a call from a filmmaking friend. His film has begun its festival tour. So pleased for him; he had endured a similarly trying journey and survived to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

Speaking of the journey, I am pleased to be following the pre-shoot rehearsals for a short film written and directed by Kawa Rasul, who plays the role of Tawfiq in our film. I am compiling a photo journal of the whole experience.

Happy New Year
With only 40 minutes to spare before the clock turned 2011, I set off from the City to North London. The Central line dropped me at Notting Hill, and from there I headed to the nearest bus stop for the Number 52. This turned out to be at the top of Westbourne Grove, at the bottom of the steps to a church that had only just finished the evening Mass. Among the overwhelmingly Afro-Caribbean congregation were a few middle aged ladies who joined me at the bus stop. The moment we hopped on the bus, the clock turned to midnight. “Happy New Year… Happy New Year, dear”.

One of the most sincere and sweetest greetings I’ve ever heard on a New Year’s Eve.

Peace and love,

Ja’far