Archive for February, 2011

February 27th 2011; week 116 of post-production

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Filmwise: The ADR studio have let me know that the audio files of the dialogue re-recording sessions of a fortnight ago are ready for despatch to me. Hopefully, I will receive them over the coming few days. Paul called at the end of the week to check in and be updated on the film’s progress. We looked into possible dates for the final mix. We both are hoping that it will be sometime in April. In order for the final mix to take place, we need to complete the ADR for the remaining six actors, get the re-recorded and re-ordered music score from Natalie, and have the sound design and the foley edit checked off. JD is in the third of a six week process to complete the edit of the foley files.

On Saturday evening, and after more than two years of intermittent email correspondence, I finally had that long-awaited coffee and chat with sayyid Rida, one of the actors involved in our film. Rida has been on quite a journey of  his own over the past 24 months. We both had so much to talk about at the little café next door to the cinema in Marble Arch. Alas, he had a train to catch, though we did manage to touch on the main points that we need to cover in the ADR session for his character. I am to email Rida the script for his scenes in the film so that he would be fully acquainted with his lines before we arrive at the sound studio.

“Photo shoot”
At the start of the week, sayyid Kawa, who plays the role of Tawfiq in our film, got in touch to enquire about the possibility of my taking some photographs of an actor friend for a jewelry store in Queensway. The store’s owner is a mutual friend, and the photos would be used to promote his business in the local press.

Being fully aware of the limitations of my photographic skills, my first instinct was to caution my friend over the potential colour and glow issues that I imagined would arise when trying to photograph jewelry and gem stones. The same cause for concern, however, was also a reason for me to jump at the opportunity to work with an actor through a lens – all film and photographic experience is welcome, and is bound to be instructive.

So, on Friday, I left home early before work to browse through the couple of electrical hardware stores that have survived the onslaught of chains on my local high street. You see, I wasn’t keen on using the flash unit on my camera as the sole source for lighting the actor and the jewelry; I needed some soft bounced off light to cover the shadows and compliment the skin tones. The other reason I was heading to an electric hardware store is my awareness of the heat issues that would arise from using a high wattage light bulb. In fact, I remember the smell of melting plastic spreading in the little bedsit in which I shot a short 16mm film back in the autumn of 1999. I had found – I think – a 250 watt light bulb at a local hardware store, which has since closed. The heat from the bulb caused the plastic casing of the lamp to melt. The now more widely available energy efficient florescent lights provide a great alternative as they don’t generate as much heat as the old-fashioned light bulbs.

Having found and held back on buying the fluorescent light bulbs, getting hold of the actual lamps into which the bulbs would be fitted proved a lot more hard work.

On Saturday morning, I was back on the high street by mid morning, re-checking the stores and hoping that I would find both the lamps and the florescent lights at a budget price. Fortunately, my memory came to the rescue and I realised that a hardware store exists right next to the very café where I shot a short film in March 2008. The café is no longer there, but the store seems to continue to survive on what I imagine to be a loyal group of local clienteles.

On Queensway itself, I popped into a stationer’s for a couple of A2 size white cards to act as light reflectors. A few doors from the jewelers was a hardware store that I’d hope would have the florescent light bulbs at a more reasonable price. I wasn’t disappointed.

While the actor was getting ready, sayyid Kawa helped me cover one of the white cards with aluminum kitchen foil.

Once the shoot began, the five-year-old nephew of Arij, our production manager, who had been left in the care of Kawa for the day, along with the eight-year old son of the storeowner proved to be a most enthusiastic and helpful team of assistants.

The photo shoot went quite well, though I wish I’d spent a bit more time on location preparing the lighting in advance. A lesson for future photo and film shoots.

After coffee with sayyid Rida, mentioned above, a short tube journey took me back to Queensway and to my friend Kawa by the entrance to the Whiteleys Shopping Centre. We drove towards my part of town where we were to catch a movie.

If one were to say the truth, the full truth, then I have to admit that the film I had in mind was “No Strings Attached” –  I know, I am very much in touch with my feminine side :- )
However, as we were queuing for the tickets, we both looked at the film start times, and No Strings was a good 40 minutes away. We therefore opted for Animal Kingdom (Dir. David Michod, Australia 2010).

Being a budding filmmaker, and someone who’s spent the greater part of the past decade studying film as an academic discipline, I would like to think that I have been conditioned to endure some of the most challenging film work from around the world. I am not sure, whether it was my physical exhaustion after the day’s shoot, or the overbearing soundtrack on the film, or the slow pace of the story – slow, as opposed to majestic, I could not help let sayyid Kawa know how relieved I was to see the end credits.

Back at home, I watched “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (Dir. Philip Kaufman, 1988) to get back into my usual happy self.

On Sunday, I was up quite early; needed to revisit the rom-com story that I am developing as one of three possible candidates for my next feature project. In the afternoon, I took one of those long walks that were synonymous with the simultaneous writing of the thesis and the Mesocafé script. Many a little gem of an idea has come to me while being on one of these walks.

At the day’s end, I was back at the same cinema of Friday evening to watch “No Strings Attached” (Dir. Ivan Reitman, 2011). Being relatively early, I thought the waiting area at the screen doors would provide a respite from the cold outside. Among the audience joining me appeared an actor from the Mesocafé family. She wasn’t on her own, but with another six girls.

“Hi Ja’far!”

Wasn’t sure if admitting to so many girls my choice of movie would do my street cred any favours :- )

Peace and love,

Ja’far

February 20th 2011; week 115 of post-production

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Filmwise: I am waiting for the ADR studio to let me know when the audio files of last week are ready for me to collect.
Our sound designer JD is currently working on the editing the Foley files. He is already two  weeks into the six week process. Brilliant.

“I used to wander into the BFI too…”
A dear friend put me in touch with a theatre director about whom I’ve been reading for the past couple of years.
So, on Saturday morning, I found myself going coconut shopping with the director on Peckham high street.
“Is there a method you follow in breaking open a coconut?”
“I just bash it with a hammer!”

I think I will be trying that soon, though the last time I tackled a coconut with a hammer, it flew across my little kitchen table and left my fingers reeling from the experience.

As ever, I am touched and grateful to the kindness that I am shown by people that I have been privileged to meet through contacts I have made in making Mesocafé. I later confided to the director’s friend, who joined us as we drove to London Bridge, how effortlessly the director had managed to put me at ease during our meeting at his home.

Unless you have to shoot off immediately, said the director, please join us for a coffee at Borough Market. On admitting that I hadn’t been to the market before, he gave me a very enticing history of the place; coffee seemed too good a prospect to turn down.

“I am heading to the BFI this afternoon, before joining a dear friend for his birthday do.”
“What are you going to watch?”
“Not sure; I will simply wander into the place and see whatever show is next.”
“Before I had children, I used to also head to the BFI with no plans…”

We said our goodbyes, and I walked towards London Bridge station clutching my umbrella and a slice of carrot cake that the director had gifted me – “made with my own hands.”

At the South Bank, the next available show was “Two in the Wave” (Dir. Emmanuel Laurent, France 2010). “Are there any trailers before the show?”, I asked the gentleman behind the counter. “The film begins at exactly 4:20”. With no time left for me to grab anything to eat, the carrot cake became particularly handy.

The film was a most entertaining and illuminating documentary about the two stars of the New Wave in French Cinema, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut.

After the screening, a walk across the bridge to Embankment and through Villiers Street, past shops and restaurants – “I like how relaxed this woman is about eating at a restaurant; this spaghetti she’s slowly sucking through her teeth must be at least half a foot long! Kudos!” – leads me to Haymarket. I take a pit stop at a sandwich bar; “need to replenish my sugar levels before visiting the bookshop.”

At the giant bookshop on Piccadilly, I found the photography section on the second floor. I was almost tempted to grab a couple of the street photography volumes and settle on the floor near the counter like so many other shoppers and bookshop visitors. The book I was seeking was fortunately available in “practical photography”.
About 20 minutes later, I arrived at the Porchester, near Queensway. My dear friend sayyid Cheanir had invited me to a celebration of his birthday.

I later learnt that the book on photography turned out to be particularly welcome as sayyid Cheanir was into SLR photography.

The evening seemed to be a mini-reunion, in part, of sayyid Kawa’s film shoot at the start of the year. I am delighted to chat with good friends whom one rarely gets the opportunity to meet – life, office, the film etc. get in the way.

Later in the evening, sayyid Cheanir introduced me to one of his friends. “Ja’far speaks French”, he encouragingly says to her. I relate to her the circumstances that permeated my  starting to learn French. There was a friend involved:- )

Towards the end of the night, I finally get to chat with Peggy, a good friend and also Cheanir’s wife. A French gentleman from the group joins us. As Peggy goes over to see what the party is planning to do, now that the staff have begun the we-are-closing-in-five-minutes-so-please-start-leaving-before-we-ask-you rituals, Pierre surprised me with the compliments he sprinkled over the level of my French language. Though grateful, I need to make sure it doesn’t go to my head:- ) I wondered whether he was overhearing someone else speak while looking at me – a dubbed conversation :- )

That said, I think I am going to redouble my efforts avec la langue d’amour…

On Sunday, sayyid Kawa and sayyid Mazin made the journey to my neck of the woods; I’d hinted that I would rather watch a movie at my local where I have a membership. The quick drink that we thought we’d have before the show turned into a three hour session of coffee, fizzy drinks and a meal.

The film – Paul (Dir. Greg Mottola, 2011) – was fun.

Peace and love,
Ja’far

February 13th 2011; week 114 of post-production

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Filmwise: we’ve had two full days of ADR at one of the better-known sound facilities in the UK.

At the end of last week, I had received the all clear from the studios for our re-recording of dialogue sessions. Due to planned overhaul work at the ADR studio, scheduled to take place at the end of February, the dates that we could be offered had to be a couple of weeks earlier than I’d hoped for. Trying to find two days that would fit all 14 actors, whose dialogue needs to be recorded in part, is no easy task.

Fortunately, I received confirmation from eight members of the cast. The rest, were either out of the country, or were unable to make it this week.

The process of re-recording dialogue – ADR [Automated Dialogue Replacement] – becomes necessary for a variety of reasons, most prevalent of which is the audio quality of location sound being poor and needing to be replaced. On many a great movie, I have noticed how the director decided to delete the original script dialogue that was filmed in sync on location with newly written dialogue. The lip-sync drops for part of a sentence or a speech, as a consequence, but the story becomes more coherent.

For Mesocafé, I was not particularly keen on going down the ADR route; I’d invested a decent chunk of our shoot budget on making certain that we got the best sound kit for the shoot. However, as with most feature films, there is always a line here, or a speech there that falls through the audio net. To leave those poorly recorded audio clips in the finished film would be detrimental to the whole picture; audiences would lose sight of the story and characters and begin to wonder about the reason for the atrocious sound – is the projectionist at fault, are the speakers in the cinema, or is it this budding filmmaker?

In total, there are over 60 items in the ADR list that JD and I agreed. The eight actors who were able to be at the studio this week accounted for two thirds of the list.

Each one of these items represents a Quick Time file that I would have to produce for the ADR studio to play for the actor.

Wednesday morning: I wake up at 9AM. I spend the morning and early afternoon going through the script of the film, comparing each line that needs to be re-recorded with what was actually said on screen, in case the actor and I had agreed a last minute change during the shoot. These lines would then need to be collated into separated documents for each of the eight actors.

At just after midnight, I head home from work. I catch the last tube.

After a quick cold meal, I begin work on the Quick Time files. The process involves finding the clip corresponding to a line of dialogue that needs to be re-recorded; moving this clip to a new timeline in the editing programme, adding a white wipe that crosses the screen vertically from left to right, to give the actors a countdown before they need to deliver the line in sync with their performance in the film.

At 8AM on Thursday morning, the 20 Quick Time files needed for the day are ready.  With the files rendered, transferred to an external hard drive, the scripts printed in blue ink – the black had run out , and armed with the sturdy umbrella that my landlady had gifted me – long story – I strike out towards Marylebone Station. Alas, I miss the 9AM train by a minute or two, and have to wait for 30 minutes for the next train. I use the time most judiciously; I buy a sandwich from a supermarket nearby, avoiding the train station prices, and get into the train nice and early.

Despite the rain and inclement weather refusing to give way, I seem to be in a particularly euphoric state of mind. “I am meeting my actors, some of whom I haven’t seen since December 2008; we are putting the final touches to the building blocks of our final audio mix.”

The walk from the station to the studios outside a small village takes longer than I had anticipated. Perhaps, it is the weight of the hard drive, my ancient SLR camera, and all the detritus of years and years of things that have resided in my rucksack, that is making my feet feel heavy.

At the studios, I am ashamed to find one of the actors already waiting for me. Steven Spalring had originally auditioned for the role of a US diplomat back in April 2007. He was one of the four artists who joined us from those auditions.

As the young engineers are busy importing our Quick time files into their system, Steven and I have our first opportunity since the audition to chat. As we talk, the owner of the studios comes out of his office and says hello. “We’ve been bought by xyz!”. I am relieved to know that he is happy with the sale of the studios.

Steven’s ADR session doesn’t last longer than 20 minutes. He delivers his lines a few times, and I ask the engineers to tick one of those takes as my favourite.

I meet Houda Echouafni half-way to the station and we walk back through the rain talking about her role in Tim Supple’s A Thousand and One Nights, and about Egypt and the events there. I express my horror at Husni Mabarek’s apparent lack of dignity and shame in clinging to power despite two weeks of popular uprisings across Egypt.

The session with Houda lasts for just over an hour and on the way to the door, we meet Andy Lucas. As per Houda’s forewarning to the engineers, Andy livens the atmosphere in the studio. I am particularly pleased with how well he delivers a line that I had to write for a shot whose audio we do not wish to hear on the film. The line needs to mimic the lip movements of the actor on screen without using the same words.

As I walk Andy out, I ask the helpful receptionist whether sit Ahlam Arab has arrived. Andy offers to drive to the station to pick her up. While I look for her number on my mobile, sit Ahlam turns up outside the reception doors, evidently worse for wear after the long walk in the rain. “You said ten minutes, but I think those are by the standards of someone walking with longer strides than me!”

While the engineers get ready for us, sit Ahlam and I have tea and some chocolate that I get from the vending machine; the canteen is shut.

At the day’s end, we take the train together back to Marylebone.

After a few hours of sleep, I am back at work just after midnight preparing the day’s Quick Time files. Before I know it, it is already 8AM and I have to push through the morning rush hour to catch the 9:30 from Marylebone. I just about make it.

I am touched and humbled by Caroline Jay’s patience and magnanimity – I’d made her wait for a whole hour before my arrival at the studios. “In my defence, Caroline, I didn’t oversleep!”

Caroline and I manage to grab a cup of coffee after the recording session. As I walk her back towards her car, I apologise to her for being such a chatter box – “I’ve been spending so much time with headphones on, both at work and at home, that I seem to be in need to talk and talk and talk…”

The day culminates with my being joined by my dear friends, Julian Boote, Sayyid Kawa Rasul and sit Sajidah Amory. Once their dialogue re-recording is complete, I ask the engineer to record our voices as we get involved in a discussion about a particular type of fruit jam. “Our sound designer needs some background sounds for the café!”

The last hour of our time at the studio was even more joyous, as sit Sajidah related to us the breaking news that the president of Egypt had resigned.

Freedom.

Peace and love,

Ja’far

February 6th 2011; week 113 of post-production

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Filmwise: in the first five weeks of this year, I feel more has been achieved in our film than in the first eight months of 2010. Thanks to Paul, there has been tangible movement on the audio front. We are holding two whole days of ADR sessions this week. So far, I have confirmation of availability from seven of the fourteen Mesocafé members whose dialogue  needs to be re-recorded in parts.

I am a happy bunny : -)

An auspicious start…
This year began with with a Eureka moment on the story structure of our film. On New Years Day, I was walking back from my local cinema when I bumped into an elderly gentleman who runs a shop in the area.

“Hello, I hope the owner of the wallet I handed in to you a few weeks ago has turned up to collect it!”
“Sorry, what wallet?”
“The wallet I brought in one evening last month; I said that I’d found it by the bus stop!”
“You gave it to me?!”
“Yes, it was late, past midnight and…”
“I don’t remember!”

And he walked into his shop, obviously annoyed at being asked after a wallet that he probably could not remember receiving from me.

I am not sure how the brain – the soul – works, but this unsettling encounter seemed to take me back to a moment many months earlier where I had watched a cut of a scene in our film and felt there was something missing in the edit. I couldn’t put my finger on it; I just felt it.

As I was walking away from the store, feeling somewhat worse than before the chat with the shop owner, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. “How could I have not realised that what needs to happen in that scene is xyz?”

I felt so overjoyed and pleased with this new recognition that for a second I thought of going back to the shop owner to thank him for causing the minor upheaval that had – at some level – unleashed this chain of ideas.

Step aside M. Proust : -)

In fact,  coincidents and accidents have been responsible for an array of little moments of joy and gratitude all my life, but somehow they have come at quite opportune moments over the past few weeks.

Peace and love,

Ja’far