Pre-production: April 2007 – June 2008

June 26th 2008
This must be the first summer in my adult life that I’m not working on some thesis, dissertation or outstanding essays for university- maybe the second, as the first must have been back when I took a gap year after completing my A Levels. The time I have off work is spent mostly focusing on the final draft of the screenplay forMesocafe. It’s a rewarding feeling spending time with characters that I would like to think are quite mature and are yearning to make the journey from page to screen. I am also editing the short film we shot in the middle of March, though this is moving at a slow pace due to work and focus on planning for the feature. The project is on track for a November – December shoot. Will start those bi-weekly updates/newsletter very soon.

Peace and salam,
Ja’far ‘Abd al-Hamid

June 5th 2008
Having jumped off the plane from Cannes almost straight to work last Sunday, I am just about beginning to clear the backlog of emails and replies that any old hand in visiting La Croisette would say is a priority on the to-do-list after returning from the calendar’s biggest film festival and market. In the little time off work I have, I am dividing myself between finishing off the corrections and amendments my examiners asked me to complete on the thesis, working on the script and also editing a short film I shot a couple of months ago. With the absence of any deadline zooming in, editing can be quite therapeutic. I am back to work on Monday, but should have the bi-weekly newsletter up and running by the middle of the month. Hopefully, I should be able to make the recall auditions for the first week of August. Best wishes and salams to you all.

Ja’far

May 26th 2008
The Cannes experience this year was far more subdued, although I did experience dancing with that monster that usually goes by the name, the Cannes Party. Managed to get an invite to the wrap party for the short film corner. At first, it appeared as if one was going to spend the night talking into a glass of stale Coke. However, things took a turn for the exciting on the 15 minute queue to the—wait for it—wait for it— the gents:-) For, like most things in Cannes, little thought was given to the, shall we call them, the practicalities of letting loose a group of thirsty filmmakers onto a free bar: the restroom consisted of the grand total of only 4 cubicles for both sexes. During the interminable wait, conversation between the filmmakers was as great and as helpful a networking experience as the “meet a producer” blind-date party organised a few days ago at the short film corner.

In terms of meeting producers and distributors for our feature film,Mesocafe, I can report that the hectic pace of the festival and the market didn’t really allow for a productive meeting with potential producers or distributors. I was fortunate, however, to have a brief and really insightful chat with the boss of a Hong Kong production company who helped make my expectations for Mesocafe that bit more realistic and realizable. He suggested that by making sure that budget is at a minimum and that one is not overburdened by financial debt by the end of the production, one is more likely to be able to agree a distribution deal, as producers and distributors the world over would be more willing to risk a small sum acquiring an independent project that may or may not deliver any financial returns.

The post-shoot plan he recommended was that one would create a list of the top ten film festivals in which one hopes to screen the film; send it to the first choice, if not accepted, then to the second choice, and so forth, until you run out of first choices, in which case you create a new list. If the film is accepted in a film festival in one’s top list, then one would build upon the acceptance by approaching a film sales agent or distribution company that is attending the festival and taking part in the film market. A film accepted at that particular festival is more likely to draw buyers and distributors, as the festival’s publicity machine would have already been in full flow in the run-up to the festival screening, and so buyers the world over would have read about the official selection. If a film is not accepted at one of one’s top choice film festivals, then obviously other festivals and film and cultural events would need to be explored.

I am so grateful that this experienced film producer granted me those few minutes of his precious time; I was even more grateful for his time when he informed me that renting the medium sized booth in the film market cost him 26,000 euros for the two weeks of the festival. There is also the considerable expense of hiring screening slots in the film market for the films he’s marketing, in addition to hotel, travel, food and telephone bills. The fact that he spent some time with me was yet another proof that despite the cut-throat business side of film, there remains the camaraderie and support between filmmakers the world over.

From the middle of June, I will start a bi-weekly newsletter updating you all on the progress of the pre-production for the film. The shoot is scheduled for the last two weeks of November and first five days of December.

Salam and peace,
Ja’far ‘Abd al-Hamid

May 23rd 2008
Hello from Cannes,
This will have to be a short update, as I am running late for a screening of the Palestinian Film Milh Hatha al-Bahr / The Salt of this Sea, by the up and coming female Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir. I’ve watched one of her first short films back in 2001, and am that bit more excited about attending the screening of her debut feature.

This year’s visit to Cannes is less hectic, as I am simply taking in the atmosphere and enjoying the privileges the badge offers- I do miss- however- my special status in last year’s festival as the badgeless filmmaker…

I am using the time between screenings to attend as many workshops to learn more about the business side of filmmaking and also to reconnect with filmmakers and producers I met during the last two festivals.

After my return to London, I will start a monthly newsletter providing regular updates on the progress of pre-production all the way up to the scheduled shooting dates of November 19th to December 5th.

Salut and salam friends,
Ja’far ‘Abd al-Hamid

April 26th 2008
Greetings,
I have sat my phd viva and all is well. Aside from some alterations to the bibliography and bits of rewrite here and there, the examiners were happy with the thesis. Phew:-)

You can all hold back the Dr. title until after we make the movie:-)

I am off to Cannes for a third time, though I won’t have the chance to stay as long as last year. Will hopefully catch a film or two.

The preparations for the feature film are going very well. I am working on the script and, once the thesis is out of the way once and for all, I will start pre-production proper.

The shoot is scheduled for the second half of November this year.

Peace and Salam,
Ja’far ‘Abd al-Hamid

March 17th 2008
“Film has rolled through the camera”
Hello friends,
After many months of waiting, planning, delaying and replanning and dreaming, Mesocafe has finally been touched by the magic of cinema.

On Saturday morning, we filmed a short sequence at Trafalgar Square to be cut into the final edit of the film.

Members of the fledgling crew and actors took on the challenge of a handheld S16mm shoot in a public space with grace and touching camaraderie, despite the gruelling schedule.

Stills from Saturday’s shoot will be uploaded on the site soon.

March 7th 2008
Hello all,
“I’m in heaven…I’m in heaven” is the melody that goes with my sense of walking on air… After over seven years of research, with huge doses of anxiety and depression, I have finally submitted my PhD thesis. I couldn’t resist filming the moment I handed the two copies of the phone-book sized volume of the dissertation.

I will celebrate once I pass the final exam sometime in June.

After a short intermission, my work shall resume on the film, the editing of a couple of documentaries and the filming of a couple of scenes forMesocafe early late next week.

Hugs and many many kisses,
Ja’far ‘Abd al-Hamid

26/2/08
Sabah ilward wa il-ibtisamah/May your morning be graced with flowers and smiles…
Thought of updating you, good friends, on the project’s latest:
The script is coming along nicely, and I am planning a mini-shoot next month to capture some footage that would cut nicely into the feature.
Last night, I attended a screening at the London Film School of The Silences of the Palace, with a Q&A session afterwards with the Tunisian director Moufida al-Tlatli. The film was really moving and so were the director’s reminiscences of her mother who inspired the story.

I can’t recommend the film enough.
Salams and kisses,
Ja’far

January 8th 2008
Some great news on the film script front: it is evolving and maturing beyond my expectations. I am working on a new draft, and in the long run this delay in the production will serve us very well indeed.

At the moment, in between work and completing my phd thesis, I am working on the assembly and editing of Theatre of Exile.

Will keep you posted.

May 2008 grace us and our loved ones with love, peace and happiness.

Ja’far

November 22nd 2007
Having postponed the shoot of Mesocafefrom December 2007 to the autumn of 2008, I am able to spend more time on further developing the script and on preproduction.

I am also finishing off the PhD thesis that has been at times an unwelcome companion for the best part of the last decade of my life.

I am already beginning to sense the weight shifting off.

Once the thesis is put to bed, early December- I hope, the film script and preproduction will have my undivided attention.

I thank all of you friends for your support and belief in our project.

hugs and kisses

Ja’far ‘Abd al-Hamid

October 26th 2007

While busy enjoying the London Film Festival- without a badge:-), I had the good fortune of winning a small competition to have one’s review of a film taking part in the festival published on the LFF website. A minor triumph, but all the more sweet for it.
I hope you enjoy reading it. The film,Caramel, is to be released in the UK early 2008.


May 14th 2007

Can I make it to Cannes?
Spent all of last night working on the portrait shots of the cast of “Dimoqratiyyah wa Nuss/A Democracy and a Half”- the play directed by sit Ahlam Arab. I have been following the rehearsals of this group of mostly first-time actors under the guidance and mentoring of sit Ahlam for a few weeks now.
They hold their opening night later this week; the photos are needed for the programme. Sit Ahlam hasn’t insisted on the portraits and I am sure she would have a fit if she knew that I’ve spent the whole night working on them. I enjoy taking portraits and photos in general; there is something of a trust between the photographer and the subject. By delivering the portraits, I feel I am rewarding the trust.

Have been planning to be at Cannes for the festival for a long time now. Would like to meet potential distributors before I shoot “Mesocafe”. Would like to experience life as an indie filmmaker before I make the film, in case I can learn from the festival experience of any pitfalls inhabited by budding filmmakers comme moi.

7am: still many portraits to go through.
8am: still working on the portraits.
9am: Done. I like the striking quality of the lighting. Hope sit Ahlam and the cast like them.
9:09am: Not sure if I can make it to City airport by 10:15.
09:20am: “It’s the other side of London mate; you can’t make it in 50 minutes!”- wise words from the London Underground official at my local station.
09:30am: Standing in my local high street with my suitcase and sunglasses pondering the options.
10am: At a travel agent.
10:30am: booked a one-way flight to Nice. Will have to think of the return journey later.
16:00: aboard a British Airways flight to Nice.
21:00: Nice Airport. Missed the last bus direct to Cannes.
21:30: on the bus to Nice.
22:00: Waiting outside Nice train station for a coach to take this group of mostly Cannes virgins to festival town. Did I mention that there is a train drivers’ strike?
00:00: Arrive at Cannes.
00:10: God, it feels like an uninhabited village- I feel like a cowboy arriving to a ghost town. Someone assures me that life is throbbing only a few hundred yards away near the beach.
00:20: walking to La Bocca.
00:50: my right foot is hurting. think these summer shoes are not designed for walking long distances under the weight of a rucksack containing an iron-age-oil-rig-weighing laptop and with a suitcase in tow. Oh, still walking to la Bocca.
01:20: Arrived in La Bocca.
01:30: Found the apartment block.
01:40: Not sure if I am supposed to enter this tunnel of darkness created by the unlit alley leading to the building.
01:50: Enveloped in darkness.
01:52: opened the building door. Let there be light!
01:55: Where’s my flat? No numbers, letters, names on the apartment doors. It’s 2am; I may get into trouble if I insert the keys into the wrong door.
02:00: Post-boxes: are they positioned on the wall in a geography resembling the order of the apartments on the floor? Let’s risk it.
02:10: In apartment.
Hurrah:-)
02:20: I am starving… If this town knows what’s good for it, it better offer me one massive-gigantic-mother-of-all meals for breakfast:-)

A Cannes Diary

April 27th 2007
Auditions..Auditions
Cochrane Theatre- 27-4-2007The management of the Cochrane Theatre, Holborn, kindly allowed us the use of the auditorium during the day. Actors would assemble upstairs in the cafe overlooking Kingsway, fill the forms with information on their availability, the role they are auditioning for, their contact details, and- not my doing this, I assure you- their shirt, trouser and shoe sizes!
They would then head down to the stalls where I would be waiting with my little camcorder.
The readings went quite well- a couple of disappointments- actors whom you thought “looked” the part, but were unable to deliver the performance or reveal signs of a potential for the role. There were also some revelations- a couple of the actors really stood out.

The quality of some of the actors, their experience, was beyond my expectations. Chatting after the reading with one such actor, I thanked him for taking the time for the audition, and broached the question as to why someone of his calibre would consider working on such an indie project with a budding filmmaker like me. “You’re shooting on film; means you’re more serious- you’re investing more than a filmmaker shooting on digital…”.

All in all a very good day. One bit of advice- when scheduling auditions back-to-back do spare a thought for your well-being: Unable to take not even a two-minute break from the proceedings, one didn’t have the chance to answer the all-important call of nature- not even once for the duration of eight hours of auditions:-(
April 20th 2007
I am getting a very good response for the casting call I placed in PCR and Casting Call Pro. I am using my gmail calender facility to organise the auditions timetable- 15 minute slots. Don’t think I’ll have much of a break- need to audition around 20 actors…

November 2007: How did this script come about?

December 2005: I am hunched over my laptop at my friend’s home overhearing my dearest friends sayyid Wajdi and sayyid Layth debate whether it would be best to heat the Bamya (Okra) stew to go with the rice, or live on the edge and try those frozen Kubbahs/ground lamb, pine nuts, cracked wheat, olive oil and spices. Long after the said Kubbahs were thawed, fried and devoured – they were delicious, I was still working on what would become the first of ten-pages- plus treatments that form the basis for the film. I was so excited by what felt like an inspiration, a daydream hurriedly typed into the word processor, that I couldn’t wait to get back home to look up my notes and begin the next draft of the treatment. I braved the December frost and walked home from St John’s Wood to my part of town – some 90 minutes away.

May 2006: I am sitting in the front garden of a simple pension in Nice. I am supposed to be here to enjoy the Cannes film festival, taking place only twenty minutes away by train. Yet, I am spending the greater part of the day working on the thesis for which I need to do yet another rewrite before submitting it to my supervisor by the end of May. When I booked the trip, I thought I would have successfully completed this round of rewrites well before the arrival of May.

On the one day that I manage to peel myself away from the laptop, I head to Cannes. It happens to be the evening on which Oliver Stone and some of the cast of Platoon (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1986) are climbing the red-carpet for a special 20th anniversary screening at the festival.
After attempting a few B/W snaps on my manual SLR, I find myself a bench in the garden just behind the Palais du Festival and start jotting away yet another update to the ten-page treatment of that night in December.

November 2006: Geneva: Have always wanted to visit, especially since my dearest friend, the closet anyone can get to being the childhood friend of this immigrant, had regaled me with his stories of visiting the city as an apprentice at one of the better known watch-manufacturers.
In between visiting the Museums and marveling at how expensive food and drink are here, I begin the first outline for Mesocafe. I am negotiating the birth of the actual narrative structure.

Before I head back to London, I send my childhood friend a postcard: “this trip was inspired by you, sayyid Ahmad.”

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