November 25th 2008; day 8 of 18 of filming

Many thanks to the friends, relatives and comrades of the Mesocafe family for asking after us- all’s well and filming has continued at a great pace.

We wrapped from the cafe close to Notting Hill on Sunday morning. It was a mad rush trying to turn the place back from its Iraqi makeover to its French origins. We had spent well over four hours blocking, rehearsing, lighting and finally shooting a particularly long scene at the cafe. As I keep telling anyone with the time and interest to listen to this dreamer, these scenes at the cafe are the beating and loving heart of the film- we can not afford to cut them short without making certain that we are not skewing the structure of the whole narrative. Mahmoud Chour, our 1st, thinks we’ve covered about 75% of the cafe scenes. We hope to get the opportunity to return to the premises at some point for a full day’s filming. There were a couple of exterior shots at the cafe which we tried to film on Friday and Saturday nights. The fact that the cafe is right next to a bar/night club didn’t help the cause, as clubbers would unintentionally choose the worst possible moment and in the middle of a take to stagger out of the side door and straight into frame.

This Monday, we had a particularly early crew call: 6:30am. We congregated at the lobby of this lovely hotel in central London where I’d stayed on first night in London more than 22 years ago.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to film the scenes that take place at Baghdad airport much earlier than anticipated. We used a boardroom with large double doors opening onto a corridor for the passport control scenes. Due to short the notice and the inability of the actors assigned the roles of intelligence officer and passport officer to make it to location, I had to leave the relative safety of comfort of life hogging the monitor to actually standing before the lens- and a Medium Close-up at that- If if I don’t feel my cameo works, then I am sure I can have a word with the director:-) Our jovial-bigger-than-life boom operator, Riyadh, was roped yet again into leaving his boom behind the camera- he played a most imposing passport officer.

Tuesday, the 25th, was a truly magical day. We were joined at location by Houda Echouafni, who plays Suad [the PR manager]; by Andy Lucas, who plays Ziyad [the Iraqi opposition leader]; by Seamus Newham [who plays sir James]; by Caroline Jay [who plays the minister at the FCO Sheila Adams] and of course Nasri Sayegh [who plays Yusif]. The shoot went remarkably well, though Caroline did end up staying with us for more than 11 hours. We all had a great get together at a pizzeria near by. Andy kindly allowed me to sit at the top of the table, with him and Houda at either side of me. I was humbled and touched by these two very experienced actors treating me with genuine kindness and respect. Listening to them relate their stories from film sets the world over, I realized the magnitude of the experience someone like Andy, and indeed Houda, bring to our project; I also realized how inexperienced and in need of many many more years of filmmaking experience I really am.

The day ended on a beautiful note: we came to a series of short scenes when Sheila Adams is handed notes and messages by an aide. I had asked a good friend and colleague at work to take the role. He had agreed and I was looking forward to having him on set. However, this week being his week on the night-shift, I fear that all the emails and text messages we sent him didn’t get through in time. When we came to film the scene, I prepared myself to slide into a smart jacket and pretend to be the hand of the aide who delivers the notes to the minister. Before the arrival of the jacket, a smart and very attractive young lady appeared on set. It took me a beat or two to realize that she was in fact Amelie our script supervisor. She had noticed the missing part of the jigsaw- being so familiar with the script and totally aware of the number of characters needed for each scene, she had taken it upon herself to get dressed and made-up for the role- bless her, she really did help Caroline play the role of the minister being handed notes by an aide. Simply brilliant.

Until tomorrow.
Ja’far

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