November 26th 2008; days 9 to 11 of 18 of filming

We’ve been filming at the hotel in central London for the past five days. The hotel management, and particularly Nivert, a young lady in the marketing department, have gone out of their way to accommodate this team of independent filmmakers.

On Wednesday, we were scheduled to film the hotel room scenes. These consist largely of the character of Yusif watching TV, working on his blog, answering the phone and looking out of the window. The latter activity was captured with such beauty and elegance that went beyond how I imagined the scene when I wrote it many moons ago, and that’s saying something. Nivert booked us a room on the 18th floor overlooking Hyde Park and parts of Kensington and Marble Arch. When the character carries out the action of holding a simple digital camera to the window, the image he captures is truly spectacular.

During the break, I texted Raad Rawi, a British actor of Iraqi origins, to enquire as to whether he’d had the opportunity to read the script I emailed him a couple of week ago. He hadn’t received the script. I asked Arij al-Soltan, our production manager, to email it to Mr Rawi. During a short break from filming, I used Alex’s laptop to email it to him myself. I received a text from him thanking me and saying that he would let me know. The role I had him in mind for was that of Hushyar, the Kurdish poet and philosopher.

Due to the late start in filming, we weren’t able to complete the scheduled set-ups for the day. There were still a couple of shots the character, played by Nasri Sayegh, waking up, watching TV etc, in addition to two scenes taking place in the corridor of the hotel floor and in the en suite bathroom.

On Thursday morning, we were back at the room. Seeing how late we were running, and realizing that filming at the room would soon be eating into the time allotted for filming the big US embassy boardroom scene, I decided to link the corridor scene to the action taking place in the room: instead of the character responding to a knock on the door by opening the door, and we cut to a medium shot of him from the corridor looking left and right to see who had knocked on the door, I asked Alession Valori, our DP, to simply film the whole action from inside the room: Nasri would walk upto the door, open it, look left and right, pick an envelope left for him outside, come back into the room, open the envelope and take out the mobile phone inside. It worked thanks to the crew, Alessio and to Nasri’s great work. I simply abandoned the bathroom scene; incorporated the action into another scene. Phew.

After wrapping in the room, we walked across the corridor to our “green room” where Valentina, our costume supervisor, Tina, our makeup artist and Alex, our second AD, were based. While Valentina and Tina would take the actors through costume and makeup, Alex would be busy with emails, walkie talkies, text messages- overseeing the off-film-set cast and crew movement.

Andy Lucas [in the role of Ziyad], Houda Echouafni [in the role of Suad], Steven Sparling [in the role of Jack Smith], Stephanie Ellyne [in the role of Amy Peterson] joined Nasri for the US embassy boardroom scene. Tuesday’s “green room” was turned into a meeting room at the American embassy, complete with a US flag, a portrait of the current president and, my personal favourite, note-pad pages with US Government logo watermarks- Daniel, our production designer, and his team members working from London and, in the case of the graphic designer Hala Marji, all the way from Beirut- they have done a job worthy of a decently budgeted feature film.

Nasri did really well, delivering a long and complex Powerpoint presentation to an audience of fellow professional actors. Andy was most supportive and helped relax the atmosphere in the room.

After lunch, eaten on the floor, the bed, the sofa and even the luggage shelf in the green room, we headed back to the boardroom; this time it would be turned into a small boardroom in Ziyad’s offices.

The room was quickly redressed by Daniel and Kamal, his most resourceful right-hand woman, and turned into- wait for it- wait for it- the departures lounge at Heathrow airport- simply great.

During a short break, I checked my text messages and there was one from Mr Rawi: “Hi Ja’far. Loved script. Would love to do it.”

Daphne Alexander, in the role of Bisan, delivered a most touching performance- my monitor had decided to call it a day and consequently I was actually watching the live performance before my eyes, as opposed to the black and white world in the frame of the monitor. I was happy with the first CU take; however, we had a hair in the gate- Daphne delivered an even more touching performance right on cue. Brilliant.

Further down the corridor from “Heathrow Airport” was the way to boarding gates at…. Baghdad Airport:-) Daniel had outdone himself, yet again:- )

Jokingly, Alessio quipped, “I’ve been on so many short films and low budget projects, but to get three locations out of a single small room like this”, is a first for me…

While Jose, our patient and quiet gaffer, was organising the gear in the van, I called Mr Rawi. “You must stop calling me Mr,” he said:- )

I was so touched by Raad’s thoughts and opinion of the script- actors such as Raad, Andy, Houda and others who receive scripts on regular projects; for them to like a script is a huge plus for our film.

We film the big dinner party scene with these experienced actors- mentors to me- on Saturday.

To end on a sweet note; while Alessio and the crew were setting up a shot in the hotel room, I was sat on my director’s chair which our focus puller Kate Higgs had thoughtfully created for me by putting down the cover for the toilet seat in the bathroom, looking at the flickering monitor, Gabriella, our production and continuity assistant, gently said to me that she’d read the script. She said she liked the script and had been drawn to the layers of the story- these simple and honest words this young Brazilian quietly shared with me brought tears to my eyes- the pleasure of hearing another filmmaker’s positive feedback on one’s written work, but also the feeling that this brilliant group of creative people from all over the world were working towards realizing this story and this dream that Gabriella spoke of so elquently.

Until tomorrow.

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