Archive for December, 2011

December 25th 2011

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Season’s greetings.

On this day last year, I was in the company of a friend watching DVDs, eating Baklawa and drinking espresso, and talking all things film. But the topic that was foremost on both of our minds was Mesocafé – ‘will it ever be finished?’; ‘will it screen at an internationally respected film festival?’; ‘will I have the funds to complete those elements in post-production that need an upfront cash payment?’

The real question, which I didn’t dare say aloud – ‘is our film any good?’

In an interview, Kevin Smith once reflected on how uncertain, wary and anxious he’d been whilst attending his first film course, before Clerks, Sundance and Miramax. He relates the degree of existentialism and self-doubt he’d experienced in Vancouver, living as he was away from his family, friends and home town. “I wish if I could talk to that guy and say, ‘don’t worry, it will all be OK!’”, he says.

What I have learnt in these past three years is when working on your début feature film, you need infinite reserves of patience to see you through post-production. For it is at this stage that you are most at risk of losing sight of that magical moment when you fell in love with the idea of your script, long before the high-octane experience and the adrenaline rush of the shoot, and certainly before the down-to-earth-with-a-thud feeling of the edit suite and all the soul-destroying episodes of the after-shoot purgatory.

On the other hand, one’s first feature is a rite of passage..paying one’s dues.. or, as the John Malkovich character says in that font of wisdom that is Transformers 3 – ‘you need to do this job in order to get to the next!’

This year has turned out to be infinitely more rewarding than my tamed expectations of last year.

On the first day of the new year, I had the idea of dealing with an aspect of the film narrative that had previously seemed too complex to address in post-production. In the second month of the year, we had two very fruitful days of ADR with eight members of the cast.

The next few months of waiting for the studio to be available, as part of a deferred deal, although frustrating, helped me rethink even more aspects of the edit, in view of the changes I’d brought to the narrative. It was in late May when I had the inspiration of using the magically filmed and edited purse sequence at the start of Mesocafé to anchor the story at a particular date. This gave rise to the idea of doing away at the start of the movie with the foreboding dream-theme that usually accompanies the appearance of the purse in the story. The temporary replacement music I used for the intro, though quite suitable, prompted me to resort to the experience and creative ideas of my friend sayyid Mazin Jasim.

On the first day of June, I delivered to the Raindance Film Festival a copy of the new cut of Mesocafé, with the new intro and temporary music. Later in the summer, sayyid Mazin recorded the piece that I used in the final cut of the picture.

On the second day of July, I received the Raindance acceptance confirmation.

At times during the summer, it felt like an impossible undertaking to online the film, get the sound design completed, including the final element of ADR that had been missing for the previous 30 months, and grade the picture, while holding down a full-time job and carrying out freelance translation work. The extra work helped pay for the cash element of this final phase of the post.

When the day of the screening came around, the overwhelming majority of my friends who were there fully recognised the extent to which this world premiere of the film was a culmination of a whole life for this filmmaker.

The time I’d taken off work for all of the 12 days of the festival were also most beneficial for creating the main elements of the assembly edit of the Cannes documentary. As anyone who has a five-days-a-week job would know, it really is a challenge to get any real momentum going on a creative project over the weekend.

This foundation edit helped me develop the cut further until we reached a point at the end of November where something resembling a fine cut of the documentary now awaits further fine-tuning  and refinement over the coming weeks.

As for Mesocafé, I am getting in touch with film institutions and festivals with whom I’ve corresponded over the course of post-production. Hopefully, we will get more screenings in the new year. I also need to align my calendar with that of Daniel, so we can address the visual special effects that need to be reconfigured.

Looking beyond Mesocafé, I am finalising the first draft of the treatment of my next feature film. The first time I sat down and put the outline of the story to paper was in summer/autumn 2009. In the same way that the script of Mesocafé was mostly written at times when I felt I had reached the limit of my endurance with work on the thesis and so would reward myself by working on the script, so too the new treatment has been written mostly during those periods of unplanned hiatus in post-production.

With a feature completed and screened at an international film festival, a documentary well into its post, and the first draft of a feature treatment almost completed, I think this year has blessed me with so many positive responses to the questions that were whirling in my head around this time last December.

I wish if I could go back and tell the wary and confused Ja’far of three years of post-production that ‘it will all be OK!’

Let me leave you with this image of London Bridge taken earlier in the week.

London Bridge Dec2011

Peace and love,

Ja’far

December 18th 2011

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Filmwise:

  • Mesocafé: Liaising with film institutions and helping publicise the project.
  • Cannes documentary: The quick peek I had last week has sparked a few new ideas for the edit. All good.
  • New Feature Film: Less progress was made on the treatment this week than I’d hoped, but the seasonal break over the coming week will, hopefully, allow me to complete the treatment.

Annual party..
The last time I attended a work-related seasonal gathering was more than ten years ago. The firm I was working for had merged with another and I made the effort to meet people from the new company.
This week, I donned my tweed jacket and braved the December early evening frost to attend the 1920s-themed event in East London.

By midnight, I had managed to chat longer to a couple of colleagues than the combined time we’d spent talking at work for the past six months. A great outcome from the evening.

Peace and love,
Ja’far

December 11th 2011

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Filmwise:

  • Mesocafé: Liaising with film institutions.
  • Cannes documentary: After almost three weeks of a break from the edit, I could no longer stop myself having a quick peek at the cut. I am pleased with the progress I’ve made with this project. The break has allowed me the space to notice a few points that I will address once I complete the feature film treatment.
  • Feature film: I have 60 percent of the treatment down on paper. Working my way a few pages per a weekend.

Leaving Baghdad:
Last Saturday, I met up with the filmmaker Koutaiba al-Janabi in the West End. We hadn’t had the chance for a catch-up for a few weeks, with him having toured his feature film “Leaving Baghdad” at a few festivals in Europe and India.

During the conversation, I realised that the awards ceremony for the British Independent Film Awards was taking place the very next evening.

“Having looked at the films in your category, I would be very surprised if Leaving Baghdad did not walk away with the prize!”

I think sayyid Koutaiba put down my comments to my ubiquitous optimism.

On Sunday evening, straight after posting last week’s blog, I checked the BIFA website for news on the awards. No updates.

Before going to bed, I felt lucky and searched the net for the latest: Leaving Baghdad had won! (See final paragraph)
I texted sayyid Koutaiba, congratulating him.
“How did you know, my friend? I am still at the-after-ceremony party!”

Before the week was over, I penned a review for Leaving Baghdad on IMDB.

Peace and love,

Ja’far

December 4th 2011

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Filmwise:

  • Mesocafé: Liaising with a couple of film institutions.
  • Cannes documentary: Allowing project more space to mature.
  • New feature script: Working on the treatment. Past the halfway point.

“Interior designer..”
It was during the Raindance Film Festival in October that I first met an Italian working at a café in the West End. I had found this particular branch of a nationwide chain to be quite pleasant, overlooking a junction with huge floor to ceiling glass windows.

I had thanked the Italian for the great coffee. “What do you do, when not working here?”, I had ventured, hoping that this youth had more of a plan than I did when I was at that age.

“I am working towards becoming a designer.”

Noticing my over-the-top-I-have-a-feature-in-competition-at-an-international-film-festival happy demeanour, “How about you? What do you do when not having coffee here?”

I can’t recall if the Raindance catalogue was produced out of the Raindance filmmaker’s man-bag I was cradling in my lap, but we did talk film and festivals.

So, on Saturday afternoon I was back at the same café for a pit-stop en route to the pictures.

“Hello!”
“Hello, you are that guy from Iraq!”
“Yes, and you are the interior designer from Italy!”
“Industrial designer from Italy..”

The Italian came to my mind when I watched Hugo (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2011) at the movies later that evening, for design – production, interior, lighting, costume, even makeup – is at the heart of the glory of this picture.

Peace and love,
Ja’far