Archive for the ‘Mesocafé filming’ Category

December 6th 2008; day 18 plus 1 of filming

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Hello friends,
The day began with a mad dash across West London to the house in Knightsbridge. With the team aware of the paramount necessity to get into the can those scenes that are essential for imparting the story, everyone was fully charged and ready to go. While waiting for me to arrive to open the door, Kate, Alessio and Alice had begun emptying the van. Alessio had warned me a couple of days earlier that in order for us to return the kit to the various suppliers, we needed to reload the van in an organized and safe manner. By starting the process of emptying and reloading the van, Kate, Alessio and Alice had provided us with an extra hour of shooting time at the end of the day. Grazie mille.

Mahmoud had created a solid schedule for the day: shoot day-time car scenes, head back to base, for Andy to get changed, more car scenes; change cars and film Bisan picking up Yusif from Ziyad’s office, then film them driving around town; in the time between changing cars, Mahmoud had scheduled the filming of the protest scenes where Yusif first notices Bisan. The day would end with more night car scenes, before heading back to the house in Knightsbridge to film the Robert North interview of Yusif.

We pretty much followed the schedule, though instead of filming the protest scenes while the small car was being rigged, we simply filmed the protest as a PoV from the small car. This allowed me to throw in a couple of shots of Bisan driving Yusif around town during the day. I was quite stressed, as we only had five hours of daylight to shoot all these different settings. This was the extra shooting day which had added to the already ballooning budget.

Back at the house for lunch. I missed out on the Pizza :- ) so resorted to what any self-respecting Londoner would do when faced with a plate-full of Kebabs, leftover from the day before, and a basket of Croissants- made Kebab-Croissants sandwich…wasn’t that bad, actually.

In the back of a Peugeot 207, holding a copy of the script, a boom mic for Axle on one side of Alessio and camera, while Kate was on the other. Axle was quashed, literally, in the small space behind the backseat which passes for a boot. Daphne was driving while Nasri was doing his utmost, and succeeding, to relax her- Daphne was driving a manual car in the middle of the London Saturday evening traffic with a film camera a few inches away from the back of her head, worried about Axle in the back, feeling the discontent of the five drivers aboard with her driving, and making sure that her high-heels didn’t cause her to accelerate or stop too rapidly- simply brilliant.

After a couple of takes, Nasri and she did really well to capture the whole scene of Bisan driving Yusif back to the hotel, him thanking her, her kissing him on the cheek, him getting out of the car, looking at her through the windscreen, and her driving off. Great.

Kawa drove ahead and guided us through the Paddington area to the A40; once we got on the motorway, we began filming Bisan and Yusif’s journey to the airport. Originally, I had planned to film this sequence on the actual route to the airport. On Friday night, however, I was with Kawa on the drive to our Labs in Soho. In order to avoid town traffic, Kawa had taken the A40 route. I loved the total darkness on the motorway interspersed with the red back lights of passing cars.

After a short pit stop where everyone was supplied with water, grapes and icecream- including Axle in the back:- ) – I jumped behind the wheel on the drive back to Knightsbridge. I hadn’t driven since the summer of 1999 when I was driving the production van during the making of a 16mm car-show pilot. Sitting behind the wheel, changing gears and driving through parts of town that one only sees as a driver [the motorway, the flyovers and the view]- I realized how much I missed having my own car in London. Both Daphne and I think we may get a Smart or some other small town car. On the way back we managed to get a quick shot of al-Saqi bookshop at night.

Back at the house in Knightsbridge, Daniel had turned the TV room into an office for the journalist Robert North [played by Julian Boote].
We began filming the scene, and after a fruitful and constructive discussion with Amelie, our continuity and script supervisor, we managed to find a way to fill the gap between the end of the interview and the TV interview that we would later see on TV sets all over town. Thank you Amelie.
Houda, Andy, Julian and Nasri raised an important point over the question and answer exchange between Robert North and Yusif. Suddenly found myself dictating to Nasri the text of a reply to a question Robert North would ask him. Lots of fun.

The owner of the house arrived back from holiday during the final take of the interview. I can only begin to imagine the shock and concern that she must have felt seeing this huge amount of film gear strewn all over her beautifully decorated living room, her exquisitely Andalusia-inspired landing and her kitchen. The lady was the epitome of grace and charm; after the initial shock, she was fine with us. Alif shukur madam.

When the last take of the last shot was completed, Julian asked me to call it: “This is the end of the Mesocafe shoot”. A quiet round of applause from the crew.

Before heading home, Julian gave me the great news: after a three-week campaign on our behalf, Julian had succeeded where I had failed: he convinced the notoriously pedantic IMDB board to add our film to the database- we now are… IMDBable:-)

I will start a weekly update of Mesocafe’s post-production journey.

Salam and peace Habibis [Daniel's plural for Habibi- the Arabic for my beloved and also friend- depending on context]


December 5th 2008; day 18 of 18 of filming

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

We started the day with a bit of a downer; due to a confusion- probably caused by my answering a question instead of forwarding it to the relevant department- we ended up spending valuable time on costume and make-up for one actor only to find that we needed to start with the other actor. This delay played havoc with our plans for filming all the day-light set car scenes. Andy Lucas turned up on time and after three hours of waiting had to return home; I apologized to him for the confusion. He was ever so kind and magnanimous about it.

The car scenes that we did film involved sayyid ‘Aziz al-Na’ib, in the role of Hussayn, and Houda Echouafni, in the role of Suad, the PR executive.

Alessio was behind the camera in the back seat, while I sat next to sayyid Aziz in the passenger front seat. We drove through Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, Notting Hill Gate, Hyde Park Corner and Fulham. I was quite flustered as I had to keep track of the locations where particular takes of different scenes were filmed aboard the car; we need to make them match with the same scenes filmed from the point of view of Yusif and Ziyad tomorrow.

We headed to a radio studio in Hammersmith for the final two set ups of the day. Nasri had made a great suggestion a couple of weeks ago regarding the voice overs in the film; we should record the voice over of Bisan and Yusif at the same time- this would allow the intimacy intended in the script to seep through the process of capturing their voices.

Daniel, Amelie, Nasri, Axle et moi took a taxi from the house in Knightsbridge to make a head start at the studio and record as much as possible of the voice overs before the crew arrived to set up for filming. We arrived quite late; Daphne had arrived on time and was waiting for us outside the studio in the cold.
The kindly owner of the radio studio, Andrew, offered to record the voice overs on his professional equipment; Axle was pleased.

With Axle, Amelie and me in the soundproof booth, Nasri began to read his first impressions of London. As the positive energy worked its way around the room, the voice overs began to take a life of their own. Nasri did really well; his Arabic/French/American and British English added texture and warmth to his interpretation of the text. Daphne was simply sublime. I had to close my eyes and let her voice float around me- she was reading the memoirs of Bisan. The final piece was simply beautiful. I felt privileged to be in the same room with this group of talented and kindly artists.

Once the crew arrived, we filmed the radio interview between Yusif and the newscaster. Monica Kendall had auditioned for Mesocafe back in April 2007. Both her and I were relieved and joyous that we had finally come to shooting the film. Monica was great; while she was reading a news report into the microphone, Axle mouthed to me, “her voice is really good”. Coming from a sound recordist, this is a huge compliment.

I have a bit of great news: we have been allowed an extra day of filming.

Nasri generously agreed to postpone his return to Beirut by a couple of days; the camera hire company allowed us the kit for an extra couple of days and I have been able to find Nasri an alternative hotel room at such a short notice:-)

Tomorrow, we will complete the car scenes; shoot a street protest; watch Bisan and Yusif as they walk in the streets of London; film Bisan as she drives Yusif to the airport and then capture the remaining Robert North- TV journalist- scene.

For Bisan’s drive to the airport, the script said she would drive a Mini. As the date of shooting the scene approached, I had to compromise. Arij asked for the names of a few car models that would work with the character of Bisan. Out of the list, she managed to find a good deal on a Renault Cleo…”Papa!… Nicole!” :- )

December 4th 2008; day 17 of 18 of filming

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

When I wrote the first draft of the script a couple of years ago, I imagined a scene between Bisan and Yusif at al-Saqi bookshop in Westbourne Grove. Having lived in London from the mid-1980s, I’ve always been enamoured with this shrine to all things written from our part of the world. Often I would set aside a whole morning to visit al-Saqi, hoping to spot the a new voice among the tens of new authors that the presses of Beirut, Cairo, Tunis, Casablanca, Damascus, and sometimes Baghdad, churn out every year. I would head to the nearest cafe, order a huge coffee and with the joy of a child unwrapping a present in christmas or the great Eid, I would gently glide my findings from the elegant plastic bag and simply start floating with the characters, stories, memoirs and poetry. It was here that I first read the Cairo trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz; Hikayat Zahrah/The Tale of Zahra by Hanan al-Shaikh; al-Nakhlah wa al-Jiran/The Palm Tree and the Neighbours by Gha’ib Tu’ma Farman; al-Masarrat wa al-Awja’/ Joy and Pain by the late Fu’ad al-Takarli; Mudun al-Milh/Cities of Salt by Abd al-Rahman Munif..the list goes on.
As I arrived to the sixth draft of the script, I was beginning to worry that I was deriving so much creative energy out of basing a pivotal scene in the film at a location without knowing for certain whether we would be allowed to film at the bookshop. A few months ago, I plucked the courage, and instead of simply taking my “finding” to the till, I said hello to the beautiful bookshop manager, Safa, whom I have known from a distance for many years now. It was she who had gently shown me more than ten years ago the three separate novels that make up the Cairo Trilogy. She was ever so generous, helpful and receptive to the idea of allowing me to film at the location. I remember walking out with a new book (Diana Abu Jaber’s The Language of Baklava) literally jumping with joy and excitement for being allowed to include in the film this place that has been an inspiration and a harbinger for one’s cultural orientation.

Today was the day. We arrived at 10am. Bit by bit, about a fifth of the contents of our Transit van began to line the corridors between the bookshelves. Once an HMI was turned on, I think the bookshop staff realized what they were in for:-)

Safa arrived at 11am; she was the epitomy of calm and charm. Not only did she not complain or rush us, she went out of her way to make sure we were able to keep our equipment in a safe space during the shoot.

At the end of the shoot, with the kit being piled back into the van, I was back at the till with a “finding” which Safa had reserved for me for a few weeks- “Arabian Jazz” by Diana Abu Jaber.

We were back in Knightsbridge for lunch.
Through his great scour and find skills, Kawa had managed to rent a people-carrier for two full days at an extraordinarly low price. We’ve been mulling over the model of the car that the character of Hussyan would drive- the story is set in late 2002/early 2003. When it came to it, we all were relieved to get a people carrier, period.
While Alessio, Kate and Alice were busy rigging the car with lights for the car scenes, I spent an hour or so going through the lines of the character of Hussayn with sayyid ‘Aziz al-Na’ib. We were sat on the staircase leading to the first floor, reading through the text and practicing the lines.

Thankfully, the car scenes went well: sayyid ‘Aziz was driving, with the camera on the passenger seat, Alessio propping himself uncomfortably against the dashboard and the windscreen, Axle and Kate hiding in the back seats, and me in the middle seats helping sayyid ‘Aziz with a very long speech.

Better come to a halt now- I was at my favourite bookshop today and there is a new book to take to bed…
Good night.

From top right: Mahmoud, Gabriella, Alice, Alessio, Tina, Riyadh, Axle

Nasri, Daphne, Arij


Rabii, the bookshop member of staff who took on the role of the bookshop assistant; Safa, the lovely bookshop manager who took on the role of a lovely bookshop manager; Daniel and some guy who insisted on the photo…

December 3rd 2008; day 16 of 18 of filming

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

This is a quick update- need to get some rest in preparation for another full day.
Just wanted to assure everyone that last night’s doom and gloom was an aberration in an otherwise energetic and optimistic shoot.

Today, Wednesday, we were back at the house in Knightsbrige.
We filmed the kitchen scenes between Bisan and Ziyad, and between Bisan, Yusif and Suad.
We also filmed the scenes in the kitchen in which Bisan jots down her memories into a notebook.
Daphne agreed that it would be a good idea for someone to read aloud during the actual filming of the scene the thoughts that will later be imparted in voiceover . As the only person on set who looks like he hasn’t anything to do, it fell to me to read the lines.
Mahmoud called the scene; I whispered action and began reading. The personal layers of memories that are evoked by the text made me quite emotional. I mentioned it to Daphne; “good, it helped me”, she said later.

We filmed the bedsit scenes in other parts of the house; Daniel did wonders with the limitations of trying to make a room with a particular colour theme in walls and furniture into two separate locations.

Alex helped greatly by suggesting that we take an insert of a photo taken in 1938 of a group of Iraqi musicians. I had wanted to ask for this shot, but since we were running so late and the crew had kindly stayed on beyond the 12 hour shift, I wasn’t sure if I it would be fair on the team to ask for one more setup. I think Alex charmed the camera department:- )

Tomorrow, we are back close to Notting Hill Gate. We also need to film the street protest, in addition to a whole series of car scenes.

Arij and Kawa are doing their best to find Nasri an alternative flight to allow him to stay a day longer on the shoot. If we manage this, then we will extend the shoot by a day to Saturday. The crew have generously agreed to do the extra day. Bless them all- they are my heroes…

Talking of heroes… here are one or two… more to follow

Mahmoud-Alex-boom boom and Amelie in green room Knightsbridge 3-12-08DSC_0099

Valentina, Arij and Tina. Should I be worried?

Daphne in the big kitchen scene

Nawras and Nawal-

Andy- at the end of the big kitchen scene.

Rida Hamdi in the role of Tariq, the maths teacher

Habibi Kawa

The sound department- Axle and you know who:- )

December 2nd 2008; days 14-15 of 18 of filming

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Days 14 and 15 of 18
On Sunday evening, Amelie, our script supervisor, took me through all the shots that we filmed at the cafe. I was aware of a couple of shots and one major scene that we hadn’t had the chance to film at the cafe during those six days of the night shoot.

With her great attention to detail and suggestion of solutions to potential difficulties in the edit room, Amelie guided me through the parts of the cafe scenes that we can not live without. As it turned out, we had almost everything we needed from the interior of the cafe, barring a couple of short sequences at the counter and the all important end scene outside the cafe.

On Monday morning, we arrived at location 8am sharp and we were already filming by 9.30. We were only allowed five hours at the location; the cafe owner had been given such a hard time by the landlord and by a complaining neighbour during our week of night shoot that she was adamant that we would not be allowed to return. It was only thanks to Arij and Kawa that she compromised and allowed us half a day. Kawa had resorted to a line from his character in the script, when he promised her that all her conditions would be met- “I swear by my mother’s soul”- bless him.

We filmed a couple of exterior scenes; went indoors for the counter sequence and then we were back out for the last scene in the film. This required the cast of six characters to greet one another outside the cafe on a busy Monday morning. Again, the goddess of celluloid smiled upon this group of dreamers and allowed us two clean takes- even those passers-by who ignored the polite requests of Gabriella and Alice to wait for a minute and actually walked through frame- even they didn’t look at the lens and thus added a layer of realism to the story.

The night before the shoot, it had occurred to me that the location we used on November the 11th for auditions and a reading session [see below] would be very useful indeed as the offices of Ziyad and Suad. Arij managed to book us the location for a wonderfully reasonable fee.

Having covered a few setups on Monday, we were back at the same location on Tuesday for more office scenes. Andy, Houda, Nasri and Julian Boote were in for the shoot. Julian has been particularly patient with us; we have not been giving him sufficient notice before his days on set. This has been exasperated during this last week, as we didn’t really have a schedule for Monday until late on Sunday, due to various factors, but mainly the fact that I hadn’t had the chance to formally agree locations for this week.

My feelings at the end of day 15 of the shoot can be summed up as an emotional nadir. I have serious concerns as to whether we will be able to put all the film in the can by the end of Friday night. As Houda told me on Monday, trying to shoot a feature film in 18 days and with professional cast and crew is very ambitious. I am worried that I may have been too ambitious.

My options are quite limited. Should we not get the whole film into the can by Friday evening, then it would take me months before I am able to afford to get a small crew, hire the kit, get the insurance, get catering, transport and arrange for locations etc. That said, I am more than happy to leave to January or February all the TV news interviews that feature in the film. All these interviews can be filmed on HD, as they appear on TV sets in the film. The one interview that we can’t postpone is Yusif’s. Nasri heads back to Beirut this Saturday, and we need to complete all the voiceover material and his TV interview before we wish him a safe journey.

I am sorry to end today’s update on a low point.

Huggs and kisses.

November 29th 2008; day 12 of 18 of filming

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Filming the big dinner party scene:
In April 2007, I met Sharif Nashashibi. I was working on a tight schedule and planning to shoot this film in June that year. A good friend had put me in touch with Sharif of whose work as chairman of Arab Media Watch I had heard. Sharif provides a great service to British media by alerting them, among other issues, to the undercurrent of prejudice and ignorance in their coverage of the Middle East and the Arab World. A week hardly goes by without Arab Media Watch sending out a study of the coverage in the British Press of a news story related to the region. The studies are empirical and objective and I imagine British members of the press would appreciate this sort of feedback, their political allegiances notwithstanding.

During our first meeting at Sharif’s most exquisitely designed family home, I mentioned how we were still in need of a nice living room to film the dinner party scene. Without a moment’s hesitation, Sharif offered me his home to film in. A day later, he called me and confirmed that his mother had agreed to allow us to film in their home. Fortunately for me and for the project, the shoot was postponed twice- from June 2007 to December 2007 and then to November 2008. Yet, Sharif and family kept the faith and did not change their mind during these 18 months separating the first meeting from the actual shoot.

The house is simply brilliant. There is so much attention to detail and to works of art collected over many generations of the Nashashibi family who hail from Palestine. The design is inspired by Moorish Andalusia.

We arrived at ten in the morning, and by the time Sharif came down on his way out, our flags, light stands, boxes of film gear, were strewn all over the living room, the corridor and the kitchen. Tina and Valentina had taken over the dining room and enclosed it in their make-up and costume jurisdiction. Arij created a sign for the downstairs bathroom to prevent people barging in when occupied- being a family home, there is no need to have a lock:-)

The cast in the dinner party scene consisted entirely of very experienced actors. We had Andy Lucas, in the role of Ziyad, the host; Stefan Kalipha, in the role of the wealthy expat Saleem; Houda Echouafni, in the role Suad, Ziyad’s PR executive; Raad Rawi, in the role of the Kurdish poet and philosopher, Hushyar; Nasri Sayegh, in the role of Yusif; Daphne Alexander, in the role of Bisan, and Khalid Laith, in the role Hisham, the exiled journalist opposed to war.

I had to stop myself getting too emotional- so supportive, kindly and generous every single member of this highly experienced cast was towards this budding director. I didn’t really have any notes to give, other than, “brilliant” and “I like… I desire”:-)

We wrapped at 9.30pm, having completed the dinner party scene. We didn’t shoot the scenes between Yusif and Bisan, and between Bisan and Ziyad. Thanks to Sharif’s generous offer, we will be able to return to the house and film these two major scenes next week.

I need to mention a couple of people who have been working throughout this shoot mostly behind the scenes- allowing me to focus on my role as director. Arij al-Soltan and Kawa Rasul, the couple who in their respective roles as production manager and production coordinator have held this production together. I haven’t had to worry about providing the cast and crew with good and healthy food, about brining in missing equipment, about delivering exposed film to the lab and bringing back the rushes, about contracts for the cast and crew, about moving the costumes between locations, about arranging transport for our cast and crew during the night shoot…the list goes on. Arij has been simply extraordinary- using her charm, patience, perseverance and great organisational and negotiation skills to feed the forward momentum of our project. Kawa has gone out of his way in supporting Arij, and also in taking care of members of the cast- his coffee is the stuff of legend:-)

We are now in the last week of the shoot- despite the hardwork, long hours and stress associated with working in small spaces with a team and loads of equipment, I know for a fact that everyone of us will miss this atmosphere, this camaraderie, and this belief in a dream that has brought us all from all over the world [Brazil, Gabriella; France, Amelie; Italy, Alessio, Alice and Valentina; Lebanon, Mahmoud and Nasri; Malaysia, Axle; Britons with origins from Greece-Cyprus, Andy, Daphne, Alex and Tina; a Briton of Algerian origins, Riyadh "Mr Boom-Boom"; Trinidad, Stefan; Spain, Jose; Palestine, Sharif; Bahrain, Khalid; Morocco-Egypt, Houda; Switzerland, Daniel; South Africa, Tina [again:-)], UK, Kamal, Kate and Dominique, and a sprinkling of Iraqis].

May this be the beginning of many more creative collaborations in this magical city, London- it has brought this international group of filmmakers together.

Until tomorrow.

Salam and peace.

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

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

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.

November 25th 2008; day 8 of 18 of filming

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

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.

November 20th 2008; day 4 of 18 of filming

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Day 4 of 18
On my way to location I bumped into Nasri Sayegh, who plays Yusif, deep in thought having dinner in a quiet corner of a fast food joint . With all that’s been going on with the production, the night-shoot and long hours, we haven’t had the chance to catch up and talk. We tend to wrap at six or seven in the morning. Then there is the mad rush to turn the cafe from its new/old incarnation as Mesocafe to the tranquil and easy ambiance of the French cafe. By the end of this last push, there isn’t much time or indeed energy left for talking.

The shoot went remarkably well tonight. We actually went through all the shots Mahmoud Chour, our 1st AD, had scheduled for us.

The characters are truly alive for me- Khalid Laith is making the character of Hisham well and truly his own; sit Ahlam Arab plays Zaynab the way I had imagined her; Kawa Rasul excells in the funny down-and-out Iraqi refugee; Zain al-Janabi is brilliant, effortlessly delivers the character of Masud, the Briton of Iraqi origins; Adam Dhrouge is a great “student of Arabic”; Aziz al-Na’ib is superb- he’s had to wait for a couple of nights before getting the opportunity to do his scenes. Alessio Valori, our DP, agrees that Aziz, with his gray hair and moustache, looks great on camera. Finally, Nasri Sayegh and Daphne Alexander are simply beyond my expectations- the chemistry between them is simply a joy to watch.

I was taking snaps of members of the crew- Dominique working with our makeup designer Tine seamlessly working with the cast, Kamal dressing and redressing the set, Valentina on costume, Axle on sound- love her work, Riyadh boom operating- he was roped into this by a dear friend, Sarah Amory, who on the night before the shoot asked if i was short of a crew member and Riyadh obliged us all at such short notice. I am touched by Alessio’s attention to detail, composition and providing great lighting within the limitations of the location. He is blessed with a camera team that is just brilliant- Kate, our focus puller, and Alice, our clapper/loader. Alessio is helped by the gaffer from Iberia- Jose. The shooting strategy we’ve adopted, shooting totally out of sequence and by table, as opposed to by scene, makes continuity even more essential to making a credible film. Amelie is an asset to the production, on an occasion or two corrected moi the writer- through the many rewrites of the script, it is inevitable that certain, minor [one hopes], inconsistencies begin to surface in terms of character entering and leaving scenes. Amelie has been instrumental in ironing out these inconsistencies.

Finally, Mahmoud and Alex Niakaris, our first and second ADs, are a brilliant team guiding the cast, crew and me through the shooting schedule and through the out-of-sequence jigsaw method of filming.

Taking these snaps, I was struck by how busy and engrossed every single person in the crew is during the shoot- the director seems to be the only person on set who doesn’t really have a kit, a tool, a stop-watch, a light-meter, a boom, a recording device, a clipboard, props etc. Yet, everyone on set looks to this person hogging the monitor for the final word on how things should be done- I am so moved and humbled by the respect and generosity with which every person on set treats me that I have to consciously stop myself from getting too emotional- oh for the stiff upper lip :- )

More tomorrow.

November 19th 2008; day 3 of 18 of filming

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Day 3 of 18:
After completing the shoot for day two, I arrived home and received the call sheet for day three. Mahmoud and Alex Niakaris, our first and second ADs, spend two to three hours after each long night on location to fine-tune the call sheets for the next day. In the call sheet was a mention of the “painting”. Originally, I had planned to continue working with the owner of an Iraqi art gallery in London who had generously agreed to lend us, gratis, a collection of paintings from different generations of Iraqi artists. Due to other demands of pre-production, I didn’t get the opportunity to invest the time to carry out the admin work involved in borrowing original works of art- insurance, transport, storage etc. Daniel and Arij had, in the meantime, found simple paintings from my neck of the woods and used them to ad some flavour to the walls of the cafe. However, I’d always wanted to include the Faisal La’aibi Sahi painting that he so generously allowed me to use at the top of the home page of the website and on postcards for the film. On receiving the callsheet, I called the artist, and after some uncertainty as to whether the painting is in his possession or lent to an exhibition, he agreed without a second’s hesitation to lend me the painting, gratis. Arranging insurance cover for the 10,000 work of art didn’t take long.

At 5pm, I was knocking at the door of Mr Sahi’s apartment close to Russell Square. Wrapped in plastic sheets, the painting was waiting patiently for this dreamer to take her on a journey across London to the film set.

We arrived at location about an hour early; thought it best to take advantage of the extra time my date had afforded me by taking her out to dinner.

I think a couple of the regulars were quite jealous- she was the perfect date, allowed me to gaze into her eyes for the duration of dinner:-)

The shoot for tonight went remarkably well. There was a great deal of choreography involved- due to the earlier practical decision of shooting all the cafe counter scenes together, all table 1 scenes together etc., the choreography is that bit more challenging as you’re trying to follow through on blocking carried out at a different parts of the cafe at an earlier day in the week, and also make sure that this would flow into the next day’s blocking. Khalid Laith, the talented British actor of Arab origin, has been making some really instructive and helpful suggestions on how his character would move within the space and in relation to other characters. I love Khalid’s voice and enunciation- assertive and clear.

We didn’t get the chance to film the magical scene when Zaynab, the cafe owner, is left alone at the end of the working day. Will film it tomorrow.

My dinner date spent the night protected by the costume department, watching the actors go through dresses and suits from the comfort of a couple of linen covered chairs. She didn’t get her close-up tonight. Tomorrow:-)