Director’s Journal: Day 4

Tuesday, Day 4.

In many ways our fourth day of shooting is a breath of fresh air.  Though we spent the day in Mohannad’s stifling basement again, we shoot all morning and afternoon on my Super8 camera, in order to achieve the look of the memory sequences.  This also means that we don’t have to worry about airplane sound, quieting the set, boom mics or lavalieres.  It is a director’s dream, in that I can yell out direction while we are shooting without concern over sound quality.  The day goes by fairly smoothly.  We even decide to let Julie Gaynin (one of our Macalester interns) shoot.  She does a great job (or at least we hope she does, since we can’t review the footage until it is developed later), and we have some fun.  Sami Aziz (Kareem Aal) dances across the set with Flora Mur (Sarah Martens).  There is a lot of laughter, and we quickly make our way through the call sheet.

In the afternoon, we bring in Ali Arahawi (15) who portrays the young version of Mohannad.  Ali is a former student of Nadia Phelps (who plays Mohannad and Sami’s mother).  Some years ago Nadia noticed that one of the students in her school bore a striking resemblance to Mohannad Ghawanmeh, her friend.  Ali left Nadia’s school, but Nadia stayed in touch, and helped us contact Ali’s family to discuss the role in Triumph67.

Now, Ali comes down the stairs to the basement.  He is a confident kid whose nervousness is covered up by is flirtatiousness with the females on the set.  He is wearing a sweater with a British looking emblem ironed onto the front, which we got from his real life friend who agreed to donate the costume in exchange for being an extra in the film.  His friend waits for him in the kitchen, snacking on crackers and trail mix.  Ali listens to the direction that I give him, and we shoot two of the four scenes that we need from him without incident.

As the afternoon progresses, Ali becomes increasingly nervous.  He claims that he has a stomach-ache and feels faint.  I ask him if he would like to take a break and would like some water.  He tells me that he hasn’t eaten anything all day.  I encourage him to eat something, and we set up the last two shots with Ali, this time with our full rig in HD.  Ali becomes increasingly nervous as he sees the high tech camera being set up.  All he has to do is to hold the super8 camera, and look through the staircase leading down to the basement.  He begins to have a small panic attack, and I do my best to reassure him that he will be fine.  We quickly get the shot, and then set up the last shot—a shot where Ali holds a phone, and must look like he was hit by a train.  I couldn’t tell whether it was the anxiety, or if he was secretly a great actor, but he nailed the shot the first time around.  I told him that he was a great actor (which I actually think is true), and sent him off the set to get a bite to eat.  He quickly began to feel better, and disappeared upstairs.

We conclude the evening with two scenes with Sami Aziz (Kareem Aal).  He must sit in precisely the same position that young Mohannad previously sat, strike a match, light a small antique Kodak lantern, and look natural.  I call out for quiet on the set.


“And, action!”

Kareem strikes the match.  It doesn’t light.

“Cut!  Quiet on the set…”

“Camera rolling.”

“Sound… speed…”

“And, action!”

Kareem strikes the match for the second time.  Nothing.


The pattern of match failure continues for about fifteen minutes, until we have reached the last match in the book.  There are no more matches in the house, and the hour is getting late.  I coach Kareem on how to strike the match so it can’t possibly fail.

“Quiet on the set!”

“Camera’s rolling…”

“Sound, speed!”

“And… Action!”

I notice that Kareem isn’t handling the match how I suggested.  A sudden urge to shriek with laughter comes over me, but I stifle it.  I hold my breath.  He strikes the match, and it lights, flickers, then remains lit.  He lights the lantern, and nails the scene.


avatarBy Dan on
Posted in Journal, Production