Director’s Journal: Day 6

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Thursday, Day 6.

When the alarm goes off in the morning of the sixth day of shooting, I pounce from the bed, somehow trained to be in attack mode.  I’ve been working on all cylinders for almost a week now, and my body is used to the strain and constant adrenaline.  I keep having grandiose thoughts about myself directing this film, which I try to reject quickly in an effort not to become an asshole.  I haven’t buckled under the pressure yet, and I’m almost a third of the way through the three-week shoot.  My girlfriend and I had a small fight earlier in the week when I returned well past one in the morning.  She has been a great sport in putting up with my ridiculous schedule over the past year in preparing for the film, but she is worried now.  Is it sustainable?  Will I keel over?  Is it possible that she needs more attention than I have been giving her over the last few weeks?  The other night when I returned home I remember stumbling into the dark kitchen, opening a Tupperware of pasta, and mindlessly eating nearly the whole thing, trying in vain to consume a small percentage of calories that I have burned in this tremendous undertaking.  I remember finding Lisa awake in her downstairs office, and noticing that she was completely fed up with me.  Near tears, I begged her to put up with it for a couple more weeks.  Please, I told her… Just believe in me.  I felt like a little boy, who needed his mommy to hug him and tell him that she believes in him.  Lisa’s put up with a lot.  I gotta think of some way to make it up to her.  Problem is, she doesn’t like flowers, and all diamonds are blood diamonds.

So today’s shoot is coming up in a half an hour and I am looking in my bathroom mirror.  I have probably lost about five pounds since beginning this shoot.  I have dark circles under my eyes, and I barely recognize myself.  I put on my most professional black shirt (Haynes, from Target), and slip on the shorts that Mohannad gifted me a couple weeks earlier when we were working out wardrobe options.  They fit now, for the first time.

I arrive at Mohannad’s house early, to find his mom already cooking for the day’s schedule.  I ask if he is awake, and she tells me to go upstairs.  I call out his name, and wander up the staircase that we have already shot several times.  I arrive in his room.  The alarm blasts NPR, and I enter.  Mohannad is lying in the bed, completely naked.  I let him know that I am setting up downstairs, and leave him to his morning routine.

The morning’s shoot is a bit stressful, in that we need to set the stage for a funeral reception in Mohannad’s house.  Problem is, we don’t have enough extras though.  I carefully set up the funeral guests (and included Waiel Safwat, Assistant Director as an extra).  We improvise some shots of guests waiting around, and get a wonderful shot of Fatima (Mohannad’s mother) preparing a traditional lamb dish that is served at Palestinian funerals.  She also prepares some delicious looking Baklava, and everyone anxiously awaits lunch.  We Set up some shots of Sasha (Sara Abdelaal) in an old red pickup truck I borrowed from the drummer of my band, Bill, and shoot some pretty nice scenes in Mohannad’s Mercedes with Mohannad and Adam (Adam Elsafy).  We are careful to shoot around the parts of Mohannad’s Mercedes that were damaged in the accident he had sometime in the last week.  I sigh to myself and wonder what would have happened if he had been injured, or if his car had been wrecked even worse.  His frantic phone call to me in the morning with the news that he had totaled his car had felt like a drop in the bucket compared to what we were facing in trying to pull off this film… Until I realized that his car was a character in the film to some extent, and that we would have to shoot around the damage, and hope that it could still drive enough to pull off the rest of our scheduled shots.

The end of the day consists of another risky shot.  The camera is balanced high up on top of a car, looking down at a scene in the back of a pickup truck.  Large heavy lights are balanced precariously above Sara Abdelaal, as she does a wonderful job sobbing into her hands.  The next shot captures her lighting a cigarette, and looking thoroughly bad-ass.  Sara is in a cool band called The Claps, and it has been a bit of a hassle trying to coordinate schedules around her shows and trips.  She gives us our money’s worth tonight (albeit nobody is getting paid), and hands in a solid performance though she is surrounded by strangers and asked to cry.

The night’s shoot ends with the making of some fire kites.  We need at least one shot of a flaming newspaper floating gracefully through the sky.  The challenge is to get this shot in keeping with our stable camera motif.  It turns out making fire kites is harder than we thought (almost all of them die before lift off), and capturing the magic also turns out to be tricky.  Finally we get one good shot, and wrap for the night.

I am definitely in the rhythm now.  I go home, have some grapenuts with a banana, and wonder how Jeremy Wilker, Cinematographer, with a three-year-old and one-year-old, is dealing with being away from his family for so long.

avatarBy Dan on
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