Director’s Journal: Day 17

Wednesday, Day 17.

Our last day with the full crew arrives, and there is a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that is noticeable with most of the cast and crew.  The interns play soccer in the yard with Kareem’s four-year old son, and smoke cigarettes in the shade of the trees in the yard.  There is laughter, accolades handed out freely, and a feeling of relief.  In spite of this, we quickly come up against some challenges.

We race against the clock to shoot two sequences at the front door of Kareem’s home before the sun rises past some trees and makes the lighting less desirable.  We are neck and neck with the sun, and one shot is interrupted by one of the crew members who has forgotten that it is the director’s responsibility to yell cut.  Jeremy becomes frustrated beyond restraint, loses his temper, and yells.  Still racing against the clock, we somehow manage to complete the shot.  The reality is, many of us are at the end of our ropes, with sleep deprivation, daily heatstroke, and differing tolerances for frustration and working styles.  Everyone came to this project with expectations, and whether theirs were met or not affects their outlook, and has become clearer as the weeks progress.  I find that I have to constantly remind myself that most everyone is volunteering for this project, and to focus on our strengths, and work from there.

We spend about an hour trying to rig together a makeshift dolly track for an idea that I have for the one moving HD shot in the film.  We use the baby carriage from Kareem’s garage, and some flat plant boards.  We decide that it looks too shakey, and give up on the idea.  I’m not too disappointed, since I feel comfortable with stationary shots.  When the camera doesn’t move, the director has near total control over composition of the image, and what kind of manipulation can be done with the shot in post-production.  We shoot the scene where Sami Aziz (Kareem Aal) walks past a window with hanging pots and pans, and move to the back yard where Adam is preparing for his big drama scene.

We rearrange the order of shots, as we have done daily throughout the shoot, in order to include a beautiful ray of sun on the space in the yard where Sarah Martens needs to stand with a photograph of Adam.   We set up the shot, racing against the clock, as the sun inches further and further beneath the roof.  With about a minute to spare, we get what we need.

DSC_0054-3After lunch, we have a surprise birthday cake for Aman Ghawanmeh, Mohannad’s young sister, who weeps, partly because her sister is moving to the Middle East soon and won’t see her for a year, and partly because the shoot is coming to an end, and she has been instrumental to the food preparation, wardrobe assisting, and as emotional support to Mohannad.

As lunch progresses, Mohannad and I re-write some dialogue for the exchange we are about to shoot in the garage, where Mohannad confronts his angry nephew.  We go through various ideas, and land on Mohannad’s which poignantly illustrates the importance of family for Palestinians.

We set up in the sweltering garage, and shoot the scene day for night with the garage door closed.  It quickly rises to well over 90 degrees, and we come up against a reoccurring theme in the making of our film: airplane noise.  It seems that we run through the scene 15 times, each time being interrupted by another airplane.  Adam finally nails the timing that I am looking for, and we flop out of the garage, drenched in sweat.

I bring the antique pickup around to the back of the house, and we shoot a scene where it pulls up, visible through the open garage door.  It’s a heavy truck without power steering, and the shifter is tricky.  Rather than teaching Sara how to drive it, I hop in and double as Sara.  We do a few takes with her sitting next to me trying to block me from being seen by the camera.  After a while, we rig up a black hood that covers me completely, and I drive the truck hunched over, out of view.

I park the truck, and jog around to the front of the house to get the Triumph for its last scene in the film.  It starts after a while, and I ride it around back to the garage.  The brief jaunt around the house feels good as my sweat evaporates from the breeze.  We shoot the scene where Mohannad shows Adam the motorcycle.  I notice that while they rev the engine, it starts to sound funny, but ignore it so that we can finish the shot.  After three or four takes, the engine dies, and a cloud of burning smoke rises from the Triumph.  Cut, and print.

A skeleton crew and two actors pile into my car and we scout out a location for a quick scene that we need with Mohannad and Flora in a Volvo.  We find it as clouds mount in the sky, and grab the shot before it becomes too dark.  Julie Gaynin takes a little B Roll, and then we pack up and return to Kareem’s home.

This is our final evening together as a whole crew, and there is more than a little sentimentality.  Rather than rush home, we do some straightening up.  The evening grows darker, and Kareem brings out the plate of pita and feta, olives and pickled vegetables, and the stuffed garlic eggplant that I love so much.  I review the damages done to Kareem’s house: a broken door knob, a cracked picture window, dirt and grime all over the floor, a kitchen full of dirty dishes.  I let him know that I will take care of everything, and he reassures me that there is no rush, and not to worry about the window.  I insist that I will take care of it, and he nods and smiles.

We make a fire in the backyard, and the remaining crew sits in wooden chairs that I brought to his house as props.  We drink beer and stare at the fire, and Mohannad tells stories about classes he taught, and films that he loves.  Sarah Martens laughs, and smoke rises into the darkness.  Tomorrow we will drive to Lake City to shoot the remaining scenes on my parent’s sailboat, Solitude.  Before I leave for the night, I check to see that the Triumph is secure in the garage (though it wouldn’t start anyway).  I say, ‘adios,’ and as I drive home, I feel elated as I get every green light.  Having made it this far, I feel like a giant, somehow making history with colleagues who will one day reflect on this experience, with fondness from leather chairs and smoking jackets, as they introduce classic films on AMC.  I daydream about dying in a terrible car wreck, and wonder what would happen to my film if I went down up flames right now.  Would it get finished?  How would it end up without me involved?  Would it fizzle or be pushed through?  Would it be better?  All these crazy thoughts, but the bottom line is– I did it!

avatarBy Dan on
Posted in Journal, Production