A trip to the Turkish Syrian border – fastest production EVER

Blog, Video Production


Last week I flew out with a team to complete an assignment of epic proportions. It was a return visit to the Turkish-Syrian border at the orphanage we fundraised for and built last year. Needless to say the thought of the trip was keeping me up some nights. Not only was it going to be difficult because of the emotional terrain that we’d have to navigate (working in an orphanage for Syrian refugees) but because we had such a limited amount of time to achieve a huge set of objectives…


4 days to complete 2 documentaries, 2 tv ads and a photo campaign!

Deep breath

Day 1: We met the staff at the orphanage and originally the plan was to use this day to break the ice with the kids, to get them used to the cameras and gear. But, and in large part owing to the amazing work the staff had done with the kids, they were totally cool with us from the get-go! AWESOME, this meant we could get to work straight away. So the first few hours we spent filming a progress report of the building and then went straight into interviews with the kids. I’ve never done this before but I squeezed out all the juice from 3 Canon BP955 batteries in one day! It was actually on this day that we met Ruba, a beautiful 11 year old girl who was just brimming with confidence and potential. She gave us a dynamite interview, telling us how she planned on being a doctor so she could help people, and I had an inkling that this was going to be my face of the tv ad! Back to the hotel, bed!

Day 2: Interviews with refugees. We left the confines of the orphanage whilst the kids were at school so we could speak to refugee families in the surrounding areas. It was all of a sudden, very sobering. Though we carried on working at a blistering-breakneck speed, the reality of what the people were facing became very clear. The need for the orphanage became very clear. After 3 interviews we returned back to the orphanage where there was no time to rest or even mentally process what we’d seen, the kids were getting back from school so with the remaining day light we proceeded to interview them. It was really uplifting to hear these kids speak. One little girl, Fatma, told us she wanted to open her own orphanage one day. This tiny statement from this little girl spoke wonders for the work that was being done at this place. Day light gone, batteries drained, back to the hotel and BED.

Day 3: TV ads and additional material. One of the ads was a ‘day in the life’ of a child at the orphanage. So we had to get to the orphanage shortly after dawn to catch the kids waking up. With a lot of help from people far more experienced I directed Ruba (our star!) and some of the other kids (through translators) and was happy with most of the 2nd or 3rd takes. We had to keep moving because of time and before we knew it, it was time for school. Off to school! Things slowed down a bit here because of the order and regimented nature of school life. My back was nearly broken at this point so I rested but was super wary that I was missing filming opportunities. Finally we finished at the school, got back to the orphanage and finished up the remaining ‘staged’ shots. It’s really amazing what the orphanage does for the kids. By sending them out to school they have a chance to adjust into the local community as opposed to being outcasts. This is grass roots countering of the effects of war and displacement at its finest. Needless to say by the end of day 3 I was tired. See picture: photo

Day 4: Party! No, really, we had a party. We’d put aside some budget to buy decorations and food so we threw a party for the kids and joined in too! It was great. A way to celebrate the amazing work the orphanage had done and for us to mark our farewell. My work wasn’t done though, I shot the party and during down time managed to get a few remaining bonus shots for the second tv ad and also a documentary segment! Leaving the orphanage for the last time was quite difficult. The kids had really warmed to us and we’d really warmed to them. The name for the orphanage is ‘Bayti’ which literally translates to ‘my home’. There’s never been a more appropriate name for a place. It felt like I was leaving home.

Final thoughts:

  • Wherever possible on assignments abroad, keep some rest days allocated. On these types of shoots it’s very easy to underestimate how tired you can get!
  • The C100 is the best camera I’ve ever worked with. Just wish it had some decent slow motion (though that’s been fixed on the mk2).
  • Sometimes less is more. We had a big crew go out there and I wonder if we could have worked faster with just a few less members… But I suppose this is subject to the location you’re visiting so it will probably differ.
  • I need to learn Arabic pronto!
  • This is my biggest takeaway… Having witnessed the aftermath of a number of conflicts now, I have to say there is only one counter measure which has the ability to rebuild lives productively, for the better, for a stable future. It’s not retaliation, it’s not ideological shifts,  it’s probably not even establishment of a western style of democracy. It’s got to be love. That’s it. You can call me naive but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The love shown to those kids by the staff at that orphanage has done wonders for them. It won’t bring back their parents, nor their destroyed homes, but I should hope it’s undoing the trauma and damage to their fragile hearts. It’s giving them a chance to build themselves for the future.


I implore everyone to donate to this amazing project and learn more about their amazing work:



The videos are yet to be edited but I’ll be sure to post them here as soon as they are! 🙂

Also, for more of this production and NGO related babbling, follow me on twitter: twitter.com/safiyyahsdad

Jubair, signing out!