EPIC – an Action packed TV ad production

Blog, Video Production

Bismillah 

The awesomeness of the TV ad I’ve been working on is officially live and you can view it in all its action movie juiciness right here: http://youtu.be/oaTJIRw3qYQ

I love action movies. I grew up on them and they play a big part in my wanting to be a movie director. Out of all the genres of film they’re the most cinematic (in my humble opinion). They use camera movement, blocking, sound and music all cranked up to 11 to deliver something that just can’t be done in any other format! So being able to dabble in it was a joy for me. A joy that penetrated my soul! My SOUL!

Now let’s get down to how it was made! The purpose of the ad was to get  volunteers to sign up to do charity work and fundraising initiatives so it might have seemed like a weird concept  to use action movie tropes; but actually the idea worked perfectly. In truth, volunteers are the backbone of any charity and the effort they give is epic. So making them out to be these heroes was a no brainer. 

Pitching the concept was easy too, I used movie trailers and scenes from some of my favourite action movies (Badboys, die hard, tons of superhero movie trailers) and the team loved the idea straight off. Having worked well with them before there was a level of trust so it was a great experience sharing ideas and communicating with them. 

  
Where a lot of time was spent was researching the camera moves and the overall style I wanted the ad to have. It was going to be a tongue-in-cheek homage to the movies I grew up with, but that didn’t mean we could get away with poorly executed shots. So thanks to the genius of Tony Szhou (@tonyszhou) and his ‘every frame a painting’ videos, figuring out how we needed to block actors and set up camera moves became really clear. I scoured locations and we did some test shots to make sure everything in my head was translating to the screen. This is where I mess up a lot of the time. I’m so eager to get to principal photography that I forget to test the concepts. Then in post I learn the hard way. Well, thanks to the discipline of my colleague and co director Quinn it was an essential part of the process. 

Actors were hired and with all the gear goodness a young filmmaker could ask for we were set for our shoot. 

 
It was a gruelling weekend but actually it was prep where most of our energy was sapped. Blocking and lighting each scene before actors stepped on set so that when we were ready to go it was actually a breeze. I’m not going to lie, though my dream is to be a director, the thought of being the big cheese on any project fills me with dread. Luckily I had my mentor and friend Quinn Pohl alongside and as things got underway I really eased into it. Like, I know what I want and how I can achieve that but I’m no public speaker. Once I got comfortable I worked closely with Quinn and the actors to make sure we were nailing each scene. Cast and crew were all great too which makes a huge difference to the production process. 

http://youtu.be/oaTJIRw3qYQ
Can you spot the scenes and moments paying tribute to famous action movies and directors? The most obvious one is the Michael bay shot in the middle famous from Badboys. Whenever I tried explaining this to anyone they got it straight away when I’d say ‘that bit when will smith & Martin Lawrence stand up and say “this sh!t just got real!” 

Nailed this shot thanks to the research done on the Tony Szhou video (see ‘What is Bayhem?’). Essentially it’s a curved dolly track and you have your actors rise vertically whilst the camera moves laterally. The result is this epic sweeping move which can make even the humblest of charity workers look like heroes! Additional notes on this: ensure using a telephoto lens and that the background has enough detail and moves to create parallax. Voila. Instant action movie scene. 

  
Postproduction: music I got from premiumbeat.com and where some of the shots came alive was from a basic grade. It was just a case of pushing contrast and using the classic orange/cyan combination that gets used a lot in Hollywood. There are some whooshes and radio type sounds in there too to bring out the urgency of the action. I’m being super brief here as the edit was quite simple as it resembled the storyboard so closely. 

So that’s the ad. Really proud of it because it came out exactly how I saw it in my head. Plus it’s a chance to raise the production value of British Muslim media. Even bigger bonus is that it’s for a great charity like Muslim Aid (muslimaid.org). There’s no reason why the content being produced by Muslim production houses or organisations should be of a lower quality. In fact the ethos of the faith should inspire us to be the best!

So what did you think of the ad? Let me know and share it with your social media peoples. 

For more of this video geekery follow me on Twitter: @safiyyahsdad

A trip to the Turkish Syrian border – fastest production EVER

Blog, Video Production

Bismillah

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…

photo

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.

photo

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

https://www.muslimaid.org/campaigns/syria-orphanage-bayti-appeal/

http://maramfoundation.org

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!

Mental breathing space

Blog

Bismillah

It’s been another long period since last I wrote. I can only blame myself though I’ll mention a thought that’s been occupying a small space in my mind.

Your mind needs to breathe. Your mind, like your lungs, needs to take in deep, swelling voluminous breaths in order to exhale fresh and pure ideas. I’m not going to use work as an excuse but a reason why I haven’t written, or been able to do much creative pieces or works over the last few weeks is because my mind has been (kinda) choked by an ever increasing weight of city clutter, like bills and job applications and office protocol.

On the way home on the train today a man started talking to me about his work and after I told him I worked for a charity he told me how he was dying to do some good with his time. He seemed oxygen deprived. Like his mind, or perhaps his soul, had been suffocated for a while.

Anyway, in my desperation I took on 2 video projects over the weekend, one a paid gig and the other a strictly creative collaboration (that means ‘no money’ in pretentious filmmaker language! haha). I did them if only to let my mind breathe. I’ll try to get them out asap whilst momentum is strong and my mind’s breast is still swollen with pure crisp air. Then back to the grindhouse!

Jubair, out!

Energy

Blog

Bismillah

I’m absolutely drained. I think I used up today (monday) the energy I’d usually use up in a week. Not because I ran around and did press ups or wrote long essays. I think it’s because I gave in to an unrelenting force of grey mediocrity in terms of creative ideas and concepts for an upcoming campaign. I fought my corner without being obnoxious. I did my best to acknowledge the case for the other side (which in the end, won, in its bland uninspiring essence). But anyway. You can’t win them all and I totally accept that maybe my pitch wasn’t good enough today.

I guess that’s how it is when you work in a field which needs you to invest yourself personally. You can’t expect to come up with ideas you’re passionate about and when the ideas are then dismissed (or in my case, humoured then dismissed) it leaves you empty for the rest of the day.

But I read a few passages in Imam al Haddad’s book Book of Assistance after a friend returned it from a long loan. In it he asks us to be sure of our intentions for our actions; that they be pure and for the right reasons, unfettered by our ego’s secret ambitions. After reading that, and he says it more beautifully than I do justice here, I felt better. I (hope I) realised that in the end if my ideas are not fully taken on board it’s not my place to worry about that so long as I’ve done the best possible job I can on what I’m left with. That’s all the donor and beneficiary can ask of me. (I work for a non-profit organisation btw).

There are still a number of overseas visits coming where I’ll be visiting people who have escaped such horrible conflicts. I’ll do my best on those and regain my energy.

Warm a heart

Blog, Video Production

Bismillah

Here are the ads I worked on last month:

Hope you guys enjoyed them and that they made you think. The organisation does great work at this time of year so as ever I ask you to donate if you can or at least help spread the word by sharing on your facebook, twitter etc.

Donate here: http://www.muslimaid.org

I’ll be posting a ‘lessons learned’ about this shoot in the coming weeks so keep an eye out for that.

twitter.com/safiyyahsdad

Light and shadow – a photography challenge

Blog

Bismillah

Hi everyone. This post will mostly be pictures, a photography challenge I set myself along with friend and colleague N. H. Wan. We dusted off our old 35mm film SLRs and bought a few rolls to shoot the theme ‘light and shadow’. We could interpret that however we wanted and it was a good place to start to get our composition/mise-en-scene-minds back into gear. Enjoy!

00740003 00740007 00740011 00740012 00740025 00740018

Follow me on twitter for more spontaneous fun stuff like this: twitter.com/safiyyahsdad

Respite

Blog, Video Production

Bismillah

I used to work as a teacher, once upon a time. It was in a school for kids who had behavioural issues. I remember one of the kids, a bright and rebellious spark of a teenaged boy, used to go home on the weekends to a place the staff called ‘respite’.

I always wondered why they called it that.

Anyway, after more than 15 days of consecutive, non-stop work, I’ve found a day off at home for respite with my wife and daughter. I totally get it now. Respite is a place, a state of mind, a time, even a zone. It’s where you go after being weathered by the storms of daily life. It’s a hot chocolate, a book and then the sound of my little girl breaking her mums phone.

On these few days off I’m going to relax, get back in touch with my spiritual self, listen to good music, eat good food, sit in the company of my best people and ask you all to try and do the same. R’n’r is most definitely NOT underrated.

It makes me think though, there are so many people out there right now who can’t look forward to the same soul healing warmth that we find at home. What if the place you had to go home to was a chill and lonely place? Worse still what if you had no home and after facing a blisteringly cold day in the street, had to face the prospect of finding an alley or bridge to sleep under?

Having just come off a shoot for work I’ll just drop a mention about the Warm Hearts Winter Campaign which is coming up. Every year Muslim Aid, the NGO I work for, reaches out to people struggling with the cold in the UK. This is usually people who are sleeping rough on the street, or the elderly who are struggling with energy bills and need extra care to protect them against the cold.

The shoot was quite gruelling (as most shoots are I guess) and my role was production managing and generally supporting the Director/Camera Operator. It was great to be on set with a team of awesome people, and knowing that the end result will try to raise awareness about the plights of the homeless and elderly is a great feeling.

The ad is yet to be edited but you can get more info (and perhaps donate) at the website: https://www.muslimaid.org/what-we-do/uk-programmes/warm-hearts-winter-campaign/

We’ll also be visiting shelters and soup kitchens over the coming months so if you’re based in London and want to join in and meet some great people then keep an eye out here: https://www.muslimaid.org/opportunities/volunteers/volunteer-opportunities/

I’ll just finish by saying that it’s great that I’m getting these few moments of respite and warmth at home. Time off, creature comforts and all the things we look to for our nourishment are important, we should neither take them for granted (and be grateful for them) nor should we forget that we need them from time to time. And in the coming weeks there’ll be some chances to share them with those that don’t have any so let’s try and embrace the spirit of the season.

Reading and a short story

Blog, Short Story

Bismillah

Hello internet world. I haven’t written in ages. Sorry about that. But my excuse is that I’ve been reading. I saw a short interview with Werner Herzog a few weeks back and in it he gave one big advice to directors/filmmakers: Read!

So I went down to the local charity bookshop and bought some Hemingways and Fitzgeralds and I’ve been reading quite a lot since. Train rides have become much quicker all of a sudden.

Anyway, this post is going to be a short story, inspired by modern office life and I’m looking at it as a way to sharpen my imagination for the screenplay I’m working on.

It was a beautiful Friday night. An inherent beauty that hung in the air like perfume despite the smell of damp and urine. He walked home from the train station, past stylish young revellers, his ankles getting wet in the rain. The day had not been triumphant by any means. Fridays were supposed to be days of success he thought. And though the day contained within it some metaphysical power or dimension which set it apart from the rest of the week, he still felt defeated by the onslaught of corporate and corporeal punishments.

It was dark now, with the ground cool and after a shower the roads and pavements reflected lamp lights like spectres and ghosts of the sun. He noticed how sad and lonely each reflection looked even though they sat strewn across the wet streets in a constellation. The club and party goers ignored him as he floated through them. Each face looking hopeful for the promise of the night and he wanted to be with them but he knew deep down that most of them too would soon know the clarity of rejection.

Eventually he left the town centre far behind and came finally to the quiet safety of suburbia. A soggy man sat ashamedly under a low bridge with his dog.

‘Spare some change please mate?’

He instinctively searched his pockets and his fingers came in contact with the familiar papery touch of a £20 note. He didn’t take it out. In fact it made him wonder about how he would have to divide this paper representation of his sustenance over the next 5 days of the (non)working week.

Earlier that day he had been laid off. It had happened fast and it had made him quite dizzy. He was too young to have let it take the earth from beneath his feet but it had certainly winded him. After 3 years of writing, of overtime with no pay, of loving, and giving love, and giving himself, it had come to an abrupt and senseless end. Redundancy was a word far worse than it’s lowbred cousin ‘sacked’ or even the brute ‘fired’. The human resources staff had used it and it made him feel worthless. Like a bent paperclip. Or a fax machine. It was worse than death because it was life without purpose or value.

His mouldy melon-faced manager had contorted his face to show something that was supposed to resemble sympathy and the pitch and timbre of his voice warbled some misappropriated words of condolence. Like an awkward and insincere eulogy.

Maybe this symbolic death was also a chance to be reborn. Years of writing the same thing, of only tapping in to the same part of his brain had dulled the tools of his creative mind. Perhaps now he could start that novel that had been sitting on the dusty library shelves in the back of his brain. A clean slate. He pictured a guitar player re tuning his instrument. A baby crying in the delivery room. A young fresh woman coming out of a shower.The magic of Friday slowly returned to him, in his face as a warmth and in his fingers as a tingle. And as the pubs had been left far behind, the scent in the air was fresh. A breeze ran invisible fingers through his hair.

‘Mate?’

‘Here you go mate’. He gave over the note and as it left his hand any thought of how he would survive the following week had gone with it.

Writing… a lot!

Blog

Bismillah

Hello internet! I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve written and though I shouldn’t force myself on this relationship, I do have a few words and thoughts to share thankfully.

I mentioned a few posts back that I was writing a screenplay to make sense of some of the things going on in my life right now; well, suffice it to say the words and pages have been pouring out almost involuntarily. I guess I opened up the flood gates. It’s exciting, and even though I haven’t even finished writing a first draft (like many over eager first timers) I’ve gone and started discussing preproduction with a few friends! I guess it’s just because I do feel passionately about the subject (that subject being mental health). On that note I wonder about my own mental health. I started wondering if we as individuals have any decent way, any barometer of gauging our state of mind and well being.

I guess the reason why the question popped up in my mind is because I was having the kinds of irrational thoughts that I hope (and wonder if?) other creatives feel as well. Like, though this year I’ve had a very successful year in my profession, travelling abroad, working on some big client projects as well as my own personal ones, I still got jealous at, or annoyed at seeing a few particular individuals getting ahead in the field. Ok I hope you’re not thinking I’m this really bitchy sly guy who makes voodoo dolls and stops people from progressing but no! I hope not anyway! I’m generally really happy for people and always eager to teach the little I know. But sometimes in this age of hyper-everything, I feel like I’m falling behind, drowning in the sea of unfulfilled potential!

Sometimes I just need to take a minute and remind myself to be really grateful for all the great things I’ve got going for me, and the things to come, because I’m sure there are a lot! InshAllah!

Anyway, so if anyone has any decent way of self-gauging well being and mental health, let me know, and if you’ve ever felt annoyed at seeing the celestial career flight plan of other creatives then let me know as well, I need to know I’m not the only one!

Jubair

Dark Muse

Blog, Video Production

Bismillah

Inspiration

I had the pleasure (and pain) of watching the absolutely stunning documentary ‘McCullin’ the other day, about war photographer Don McCullin.

I won’t review it here, except urge you to go and watch it. It’s more of an experience than a viewing. And for someone like myself, with a passion and interest in filming and photography, it was actually a serious schooling on how to approach (dare I say) humanity through a lens.

Here’s a trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjCfP-F58MY

Despite the unbearable level of horror that McCullin has had to document over the years of his tenure as a photographer, the grace with which he explains his outlook on life offered me a great deal of hope. As a filmmaker working in the third sector it’s easy to feel despondent and hopeless after spending long days interviewing survivors of war. But McCullin’s genius lies in his ability to find traces of humanity and life, and culture and art amidst the carnage. Looking at how McCullin was able to find these precious things in such difficult places is an inspiration for me, something which I’ll try and emulate in my own work.

Gaza

In the coming weeks I’ll be flying to Gaza for work. It’s in a place like this that being able to find humanity amidst the rubble of shelled houses will play its biggest role. I’ve no doubt though that the vibrance, resilience and strength of the people will shine through the dust and debris of bombed homes.

The thought of going there, even despite the energy and inspiration I’ve gained from Mr McCullin’s words, remains a scary one. I do wonder sometimes how much human suffering can I bare to look at before I eventually go mad? 3 of my colleagues have had to be dismissed for sick leave because of the pressures of our work environment, I expect I can’t be far off either.

One of the ways I’ve been coping has been to write. This blog is an obvious example. But I’ve also begun to write a feature film. The last feature I wrote almost went in to production, and I’m hoping this one will but even if it doesn’t I won’t mind; it’s a great release to make sense of the confusion by putting a protagonist through various scenarios familiar to the ones I’m facing myself and see how he works them out. With thoughts on my mind like my upcoming trip to Gaza, and also having just seen ‘McCullin’ you might sensibly think the screenplay would be a serious political drama or something, but you’d be wrong. It’s a comedy. A comedy about dealing with life with multiple personality disorder… For those of you who know me closely, you’ll probably know the more direct inspiration for this, but some of the subtle reasons I think why this piece has got me so engrossed is because, in the end, when you look at the World you realise that as a species we suffer really seriously from multiple personality disorder. On one side you have such devestating poverty, war and disease and on the other you have Hollywood. So yeah, I’ve only written a few pages, and I wonder how our schizophrenic protagonist will navigate his landscape. Maybe it’ll offer me a few more insights on how to approach humanity through my lens!

Picture: Shellshocked Soldier by Don McCullin (all rights belong to the owner of this image, used only for reference)