By Ben Robinson
On Day 1 of the workshop, participants are plunged into a series of ice-breaker games, which help build a sense of teamwork and break down barriers of communication and shyness. Watching and analysing a selection of classic, award-winning short films from around the world is also a key exercise, helping our aspiring filmmakers to explore short film storytelling language. Short films are different from features in that there is only a short time to build character, structure and audience enjoyment. With narrative tips and strategies, and a head full of inspiring short films, participants are ready for Day 2, where they begin developing pre-conceptualised original story ideas.
On Day 2, acclaimed Emirati screenwriter Mohammed Hassan Ahmed begins an intensive three-day storytelling exercise for participants keen to study in Arabic. Mohammed’s technique helps writers dig beneath the surface of their ideas, building character motivation and story environment to create a more naturalistic screenplay. English-speaking participants work simultaneously with other mentors on a similar story development process.
‘The workshop was a great way to flesh out my ideas and get immediate feedback. We had personal mentors who guided us through the storytelling process, got to pitch our own stories to them (more than once!), and get help in refining our ideas. It was great to understand the skeleton of a short story and how a short story can differ from a feature length film.’ – Nadia Al-Khater, student
Days 3 and 4 are spent fine-tuning and redrafting story ideas (‘All writing is re-writing’ is an oft-repeated phrase among screenwriters). The final hour of Day 4 is a pitching session, where each participant has three minutes to sell their story idea to a panel made up of Mohammed Hassan Ahmed, Mahdi Ali Ali, Stephen Strachan and Lucie Maynal.
‘It was very interesting to hear different stories from Qatar and to discover more about the film projects the youth have in mind. It was a great insight into their creativity and their world. I was pretty amazed by the professionalism they told us their story with: they were confident and we could feel their motivation to transform their stories into films. It was tough to select the ones which will go on shooting, especially when we have to let good ones go because we felt they still needed some more development.’ – Lucie Maynal, Grants Senior Coordinator, DFI
After a difficult selection process, the panel selected four films to be shot that weekend, and another two the following week.
After the selection of scripts, it is time to form production teams. If you are not selected as writer/director, there are many other roles to fill, including first assistant director, producer, location manager, camera operator, and performer.
You would be amazed how much you can arrange when a tight deadline hangs over you, and sure enough, everything (almost) always falls into place. This 24-hour period is the pre-production stage of filmmaking. As our DFI filmmakers progress in their careers, the complexity and duration of this phase will expand considerably; but similar organisational principles apply to shorts and feature films.
Shooting your first film is an exhilarating and stressful experience, but it’s important to get it made and gain that practical experience.The first weekend of filmmaking rushed by in a blur: four films were shot in just two days. No matter how well you prepare, with so many logistical and creative factors to juggle (including cinematography, lighting, sound recording, time management and directing actors), both mistakes and happy accidents are bound to happen. We say: take everything in your stride, don’t worry too much, get organised and get the film made!
An old filmmaking adage also warns, ‘never work with animals or children’. All four shorts ended up starring children, none of whom had much (or any) previous acting experience!
All four teams set themselves tough shooting schedules, with complex scenarios and deeply emotional stories that required their young actors to deliver powerful performances. To everyone’s delight, our new filmmakers managed to capture some cinematic magic in their shoots.
Once the films were shot, it was time to edit. A wise man once said: ‘You make your film three times: once when you write it; once when you shoot it; and once when you edit it’. In the edit suite, you must work with the footage you’ve got, which may differ from the narrative intentions and emotional impact of your original story in subtle ways. We spent the following week editing and re-editing the films. Our filmmakers were mentored by DFI’s professional editors, as well as by visiting editor mentors including Rob Fruchtman, who has worked for acclaimed directors like David Lynch, Robert Redford and Francis Ford Coppola.
Once the films were completed it was time to show them to cast, crew and family: a rewarding but nerve-wracking experience! All of our filmmakers thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were given fresh motivation for their second film. The great thing about Tahaddi is that you can come back next time and make another film with us. In between the workshops, we encourage aspiring filmmakers to attend the Akkas cinematography and Qoul Qasa creative writing workshops to develop their creative skills further. DFI is also currently running the Hazawi initiative for more experienced Gulf filmmakers who have made several shorts and are ready for bigger budgets and more ambitious projects. As our Tahaddi filmmakers progress, they too will be able to move into initiatives like Hazawi, and after that into making feature films.
But it all starts with practice, training and dedication.
Find out more about Gulf Film Development unit’s workshops and labs here