I embarked for Tunisia on the 9th of December, 2010, for the first leg of an incredible experience on the set of “Black Gold”, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. I was sent as an apprentice from the Doha Film Institute to learn about the production process first hand.
The entire experience was exactly what I needed. As a young filmmaker, it was exactly where I wanted to be; on a big film set amongst professionals and students of the industry alike. Since some of the crew members were new to big film sets, or fresh out of film school, we were quickly able to relate to each other.
From the very first day, I felt welcome and was considered one of the crew. At first it was more about getting to know everyone on set, their positions, and how the communication and hierarchy on a film set works.
The first week I was there, I was pretty much an observer. It amazed me how many similarities there were between how things work on a big production compared to our 10 minute films in Doha. It was the same concept, except on a grand scale, with quadruple the amount of roles we had on our film sets.
The language barrier had me in knots at first. Since there was a French crew and a Tunisian crew, the spoken language on set was French, which I can understand more than I can speak. Tunisian Arabic is quite different than the Qatari dialect, and it took me a while to pick it up. I can safely say that I speak it fluently now!
After the first week, I started to receive responsibilities from various crew members, and was allowed to move daily from one department to another. I would learn the key roles in that department, their responsibilities, and how they effectively communicate with other departments and the production office. I learnt that the production office is basically the “central command” of the film set. Information is always relayed to the necessary department and the production office. This is the way everything is monitored.
It was extremely exciting because every day I knew I was going to be doing something different, but I had no idea what it was until I got to the set. I would come in one day and be sent to the costume department, and on another day I would work with the 2nd Assistant Director, the Director of Photography, with extra’s, Video Unit, Sound, with animals, or even with transport.
The most magical part about the entire experience was watching a scene come alive. The call sheet would tell you the scene(s) that would be shot that day. After reading it over and over from the script, and seeing Jean-Jacques at work, it would put things in perspective about his style of direction, and how he would want that scene to turn out.
I observed him closely and noticed that with dramatic or emotional scenes, he would have a shot list prepared and know exactly how he wanted it to be shot. With other scenes, he would choose how to direct it on the spot, as well as give the actors freedom to improvise – within reason of course.
I can’t begin to explain how excited I am about the next leg of my epic journey – the four week shoot in Khor Al Udaid (Inland Sea). Shooting begins on the 3rd of February, 2011.
Not only am I now an established crew member, but I am also preparing for the brief acting role that I won in the 2010 Doha Tribeca Film Festival’s Emerging Actors Panel. I am honored, proud, and truly grateful as a Qatari to say that I am slowly but surely emerging out of “Black Gold”.
*_Mohammed Al-Ibrahim, Student Filmmaker_ *