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My ‘Black Gold’ Life, by Mohanned Al- Melhem

Mar 21, 2011

My name is Mohanned Al Melhem, and I’m one of three Production Assistants DFI recruited to work on the set of the upcoming Arabian blockbuster film ‘Black Gold’, which wrapped up filming in Qatar recently.

So how did I get into this, you may ask? Well, I’ve always had a passion for acting, ever since I was a child, and as I got older I started networking and adding my name to lists of anything that might give me the opportunity to do so. When DFI started introducing Acting Workshops I enrolled immediately, and have so far participated in workshops held by Hisham Suleiman, Ashraf Farah, and even Kevin Spacey! I’ve also been an extra in a couple of short films, such as Amir Ghonim’s ‘Dunia’ and Mohamed Ibrahim’s ‘City of Pearls’, as well as having a reading part in Ben Robinson’s short film ‘Cosmic Phoenix’.

I’m always looking for ways to be involved with film, either in front of or behind the cameras, so when DFI contacted me about the upcoming ‘Black Gold’ shoot I jumped at the chance. When they offered me the position of Production Assistant on set I was ecstatic, and couldn’t wait to start!

During my time working on the ‘Black Gold’ set I worked mostly in transportation, where I was in charge of most of the vehicles on set. It’s a wonderful department to work in as I got the chance to see, and sometimes even meet, so many people that were involved in this massive production – from the director and producers to the in-costume extras, and even some of the actors themselves! Best of all, I got to see them working on the set, which was bigger than I had ever thought possible.

After working on the set for just a few days, not only had I already gained significant insight into the world of film but I had enjoyed it immensely – it was inspiring! The ‘Black Gold’ team were all amazing to work with, and were extremely friendly, helpful and understanding of the fact that this was my first foray into feature films of this calibre.

Every day, I got closer and closer to the set…and to the action! I saw solders in battle, trucks on fire, and fake bullets flying everywhere. I met with and learned from people in the film industry, from technical crew to make-up artists and scriptwriters. The knowledge they have seems limitless, and they were kind enough to share it with me. As for the filming itself, nothing can describe the feeling of being on set. It was incredible, and made me feel part of something special. When people asked me “Where have you been?”, or “How was your day?” I just smiled and said: “Just a day in the life of someone on the set of ‘Black Gold’…!”

I started to feel like being on set was like being home, somehow. Faces became familiar, and people friendlier. Big things kept happening on the set: an old plane flying over our heads, and fake dead bodies of both humans and camels covered with blood – which are uncannily realistic! – were laying almost everywhere. Actors ran around dressed in intricately designed costumes and the crew followed, while the director somehow oversaw it all. To summarise how I feel about this, I can only say one short line: I feel like I became the set, and the set became me!

During one of the scenes we were in the middle of a sand storm, so strong that it was barely possible to see, and the sand hit my body with such force it felt like bullets. Mother Nature was showing us her power and challenging us, but we were up to the challenge and ready for battle! It made me realise that nothing is impossible on a film set – forget the stormy weather, forget the dust and sand and raging wind: the shooting went on just like any other day, as we worked around the elements. We weren’t in a battle field or in the middle of a war, we were shooting a film, and it was remarkable how much the director managed to adapt to uncontrollable situations – such as the fundamental difficulties that working outdoors obviously brings!

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and, as my days on the set raced by and time passed far too quickly, I counted my last few days on the set of ‘Black Gold’. I started saying my goodbyes to everyone and everything in my own way, wishing that I could take more than a sweet memory with me. I’m not sure when I will get to experience or be involved in a project this big again, but I hope it is soon! It has been big beyond the physical meaning of the word, as there are few things in life that we can call a life changing experience – to me, ‘Black Gold’ is one of them.

On my last day on the set of ‘Black Gold’, the final scene included a massive explosion. I saw it with my own eyes, and it was spectacular – what a finale for me! I stood there, feeling nostalgic and full of emotion, watching as the fire went higher and higher; as the flames licking the horizon and reaching the sky. I was there when they shot the last part of this amazing epic; I was there when I heard the line “It’s a wrap!”; I was there when they lifted the director up in jubilation. And, as the last car left the set, I was in it. It felt like I had left a part of me there. I had finished my greatest experience in cinema so far, and I know that, from now on, I will never look at films the same way again!

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