Film Students and Film Stories

Soon after I returned to Lebanon in 2010, I was given an opportunity to look into the inner and outer worlds of Lebanese Youth through teaching scriptwriting to undergraduate university students.

Truth is, I was blessed for the time I got to spent with my students, my friends. Most of them were mature youngsters who needed an opportunity to express themselves and an opportunity to be listened to. But for some reason, they always chose to express themselves in abstract terms.

Telling a story is something that students in Lebanon, and all over the world I am sure, do on a daily basis.

Gossip is all stories:

Somebody, somewhere, something, conflict, succeds, fails.

But for the life of me, I could never understand why our film students failed to tell stories when it came to film.

Whenever there is a film festival in Beirut, I ask my colleagues and friends if there were any good short films. Most of the time the answers range somewhere between, “None” to “They were too abstract”, “I didn’t understand”, “It looked really nice but there was no….how to say it? Something was missing”.

A story is missing. Characters are missing.

Everything else is always at its best: Exceptional Cinematography, superb production design, great locations, talented actors… But a story that goes all over the place with no beginning, middle or end. And characters who laugh and cry and act and react with no dramatic motivation.

When I taught two years of scriptwriting I had hopes that my students will possibly make better films, maybe films that some people will understand at least. I know they wrote scripts that everybody else in class understood. That was a good sign.

But their films were made and not much changed. When I asked,

“Why didn’t you make the script you wrote in class? That was a good story! You worked on it for months.”

“But it was too simple, too understandable. I want to make something more sophisticated.”

Truth is, I have stopped wondering why we don’t have good short films showing at our festivals.

I now believe it is a societal issue that goes beyond film as a discipline.

There is a lot of bravery in Lebanon, and a lot of cowardice.

Our students rebel. Unfortunately, they only rebel against rules.

And our society is so full of sh*t that even the young ones do not feel safe producing material that is simple for others to understand. Because they fear their work won’t be appreciated. The safest thing is to produce material that nobody will understand. After any screening in Lebanon, nobody, not even I, will dare to say, “I didn’t understand what the film was about.”

But the truth has to be told to these young people: Courageous are the ones who expose their minds and hearts to others in simple storytelling techniques, accessible for the masses. Those who want to be sophisticated can enjoy their sophistication in the one and a half screenings that their films enjoy in sophisticated environments. For sophistication definitely travels less than simplicity does.

Unpaid Job Available – Starts Immediately!

For days, maybe weeks now, I’ve been receiving daily screenwriting job alerts in my inbox with interesting* subject lines:

“XYZ Needs a Creative Screenwriter – Starts Immediately”

My blog entry is not about a particular job post. It is about hundreds of offensive job posts for people looking to hire screenwriters and/or screenwriter assistants. It is a topic that is often brought up but rarely leads to any change. This is why it is important to continuously bring it up. Writers have one trait that many other professionals may not need for their daily jobs: perseverance.

A million times we’ve heard the statement: Anybody can write.  Writing may be simple indeed. But good writing is not easy to do. Good screenplay writing is even more difficult. Let alone the first class screenwriting that all employers look for.

Often times, whenever and wherever a cinema industry struggles, screenwriters -or the lack of them- are the first to blame. Nobody asks producers how do they expect good writing when the right to get paid is something screenwriters have to negotiate (or beg!) for?

Visit any website that posts Film & TV Jobs. Browse the classifieds. Half -if not more- of the writing ads will be for “unpaid” or “low/no paid” or “deferred payment” writing assignments. These won’t be employers asking for “okay writers”. These are the ones looking for creative, experienced, produced, top notch screenwriters.

On the other hand, more than half -if not all- crew positions advertised on the same website will be paid jobs. But crew members are never to blame if a film doesn’t make it. Directors take blame. And money. Only poor screenwriters (literally and figuratively) are used as punching bags.

*I have decided to restrict this “rant” to comparing screenwriting to other film/tv industry jobs. I don’t even know how or where to begin if I wanted to compare it with professions like medicine or computer engineering. But I have yet to see a position for a doctor or a computer engineer that is no/lo/deferred or unpaid.  Until then, happy writing!

Twice Upon a Time – 35 Hours To Go

To all my followers on this blog:

We have 35 Hours left to complete our crowd funding campaign for Twice Upon a Time, my feature documentary.

Your help to support the post production process of this film is needed. You may help us by contributing and by sharing and spreading the word about our campaign during these last hours to people who would want to see this film get made.

Thank you!

Twice Upon a Time – The Documentary

Our IndieGogo Crowdfunding Campaign

To all readers and followers of this blog:

Yesterday, I launched a crowdfunding campaign for a documentary film I have been working on for the past three years.

I urge you to check the campaign out, donate if you can, but please please please SHARE it with as many people as you can, write about it, and help us put the word out!

Here is the link to the campaign:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/twice-upon-a-time-a-documentary

Thank you!

Life, Stories and Films

Life around me here in Beirut is full of stories that make good film material.

When I traveled to America for a couple of months, I thought I will be away from stories and able to transform them to written treatments, synopses, and proposals. And although that was the case most of the time, there is still one pressing story that happened there and haunts me here.

I am already involved in many film projects from producing to directing to co-producing, etc…

The question is; when does the filmmaker decide to stop seeing the stories around and finish the tales they started to tell? Or do they? I wonder.

Super.Full. Stories – Day 1: Chronicles of a short film

December 2010 was not the happiest December in my life. I had been suffering from a tennis shoulder injury for years by then, and chose to leave the comfort of my Doha luxurious life to the chaotic life of an indie filmmaker in Beirut. After five years of independence I was now coming back to my parents house. Mostly because that is a good way not to starve as an independent filmmaker. I didn’t have a job at the time and I wasn’t looking. But I had a plan: Rewrite my feature film and make it (NB: that is something NOT as easily done as thought).

My best friends from older days mostly live and work abroad. My sisters had all gotten married in my years of expatriat-ism. I am an introvert. You get the gist.

The doctor diagnosed my shoulder with a rotator cuff tear and December was operation month. And operation meant an arm sling for twelve weeks, limited movement, and physiotherapy. Stuck at home, my physiotherapist doctor becoming my only friend, I spent almost all of December and January researching festivals I could send Super.Full. to.

My festival search included: First find the festivals that the film qualifies for, second check the festival requirements, third write the festivals asking for fee waivers using my exotic location and film story/theme/etc… (whatever worked really), fourth wait for responses, fifth send the film and whatever needed material… In short, it is a pain in the butt process perfect for a bed ridden jobless filmmaker (if you find one, grab them!)

I was being ambitious and a bit over-confident. But sometimes that helps. I looked up the process by which short films qualify for Oscar Nominations (If you’re a filmmaker you know you wanna do that -if you haven’t already). I wrote down the festival names and looked them all up then chose some. Then I started submitting based on the results of the painful procedure above. I had to wait few months and receive multiple rejections from known and unknown film festivals.

But I knew rejection is part of the process. My graduate school teachers are to thank for that -mostly. All I need is one YES. And the Yes came! After a long time, on the morning of Wednesday, March 30th 2011, but it came. It was an email from a Mr. Dan Doody and it was not a hoax! It was from the Academy Award Qualifying Seattle International Film Festival, the largest film festival in the United States of America no less. And they wanted to screen Super.Full.

And the first thing that came to my mind when I read the email was, “Oh. The film must be good after all”.

That was our first yes, and then there were more “Yes”s and more “No”s. But the first yes is where the festival stories started. And they still have not ended for this short film made with passion and dedication of a beautiful group of people.

Today, you can support Super.Full. on Your Film Festival : A vote a day can make this filmmaker’s dream come true!

And tune in here to read a new story about Super.Full.’s journey every day.

SIFF Super.Full. Invitation
SIFF Super.Full. Invitation