VAR SUPPLEMENTS: Chihab El Khachab on Visualizing the Final Products of Commercial Films
Classroom Activities and Discussion Questions
Egyptian filmmakers involved in commercial film production face a common problem: how can we visualize, right now, what our movie will look like, eventually?
This exercise is meant to illustrate the difficulties generated by this problem, and how filmmakers try to manage it. The exercise is incremental, so you can stop at any one step and reflect back on what was done, but try to follow the sequence if possible. Each step can be done on a different day.
- A group of 5 filmmakers are given the following scene to shoot by an experienced screenwriter and a small producer who cannot afford to shoot in an actual plane:
Scene XX – PLANE – NIGHT/INTERNAL
The lights are dimmed. Everyone is sleeping.
MURAD sits in the exact middle of the plane. An OLD WOMAN (60 y-o, tanned, with black and white hair, wearing dark sunglasses) is sleeping deeply to his right. To his left, an OLD MAN (60 y-o, tanned, white hair but looking healthy) seeks to chat with Murad by all means.
Murad lies down with his eyes closed.
What are you going to do in Cairo, son?
Murad doesn’t pay attention to him.
The old man pokes Murad and wakes him up a little.
Is it for a visit or for work?
Murad looks angrily at the old man, turns around, and goes back to sleep.
It ain’t illegal to talk…
Murad quickly glances towards the old man and goes back to sleep.
Using any tools you need (pens, papers, smartphones, cameras, etc.), craft a short description of the way in which you would like to shoot this scene individually. Include details about camera angles, camera movements, actor direction, set design, costumes, and sounds.
- Gather back with your fellow filmmakers and, in turn, describe to them what you have envisioned to shoot the scene.
Question #1: Are there discrepancies in each person’s description? What are they and why do you think they arise?
- Once everyone has given his/her description, try to reach a consensus on how to shoot the scene.
Question #2: Are there difficulties in reaching the consensus? If not, why not? If so, what are they?
Question #3: How does each filmmaker argue his position? What kinds of arguments are brought forth? Who gets the last word?
- Once a consensus is reached, divide the tasks between a director (who casts the actors and oversees the action on set), a cinematographer (who holds the camera and manages lighting), an art director (who manages the set and props), a stylist (who manages costumes), and a production manager (who scouts potential shooting locations and facilitates the logistics of shooting). On another day, shoot the scene.
Question #4: Are there any discrepancies between what was agreed at step #4 and what happens on set? If not, why not? If so, how do they compare to the discrepancies observed at step #2?
Question #5: What kinds of social interactions evolve on set? How are they different from the interactions you’ve had until point #4?
Variation (1): Instead of #1, try the following: A group of 5 filmmakers is asked to collectively write a scene where Murad, a major male movie star, meets his long-lost sister Leila.
Question: What are the difficulties involved in writing the scene? How does the fact that it was collectively written affect steps 2 to 4 afterwards?
Variation (2): Instead of dividing tasks at step #3, try designating a director, a cinematographer, an art director, a costume designer, and a production manager before beginning step #1. Think about how this division of labor affects the process, and how it compares to an absence of division of labor at steps #1-2.
Short videos about the making of Décor:
Readings on Egyptian Film
Arasoughly, Alia (ed.) (1996). Screens of Life. Critical Film Writing from the Arab World. St. Hyacinthe, Québec: World Heritage Press
Armbrust, Walter. (2004). ‘Egyptian Cinema On Stage and Off’ in Andrew Shyrock (ed.). Off Stage/On Display: Intimacy and Ethnography in the Age of Public Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press
Flibbert, Andrew. (2007). Commerce in Culture: States and Markets in the World Film Trade. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan
Shafik, Viola. (2007). Popular Egyptian Cinema: Gender, Class and Nation. Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press
Shafik, Viola. (2007). Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press
This website is the most complete online Arabic movie database, akin to IMDB.
This channel includes some Egyptian movies with English subtitles. These movies are in no sense representative of contemporary Egyptian cinema as a whole, but they give some sense about its visual worlds.