Wednesday, March 29, 2006

MidEast Connect

MidEast Connect features me in their profile of the Young and Professional in this week's issue:

  • profile
  • Monday, March 27, 2006

    Thesis idea

    So there are about three weeks to submit thesis scripts. Of the 100 or so submitted, 28 will be geen-lit (approved) for production. I haven't written my final one yet, but I've been cooking it for a while now, and it's changed shape and form a million times. Finally, I think I've decided what it's going to be. If I were in a Hollywood pitch meeting where I had to describe it in one sentence, I would say it's The Matirx in a Coffee Shop. No sci-fi elements, but just the concept of the matrix, the idea that we are stuck in a system, and one man wants to be free. Here, as it is a slightly smaller production than the Joel Silver trillogy, the matrix is represented by the coffee shop manager, to be played my dear friend, Brian James. You see, this film is a dark comedy. And the man who would be Neo, I am writing the role for my other friend, Jemuel Morris, as the underdog employee who keeps getting humiliated and berrated. He decides that the only way he can release himself from the clenches of humiliation is to kill Brian. So there you go. All in 20 minutes of pure fun entertainment.

    Brian was in Heavy Weight, The Big Day, Hold On, Too Many Crooks, The Portrait, and If. Jemuel was in If... and The Portrait. Now with thesis, I can have non-union (SAG) actors, and I'm going back to my friends. Tremendous talents that I hope to take into the feature film world with me.

    So that's my focus along with Captain Abu Raed. I fear that my cycle three film will suffer from lack of attention, as it has become the lesser priority. I'm going to Jordan in two weeks and will have very little time to prepare. I'll try to wing as much as I can in this third one, directing much of it on the spot. Yikes. Could be a great learning experience I suppose.

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    On Directing

    So here's something that I really enjoy when directing a scene. Typically, you do all the preparation ahead of time. You know what today's scene is about, you know the subtext you want to bring out, the tone you want to paint...etc. And then you say action. The actors do their thing and you observe them at the monitor, watching on behalf of your audience, seeing how this moment will fit into the larger picture (the scene and the film). And when you say cut, you make modifications, you tell the actors okay, I need you to move here, do this do that... etc to try to get what you're looking for. And sometimes actors or performers don't get that thing that you're looking for. That's where the challenge falls upon you. How are you going to make this a good scene? You don't want it to bring your movie down. You can't tell them what to feel. You never do that as a director. And here comes the most important tool at your disposal: Objective and Obstacle.

    How do you create a real performance? I will give you a perfect example from a movie I made recently that may seem silly, but really was a terrific exercise in directing. Over the holidays I made a short called Liffi Liffi in Jordan. It's about a girl looking for an address. All but one were non-actors, but I think we ended up with quite a dynamic little short. The heart of the movie is just a scene really. The girl is looking for an address and the guys on the street give her a hard time. I had to find a reason why she wouldn't drive away, so I got this book and wrote on it the address she was looking for, her agenda book. So when she stopped to ask the guys on the street, I had them take her book as they tried to help her. If they take her book, she won't want to leave without it, thus we have a reason for the scene to exist. So in directing the performances there, I told the actress Rama that this whole scene, you keep looking at your book, you want it back so you can leave. And I told the guys Usama and Nadim, keep the book in your hands, keep it near her, but don't let her have it, and keep trying to help her, but argue with each other. The scene is not about helping. It's about one-upping each other. Once the objective was clear to all parties, the scene had its core and it worked.

    One man's objective is another man's obstacle. From that, you get drama. Simple, but man is it a powerful tool. So next time you're directing a scene, find your objective and obstacle for your actors, and they'll deliver the goods without trying to perform for the camera.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    On screenwriting

    So I've been juggling three balls these past few weeks. The big one is the feature film for the summer, Captain Abu Raed. I've done a million rewrites since the first draft last summer, and I'm sure there's more to come as I get feedback from industry pros I've given it to. My instructor Gil Dennis (who wrote Walk the Line) is giving it a read in the next couple of weeks along with a couple of other people. I'll tell you what, screenwriting is an ongoing process and you have to be completely willing to take stuff out, change things, shuffle them, and just wen you think that's it, it's done... guess again, there's more work you need to do to make the script better.

    As a writer/director, it is very gratifying to find yourself writing moments that you know will become magic on the screen with the right performance. And the key to all this is scrapping out unnecessary dialogue. Never should you have the dialogue state what can be communicated to the audience visually. The easy way out is to have the characters talk about what they're feeling or say what they're thinking. But the problem with that is that when you take it to the screen, it becomes on the nose and hokey, and gives the actors nothing to play with, thus creating a one-dimensional performance. There's tons of this coming out of Hollywood by the way. As a simple example, let's say you have a character who's having a terrible day. How boring is it when a their dialogue says "I'm having a bad day" to the other person, and how much more interesting is it when you have them say "Everything's great!" The dialogue should attempt to mask what's really going on. That's the idea of creating subtext. Giving the scene an extra layer of complexity that will engage the audience. And you know what? Sometimes, a smile to mask the sadness is much more powerful than the face of sadness.

    So that's what I've been doing to my movie, rewriting any cliches or surfacey scenes into more unpredictable or dramatically powerful moments and emotional shifts. I want to take the audience on an engaging ride through a simple story.

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    New website

    Hey everyone,

    Just wanted to let you know that I have a whole new web site up at:

    and there are some new bits of things up on it, like the fake trailer to Abu Sinno in LA, and Michael Kamen's concerto for Guitar.

    I have a lot of filmmaking things to write about, so I'll do all that next time.


    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    My new movie is up

    Liffi Liffi is up online at or
    This movie was made because it's fun to make little shorts that excercise the on-the-spot decision-making process when making movies. I find that this sort of thing keeps you on your feet and the result, with good direction and editing, turns out fun and dynamic. Of course the most important thing for these improvisational films is the performance. And we have some really fun performances from Nadim, Osama, Rama, Faisal, Tareq, and Abdullah depicting the different types of people you would stumble into on the streets of Amman.

    I really enjoy absurd humour, and this movie, like Suffi Suffi, is exactly that. This is what happens when girls ask for directions. All hell breaks loose. You'll see what I mean when you watch the movie. Also, I should mention what a fan of Yazan Al-Rusan's music I am. This is the Jordanian who made the song in this movie as well as the song at the beginning of Suffi Suffi. You can visit his web site at:

    One last note: I think this is probably the last of my quick no-budget short films. I'm moving on to my feature film once I get done with my cycle 3 AFI film, a dramatic piece. But for now, let's get Jordanian!

    Hope you enjoy Liffi Liffi!

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Liffi! Liffi!

    For those of you who enjoyed "Suffi! Suffi!', I am happy to announce to you the sequel, "Liffi! Liffi!" It will be posted on my web site on March 8th. This is a no budget comedy made in three hours, so it's obviously very different from my American comedies. It's so much fun to do both. Tune in to or this Wednesday.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Bullseye again

    Okay, I put up a better quality streaming version of the movie that won't take forever to download. Now you can go to my site, to watch my new action comedy.


    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    "Bullseye" is online

    I just posted my new movie, Bullseye, to my web site. So check it out at

    I posted two versions of the film, one in high resolution, one low res. It's worth downloading the high res version because you can make it larger on your screen and actually enjoy the images and details in the performances. It's 140MB. Give it a few minutes to load.