Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Donations for Our AFI Thesis Film

We're preparing to make our grand opus, our AFI thesis film, a dark comedy about a guy who's trying to kill his boss in a coffee shop... only to find out that his boss is the devil... disguised as a Samurai.

I wrote and rewrote the hell out of the script and progressively arrived at something that I think will be very entertaining, unique, and off-beat. Something delicious and unusual. Very stylized and operatic. It's a big short movie with quirky subversive comedy and surreal production design. So we need your help in raising donations for the movie. Any US donations are tax deductible.

Please contact me directily if you or someone you know would like to chip in. We have to raise $50,000 and will be shooting in January. My e-mail address is amatalqa@mac.com

The web site for the movie is
  • www.Morning-Latte.com

  • Thanks you for your support,

    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    Lessons from Great Filmmakers

    We've had some exciting filmmakers come to AFI this year, and I'll share some of the pearls of wizdom that stick out in my mind.

    Chris Nolan (Batman Begins, The Prestige): One of Chris's earlier films, Memento, was an independent. One movie later, he was hired by Warner Bros. to direct their biggest film last year, Batman Begins. So I asked him what was the biggest difference between working on an independent film and large-scale Hollywood film. He said pretty much to him, he focuses on telling the story and depicting the characters. It's a bigger scale production, but the stroytelling remains the same. Story and Character are everything. Without them, special effects are nothing but blank fire works.

    Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Talented Mr. Ripley, Breaking and Entering): I was really curious about this one. Mr. Minghella always writes the films he directs. I plan on doing the same thing as for me writing and directing come hand-in-hand. But screenwriting requires obsessive isolation, and it's difficult to do when there are so many social distractions. So I was curious how he manages to have a family life and write, let alone direct his films and promote them. He said he goes out to a cabin away from society to do his writing. But the funny thing is that nobody takes him seriously when he says he's writing up in the wilderness. They think he's out playing.

    David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Mullholand Drive, Blue Velvet): David Lynch also writes and directs. But he makes the strangest/darkest films. Surreal journey films through the dark side of the mind. I love what he did in Mullholand Drive. His images don't leave your mind. Well, with his new movie, "Inland Empire", he went all out crazy. He used a little video camera and very little care with lighting. I think I hated the film at first, but then a while later I realized that it still resonates its madness. Anyway, so Mr. Lynch is big on meditation and philanthropic work. So it's interesting that in real life he's a good caring person, but in his movies he loves to depict monsters. Similarly, last year I met Quentin Tarantino at a coffee shop. We chatted for a bit and I found him to be a very nice and humble guy. Yet his movies are celebrations of violence. Bottom line, all this is comforting to me because I plan to make some really dark films in the future about psychologically fucked-up characters. Yes, I also plan to make comedies, but there's somethign really enjoyable about psychological suspense. Watch "Old Boy" or "Lady Vengeance". Amazing Korean films by Chan-wook Park that push the boundaries.

    Jean Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Delicatessen, A Very Long Engagement): I love Jeunet's films. He has a visual and rhythmic signature that defines his films as other-worldly. He had so much to share, but the big thing he kept reiterating is that all his movies are explorations of the same theme. I find that I have the tendency to write about characters dreaming of doing something bigger than their limits. Whether it's Abu Raed dreaming to see the world, or a kid wanting to break his socio-economic barriers, or even the stories of characters who want to be superheros, American or Jordanian, all these scripts and ideas explore the same theme. It's a fascinating thing, the sub-conscious mind. They say story-telling is merely us trying to understand the universe within.

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    RIP: Basil Poledouris

    They say movies are not real. It's probably true. Maybe. But one thing is inarguable: the music that composers like the great Basil Poledouris have created for movies have nothing unreal about them. Basil wrote genuine music that spoke from his heart. Basil's inspiration and effect on me is real. The excitement he created is real. And the effect he had on me growing up will resonate until the day I die.

    Whether it was the mighty power I felt listening to his forceful choral in Conan the Barabarian (one of the greatest scores of all time) while running, whether it was the incredible blend of orchestra, electronics, and Russian choir in "The Hunt For Red October" pumping in my headphones while I sat next to my brother flying over the city lights in the little airplane from Columbus to wherever. Whether it was the soaring arpeggios recreating Basil's love for the ocean and sailing in "Wind" and "Free Willy", or the innocent romantic colors of "The Blue Lagoon" that made me fall in love every time. Or the unbelievably heartbreakingly beautiful Western scores for "Lonesome Dove" and "Quigly Down Under"... the complexity of action and sadness in "Robocop"... his love for animals came through in scores like "Jungle Book" and "Lassie". Basil was one of the handful of compsers who had their own unique musical voice. Not someone who stole from others or copied certain styles.

    Basil's music played an enourmous part in my life. In my dreams, many times I hoped to work with him one day. And now another one of my childhood heroes has left us. Cancer took Basil Poledouris on Nov. 8.

    But like Michael Kamen and Jerry Goldsmith and all the great creators who've made the world a better place for the many they've inspired, Basil will be immortal. He will live on forever through his music.

    To get a glimpse of his immense music, watch this tribute/collage of some of his work:

  • Basil Poledouris Music Tribute
  • Saturday, November 04, 2006

    RIP: Leonard Schrader

    Last week, a very special man passed away. Leonard Schrader was one of those really sweet people who you instantly fell in love with upon first meeting. Len was the head of the screenwriting department at AFI. He was also nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and has written and directed big films in the 70's and 80's like "The Yakuza" , "Mishima", and "Naked Tango". He also had a role in the development of his brother Paul's scripts for "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull".

    But for me, Len played a very important part in the development of my own film, "Captain Abu Raed". I had had a couple of screenwriting structure one-day classes with Len, but never spoke with him one-on-one. Then one day, while waiting for someone in the halls of AFI, I had my sixth or seventh draft of my screenplay with me, and I saw Len sitting in his office, quietly reading the newspaper. I said to myself maybe he would read this. So I walked over and introduced myself and excitedly told him how I'd written and re-written my script so many times and was planning to film it in Jordan, and would love if he had a bit of time to read it and give me feedback. He looked at me for a while, then finally said "Let me see." I gave him the scipt. He looked at it, then looked up... "You know I get paid $1,000 a script," (Len was a highly respected script doctor) "but I'll read it if you promise me one thing." "Sure, anything." "Don't tell anyone because all the other fellows will be knocking on my door and I don't got time." Sure, Sure, I lied. I was so excited, Leonard Schrader would read my script. That was Friday.

    Monday morning, he sent me an e-mail "I read your script. I'll be in my office tonight at 6:00pm" Wow. So I went up to his office. He smiled and put his finger down on the script. "You've got something special here. You do this right, and you've got yourself a Best Foreign Film nomination." Len was a member of the Academy. And then he continued... "But here's what you need to do...." And he spoke for half an hour as I took down notes and crazily scribbled all over my screenplay. Len elevated the quality of my writing with his wizdom. He was so enthusiastic and always excited to hear about my developments with this film.

    Last week, Len passed away due to internal complications. I was shocked. He will be dearly missed. I am sad he will not be around to see the film he helped me rewrite.