Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Imam wants to know if you’re on your period: the top 10 moments of shooting a video in Byblos, Lebanon

Andy Ash and I have spent a week in Jbeil, ancient Byblos, making a short video about a JRS school for Syrian refugees. Here are the highlights:

10.  100 Turkish coffees with the family we were following
We followed one student for this video, from when she got up in the morning, through her day at school. Throughout the week, her family continuously came to us with a tray of delicious coffee to get us through our long days of shooting.

9.  Hot tubbing on the balcony of the hotel
Because we arrived at 6 a.m. to the hotel, a room wasn’t prepared for us, so instead of making us wait, they upgraded us to a suite with a Jacuzzi on the balcony, overlooking the sea. After a long day of shooting, I watched the storm over the sea, rain and hail hitting the windows, while I relaxed in the Jacuzzi. As I went to bed, I heard Andy climb in with a beer to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so it was win for both of us.

8.  Our Oscar award-winning star
We followed a 13-year-old girl for the video, whose father is a teacher at the school. She was incredible. With no shared language, she was prepared to let us surround he with cameras, and ask her to stop walking or move from here to there. When we asked her to sit still for her interview, to keep her in focus on camera, she stayed perfectly still for an hour. A videographer’s dream.

7.  Getting Andy a fishing pole
The minute Andy saw the sea, he got a bee in his bonnet that he needed to go fishing in Lebanon. After shooting, we took him to a gun shop to look at fishing poles, and eventually a friend of JRS lent him one for free. Expect photos of Andy standing on pier to be uploaded soon.

6.  Watching the lightning from an abandoned building day one
After getting all the time lapse footage from an abandoned apartment complex, we switched gears. Andy put a lightning trigger on the camera and got some beautiful shots of the storm over the sea. We made out of the building and into the car just as the heavens opened over us.

(watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and eating lunch in the abandoned building during a 5-hour photo time lapse)

5.  Getting Andy’s lunch order via walkie talkie
I always thought his walkie talkies were useless; “Why can’t we just use our cell phones?” but walkie-ing him from the hotel, while he was at the top of another abandoned building down the street was pretty cool. “Come in Andy, come in. Do you want ham on your pizza? Over.”

4.  Setting up the Go Pro on the roof of the mosque in the rain
My tiny HD waterproof camera came in handy when we were trying to get a great shot of the minaret on top of the mosque. Even though it was raining, we climbed onto the terra cotta roof and set up the shot we wanted.

3.  Shooting the school bus, leaning out of the car window in the pouring rain
The first day of filming, Andy rode the school bus with the students. I followed alongside in a car to get some outside shots. In order to accomplish this, I stood on the front seat, leaning out the window in the pouring rain. By the time we reached the school, I was drenched.

2.  Are you on your period?
Women aren’t usually allowed in this mosque, but the Imam is so keen on the video we are making, that he let Andy and I film him during his afternoon prayer. I just needed to cover my hair, and wear a long, heavy robe. Oh yeah, and he needed to make sure that I wasn’t “unclean” at the time. My friend, who works for JRS in Jbeil (Byblos), leaned out the door of the mosque saying, “He says it’s ok to come in. Personal question, though, he needs to know that you aren’t on your period…”

1.  The police arriving at the abandoned building
Our last shot, I am typing now as we are shooting it. We are getting an establishing shot of the mosque that doubles as a JRS school. Because it’s tucked away between buildings, we needed the right vantage point. So, Andy and I set up his camera and an umbrella on the top floor of an abandoned building across the street. A family kept looking out their apartment and taking photos of us, assuming we were criminals. A few hours later, a police car and a tinted Dodge Charger pulled up at the school. The Imam’s son and two armed police came running towards the building. Andy ran down, and when they saw it was us, they left us alone.

Low points:
1.     Spilling Andy’s camera bag and spilling orange juice on his Macbook Pro
2.     Freezing my ass off during rain-drenched time-lapses

 (Almost all photos by Andy Ash)

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