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Vimeo Video School

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The video-sharing website, Vimeo, has launched an online ‘school’ with videos on how to make good, err, videos! It looks way cool, masha’Allah. I can’t wait to watch them. Just as soon as I leave the office… ahem. :)

The only grumble is, the school web page doesn’t seem to have an RSS feed, or email subscribe option. Please leave a comment if you find it!

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Doctor, Director: Review, Part II || @UmmahFilms

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I wrote this review post a while ago, but totally forgot about it. The critique is still relevant, though I understand if it is considered ‘old news’. If you haven’t watched Doctor, Director, then you can catch it on Vimeo.

This is a follow-up to my original post about Ummah Films’ latest release, Doctor, Director. As I mentioned before, I didn’t think it would be great manners to negatively criticize (even in the constructive sense) a production so soon after its release. At least in this case, where I admire the intentions of the project, and understand that the team in question are independent filmmakers on a tight budget, and still very much in their infancy as a production house. Further, the end product was free to watch. So the film definitely cannot be treated like your average multi-million dollar, Hollywood blockbuster, where the studio insists on taking £12 of your hard-earned money (excluding overpriced cinema snacks) before proceeding to waste 100 minutes of your life.

Anyway… to the point. I’ve already talked briefly about what I liked, and now it’s time to dole out the bitter medicine of sharing what I consider to be ‘areas for improvement’.

From a technical perspective, though I loved the film quality, I thought the cuts could have been tighter, especially in the scenes that featured dialogue. I often felt like the silent pauses were too long, or a scene was left to ‘hang’ in places. Pauses can be great to add tension, drama, and to offer moments for reflection, but they can also be annoying and ruin the flow.

Getting the best from your actors is one of the greatest challenges for a director, especially if the actors themselves are not professionals, so I actually didn’t place as much importance on this considering the budget and time scale. I thought the best acting came from ‘Layla’, masha’Allah, but the interactions between characters was lacking – something. Chemistry, perhaps? Also the timing of lines was a little off. Again, tighter editing would have helped in this regard.

In terms of story-telling, clearly, the storyline made sense, and the fact that I felt sorry for Ali and Layla shows that the film did the job of making the audience sympathize with the plight of the protagonists. I think the scene when Ali first meet’s Layla’s brother could have been executed better. The lines spoken as they walk towards the house were important in terms of Ali’s character development, as they portray him as person of deep thought and spiritual reflection. However, I couldn’t always make out the dialogue, and the long-distance camera angle implied that the lines being spoken were merely background ‘small talk’, with little significance.

I thought the role of Layla’s brother had great potential, which wasn’t fully exploited. He was the voice of reason and of sympathy, but he wasn’t used often enough. Also, it is unfortunate that the parents came off as jerks, rather than misguided individuals. It was funny at first, but the fact that you never see any genuine concern coming from them for their daughter’s welfare may be problematic in terms of using this video to address real problems in the community. Not all parents – even the fussy ones – are that cold-hearted, and they may be offended by this two dimensional portrayal.

Despite the criticism, I think this was reasonable first attempt at social commentary film. I disagree with some who argue that the money could have been spent on better causes. They clearly have no idea how much film-making costs, even on an amateur level – forget the cost of hiring professional people and equipment! Perhaps the production would have benefited from a test screening, like the big boys do, which would have given the team the feedback required to make doable changes prior to release, such as improvements to editing.

I’d highly recommend this option for the next project, and also, that the team consider re-cutting Doctor, Director which would lead to significant improvements all round.

Zain Bhikha Shout Out Video

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As mentioned in the last post, we attended the GPU last weekend to do a bit of shooting for the blog, MuslimMatters.org. Our main goal was to interview Baba Ali, but we managed to catch a few seconds with the nasheed artist, Zain Bhikha too. Here’s the video:

iPod Touch: HD Video Test Run

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I recently upgraded my iPod Touch, replacing my beloved, trustworthy first gen with a sleek, dare I say: sexy, 4th generation model, that finally features the same 720p HD video capability as the iPhone4. I hope to eventually create a short movie using footage shot on the iPod alone, as was done with the iPhone4 a few months back.

Here’s a three second clip I shot on the train home last night – no postprocessing, other than trimming. The guy in front of me was asleep, yet every so often he’d tap his feet. The funky shoes called to me.

Clearly, the quality isn’t good enough to warrant throwing out my Canon HV20! But I do like having a handheld device that can shoot better quality footage than my ancient mobile phone. It could be improved with some postprocessing jiggery-pokery. And of course, the provision of good lighting and a stable platform, (i.e., NOT an artificially lit, moving train carriage) would make all the difference too.

Like Oil and Water

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Salams all. I’m Nida – also known as Mehzabeen’s shadow and stressmaster while helping her work on the FOSIS video. Inshallah in future I’ll be passing on any tips and tricks about video production I pick up while doing a Masters in Science Media Production at Imperial. But for now all I’m good for is delivering interesting anecdotes from the set of the FOSIS video.

I’d say the most valuable thing I learned while working on the FOSIS video is this: never work with brothers. There are several reasons.

1) They are incapable of taking direction- its like everything needs to be translated from English into Brother speak. Example:

Sis director: Ok now look shocked.

*Bro pulls a face*

Sis: Look shocked!

*Bro grimaces some more*

Sis: Oh for crying out loud … *says something scandalous*

*Bro looks shocked*

*Sis quickly starts filming*

2) Then there’s their general unwillingness to do anything interesting in front of camera. You’d think some of these guys had never been asked to wrestle a squirrel puppet in a public space before.

Sis: Now rugby tackle the squirrel.

Bro: *shuffles around a bit* Do I have to?

Sis: *looking fierce* YES

Bro: *rugby tackles squirrel*

Sis: *Filming on her camera*

Bro’s mates: *Filming on their mobiles*

And then there was the prayer room scene. Don’t ask how me and Mehzabeen managed to wrestle the guys into those masks (Easter egg: Look out for Salman Waqar – attempting to hide his identity through cunning use of his prayer mat cape).

Alhamdulillah we pulled it off in the end and all in all it was a fun experience- but I know what I’ll be carrying through onto the next project. Lesson learnt: no brothers.

Doctor, Director: New Short from Ummah Films

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Ummah Films have released their latest short film, titled: Doctor, Director (Watch it via Vimeo). It only cost $7000 to make and was financed from public contributions. It falls under the genre of bitter-sweet romcom, providing a glimpse into the emotionally charged, socially awkward world of Islamic proposals. A Muslim version of Meet the Parents – without the gross out comedy.

I don’t wish to fully critique the film so soon after its release. Criticism is certainly very important in order to increase the quality of future productions – but offering it five minutes after release is akin to a kick in the gut for the team that put in so much hard work. Trust me, I speak from experience! Instead, I’ll share what I honestly liked about it.

I thought it was very funny in places, especially little things like the mother’s excessive hospitality and cleanliness. I also sympathized with the plight of the main characters, Ali and Layla, perhaps because I’ve been there myself. The overall picture quality was really good, and there were moments of true artistry with the directing, masha’Allah. Part Two of my review will come later, though none of my ‘negative’ criticisms are all that harsh (I hope!).

I’ve only been involved in a hand-full of productions, but I know script-based films are much more challenging than filming events, vlogs, or conducting interviews. Further, I personally think comedy and horror are the most difficult genres around: so hard to get right, and so easy to get wrong. I think UF did make something chuckle-worthy, masha’Allah, and they have definitely improved a lot over time in terms of their production value. Much respect to them for their efforts, and I look forward to the next big project.

Read Part II of my review here…

A Day in the Life of a Muslim Student || FOSIS Video Competition 2010

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The first production from the Sisters’ Film Club is a submission on behalf of Imperial ISoc to the FOSIS Video Competition – an annual contest open to all UK Islamic Societies. This year’s theme is “A Day in the Life of a Muslim Student“.

Due to competition time constraints (max. 2 min per video), the film has been split into two parts.

Part I: Time for Salat

Part II: Be A Hero

Read the rest of this entry

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