Amidst the boom of corporate films and commercials shot on location in Dubai, there are also stories that need to be told. One girl had a feeling she wanted to express. One director had a vision to help her. Together, they created Nine Days to Fall. In an exclusive interview with BroadcastPro ME, director Jacques […]
Amidst the boom of corporate films and commercials shot on location in Dubai, there are also stories that need to be told. One girl had a feeling she wanted to express. One director had a vision to help her. Together, they created Nine Days to Fall. In an exclusive interview with BroadcastPro ME, director Jacques Mulder and actress Stephanie Khouri talk about the making of a film that tackles Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Jacques Mulder oozes with passion at the mere mention of his latest project. As the founder of Muddville, a post-production house based in Dubai Studio City, his daily routine consists primarily of developing visual effects and animation for commercial ventures. With a long-term love for feature filmmaking, he was intrigued to find out why up-and-coming actress and screenwriter, Stephanie Khouri, wanted to borrow his cameras for a few days to tell a story.
Khouri came to me four months ago and basically asked us for our cameras, says Mulder.
I asked why, so she pitched me the story to see if I had a gap in our schedule to help out. There was six of my team in the room as Khouri made the pitch, and by the end of her story everyone had goose bumps. Its a story that doesnt often get told, and it was very heartfelt.
The subject matter is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD); irrational fear. One in three people suffer from this illness, with physical symptoms including heart palpitations, tightness of the throat, sweating, and shaking, and emotional symptoms such as irrational thinking and panic. Lebanese-born Stephanie Khouri suffers from GAD.
She explains: It completely takes over. The smallest pain in your chest is a heart attack, a pimple is a tumour and yet, youre a logical person. You know somewhere that this cant possibly be true. But when youre having anxiety, that pimple can only be a tumour.
For these reasons, Khouri felt she had a story a hard, but important story to tell. She decided to focus on a normal girl who goes about her daily life, who suddenly starts to have an anxiety problem, and how it makes her deteriorate over the course of nine days.
Mulder recalls Khouri telling this story.
There was a beginning and middle, and I knew there had to be an exquisite end, he says.
Despite our crazy schedule, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to do this project and figured that I could shoot it in a way that could be profoundly visual. And as it was her story, it seemed right for her to play the part, too.
The story covers the characters demise over nine days; an elongated, never-ending week. Mulder and Khouri wrote the script together, working as a team to overcome the challenges of displaying the character being happy and perky to her demise and her falling apart over the period of nine days, all within the length of a short film.
Literally, within one moment, anxiety hits her, explains Khouri, about the character she portrays.
We had to work out how to define that moment on film.
Mulder adds: So we had to create a device, a perception that the audience could identify with. I am a very visual director and I like to explore moments and scenes. But we had to be careful as we didnt want to make it fearful although it is a very scary disorder. We didnt want to frighten people.
Muddvilles projects with companies such as Coca-Cola and RTA make way for films such as Nine Days to Fall to happen. So using six actors and a minimal crew of three, with Mulder taking the role of director of photography, the three-week shoot began in Summer 2012.
It cost USD 23,000 of our time, if we break it down, but we dont see it that way, Mulder says.
Its amazing to be working on a project with no motivation other than the love of filmmaking itself.
The film is shot on one of the three RED Epic cameras owned by Muddville. The 5K camera was chosen because, according to Mulder, the film required high frame-rates to capture the emotional treatment he desired.
Speaking of using the Epic, Mulder says, Shooting at 5K at 120fps is always desirable. It held up beautifully against the 3:1 footage when we passed it through DaVinci Resolve. We were limited in terms of the lenses we could use so Zeiss lenses were chosen to drop off the depth of field, capture the details and offer us the specific look we were after.
Shooting interiors was extremely easy, according to Mulder, since the low light abilities of the Epic had the crew using just two lights on set. Shooting outside seemed more challenging with Dubais vast white and grey sky, so a glass was chosen to naturally offer up a wider perspective.
Mulder threw on NDs and polars, which helped bring the skies back. Having dealt with the smoke-ridden grey skies of the UAE for the past 12 years, Mulder and his team have some tricks up their sleeve on how to give the sky the colour they want.
A demonstration unit of the latest L7-C ARRI LED lights, equipped with variable gel control, was offered on loan from UAE-based distributor Amaranthine.
Amaranthine was impressed by what we had done and supported us with their latest model of LED lighting, says Mulder.
We were placing scrims in front of it to diffuse the light, it was absolutely perfect. I personally want to buy a few for myself.
All of the locations were Dubai-based, featuring the Shangri-La Hotel, restaurant Okku, advertising agency Ogilvy and Khouris own apartment.
He (Mulder) made me paint my apartment blue and purple! laughs Khouri.
Mulder was delighted, however, with Khouris performance and dedication to playing such a familiar character, considering her personal history.
As a director youre usually so far removed from the story, you know it so well that it doesnt affect you that much. But with Nine Days to Fall, there were times Id watch a take 20 or 30 times and Id still be really affected by what I was seeing. There were some times during filming when I couldnt cut the camera; I got emotional, he says.
Mulders main hurdle to overcome from a technical point of view as a director, was translating feelings into visuals. He devised a unique technique at high frame-rate to jump cut certain sequences by upping the frame rate and calculating the timing coupled with hand-held claustrophobia.
For Mulder, however, other than possibly needing a little help with sets, he was happy to keep outside involvement at a bare minimum.
It was a personal story which the two of us made happen, and it was down to just us to make it right, he says.
There were still technical challenges to address, despite the passion behind the project, mainly for Khouri. Due to the film not being shot in chronological order, there were days when she would be very happy and other days, when she would break down. As someone who suffers from GAD, there were moments where she did have tough days, but the crew made her feel as comfortable as possible.
If I ever needed to say stop, I could, recalls Khouri.
The biggest challenge for me was shedding light on this movie and really wanting to do it, but because I have GAD, I sometimes would think I should know better than to play around with this. I had to find a way to tell a believable story without falling into my own hole.
Nine Days to Fall has a running time of approximately 26 minutes with the added possibility of extending it into feature length. This decision hasnt been decided yet, but funding is in place from a private investor if they wish to go ahead.
The film has just been accepted into the Sundance Film Festival.
The idea is to create more awareness about the illness and help people. We could extend it to a feature length movie. We could take on a whole new approach by showing the recovery process, and this might appeal to more people, says Mulder.
The director, who is South African, won the Abu Dhabi Film Commission Award in 2010. He has a big project under wraps in Dubai coming up shortly and will be soon be spending two months shooting a low budget film in LA.
In the meantime, Muddville is patiently waiting for the upgrade to the 6K sensor, which is set at 2000 ISO to compete with the current 800, which means shooting can take place in lower light conditions with minimal noise. Mulder believes this is a dream for on set productions since the light packages get smaller and therefore the picture can be better crafted.
During this waiting process, however, Mulder has just completed the grading on Nine Days to Fall, which was finished using Davinci. So has this film helped the disorder? For starters, the Nine Days to Fall Facebook page has almost 2,000 fans, and it is thought this could be due to the number of people who browse for information on GAD.
The story is about a feeling, says Khouri.
Anxiety is a feeling, and its amazing how he (Mulder) has managed to make that feeling into a visual.