Vicky Jewson’s take on filming in the Middle East.
We first met with the Jordanian Royal Film Commission at the Abu Dhabi film conference in 2010. I had been invited to talk on a panel for women in film-making. The Film Commission was set up to try and provide a ‘one stop shop’ for producers to help incentivise filming in the country. This includes access to crew, locations, fixers and facilities. We met one of the producers from the Hurt Locker at the conference and he was very complimentary of their set up. Jordan had the arid, mountainous landscape we wanted, as well as the visually stunning cityscape of Amman. We wanted a location which we could shoot in without restrictions to capture the energy and pulse of a middle eastern city. The infrastructure for film-making in Jordan fully supports this.
When we came to shooting in Jordan we were up against a painfully tight schedule. Because of the budgetary constraints associated with a foreign shoot we had 10 days to shoot an inordinate amount of complex action and dramatic sequences. We were shooting around 6 minutes a day, and this could cover anything from a dramatic personal scene to a car chase to a SFX scene all in one day.
We had some very complicated sequences to film, including stunts, large scale explosions, a helicopter scene and a high speed car chase through the streets of central Amman. The car chase was particularly challenging. We didn’t have the budget to close of huge sections of road so we had to work around a number of different locations and on different days. I had to map out each and every part of the sequence in my mind and on paper to make sure that everything would tie together as a final piece. We were told half way through the shoot that we could no longer blow the car up in the city and we had to do it in the desert. This meant thinking on my feet to try and find a way to make the chase convincing, transitioning from busy city to arid desert.
I always wanted to shoot the chase from the close up perspective of the central characters, as it is in this scene our heroine’s father decides to sacrifice his life to protect his daughters. The range of emotions I wanted to see as he was battling with a high speed chase meant keeping the camera close, and using Philip’s incredibly expressive eyes to tell the story. Philip has an intensity which I was entranced by from the day he walked into the audition – his reading gave me goosebumps and I knew we had found Khalid. This close character work and focus draws us in and allows us to be in the car with Khalid and Mina and so we feel a part of the chase. So when we switch from city to desert we are so intent on Philip’s regret, love and sacrifice that the background becomes immaterial.
One of the most interesting elements to shooting in Jordan was getting to work with the Jordanian Special Forces. We worked with the same explosives experts as Kathryn Bigelow did for ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. I wanted all of the explosions to be real and not reliant on CGI, in order to portray the harsh danger felt when a blast rips through you. Often in cinema we are insulated from what the reality of these situations are like and become immune to them, the Jordanian army got us very close to what being in action must feel like.
I wanted my actors to feel this also, an AK-47 is a seriously heavy weapon, and when it fires the kick it gives is quite shocking. Sofia did all her own stunts so the film has a very immediate energy to it. We were advised on some of the fight scenes by the Assassin and fight choreographer, Joey Ansah, from ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ to get the gritty feel we wanted. Our Stunt Coordinator Glenn Marks hung out of a little bird attack helicopter above the city of Amman with an unloaded RPG. A camera man wedged himself in beside him, having to use a Canon 5D in such a tight space. The helicopter performed rate 5 turns with the doors off and we got some great coverage.
The Royal Film Commission really supported the movie and the Jordanian crew were a real pleasure to work with and I look forward to returning to film there again.
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