Making an Emirati Western (Part 3)
ACT THREE – 'I’m gonna be on the news!'
We have around 10 hours of sunlight remaining. An eleven-page script to squeeze into 7 minutes (as per the rulebook) and 59 storyboard shots to capture with our rookie crew. The clock is ticking. Marwan, one of our lead actors, is making friends with his new co-star, a white Arabian horse, as I oversee final camera set-ups for Take 1. Even though he is an accomplished rider (so he swore to me under oath!) I’d asked him to go bond with his new screen partner. Unfortunately, they had less than ten minutes to become ‘besties’ because we were getting ready to roll.
Multi-tasking is the name of the 48 hour game - live rehearsals / line-readings / blocking / bonding with your new horse – all these things need to be blended into one manic yet seamless shooting style. The problem with horses (or shooting with any animal for that matter) is that they aren’t really interested in how much time you’ve budgeted for each shot. When they’re ready to go, they tend to go. Which is exactly what happened as I was giving some final direction to my twin leads. Behind me, I heard a distinctly unimpressed braying, the sudden acceleration of hooves, and a cry of ‘hold on!’ I saw the frozen fear in my lead actor’s eyes as they stared through me at some rapidly snowballing drama I couldn’t see, but could feel bearing down on me.
I spun round. Marwan was clinging to the side of his horse at a 45 degree angle by a single toe. This didn’t look good. All I could think was, ‘I’m going to be on the news.’ A headline flashed through my mind’s eye: British teacher arrested - several students trampled by runaway horse.’ Just as I was about to be forced to choose between saving my camera rig or saving my DP (that would have been a close call) Marwan (an Asian Games Karate Gold Medalist) managed to right himself and get control of his new equine friend. Impossible as it might be to believe, this actor had been telling the truth about his ability to ride a horse.
Once we had regained control of the situation, the mad dash to beat the sun and get every shot on the list (we got 58 out of 59!) gathered pace – as it always does – in a state of managed chaos. And here’s the thing about the 48 hour project – if you ever actually had time – you know, to write down all the stuff you were trying to get through, so that you could actually reflect on it and let it sink in, and figure out a better way to do it, you’d never even get started. I’m not saying be reckless - safety is always paramount on set, but personally, I think it’s a great thing that a group of kids from Dubai can decide to shoot an epic western in less than two days and nobody even has time to explain that it might not be possible – we’re already moving on to the next shot. See you next year…