Making Bella

taken 2005

I made a film yesterday and put it online. It’s called Bella, after my late maternal grandmother’s nickname.

Backstory

I have been sitting on this concept for the past ten years. I was denied a chance to say goodbye and see her before she slept in Christ. So, I have been wanting to make sense of all the memories, the final things left untold, and living life without her around.

Returning to Egypt to visit my family, has not been the same since she left. There’s this hole now in Cairo, shaped after her. I spent a few days there in 2012 in my grandparents’ apartment. It didn’t bring me closer to her, as I had imagined. I left feeling the loss more intensely. That’s grieving, I suppose.

The idea

A month ago, I stood out in my balcony here in Stockholm. I hadn’t really been out there since I moved in. And as the bustle from the road, the balcony, and the sky converged in a moment: I remembered Bella.

And then I wondered if I could make that film about her, but here in my balcony.

Concept

standing in the balcony, reminiscing over Bella and remembering her, me narrating, with some of my own scoring and using a part of this song by the Saudi Arabian artist Hussain al-Jasmy. This song is about loss and when I first heard it, it become forever married to the memory of my grandmother.

Production

I shot the footage this morning with my Canon EOS on a monopod. Autofocus, standard lens, that’s it. I didn’t want to be distracted by the technical execution. That will come later, I know.

It was an artistic challenge to see how I could both record enough shots so that it is enough for the narration and so that it’s not much of the same. I tried to use different angles, mimicked some panning, and played with shadows on the walls.

Initial Editing

I went through the footage and made clips. I threw down them quickly onto the sequence in Premiere Pro, as quickly as possible. Some thoughts and pictures came back to me from when I was shooting, so I followed their lead. I played through the rough cut a few times to see how it feels.

I brought up a text editor and started writing the narration as it played through the sequence. In a way, I approached this like a broadcast news story rather than a film – record first and then evince the story from the footage.

After I laid down the initial rough cut, I looked at the shots and see how they worked with the script. I tweaked the script in Evernote, as I decided on the final sequence of shots. To avoid too much time re-recording audio later, I remembered a trick that a friend taught me a long time ago: use text clips in your editing software to play with the rough cut and editing process. This really helped me think through the shots before I touched the mic.

Scoring and Narration

I recorded the audio with the M-Audio M-Track soundcard and SM-56 vocal microphone. Adobe Audition Pro CC is my choice for post-processing and production. I really developed my skills in sound editing after this project.

Final Editing

This was definitely the most involved editing project I’ve undertaken, in that I had 4 audio tracks and several video tracks. After laying down all the audio, I took out the placeholder text and tweaked the edit further.

I wanted to avoid tropes with the opening sequence, so I got the idea to break up the introductory song clip with a piece of narration. Thank you, shower! It worked.

Favorite Moments

  • The intro
  • The shot where the narration says, “When I was growing up…” It was just a simple way to portray growing up.
  • The photo I picked of Bella
  • The flashback audio impression of Bella’s voice. I did it in one take and it’s still haunting me.

Lessons Learned

  1. Storyboarding and planning. Using the placeholder texts in the sequence and going through multiple edits made the whole process straightforward and intuitive.
  2. Good audio makes a difference. I really see the value of good-quality, well-edited, solid audio. It increases the production value exponentially.
  3. Keep the shots simple and cheap. They tend to express what you really want to say, without getting lost in the execution.

What’s Next

I’m brainstorming and ruminating over a film about my late friend Nancy. Stay tuned.

 

A Midnight Gem by the Beach

Sometimes, you just discover gems because you’re willing to be curious.

I went for a midnight walk to Hässelby Strand, a nearby beach. I heard some familiar sounds from a distance, it was coming from the barbeque area.

It turned out to be a Middle Eastern ensemble (“takht“) jamming or rehearsing.

I stopped to listen and record.

 

Singing Again

The last time was November 2013, months after I broke up my band The Howlin’ Shibanski. The quiet acoustic gig at an empty bar only deepened my sadness and emptiness, rather than provided the closure or hope that I thirsted for.

I’ll write about the band some other time.

Tonight, I performed three songs at an open-mic event in downtown Stockholm.

It was more of a personal triumph more than a successful performance. I didn’t turn into Douche Mina again. I was scared, nervous, and vulnerable. Nervous, frozen fingers didn’t stop from playing, I smiled and continued.

And when I hit the high or bolted the strong notes, I came alive.

I’ll practice and get back again to play. I don’t need the stage to feel whole or at home, I have that in myself and elsewhere now. But I am alive when I sing and play my music.

Looking Back on the Doodle Challenge

30 days of real joy

This past Wednesday was my first submission for the 30-Day Doodle Challenge. I think I actually grew as a person during this challenge!

My fellow Kivran Danning asked me a month ago if I wanted to do the challenge with her. I had hangups about making art or drawing, but I went against them and just said yes. Just like with the Colories project, I’m moved by people’s reception of the posts, the amount of new people I’ve met on Instagram, and the amount of new artists I’ve discovered on the platform.

The Process

The goal was to doodle every day for a month. I started out by drawing on paper with pencil, but I felt frustrated by my lack of technique. I ended up just judging what I was doing.  So, I switched over to digital drawing and I felt liberated by the medium.

I really enjoyed making this series. Even when I couldn’t draw what I felt or saw in my mind’s eye, every piece felt like an achievement for me.

There was no prior deliberation or preparation for the style or themes. Apart from the 2 submissions that were pencil drawings, I used Adobe Illustrator Draw and Autodesk SketchBook.

First Post

Last Post

Favorite Pieces

A friend and former co-worker told me recently, “Don’t scrutinize what you do.” Really priceless advice.

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#doodle 10 #doodlechallenge2018 #doodlechallenge

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The brushes in Sketchbook are just spectacular. The final product really expressed how I was that day – serene and hopeful.

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#doodle 11 #doodlechallenge2018 #doodlechallenge

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This one felt like I doodled on a wall.

This one from day 12 speaks to me because of the thickness and density of the brush strokes.

I kept on thinking of pointillism, as I did this and other similar pieces. I liked the idea of the extreme control in producing dots or points.

Lessons Learned

  1. Pick and run with the simplest tool. I probably would have given up, had I continued with pencil drawings. There is value in just picking the simplest tool and making whatever you can with it.
  2. Artists are just people who make art. I never dared making art before because I thought I needed someone’s acknowledgement or a degree from an art school.
  3. Constraints deepen the process. Just dabbing at the screen was fun, but I learned more and produced more interesting ideas when I enforced some constraint on myself – working with complementary colors, only points, only lines, and so on. It spurred me to be both conscious of technique and push myself further.

What’s Next?

A friend told me that I should look into art school. I’m going to do that! Shout-out to her for the encouragement and vote of confidence.

I’m writing down words and ideas for a longer series about our inner emotional and thought lives.

Finally, I’m sketching or drawing every day on my tablet, without posting it online.

Looking Back on the Colories Series

What started off as a curiosity with what could be done with a rubber duck, became a month-long comics series. I have been really moved by people’s reception of the posts, the amount of new people I’ve met on there, and the range of people I’ve encountered.

Yesterday was the last post on Instagram.

seize the sky.
ep 30, Colories

I wanted to reflect on the process, my favorite posts, lessons learned, and what’s next.

The Process

The goal was to produce a piece within an hour or two every day, for as long as the idea or concept seemed interesting to me. I didn’t want to get bogged down in the production or execution or polish. I just wanted to make art every day.

I really enjoyed making this series. Sometimes, I would get the idea a few minutes before taking the photo. And at other times, an idea would come to me and simmer for a while.

There was no prior deliberation or preparation for the style or themes. I decided all that when I took the shot. This kept me out of my head and ensured that the idea would be simple.

A few times, I ran out of ideas and so I would play with a cultural reference, pun, or simple using a prop.

ep 27, Colories – can you guess the reference?
ep 24, Colories – “turnin’ trix on myself”
ep 20, Colories – “amongst the scraps”

My Favorite Posts

Episode 16

“I’m a shit sandwich”

Episode 8

It was fun making the double exposures in Photoshop.

                          “all over the place”

Episode 1

I found the card in some advertisements in my mail.

“we’re OK and you’re OK”

Episode 7

My first stop-motion animation film. I really became interested in the medium because of this episode. There’s a separate write-up here.

Lessons Learned

  1. Show up every day. I made this a part of my daily morning routine and it paid off. I looked forward to producing something, even on days where I felt low or empty. The process, rather than inspiration, carried me.
  2. Listen to the weirdest idea. This is risky at first because it’s counter-intuitive. I thought that weird had to be planned or part of some greater theme. But just noticing and then following through with a weird idea is satisfying.
  3. Don’t get bogged down in execution. Enforcing the external constraint of time (doing it quickly) helped me stay pragmatic in how I would make the episode.
  4. It doesn’t have to be episodic to be episodic. The whole series is more an exploration of feelings and states, rather than a conventional narrative of a rubber duck. Sometimes, it was about me and sometimes the duck personified an idea or a problem, or just a human struggle. Keeping it loose and going also helped me to stay current and just keep on producing.

What’s Next?

I’m about to finish a 30-day doodle challenge. I will write a similar post about that.

And then… I want to make more art! And learn how to draw. And paint digitally out in the world.

Keep checking back!

Under the Bridge…

Going to set reminders so I don’t miss blog posts anymore!

I went to a gig under a bridge yesterday. I didn’t stay long, but what I heard was beautiful and engrossing ambient.

“You are God” in the last couple of photographs…