On Location: Behind “Three Veils”

 
 

Faerie Godmother
Enter the Faerie Godmother Fund. I was living in between Portland, Oregon and San Francisco at the time, and I was submitting to all kinds of film grants and fellowships. The Faerie Godmother fund had started an initiative called the Women’s Vision Film Grant, helping women filmmakers get their projects off the ground. After some stiff competition, Three Veils was chosen as the inaugural recipient of the grant.

Another thing I’ve learned in life is everything comes in snowballs. You just have to be ready to run after your snowball when it rolls down the hill. And I was ready. Upon receiving the grant, I decided to take the money and shoot a trailer for the film. This is something that indie filmmakers sometimes do in order to show investors what the film might look like. They sketch out a trailer for the film based on the script, bring together a gang of actors and crew, and shoot a trailer in hopes that the investor is impressed and will throw money at the project. They are rarely ever impressed. As I found out later, this usually rubs the producers the wrong way, and it is better to leave room for their own imagination (and money).

Zahra Pictures
Now, the ironic part is, if I had followed the advice I just relayed to you, I would have never gotten my film produced. It just so happened that I had sent out a casting-call to one of the many mailing lists in the web-o-sphere, looking for actors to star in the trailer for a film that hasn’t been made yet. My project piqued the interest of Ahmad Zahra of Zahra Pictures, who just happened to read the email through the mailing list I had posted on.

In the middle of my trailer shoot, I received an email from Ahmad. He said the synopsis of the film sounded interesting, and was wondering if he could read the full script. He was looking to produce his next film after MGM successfully picked up his previous film American East. He was looking for something cutting edge, and something that would have an effect worldwide. I sent him the script immediately (after the allotted 24-hours so as not to seem too eager). The trailer never saw the light of day, and from there, it was a match. Three Veils had found its producer.

Kiss on the cheek
In the indie world, finding the producer doesn’t mean that the filmmaker’s work is done, and that you can recline in a hammock in Mediterranean for a few months while the money rolls in. On the contrary, the work had just begun. Even with Zahra Pictures behind the project, money was still not coming easy.

The bold subject matters were both a turn on, and a turn off to investors. Some loved the script, but suggested to shorten the intimate scene between the two Muslim women to a simple kiss on the cheek, and cut the rest out.
I was disheartened. A kiss on the cheek? Seriously? Why don’t we just show them playing patty-cake instead, but in the air, of course, so their hands don’t touch.

I did not want to sell my soul to anyone, but was afraid that I would have to, just to get some bits of the narrative told, even at the expense of the full story. In the end, I put my foot down, and so did Ahmad. We were not selling out. Not with this project. I was glad he supported me in that decision. In retrospect, it could have been so easy for him to disagree with me. I am thankful for that.

House parties
So what do you do when you can’t find big investors? Throw a house party of course! At the time, we called them “tea parties,” before the term turned yucky (and after which we called them house parties, but I digress).

The concept was to invite a group of people who might be interested in the film, tell them about Three Veils, show some of our previous work, open up the floor to some good discussion and hope that people believe in the project enough to contribute.
This took a lot of work, but turned out swimmingly. This, in fact, is how we raised most of the money. People opened up their homes all across the West Coast, inviting their circle of friends, and giving what they could to a project they believed in. It was like the low-fi version of Kickstarter without the dot-com.

You’ll never eat kabob in this town again
Of course not all was rosy. There were gatherings that turned sour really quickly, especially amongst the more conservative crowds of the Arab or Muslim communities. One of the house parties had to end early because a group of women kicked us out, stating that they didn’t know it was “that kind of film.” And no, we couldn’t take any of the kabob home with us.

Another discouraging time was during a fundraiser in Portland when it was boycotted by a group of Muslim conservatives. What was even worse was all the generous folks who had donated money that night were being asked to reconsider giving money to such an “evil” cause. Keep in mind all this was taking place even before the first frame of the film was shot. If this was the reaction we were getting now, we were holding our breath, anticipating what might happen after the film’s release.

In the end, the positive response to the film was greater and more powerful than the negative, and Three Veils steadily gained a fan-base the more future audiences heard about it, and it even celebrated a burgeoning underground following throughout the Middle East.

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