On Location: Behind “Three Veils”


The Three Wise Chicks
So, now with Sheetal on board as Nikki, we still needed to find the perfect cast for the two lead characters of Amira, the repressed Muslim Lesbian, and Leila, who is in an arranged marriage that she is heavily questioning. All three thus making up the Three Veils. One veil down, two to go.

Angela Zahra came to us from Syria, home to where she enjoys a huge amount of success and celebrity. It was important for me to find an actress from the Middle East to play Amira, as I felt the impact would be much bolder, both to the audiences, and to those who would criticize the character’s journey as something that is Western, and doesn’t exist in the Middle East (cough Ahmadinajad of Iran end cough). If an Arab actress played the role, I felt somehow it would give the story even that much more weight.

Angela was brave enough to step up to the challenge. Her performance was the perfect amount of subtle and brazen, and the project couldn’t be more lucky to have her on board. The chemistry between her and Sheetal was remarkable, both on-screen and off.

The role of Leila, for me, was the hardest to cast. Leila’s story opens up the film, and in some ways, required the most finesse. Leila’s storyline could have bordered melodramatic without the talent required to truly play the character as I envisioned it. Leila was in fact the last character I cast. And if I am to be completely honest and divulge further, the project was on the verge of not shooting that summer of 2009 because I was not satisfied by any of the choices I had been presented with. I was very dispirited, and was at a loss of what to do next.

Then one find day, as most of these things happen, I received a phone-call from Dream Big Casting, saying I should come down to their casting offices immediately to meet someone. Mercedes MasÖhn (Chuck, Red Sands). I was clear on the other side of town, and the producer, and my assistant director couldn’t make it on such short notice. I sped over to the casting office (as much as one can speed through 4 pm L.A traffic), was blown away by her audition, and the rest is herstory.

Shooting Red
We shot Three Veils on the Red camera, which was a great experience for me. Our D.P, John Frost, was very well-versed with the camera, and we had a great digital technician on-hand in case we couldn’t fix any issues with a simple reboot (yes, the camera reboots!) The camera Goddesses shone their light on us, and it was smooth sailing with no glitches.

The amazing color capacity and depth-of-field you get with the Red is phenomenal. Something unprecedented with other digital cameras of its caliber. This was important as we didn’t have a lot of big sets, and a lot of the scenes were in intimate spaces. I needed it to look as good as possible.

We shot over the course of three months, one week a month, for a total of 21 days. The reason for the extended span of time was the availability of the equipment and the schedules of the international actors.
This proved to be challenging in some ways, especially for the continuity of the scenes (both emotionally for the actors, and technically with the production design and wardrobe), but we had a very professional and dedicated cast and crew who worked together seamlessly to make it all happen.

The great thing about shooting within this time-frame, though, was that I was able to edit and put together scenes right after the week’s shoot. This allowed me to gauge what needed to be changed or added or scrapped from the next month’s shoot. Very useful.

Here’s a look behind the scenes of Three Veils:

Who’s afraid of the big, bad bully?
During the shoot, we produced a few behind-the-scenes videos which we posted online. One of the first comments I received when I posted the first video shocked me. It stated, and I quote, “If this is an anti Islamic movie, I will not be surprised if she is‍ killed!!”

Now I wasn’t sure who would be doing the killing here. Was it the eloquent comment-poster themselves, or would they outsource the job to someone else who was more qualified? Or perhaps this may have been a protective shout-out from a concerned citizen, simply saying they would not be surprised and are way ahead of the game, prophesying that I will be killed at some point? Your guess is as good as mine. Either way, I admit, it made me a little sick to read, along with other comments.

I thought I might change my phone number, or even change my credit name in the film, but I am not in the business of hiding or running away. I am in the business of telling stories, and going all in. I am all in.

All about the fans
Ultimately, the amount of fans and support and love we garnered throughout the few years it took from the script’s inception in 2006, to the completed film in January of 2011 was overwhelming. The film celebrates a really big fan-base across the world. Even in places where online tools like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are not prevalent, I still receive notes from fans who, through traditional word-of-mouth, have hard about Three Veils and cannot wait to see a film that they can connect to. A film that gives them a voice.

And in the end, that is why we made this film. Why all of us — me, the producer, the cast, and crew, everyone who let us into their home to raise funds, the ones who let us use their locations for free and paint their bedroom walls yellow, those who took a chance and gave money to the project, and those who simply let us know that they are out there —are ready to support the film at whatever cost. We thank you.

The film premiered as the Opening Night film at POW Fest (the Portland International Women’s Festival) on March 9th, 2011, to a full theater. I was happy to open there as that was the first city that gave me a chance through the Faerie Godmother fund, and their support of women filmmakers.

I sat there in the historic Hollywood Theater, observing the first time an audience had ever seen the film. The response was tremendous. Almost all the audience stayed for the Q&A afterwards with Sheetal, Ahmad and myself. And even after the Q&A, the crowds that came up to us were so eager and excited about the film.

As the crowd and festival crew headed towards the after-party, I stayed behind, sitting at the very back-row of the now empty theater. I thought back to writing in the lonely German bar every night for a year. I thought about all the rejection I had faced trying to fund the film. I thought about the boycotted fundraisers, the scares, the pushes and the shoves. Was it all worth it? Yes indeedy.

Are you going to San Francisco?
Next stop, Three Veils will be the Closing Night film at the San Francisco International Women’s Film Festival (tickets are still available!) this year, co-presented by Frameline (San Francisco LGBT International Film Festival) and the Arab-American Film Festival.
We can’t wait to share the film with the world, and hope to see you come out and watch a film that has an impact, that means something to me and everyone involved, and hopefully, a film that means something to you as well.

For more information on 3 Veils, visit the official website, the Facebook page, follow the film on Twitter or send an email to the filmmaker.

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