On the set of REDACTED:
For those of you who tuned into this blog - thank you. This was the first time I've blogged and besides my formatting issues (special thanks to Tom Penketh of Backstage for correcting many of them) the experience was great.
The best way to conclude the experience of being in Jordan is to highlight moments that will forever stay with me.
HEARING A .50 CALIBER MACHINE GUN DISCHARGE:
The majority of the crew were at lunch essentially enjoying what was a productive day. There were probably 75+ people on set including many locals dressing the background on the shoot. The moment was a classic one - shamelessly I will say it was right out of the movies.
As we are all enjoying our meal (props to Wael Jabaji and his staff- our meals were tasty and plentiful) talking about the Nets/Raptor series, the movie '300', the Yanks and Sox, playing B.O.M.B (this is a game for true movie enthusiasts - it's sort of a 6 degrees of actors and directors and the movies in which they participated. If you were wrong about whether an actor was in a certain movie or who the director was of said flick you'd get a letter, in this case 'B'. The first one to spell 'BOMB' was out. For the record, there was a solid 10 days where this game was being played. DePalma, O'Neil, Traynor, Kliot, Figueroa, Diaz, valiantly battled the overall champ Daniel Sherman. After several days of listening to this game, it was like Chinese water torture. I hated this game - mainly because I sucked at it) we literally heard a series of loud, powerful explosions that silenced the entire area.
There was a collective 'WHAT THE FUCK.'
The sound came from about 100 yds from where we were eating.
It turns out the military advisors were testing the .50 caliber machine gun. This weapon can be used effectively against personnel (it will split humans in half over 500+ yds away), light armored vehicles, low flying aircraft and small boats. Powerful.
First and foremost, it was completely safe. It was just that most of us hadn't ever heard anything like this - except for the Iraqi refugees on set. The heart jolting power of that weapon was a recent memory void of any mystery.
LOST IN TRANSLATION:
I had just finished rehearsing a scene where a number of local children were going to be utilized. These children were amazing. On point. Excited about the movie. Listened well. Tough.
When I say tough, I mean it.
From my perspective, it's a hard life in the Middle East. I already have a low tolerance for excuses. And after being in the Middle East (and especially South Africa last year) if you happen to be of the whiny, occasionally spineless, privileged ilk, I can name a couple countries that will straighten that backbone right up. We don't have it so bad on the North American continent.
Now mind you, accountability - absolutely, without question - must be taken into account as to why a large aggregate of the world's population suffer interminably. And if the ruling classes don't straighten up and fly right, the abhorrent exploitation of the world's poor will come full circle.
Back to being tough.
You build a certain armor living in this region and the strong survive. But I never saw anyone void of humanity. No venom was hurled at me because of my citizenship. Now there weren't too many kind words for the Bush administration but these people knew the distinction between leaders and those being led. Their polemic about how the region is governed were clear and cogent.
Forgive me for going off on tangents. But the one thing I will walk away with in my discussions with the local people is the thought that the Israel / Palestinian conflict is NOT largely religious. But rather a political one. I don't mean to oversimplify the issue, but break it down to the very basic: If someone came into your home, forced you to get out without any just reason - would you not fight those who took it from you? Regardless of how you worship, I think one would fight tooth and nail - even to their death - to exact revenge on the aggressors.
My thoughts on the Palestinians and other Arabs in the region are most likely of little use. American policy in the Middle East has been one of keeping the Arabs divided. In my short time (one month) over there, I get the feeling the policy has worked.
My message to the Arab people: Change your tactics. It's clear. There is a double standard when it comes to what you call Occupied Palestine. But instead of using your energy and resources towards an aggressive stance against Israel, use it towards engineering, IT, mathematics, sciences, agriculture, civics - and you will be the shining example to the WORLD on how to honor the legacy of those who were and continue to be brutally mistreated. You are a strong people and even stronger - united.
Which once again brings me back to being tough. Whew.
Some of these kids, particularly the ones who were Iraqi - let me stop once again to clarify.
There are estimates of up to one million Iraqi refugees in Jordan. Many of them are not registered and risk being deported. They still showed up to work - EVERYDAY.
These kids were simply amazing. Many of them, particularly the Iraqi children may have seen more destruction and violence than many of us will see in a lifetime. There were disciplined. Somewhat rigid. Confident. Which made me believe that any trauma they suffered was reinvented or internalized. They didn't look at our weapons and ammo with wonder nor fear, but rather a respect.
I had to shoot a scene where I had to make the kids scatter. Me and a young boy whose name I think was Qazi worked out a moment where I would grab him and shove him away.
Action! I run down a treacherous hill that has a 45 degree angle, full of rocks that are all sizes with 50 pounds of gear on me. I grab the young boy (about 9 or 10) and shove him - way too hard. He goes rolling down the hill hits his head on all kinds of rocks and debris. It was the kind of fall where you want to stop the shoot to check on the condition of the actor. He gets up and runs off. I finish my lines. CUT!
I immediately go to check on Qazi. He comes around the corner of a building he ran behind with dirt and dust all over him. He comes up to me. I am really afraid I hurt him. He brushes his shoulders off and literally gives me a look that says, "...that all you got!"
He's ready for another take.
We finish the remaining takes and I gather up the kids to tell them what a beautiful job they did.
The word for beautiful in Arabic is 'Jamilla'.
From this point, I don't know what happened. Perhaps I was still amazed that Qazi didn't even so much as have a bruise on him. To cut to the chase, I go to give praise to my young fellow castmates and shout - "JIHAD".
I was mortified.
"I mean Jamilla."
The kids came up and hugged me, gave me hi-fives and pounds. I am absolutely sure the "Jihad" didn't register. Rob Devaney looked at me like I had a third eye. "I think you just said, Holy war is beautiful."
I got abused. Deservedly.
JORDAN- THE COUNTRY
Number one. No night life. None. Nada.
Jordan's day off is Friday. So you would think Thursday night would be off the hook? Nope.
Now I have to admit, I am from NY. Some would say this is not fair. They would be right. This is a country in transition. You can see Jordan is trying to embrace some western influences while keeping their cultural integrity. In my opinion you need 2 things. A middle class. And equity for women. Both require time. Once those really begin to take hold - watch out spring breakers!
But Jordan's number one asset is its people. Service was excellent everywhere, from small shops to higher end restaurants. I felt welcome wherever I went. The people on the set were amazing. I was told that the infrastructure for the film industry was in its infancy in Jordan. Well, I guess they learned to walk before crawling because there were few signs if any that Jordan was lacking in film resources. Fuad Khalil, Lara Atalla, Reem Bandak, Tamir Naber, Phaedra Dahdaleh, Beisan Elias, Mohammad Majali, Hajji Abdulraman, Maggie Kabariti, Tamer Alsalaita, the dog handlers Raed and Issa, and many more scored big points for Jordan. It's a great country in which to film.
It's also a great country to see amazing sights.
The Dead Sea. Petra. I will not do either justice in a blog. Just go to Jordan and visit. You won't forget it.
This one is hard. I am a big sports fan and have always had a problem with MVP awards. This isn't so much an MVP, but rather an observation of some people who I worked with and without whom REDACTED would have met some serious challenges.
Anas Wellman. AKA "Tipsy". (Look him up when you go to Jordan and you will soon find out why he's called 'Tipsy'. This guy is the mayor of Amman. He acted as our defacto tour guide - any bar/restaurant we patronized - they knew him) He was a featured extra playing Pvt. Jones. He and another featured extra, Yanal Kassay, playing Pvt. Smith (also very helpful with making sure the fellas were comfortable in Jordan) participated in Boot Camp with us.
On many occasions we would arrive at places (like the Jordanian Military Base where we had Boot Camp) where there wasn't sufficient communication ahead of time about our arrival. Tipsy would act as our interpreter. Every day for a week something happened at Boot Camp that required translation. Had he not been there we simply would not have been able to do our job.
The others were our Military Advisors Charles Taylor and Scott. Thankfully they were there to make sure virtually every facet of the military featured in this movie was authentic. From things we said to making sure our snakes were in our boots. (shoestrings tucked in)
I can imagine the Art Department on movies of this magnitude could get territorial. To the benefit of the movie they deferred to Scott and Charles to make sure our shit looked right. Hopefully our acting complemented the dedication those two fellas gave us.
In conclusion, REDACTED is going to be much more than just another war movie. Sparks will fly. The gloves will come off. We are talking about a film that will not only promote vigorous dialogue and debate about the ever increasing unstable theatre that our world is today but one that will move people to take action.