The Ups and Downs of Filmmaking in a Pandemic

Jehad Al-Hallaq, Staff Reporter

(Photo/ Studio 20Q)

Filmmaking in the midst of a pandemic poses new challenges, which directors and producers of the Studio 20Q 2020 fall cycle had to overcome. Studio 20Q is a student-run film organization that distributes grants through fall and spring cycles to students at Northwestern University in Qatar, allowing them to create short films and documentaries.

“Creating a film during a pandemic is a whole other experience because suddenly the smallest things one would [normally] overlook [now present] huge health & safety concerns,” said Tony El Ghazal, director of a Studio 20Q grant-winning film “Ibn El Balad.”

“It was difficult to direct actors’ actions, vocals and facial expressions from a distance and with a mask on,” he said, adding that the crew had to adapt by using wireless monitors and walkie-talkies to avoid big gatherings in one space. Nevertheless, a silver lining emerged. “In retrospect, I found it was probably more efficient than it would’ve been before the pandemic,” he said.

Aesha Hussein, producer of another Studio 20Q grant-winning film “Love for Layla,” said location scouting was particularly fraught. “It was definitely a challenge as a producer during the pandemic… assuring the owner [of that location] that we would maintain the regulations and ensuring that we would be able to accommodate our crew and cast safely.” She added that reducing the number of people on set was necessary to make things work.

However, Hussein noted that Studio 20Q played a role in supporting the film and the production. “I had a workshop on finances [with Studio 20Q] which I found really helpful. After that, we have been updating Studio 20Q board members on our progress and asking questions along the way when needed,” she said.

Although Studio 20Q provided filmmakers with some assistance, Hussein said, “there could be more support for first-time directors and producers. There were definitely times where I felt lost and did not know who to approach for different things.”

According to Studio 20Q, health and safety were the main priorities. “One of the various ways we helped support our movie makers is to ensure that they were aware of the safety guidelines and that the precautions were being followed during filming on set,” said Selina Atat, president of the Studio 20Q Board. “We provided extra grants for money our grantees had spent on expenses that have resulted due to COVID.”

Atat also said that with the support of the Production and Digital Media Services department, Studio 20Q was able to work hand-in-hand with producers and directors. “We are always in direct contact and support with our students in their journey with filmmaking.”

Directors and producers were not alone in terms of facing challenges as a result of the pandemic. “Studio 20Q was faced with unexpected expenses, as well as restrictions to filming for our students,” said Atat.

Another challenge that Studio 20Q faced was in relation to holding workshops and sessions. “Studio 20Q was unable to meet face to face with their movie makers and students…. many of the Studio 20Q workshops are held online, resulting in some restrictions in the practical activities and number of attendees able to join.”

Nevertheless, Atat said she remains optimistic: “With all this happening, we adjusted our plans for the spring cycle in hopes to provide an opportunity that allows our students to pursue their interest in film making safely from home with minimal crew.”


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