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BFI Film Academy 7: Iqra Noman

Iqra Noman is one of the participants on our seventh BFI Film Academy (2018). Having almost completed the academy, we asked Iqra about her experience on the film shoot… 

It all began at the start of October…I got accepted onto HOME’s BFI Film Academy – absolutely psyched! I was going to be able to get advice and work alongside film professionals to eventually make a short film with 17 other young film enthusiasts. The chance to learn about film through theory and practice is what really drew me into this academy.

The shoot lasted four days and my group was there for two days. We were all given our roles from our top three choices, mine being 1st Assistant Director (1st AD). I wanted to be given a major role so that my decision had a large impact on the film but not something too daunting, like being director. So being 1st AD was perfect but nevertheless nerve-wracking.

On the first day we all met at HOME. We met our lead actress Yandass and then quickly went out on location to shoot our first scene (scene 4; a long dance number to show the character getting from A to B). After walking a couple of streets away from HOME, the director (Rob) decided what shot he wanted and so everyone started to set up. He decided on a tracking shot of her dancing from right to left down a street. I felt a little awkward since I wasn’t familiar with my role as 1st AD (so didn’t know if I should be inputting ideas/opinions yet), and still fairly new to the crew members (therefore communication was limited). After asking Rosie (HOME Producer) for some guidance, she explained that I didn’t have much to do whilst the rest of the crew were setting up. I guess I was too eager to get stuck in but didn’t know exactly how to do that.

The first take…finally my time to shine. One important part of my role was to do the role-call, so it was my job to call out, ‘final check’ and to inform the crew that we were, ‘waiting on… (said department)’. But what was more exciting was being the one to say, ‘quiet on set’ and ‘turnover’. It was important that I shouted it out so everyone could hear me and so that we could start rolling with no problems. I enjoyed having a certain amount of responsibility with other members of the crew. Everyone was just as nervous as I was but eventually everyone was stuck into their role.  Confirming we were doing our jobs to the director’s satisfaction was really cool. I liked my role because I served the director as someone with whom he could get ideas from and I could help relay his ideas to the rest of the crew and bring information back to him. I also liked introducing some of my own creative elements to what was being seen on the screen. It felt very satisfying to know that the shots were perfected by me being there as a fresh pair of eyes.

Probably good to mention that it was pretty cold during the shoot but I was glad that it wasn’t raining. For our next take on the same scene the director chose right outside HOME where there were statues. Now this street section between HOME and the other buildings serves as a concentrated pathway for air to get through… or more fittingly… strong winds. It was a beautiful location to have chosen but to get a good shot was difficult. I mean, in one of the takes, the camera man (Matthew) was trying to tilt the camera down but the wind had blown the lock on the tilt closed. Consequently, as soon as he tilted up he was unable to tilt down and in the shot you just heard him say, ‘what the…it’s not going down!’ The wind was so intense and cold that I was crumpling my role call cheat-sheet in my hands to keep the blood flow going. Communication between the actress and the crew was affected too because the direction of the wind was being pushed behind the crew. This did lead to a funny incident in which the camera man got caught around a lamppost with the trailing wires from the handheld camera. I’m thankful that this scene was going to have a soundtrack over it anyway, so the noise wouldn’t affect the film. However, to be fair the wind did end up creating a beautiful majestic look while Yandass was dancing, but at the expense of the crew getting red, runny noses.

In the afternoon, you’ll be glad to hear, we got to do several scenes that all took place in a (warm) theatre. Our roles were switched around and then I was Director of Photography (DOP), although we all kept switching roles so I also got to be a 1st/2nd Assistant Camera (AC) too. This flexibility allowed us to get the best shots possible because we decided who would want to operate the camera for particular shots, therefore, playing to each of our strengths. Interestingly, I got to learn a lot while swapping roles even though it was a fast learning experience (faster than I prefer). Switching from tripod to handheld was a lot of hard work to get so many different shots and exhausting to get the right take. Our new director (Elle) did an amazing job of organising the crew to the best plan of action. She made sure all shots from the same position were shot together and that each sub-section of the crew knew what they were doing so as not to get confused between shots (because we weren’t working in chronological order according to the script). I really admired that she was able to do this while adding a creative element to the camera, lighting, and sound by switching from a realistic, gloomy look to what we called ‘dream-land’ in the more optimistic, artistic part of the film.

Working in the afternoon felt much more professional then in the morning. I think it was because everyone was secure in their roles and the essential communication between the crew members became much more fluid. Everyone got so used to role call that all the awkwardness we began with disappeared and was replaced by pressure to get all of the scenes in the theatre done in time. Everything was a lot more fast-paced and problems were quickly fixed by trying all sorts of tactics learned during training. This eventually ended up with many swift shifts in roles and positions to get improved versions of the same shot. I have to admit that it was brilliant to work within such a big open space with the freedom to move around the audience seating area and stage and to be taken seriously as a filmmaker. Creative and physical freedom; what more can you ask for on a project like this?

In a nutshell, I had a marvellous time creating this film and am really excited as to how the footage is warped in post-production with editing, colour grading and adding sound and music. This was my first time creating a short film and to be a part of this experience has given me so much knowledge and awesome memories that will hopefully shape my future in the film industry for the better.

Find out more about our BFI Film Academy, head here.