It’s all about the research

posted in College, Projects on January 30th, 2007

When I first started drafting scenes for my movie project, I decided that I wanted this project to be as intensive and educational as a standard college project. I wanted to have the feeling that it wasn’t just a fun thing to do, I wanted to learn something, I wanted to expand my knowledge in ways that would later benefit me, both personally as well as professionally.

I started out with a basic planning that included the various steps. First of all, to write a credible story, I had to get a better understanding of the way people “down there” think. What might be totally acceptable to us (think: revealing clothes worn by females) is totally unacceptable in other cultures. Sure, I did know that much, but all the knowledge I had, prior to getting accustomed to the culture, wasn’t nearly enough.

Sure, I’m a westerner, my target audience are westerners, but there’s such a thing as sticking to the facts and even though it was going to be a fictitious story, I wanted every aspect of it to be as real as possible. Every last piece of information I gathered had to be able to withstand scrutiny.

Local movies are a great way to get to know a culture better, but it’s hard to find the right kind of movie. There are lots and lots of televised stories out there that label themselves “local” but many of them are actually made to appeal to a broad, western-oriented audience. Well, long story short - I found a couple of movies, most of them lacking good subtitles (not to say there were no subtitles available, but the quality of the subtitles was well below par) and decided to not watch them for the story but rather for the people.

One of the movies I analyzed is called “Kurtlar vadisi - Irak“, (translation: “Valley of the Wolves - Iraq”), a movie which starts out after the infamous hood event that took place on July 4th, 2003, shortly after the war began. The movie focuses on the way the people feel after being treated like animals and while the director exercised his artistic freedom to amend the story a little, I think he did a great job in portraying the issues that arise during the situations that were discussed in the movie. It might not have been the best research material I could get, but it certainly had many valid points and taught me a lot about the subject I was researching.

Other than a couple of movies, I also read a lot, both online and in books I retrieved from my mother, who spent a considerable amount of time in middle eastern countries. She also helped me in getting some parts of the cultural information I had compiled right as far as interpersonal contact was concerned. Thanks for that, mom!

After getting myself acquainted with the subject, I, by accident, came across two people, one, a Native Farsi Speaker, who moved around a lot and ended up in Canada and a person who moved from Iraq to the UK. Both of them were more than willing to elaborate in detail how they felt about their respective cultural background and about how they perceived daily life in the Middle East.

While books and movies are a great way to get to know something, I find that talking to people who actually experienced these situations, a lot more informative and a lot more entertaining.

After getting my facts right for the Middle Eastern side of the story, I wanted to get some more information about the American side. Once again, Wikipedia was able to provide me with a lot of the information I looked for and thanks to it’s great cross linking system, I came across many other resources that taught me about various other aspects that would later contribute to my story.

As fate would have it, I met an ex Marine who immediately jumped at the movie idea and agreed to help with the tactical information and experience I was lacking.

Yes, it is a movie, a very-low-budget one at that and yes, 99% of the people watching it will not catch small things like troops that cover each other in a very specific way or radio chatter that is very “to the point”, but for me personally, these things are important. I believe that these are the details that either make or break a product.

In a few days, you should be able to judge for yourself if my research paid off. I already know that it did, I’ve gotten to know some pretty interesting people and learned a fair bit about Arabic countries.

So, as far as the research is concerned, I think that the amount of time I put into it certainly meets the expectations I had before I started out. I think I’ve done more and better research for this one project than I’ve done for quite a few, bigger, projects in the past.