Film school

We go behind the cameras at a Knowledge Village film school and learn what it takes to make a movie in Dubai


I watch an unhealthy number of movies. This explains a couple of things: why I remain as pasty-skinned today as the day I arrived in Dubai and why I get so annoyed when watching woeful Hollywood humdrum. But I love films – good films, at least – and that’s precisely why I get so irritated by inferior offerings. When I see what I think is ineptitude, I can’t help but utter the immortal phrase ‘I could have done better myself’.

This feeling is nothing new: as a kid I didn’t want to be an astronaut or even a rock star, I wanted to make movies. The closest I ever got was a few skateboarding flicks that my friends and I filmed on my parents’ old Hi-8 video camera, which were well received by my home town’s skater kids, but didn’t prove to be my big break into the world of cinema. Alas, shattered dreams behind me, I moved on and grew up. But a month ago, while mooching around online, my childhood dreams were rekindled.

While I’ve got used to ignoring most pop-up adverts, there was no getting away from this one: ‘Do you want to be a filmmaker?’ To me, that’s like asking, ‘Do you like breathing?’ or ‘Do you want free money?’ I followed the link and signed up for the weekend Film Drill Boot Camp offered by SAE Institute, a private college teaching audio and film production, interactive animation and multimedia design at Knowledge Village. The course markets itself as being ‘for people who want to take a camera in their hand and produce a hands-on short movie’. Perfect.

With a 9am start time, I headed off to Knowledge Village, my stomach filled with long-forgotten first-day-at-school butterflies. On arriving, the tutors herded us into the green-screen studio (where live action is before special effects are projected on to the background – I was imagining myself dressed as a Jedi or a character from a Frank Miller adaptation already) and began giving us a brief overview of what the next two days would entail. I was relieved to find out that Markus, our extremely chilled out Austrian tutor, was very keen for us to learn hands-on. So, after a quick look at some almost overwhelmingly complicated camera equipment and tripods, we headed out to the desert to make our short movie.

The course had attracted a real mixed bunch, from students who were considering attending SAE for degree courses and were using the two days as a trial run, to women who had been signed up as part of a rather fantastic Christmas present. Regardless of background, though, we all had ideas of being big-shot moviemakers and looked forward to making our millions after the weekend was up.

As soon as the script was given to us by the second tutor, Areba, a young SAE graduate, the film was being put together in my head. What angle would I film at? Do I go with a Boyle-inspired jaunty off-the-wall style or something more like Van Sant? Once roles were assigned (me gratefully pulling ‘director’ from the hat) and Areba had explained the camera functions and a few basic rules of filming, we starting shooting. Sound checks, discussing shot composition, the actors’ lines, what we wanted to achieve from the scene and how exactly the audience would receive it… there was a lot to consider.

And so I was a director at last, running around over the sand dunes, making our script come to life. By the time 5pm rolled around I was exhausted. The shots took longer to set up than I had imagined – merely pointing a camera at something does not make it look good.

The second day was divided into a morning of interior shooting, with an introduction to lighting a shot, and an afternoon in the editing suite. The editing software was not for the faint-hearted – more a technophobe’s nightmare – and I felt like another weekend dedicated solely to editing would be beneficial. But looking at all our hard work was very rewarding, the group sharing a real sense of pride as Areba added various cuts and dissolves to our shots so it all resembled a real short film.

The course is a taster of just how many elements go into making a movie and how incredibly complicated it is. So maybe I couldn’t make a Hollywood film after all – not yet anyway.

SAE Institute, Knowledge Village, (04 361 6173) The Film Drill Boot Camp runs monthly and costs Dhs2,100. Other film and media courses are available. Visit for details

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