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Home - Academic - Seven Lessons I Learned Making My Short Film: Arman Fayyaz

24Frames: In this installment of “Seven Lessons” we read from Iranian filmmaker and cinematographer Arman Fayyaz on his experiences making Manicure (2018), which faced national and international acclaim, competing in Sundance and winning multiple best short film awards namely in Alameda International Film Festival, Dublin International Short Film and Music Festival and the Special Jury prize in Rio de Janeiro International Short Film Festival, among others.


Seven Lessons I Learned Making Manicure

By Arman Fayyaz





1. Build your own world


The first draft of the script was a very faithful adaptation of the Manicure story by Bijan Najdi; but gradually I felt like what the magic of words is to literature greatly differs from the conspicuous images of cinema— The power of words in cultivating imagination and the visual ambiguity of stories in literature, provides a firsthand world in which the reader finds their own. In contrast, the more unambiguous portrayal of geography, lifestyle and social class in film along with choosing the shot angles, lenses, mise-en-scene and whatever direction there is for the camera, builds a more secondhand, definite and defined universe. Therefore as I went ahead, I was getting farther away from Najdi’s story and closer to my own world, until there only remained a faint storyline from Najdi’s story which is a side-story in Manicure the shortfilm. After many revisions and tweaking, I added the central concept of gender to the film and reconstructed the script and situations I had wrote. Naturally some of the events were replaced by new ones and some were renewed to seem more coherent. When I finally felt like I was done with the story, I was faced with a new world that was profoundly different from that of the first draft. A world that was more familiar to me and I felt closer to it more than before.



2. Find the geography of the story you’re telling


Manicure is the tale of a dogmatic people faced with a lesser known natural phenomenon. It was crucial that the level of dogma be believable and the believability was only possible if I could find the appropriate, or at least approximate, geography of the people in the story. A geography that is naturally deprived of anything and definitely lacks features such as easy access to the city and common facilities and modernity (which its absence isn’t necessarily a positive or negative thing), etc. And on the other hand has features such as the dominance of tradition and radical views caused by false understanding of religion, and of course mountains and snow which were crucial elements of the story. The sum total of these characteristics required me to search for a year. I had to look through the mountains of northern Iran, rough roads and underexplored villages of Gilan that had to have a shrine with old architecture. I got stuck in snowy roads many times, I lost my way many times, I visited plenty of villages, even ones without modern roads, and finally, I got to a village that was actually against others’ advice: A geography that with its location and the old shrine at its center, seemed to be designed for Manicure, not the other way around.



3. Use indigenous actors for indigenous stories


The Manicure script has a unique point of view, a trait that could bring it down to the level of a virtue signaling spectacle, or reduce its power and magic to a human rights manifesto. The only way to escape this was scouting people as actors who are less familiar with this view. The more undissembled and sentimental rural folk definitely have a more candid and less engineered response to an unknown phenomenon. To me they were an accurate representation of the people in the story, I looked for the dialogues in them and structured the story around them. I just had to find the right people among them, I spent time at their teahouses, went to their homes, visited their graveyards and met interesting faces in passing through the trails, each having a unique set of characteristics. The only thing I had to do was find them the right place in the film and get right lines out of them. The result was a mix of professional northern actors who were familiar with the geography and several rural people of the area, which increased the believability of the situation.

One of the sweetest consequences of this decision, was the use of somewhat ostentatious dialogues through one of these rural folk (e.g. the old man), which seemed to not only be freed from this ostentation but also became one the main causes that provoked the village people against the man of the story.

[“Ever since this devil came here, prosperity has left this village”]



4. Shoot in sequence as much as possible


Even working on other projects as DoP I don’t encourage shooting out of sequence, in some cases I’m even willing to bear setting up the lighting and moving the camera and other moving components, but have the story shot in order of events. Since I feel like otherwise, the spirit of the tale and story will be hurt, in Manicure especially where I was working with many non-actors, I decided to have the shots filmed according to the progression of the story and avoid repetitive shots as much as possible. Most of those present on set didn’t know the story of Manicure and had only heard a general description of the story. Therefore, when it came to the reveal, the unforeseeable reactions of the local cast was extremely interesting and incredible.




5. The importance of lighting


We all know that filming in snow, aside from its production challenges, is one of the hardest yet most gratifying interests of the cinematographer. Maybe to others would assume that since I have been more active as a DoP than filmmaker, in this endeavor I’d go for a script with a higher propensity for more unique lighting design. But apart from the story and script interests and requirements, snow doubled my enthusiasm for filming. In snowy locations, snow covered planes act as a big reflector and shine the light of the sun above them back into the scene. Controlling this amount of light which constantly changes with the angle of sunlight, especially when you’re supposed to shoot in order, is extremely hard. Especially when you’re not the only cameraman of the project and bear the more important responsibility of filmmaking as well. To manage these two positions I reverted back to m

y several years of experience as cinematographer. The critical role of light, the effects and events of the film in different stages of sunlight varies greatly. For instance, the dimension created in soft sunlight with no shadows is completely different from contrasting settings. Therefore, as cameraman I tried to film the different sequences in my favorite sunlight conditions, considering the coherence and logic of continuity. For example in the filming the final scene I carefully planned for the shots around sunset and golden time, and this meticulousness which springs from my cinematography background made filming the final shot which is in a completely unique condition possible. And of course, this shot with its unique lighting condition provided special conceptual dimension to the film.



6. Post-production, more important than production


A sculptor wants to create a piece with different materials. The plan is clear. Materials are carefully acquired and it’s time to create. In cinema creation comes to life at the editor’s table. This is not the time to abandon the work and rest it in someone else’s hands, but in my opinion, it’s time to breathe life into the work [though that doesn’t mean editing the film yourself]. Don’t abandon your project, be more meticulous and don’t abstain from cutting out useless shots, however laboriously filmed.

Manicure changed multiple times in editing. Shots were cut in together in many different ways and it was a triumph at the end [although it certainly has its own shortcomings]. This meticulousness was dragged into other aspects of post-production as well. Manicure was color corrected at least 4 times with different looks, we changed our minds throughout sound editing multiple times and a lot of time was spent on the music. But these difficulties were sweet for me.



7. Ethics, more important than cinema


To me the humanitarian aspect of any subject is more important than the subject itself. We make movies to share our world with others: beliefs, experiences, concerns and any other thing that springs from that life. All of these are defined as humanity to me. On set, either as filmmaker or cameraman, I have always tried to uphold an ethical standard; I might have been successful, or maybe might have not?! But I’ve tried to resolve conflicts in a friendly manner, not be indebted to anyone and overall, add an experience of a gratifying group effort to my collection of good memories in life.


Translation by Kiana Nikolai

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