I’m very happy to announce that my new short narrative “Magdalena” is now shot and ready for post production phase. “Magdalena” is described by a tagline that doesn’t elaborate much about the plot; “Some doors should not be knocked on” but with 7 minutes of running time I find it extremely difficult to give out a synopsis without spoiling it so let’s just leave it to that tagline therefor now.
During my first week in Cuba, I had a rough time coming up with a definite story, but it’s no secret that the plot is based on a real personal experience that I partly had when scouting the “Un Pueblo textile” area looking for a story or a character to based my story on. Here’s how it all happened: In my quest to find the a friendly Cuban who would open the door for a philosophical discussion of life quality in this communist country, I climbed this Khrushchyovka apartments (Which was very similar to the Armenian version of the buildings made in Soviet era, with stairs in the middle and doors on left and right of each floor.) As I began taking photos from the top of the building this random local Cuban guy called me from down the stairs and… well the rest is my fictional story.
Beside writing the story and finding a location, casting of this short was one of my biggest challenges. Looking back at the results I admit that the actors I ended up casting were really helpful. The casting process in such a short amount of time is often involved with luck, but I should remind that just like my diminishing belief at concept of love at first sight, I also believe in seeing and knowing on the spot if an actor is the right choice, which happened in this case for the cast of Magdalena.
Now I had a story and I had a location, but the character I was looking for had to be a foreigner just like me; “Lost and confused” since the entire world of the story including the language, settings and people were completely different.
I wanted him to have this typical polite American tourist look, but not to necessary look like an American at the same time. I was suggested by my peers to act because maybe they thought I was funny (When I pitched the piece everyone laughed so I guess I was funny!) But I had this beard and I was kind of enjoying playing the role of this rebel filmmaker “Che” with my Cuban hat and cigarettes so I couldn’t really see myself changing hats at that point, until on the third day I met this guy from Chicago who apparently had been stuck at a US airport somewhere in the East Coast due to the late January blizzards, which had delayed his flight to Havana for a couple of days. His name was James and when I first saw him I noticed this immense confusion in his eyes that was exactly what I wanted from a nonspeaking character. Like me he wasn’t speaking Spanish and while everyone else was running around trying to prep for shoot he was just trying to understand what the hell is going on here. What a coincidence! I thought and to add more to his confusion asked him on the spot to act in my film. He was hesitant in the beginning but I reiterated explaining the same details I just wrote and James was kind enough to agree.
From this point on it was all about not running behind time and not losing the sun as most of the scenes were shot outdoors. The project wouldn’t move on without my good friend Karla, a kickass AD who took the initiative of handling the actors in Spanish and did a great job of explaining my crazy demands. There were many moments of confusion in the process, but I have to admit, that all that contributed even more to the comical sense of the film and made the production experience fun. Watch the trailer below to get a sense of the story.
Update: My father who is often the first watching the rough drafts of my films expressed his sheer joy and satisfaction after seeing this. Put that next to the encouraging words of Abbas Kiarostami and all the Workshop friends and if all that still didn’t trigger your interest, then watch this quick teaser, that we just made.