My Days Just Outside the Spotlight

dsc00501I rarely do interpreting in Cape Town, because I cannot trust myself to simultaneous interpreting, and other interpreting jobs do not come up as often. One of those rare ones came my way in the past two days, and the bizarre thing is that I ended up on the set for a commercial. The ad was for an international brand and the same crew and set was used for both the South African and the Middle East versions.

Initially I was contracted as a language consultant, to monitor the correct delivery of the Arabic script; altogether three sentences. I thought I will have a boring time watching and sitting around, but somehow I had a gut feel that it will turn out to be a little more. I was right, because already on the first day I jumped into the role of interpreter for the Egyptian star. interpreter.  The actress was someone I have never heard of before, which means that she is not one of the ancient actresses I used to watch when I left the Middle East ten years ago. This of course is a good thing if they were trying to advertise for a beauty product.

So for the first day I shadowed the star, through her beauty routine scenes, and one sentence of the ‘dialogue’. In the meantime I learned and watched what goes on behind the scenes of a movie set. Before this I only had second hand experience through the stories I heard from Robert’s father. He used to get the occasional assignment as an extra for some commercials. I got to do the same thing, only a little better, because I was just outside camera range, interpreting the instruction to the lead.  She could have done without me I suppose, because she understood and spoke basic English, but I made her feel more comfortable and less intimidated by the foreign crew; she never worked with non-Egyptians before.

When the star was resting between scenes there were still dozens of people working on the set. I got to meet half a dozen interesting people, and learned lots about their various roles. I will probably go back to my call sheet a few times and look up the various designations again.

At some point I got to chat with the VT (Short for Video Technician I suppose) and he explained to me the various roles of DOP (Director of Photography),  gaffer, focus puller, spark (lighting crew), key grip and clapper loader among others. The rest I looked up on this handy database

Some jobs sound a lot more glamorous on paper than they are in actual life. On this set for example, the main job of the production assistant was moving around the smoke making machine, then wafting the smoke for best effect.

If I had a little more time on set though I would have ended up with a serious crush on the AD (Assistant Director) who is a great sport with a wonderful sense of humor. Of course he also has to be a no-nonsense guy to manage the progress of filming and the production schedule.  According to him working on a movie set is great, and beats a real job.  The problems of course are the long hours, little time for family during the summer, and the drain on energy. One guy told me that they virtually run on Coffee and Vitamin B injections, which led me to a scary thought that these people are not even allowed to be sick on a movie shoot day.

Another observation for me was that almost everyone in this industry (including the actress) smoked profusely. It was a good thing that smoking was not allowed on set, because I would have ended up with a serious headache.  The AD said he quit smoking a few years back but it must have been terribly hard in this environment.

There are a few perks to working on a movie set. The free snacks all day, the buffet lunches, and getting paid for being there even while not working. On the second day I got a little bit more down time and I retreated to the relaxation area with the extras to read for a little bit. The highlight of the day -if I may call it that- was seeing a former Miss South Africa, who was playing the lead in the South African version of this commercial. I used to think she was graceful and glamorous, but seeing her in real life made me change my mind. She is all bones and limbs, terribly thin, and slightly masculine. I would say that her smile is her best feature, and without it she just looks like some scrawny athlete. At lunch time the poor thing mentioned she was on diet, and I felt grateful for my curves and my appetite.

The comparison between the two leads was in favour of the Egyptian star. Although she is a mother of five, and on the wrong side of the thirty five, making her perhaps a decade older than the South African former beauty queen.  She has however that mysterious softness of the Arab woman.  Something essentially feminine that all women of the east are born with. I understand how this quality attracts men the world over. I wish I had a little more of it.

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